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Argentine Tango - Types and Styles

Type of Dances

Argentine Tango include 3 types of dances: Tango, Vals (waltz) and Milonga.

Tango is the most classical 2/4 or 4/4 beat dance. The music is often with a melancholic emotion, and the dance is most diversified with any elements in Argentine Tango.  

Vals is like a waltz. This produces a rather relaxed, smooth flowing dancing style in contrast to ballroom waltz where the dancers often turn almost constantly. Vals is characterized by its lack of pauses, and continual turns (giros) in both directions. 

Milonga is essentially a more lively type in Tango which has fast, strongly-accented beat, and an underlying "habanera" rhythm. Dancers avoid pausing, and often introduce syncopations and broken rhythm into their walks and turns. Milonga uses the same basic elements as Tango, with a strong emphasis on the rhythm, and figures that tend to be smaller steps, less complex than some of those danced in some varieties of Tango.

Styles of Argentine Tango

Tango canyengue

"Tango canyengue" refers to a style of Tango danced until the 1920s. Reportedly, the long tight fashion in dresses of that era restricted the follower's movements. Consequently, the style involves short steps. The dancers tend to move with knees slightly bent, the partners slightly offset, and in a closed embrace. The style tends to be danced to a 2/4 time signature. As the cayengue style was mostly not danced in ballrooms, but in taverns and on the street, the typical soft feet movements with close contact to the ground were not possible, leading to a more "hopping" style.

Tango orillero

Tango orillero refers to the style of dance that developed away from the town centers, in the outskirts and suburbs where there was more freedom due to more available space on the dance floor. The style is danced in an upright position and uses various embellishments including rapid foot moves, kicks, and even some acrobatics, though this is a more recent development.

Salon Tango

Salon Tango was the most popular style of tango danced up through the Golden Era of the dance (1950's) when milongas (tango parties) were held in large dance venues and full tango orchestras performed. Later, when the Argentine youth started dancing rock & roll and tango's popularity declined, the milongas moved to the smaller confiterias in the center of the city, resulting in the birth of the "milonguero/apilado/Petitero/caquero" style.

Salon Tango is characterized by slow, measured, and smoothly executed moves. It includes all of the basic tango steps and figures plus sacadas, barridas, and boleos. The emphasis is on precision, smoothness, and musicality. The couple embraces closely but the embrace is flexible, opening slightly to make room for various figures and closing again for support and poise. The walk is the most important element, and dancers usually walk 60%-70% of the time during a tango song.

When tango became popular again after the end of the Argentine military dictatorships in 1983, this style was resurrected by dancers from the Golden Era: Gerardo Portalea (still living), El Turco Jose (still living), Milonguita (deceased), "Finito" Ramón Rivera (deceased), "Lampazo" Jose Vazquez (deceased), Virulazo (deceased), and Miguel Balmaceda (deceased)in the milongas at Club Sin Rumbo, Sunderland, and Canning. One of the most famous examples of the elegant Salon style is the [Villa Urquiza]' style, named after the northern barrio of Buenos Aires where the clubs Sin Rumbo and Sunderland are located.

Tango milonguero (tango apilado/confiteria style)

This style developed in the 1940s and 50s in closely packed dance halls and "confiterias", so it is danced in close embrace, chest-to chest, with the partners leaning - or appearing to lean - slightly towards each other to allow space for the feet to move. There are not many embellishments or firuletes or complicated figures for the lack of space in the original milonguero style but now also those figures are danced, which only at first glance seem impossible in close embrace. Actually, a lot of complicated figures are possible even in milonguero.

Although the rhythmic, close-embrace style of dancing has existed for decades, the term "Milonguero Style" only surfaced in the mid- '90s. Many of the older dancers who are exponents of this style of Tango prefer not to use the label.

Tango Nuevo

Tango Nuevo is a dancing and teaching style. Tango nuevo as a teaching style emphasizes a structural analysis of the dance. It is a result of the work of the "Tango Investigation Group" (later transformed into the "Cosmotango" organization) pioneered by Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas in the 1990's in Buenos Aires. By taking tango down to the physics of the movements in a systematic way, they have created a method of analyzing the complete set of possibilities of tango movements, defined by two bodies and four legs moving in walks or circles. This investigation provided a view of a structure to the dance that was expressed in a systematic way.

In walks, their explorations pioneered what were once called "alterations" and are now called "changes of direction". In turns, they focus on being very aware of where the axis of the turn is (in the follower/in the leader/in between them). This tends to produce a flowing style, with the partners rotating around each other on a constantly shifting axis, or else incorporating novel changes of direction.

Many of the recent popular elements in tango vocabulary, such as single-axis turns, owe their debut on the tango scene to the popularity of Gustavo's and Fabian's approach.

From this teaching style, a new and unique style of dancing has developed, called by many a "tango nuevo" style. The most famous practitioners of "Tango Nuevo" are Gustavo Naveira, Norberto "El Pulpo" Esbrés, Fabián Salas, Chicho Frumboli, and Pablo Verón. Interestingly enough, all of these dancers have highly individual styles that cannot be confused with each other's, yet can be easily recognized as Tango Nuevo.

Tango Nuevo is often misunderstood and mislabeled as "Show Tango" because a large percentage of today's stage dancers have adopted "tango nuevo" elements in their choreographies.

Show tango

Show tango, also called Fantasia, is a more theatrical and exaggerated form of Argentine tango developed to suit the stage. It includes many embellishments, acrobatics, and solo moves. Unlike other forms of tango, stage tango is not improvised and is rather choreographed and practised to a predetermined piece of music.

The advent of "alternative Tango music"

While Argentine Tango has historically been danced to traditional tango music produced by such composers as Osvaldo Pugliese, Carlos Di Sarli, Juan D'Arienzo, in the 90's a younger generation of Tango dancers began dancing Tango to what was referred to as "alternative tango music"; music from other genres like, "World Music," "Electro-Tango," "Experimental Rock," "Trip Hop," & "Blues," to name a few. Artists like, Kevin Johansen, Gotan Project, Tom Waits, Portishead & Louis Armstrong are among those favored in alternative tango music playlists.

Tango Nuevo is often associated with "alternative tango music," but depending on the dancers, any of the other Tango styles may be danced to it.