In order to avoid confusion over terminology it is necessary to define a lexicon of the rapidly evolving categories of Tango.
- Golden Age Tango: the traditional tango music and associated dance from Argentina that had its peak in the 1930's to the 1950's.
- Nuevo Tango (music): when referencing music the label refers to the genre pioneered by Astor Piazzolla in the 1950s and 60s, or orchestras who took his direction in playing tango. Sometimes the music of Astor Piazzolla is categorized as "New Tango" to distinguish it from the modern dance form.
- Nuevo Tango (dance): when applied to dance the label refers to a modern method for analyzing how to dance Argentine Tango that has given rise to a whole new style of dancing.
- Neo-Tango: some styles of contemporary music that are used for dancing tango. Neo-Tango includes both Tango Fusion and Alternative Tango as sub-categoriees.
- Tango Fusion: the integration of tango music with other rhythms such as jazz, techno, or world beats. Famous leaders include the music of Gotan Project, Bajofondo, Carlos Libedinsky or Tanghetto.
- Alternative Tango: the non-tango music that is used for dancing tango.
Tango began in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, during the late 19th century as a fusion of different musical and dance styles from the various cultural backgrounds of the immigrants to that city. Italian, Gypsy, African, German, Caribbean, and many other cultural influences collided to create a whole new cultural synthesis which became known as Tango. Since then the dance has evolved along essentially two parallel tracks, the first being the indigenous Buenos Aires line. The second track follows the evolution of Tango as it was exported first to Paris and Europe during the late 19th century, then from Europe to America during the early 20th century, developing into a core element of the competitive Ballroom repertoire along the way.
Tango Fusion is creating a 21st century new synthesis that draws upon all the various tango dance traditions from around the world, in addition to other dance styles such as salsa and swing. Here is a brief synopsis of the different categories of tango dance....
The Argentine tradition in tango has retained many of the essential elements from its inception in the late 1800's, however it too has evolved and developed into many different forms, with Nuevo Tango taking on decidedly non-traditional elements. From its beginning the Argentine tango has been identified with the lower classes, having even been outlawed on multiple occasions by right-wing governments, prompting the dance to go underground during periods of political suppression.
The Argentine tangos are traditionally danced to music that has two primary characteristics.
- The bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument with a dark and mournful tone, is the centerpiece of the music and hallmark of the genre. The bandoneon is not an accordion, but many people mistake it for one.
- Typically there are no percussion instruments at all, and the rhythm is expressed through the strong down-beat emphasis of the strings and bandoneon.
The Argentine tangos have always been and still remain a strictly social (ie. noncompetitive) dance. Unfortunately there are many in the tango community who view Argentine Tango as the only "authentic" style. The diversity of styles within Argentine Tango itself reveal this narrow-minded attitude for the absurdity that it is. Here are the main categories of the Argentine tango tradition....
Milonga: known as "the mother of tango" this dance was the first to develop and uses a very quick and cheery tempo, which contrasts sharply with the slower and more somber style of later Argentine tango.
Salon Style: Buenos Aires salon style is what most people refer to as simply "Argentine Tango." It is the social dance that you will see in the salons of Buenos Aires to this day. Salon style is more concerned with the relationship between the dancers than for showing off to spectators. It is a very subtle dance that tends to de-emphasize the flashy or showy elements in favour of the intrinsic and subjective connection between the two dancers. Salon can be danced in open embrace, open-V, or close embrace. Salon style dancers often describe a feeling of losing awareness of the world beyond their partner. They also have an unfortunate tendency to look with disdain upon other tango styles as being less "authentic." Such attitudes are not welcome at Tango Fusion.
Milongero Style: A sub-category of Salon style that is danced exclusively in close embrace. One common characteristic of milongero style is that follows frequently dance the entire time with their eyes closed!
Fantasia: in many ways the opposite of Salon Style, fantasia is often pejoratively labeled by salon dancers as "tango for export." Fantasia is a performance dance. It is intended to be flashy and dramatic, with grand steps, lifts, aerials, jumps, dips and anything else the performers can dream up. It is innovative and experimental, which makes it inherently non-traditional. It is the style you are most likely to see at a tango performance, but most steps can not be performed on a social dance floor due to lack of space. It is considered "rude" and unwelcome by some to perform fantasia steps in a salon setting.... but you will never encounter this attitude at Tango Fusion!
Tango Waltz: essentially this is salon style danced to 3/4 rhythm tango music rather than the usual 4/4 or 2/4 tango music.
Nuevo Tango: a new style of dancing Argentine Tango that analyzes frame and connection in a rigorous and comprehensive way, pushing the movements into new territory. Some refuse this distinction and consider "nuevo tango" to be an evolutionary continuation of traditional Argentine Tango. It more commonly uses open embrace or open-V embrace, though it can also use close embrace. At minimum we can say that nuevo dancers tend to be more fluid and flexible in their embrace. If they use close embrace they will open up to perform many of the signature patterns of neuvo style.
Students from Buenos Aires took the dance with them to Paris in the late 1900's where it quickly caught on among the Parisian elites and was morphed from the seedy lower class dance of the brothels to a respectable upper-class ballroom dance. From there it was exported again to Hollywood and the United States, where it was developed into a more simplified social dance.
The music for ballroom tango is typically of the "classical" music variety utilizing the works of composers such as Bizet, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky - quite different from that used to dance the Argentine tangos. It is typically an orchestral or symphonic march with a very strong, distinctive 4/4 or 2/4 percussion rhythm. Only rarely does it have the bandoneon, although it may or may not contain an accordion.
International Style: a ballroom dance intended for competition, International Tango is danced the world over as a central component of the standard ballroom dance sport syllabus. International style is extremely technical and challenging, and rarely danced on the social dance floor. Even rarer is finding someone who thinks International Tango is "fun!"
American Style: this style was developed in North America as a more simple social dance that is not seen in international competition. Less technical and far more fun, American style is the classic Tango that most North Americans are familiar with from movies and television... the rose in the teeth, a snap of the head, sharp, staccato changes of direction! Thinking Al Pachino or Arnold Schwarzenegger? That's American Tango.
This is Tango Fusion.