The streets you walk are stone in the old city. People are milling around – some on the move while others stand talking to others or observing others. The smell of street food is constantly challenging you.
Your ear detects music starting from within a nearby building. The rhythms remind you a fusion of African and Latin sounds; then a haunting bandoneon (concertina) and violin join the rhythm. The music draws you into the building like a magnet. The place is alive – some conversing, some focusing on the music, others dancing, and others watching the dancers in sync with the rhythms. Your soul is touched. You are hooked.
The history of many dances is a combination of myths, legends, unrecorded history, known events of time and place, a blending of cultures, and word origins. The cultures of Africa, Portugal, Spain, Britain, Italy, Poland, and Russia integrate with the lower-class locals of Buenos Aires. The result – Argentine Tango.
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The initial spread of Argentine Tango is linked to the sons of wealthy Argentine families who travelled – but at home – Argentine Tango became an important part of their culture – even having a Golden Age (1930s – 1950s) – but then the military dictatorship suppressed the dance for nearly 30 years.
Argentine Tango and Ballroom Tango (American and International) are different dances – not different styles of the same dance. Their 4/4 timing and musical rhythms have some commonality, but not always.
Ballroom Tango is dynamic, dramatic, edgier, staccato, sharp, and strong – but Argentine Tango is sensual, intimate, personal, interpretive, and smooth. The dancer’s alignment to each other and their holds are different – as are the steps and their timing.
Key Elements of Argentine Tango
The embrace refers to the contact and position of the dancing partners, which can be open, closed, or someplace in between. In the closed embrace, partners connect chest-to-chest, heads touching, and bodies leaning forward (think of an inverted V). In the open embrace, the space between the partners vary. No matter the embrace choice, the bodies should not be arched away from each other as in ballroom. Also unlike ballroom, arms are more inward with the elbows down (not out).
Because Argentine Tango is improvisational, communication must be clear and through the connections between the partners. For the lead, communication is subtle, so every little movement counts. Followers must tune in to detect the subtleties, so some followers close their eyes to immerse themselves into the embrace, the music, and the dance experience.
Argentine Tango is two people walking together in the embrace. A step involves moving to all the weight being on one foot (which creates a free foot with no weight). The next step may include another step or a weight transfer to the other foot.
There are many important aspects to the walk. For instance, pushing into the step is paramount over reaching for or falling into it – plus, maintaining a firm and balanced contact between the upper bodies in the embrace.
The are two types of walks: parallel (even) and crossed (uneven).
The video below involves two accomplished Argentine tango dancers – but note – they are just walking. Notice their embrace, weight shifts, posture, and how good they look doing the most-basic steps.
Argentine Tango is not choreographed or fixed with predetermined patterns. Although a lead-and-follow dance, the subtle nature allows the dancers to appear moving as one.
Besides the walk (caminar), other common steps/figures include the cross (cruce), leg hooks (ganchos), figure-eights (ochos), turns (giros), opposite-direction turns (contragiros), displacements (sacadas), foot-by-foots (llevadas de pie), cuts (cortes), breaks (quebradas), links (baleos), and others.
Let’s bring back Sebastian and Roxana for a dance involving more than just walks.
Not all Argentine Tangos are created equal because different styles exist that depend on factors as floor size, type of embrace, length of steps, speed of music, and culture. Styles as Salon, Milonguero, Milonga, Tango Nuevo, Canyengue, Vals, and others have their setting in both place and music.
Argentine Tango has found a place on the stage and screen. Tango Argentino was on Broadway in the 1980s. Forever Tango (in the mid-1990s) toured the US as a show before having a long-running stint on Broadway
The big screen has provided a long list of Argentine Tango scenes through the ages. Here’s a snippet. Argentine Tango serves as an important backdrop in The Adios Buenos Aires (1938), The Tango Bar (1988), Tango (1998), Assassination Tango (2002), and Tango Libre ( 2012). Dances scenes also provide impact as in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), Scent of a Woman (1992), Evita (1996), and Moulin Rouge (2001). Scenes from Shall We Dance (2004) and Take the Lead (2006) fuse elements of Argentine and ballroom into their tango.
For those who want to compare, here’s my past post on Ballroom Tango.
Personally, I know enough Argentine Tango to be dangerous because I rely on my ballroom instincts, musicality, and ability to improvise to be a solid beginner. On the other hand, ballroom also gets in the way of the posture elements necessary in Argentine Tango. I would love to learn more, but the city’s Argentine Tango studio is further away than we prefer.
To conclude this post, below are 4 Argentine tangos to enjoy. Each is well done, different, and full of sensuality. Which did you watch or enjoy the most?