August 2, 2012

The Styles of Tango

Many terms are used to describe different styles of tango, such as tango milonguero, tango apilado, tango Villa Urquiza, estilo del centro, estilo del barrio, tango de salon, tango fantasia and tango Nuevo, etc. 

The fundamental cause of stylistic differences lies in human psychologies. People who are feeling-oriented incline to personal experience and inward feelings. These dancers, of whom many are milongueros, have developed the milonguero style, which is danced in a close embrace with slight leaning (apilado) against each other, using simple and compact steps. Such dancers often dance at the clubs in downtown Buenos Aires where the floors are crowded—hence the term estilo del centro, or downtown style. Milonguero style features the embrace.

People who are movement-oriented incline to steps and outward look. Such dancers, of whom many also are milongueros, have developed the Villa Urquiza style, which is danced in a loose embrace with an upright posture, using stylish steps, more pauses and adornments. These dancers like to dance at the neighborhood clubs, such as Sin Rumbo in the neighborhood of Villa Urquiza, where the floors are less crowded—hence the term estilo del barrio, or neighborhood style. Villa Urquiza style features the footwork.

Milonguero style and Villa Urquiza style are commonly recognized as tango de salon, or social tango. Social tango is a loose term broad enough to include stylistic differences and narrow enough to exclude anti-social behaviors. Social dancers may be feeling-oriented or movement-oriented, but they all dance at the clubs and abide by the milonga codes.

Social tango dominated the culture of Buenos Aires from mid 1930s to mid 1950s. From 1940 to 1950, some twenty-three dancers, who were even more movement-oriented than their Villa Urquiza colleagues, met regularly at the Club Nelson to work on new steps, and they gave birth to a new style which they named tango fantasia. (Tango, the Art History of Love, by Robert Farris Thompson.) Danced in open embrace, tango fantasia dramatized tango with showy figures and fancy footwork, and separated itself from social tango by using choreography and not conforming to milonga codes. The main purpose of this style is to perform on the stage; therefore, it is known as show tango, performance tango, exhibition tango, or stage tango.

From 1955 to 1983 Argentina was ruled by a succession of military juntas whose policies discouraged social tango. Curfews were enforced and people were under routine checks for their police records. Many were arrested or simply disappeared for aligning with the previous Peronist regime. As a result, people stopped dancing socially, and tango went underground. The absence of social tango during that period gave tango fantasia an opportunity to take the stage. When the military rule ended in 1983, it was this style that led the revival
of tango. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.)

After the revival of tango, some movement-oriented dancers went further from tango fantasia to create tango Nuevo, a hybrid style combining tango and non-tango elements, such as exotic music and eccentric steps. Tango Nuevo not only separates itself from social tango, but from tango entirely, in my opinion, because it no longer possesses the essential characteristics of tango and thus ceases to be tango as it was created for. (See Why People Dance Tango).

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