Styles of Argentine Tango
In Buenos Aires and other parts of Argentina, tango is danced in a spectrum of individualistic or personal styles, and many tango dancers who are Argentine do not accept a categorization of their own dancing by any broad stylistic name. They simply say they are dancing tango, their own style, or the style of their neighborhood or city. A few confuse the issue further by identifying their own style by a name that other dancers associate with a different style. Consequently, clearly describing the characteristics of various styles is difficult, challenging, potentially controversial, and possibly misleading. Nonetheless, the commonalities and differences that can be found across the continuum of individual styles allow rough definitions of a number of distinguishable styles of Argentine tango that are currently danced: salon, orillero, milonguero, club, nuevo, liquid, fantasia, and canyengue.
Salon-style tango is typically danced with an upright body posture. The embrace can be close or open, but it is typically offset (with each dancer's center slightly to the right of their partner's center) and in a V (with the woman's left shoulder closer to the man’s right shoulder than her right shoulder is to his left shoulder). When salon-style is danced in an open embrace, the distance between the partners allows the woman to execute her turns more freely and pivot without requiring much independent movement between her hips and torso. When salon-style is danced in a close embrace, the couple typically loosens their embrace slightly to accomodate the turns and allow the woman to rotate more freely. If the woman rotates her hips through the turns independently of her upper torso, the embrace need not be loosened as much. Salon-style tango is typically danced to the most strongly accented beat of tango music played in 4x4 time, such as DiSarli. Those who dance salon-style tango to Juan D'Arienzo or Rodolfo Biagi typically ignore the strong ric-tic-tic rhythm that characterizes the music. Salon-style tango requires that dancers exercise respect for the line of dance.
Orillero-style tango may have been developed in the outlying neighborhoods of and around Buenos Aires where there was more space on social dance floors, or it may have its origins in the streets of poor outlying tenements. In either case, orillero-style tango was not considered acceptable in the refined salons of central Buenos Aires during the golden age of tango. In many respects, however, today's orillero-style tango is like salon-style tango. It is danced with upright body posture, and the embrace is typically offset in a V and can be either close or open. In the turns, the woman is allowed to move freely and pivot without requiring much independent movement between her hips and torso. When orillero-style tango is danced in a close embrace, the couple loosens the embrace slightly to accommodate the turns. If the woman rotates her hips through the turns independently of her upper torso, the embrace need not be loosened as much. Orillero-style tango differs from salon-style tango because it adds playful, space-consuming embellishments and figures that do not always respect the line of dance. Many of the playful elements are executed to the ric-tic-tic rhythm that characterizes the music of Juan D'Arienzo and Rodolfo Biagi.
Milonguero-style tango is typically danced with a slightly leaning posture that typically joins the torsos of the two dancers from the tummy through the solar plexus (in an embrace that Argentine's call apilado) while allowing a little bit of distance between the couple's feet. The embrace is also typically closed with the woman’s right shoulder as close to her partner's left shoulder as her left shoulder is to his right, and the woman's left arm is often draped behind the man's neck. Some practitioners of this style suggest that each dancer lean against their partner. Others say that the lean is more of an illusion in which each partner maintains their own balance, but leans forward just enough to complete the embrace. The couple maintains a constant upper body contact and does not loosen their embrace to accommodate turns or ochos, which can limit the couple to walking steps and simple ochos until both partners develop the skills for the woman to execute her turns without pivoting her feet much. Milonguero-style tango is typically danced to the ric-tic-tic rhythm that characterizes the music of Juan D'Arienzo and Rodolfo Biagi but can also be found in the music of many other tango orchestras. The ocho cortado is one the characteristic figures of milonguero-style tango because it integrates the embrace with rhythmic sensibilities of the style.
Milonguero-style tango can also be identified as apilado-, cafe-, and confiteria-style tango. One of the better-known dancers of the style, Tete, refers to his own style of tango as salon.
Club-style tango has the rhythmic sensibilities of milonguero-style tango, but it uses the posture and embrace of close salon-style tango. Club-style tango is danced with an upright posture in an offset close embrace in a V. The couple loosens their embrace slightly on their turns to allow the woman to rotate more freely and pivot without requiring much independent movement between her hips and torso. If the woman rotates her hips through the turns independently of her upper torso, the embrace need not be loosened as much. Club-style tango is typically danced to the ric-tic-tic rhythm that characterizes the music of Juan D'Arienzo and Rodolfo Biagi but can also be found in the music of many other tango orchestras. Club-style tango uses the ocho cortado and other rhythmic figures that are found in milonguero-style tango.
Tango Nuevo (New Tango)
Tango nuevo is largely a pedagogic approach to tango that emphasizes a structural analysis of the dance in which previously unexplored combinations of steps and new figures can be found. The style is danced in an open, loose embrace with a very upright posture, and a great emphasis is placed on dancers maintaining their own axes. Although the advocates of tango nuevo emphasize a new structural analysis over specific figures, some of its most identifiable figures are overturn ochos and change of directions in turns, which are most easily accomplished in a loose embrace.
Nuevo Milonguero is a relatively new style that adds some nuevo movements such as change of direction in turns, cadenas, and volcadas to milonguero-style tango.
Liquid tango is an emerging style developed from nuevo-style tango that is danced with an embrace that shifts between close and open to allow the integration of various styles of tango, particularly the nuevo and club styles.
Fantasia (Show Tango)
Fantasia is danced in tango stage shows. It originally drew from the idioms of the salon- and orillero-styles of tango but today also includes elements of nuevo-tango. Fantasia is danced in an open embrace with exaggerated movements and additional elements (often taken from ballet) that are not part of the social tango vocabulary. These balletic elements integrate well with salon-style tango because the way a couple relates to each other's space in salon-style tango is very balletic in nature, even though tango movement is more grounded like modern dance.
Canyengue is a historical form of tango that was danced in the 1920s and early 30s that may or may not be accurately captured by its current practitioners. The embrace is close and in an offset V, the dancers typically have bent knees as they move, and the woman does not execute a cross. At the time canyengue was popular, dresses were long and tight. Consequently, the steps were short and frequently executed in the ric-tic-tic rhythm that is characteristic of the tango music played by the old guard which included Francisco Lomuto, Francisco Canaro (early in his career), Roberto Firpo, and Juan de Dios Filiberto. (The modern-era orchestra Los Tubatango plays in the same style.) Some dancers of canyengue use exaggerated body movements to accent their steps.
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