Proposal for an alternative tango nomenclature: Tango Dramático, Tango Romántico y Tango Expresivo

The globalized tango scene is reaching new heights of marketing fervour. Systems have been set up with Facebook groups and pages, professionally photoshopped posters for marathons and DJ lineups complete with the DJ’s bios and face pics. All this marketing is primarily in the service of the organisers because in the end the events are the same in terms of the important things: the ambience, the DJ-ing and the dancing. These are consistently dissatisfying even as the marketing gets louder and more professional. Marketing is really the only thing that is improving in the tango world, and as always, it only serves to promote vapid consumerism and to confuse rather than to help in decisionmaking or to educate.

I believe that a significant source of the problem is that the designations Salon Style Tango, Tango Milonguero and Tango Nuevo are no longer useful. The nomenclature needs to reflect the orientation of the dancers, the value that they extract from the event, and the values that the people attending the event hold. What do the categories “salon”, “milonguero”, “traditional” and “nuevo” tell us? Not that much, in large measure because these words lack connotations that would quickly conjure up images and inform whether this is something that one might find appealing.

81CP1j-zprL._SL1500_For example, the words “blue”, “cool” are associated with the jazz of Miles Davis and jazz musicians of that era. Later, Herbie Hancock initiated “funk” jazz which is associated with words like “groove”, “hip” (as in Hip Hop which is derived from Funk Jazz), and “beat”. These words provide information as to what to expect from this type of music: one is bluesy but cool, so that it’s something listen and relax to (hence “chill out” to but this is a more recent term). The other has a danceable (funky, groovy) beat. We use words to describe the music and the type of attitude that would be associated with it. It gives us an image of the personal style and so tells you whether this is something that would suit your particular individual or personal style, and so whether it is something that you could get into.

The problem is that the words “salon”, “milonguero”, “traditional” or “nuevo” don’t really do the job in tango dancing that the words “blue”, “cool”, “groovy” or “beat” do in relation to jazz. They are not descriptive or evocative enough as adjectives so that one cannot really conjure up an image without getting more information in the form of a lengthy verbal explanation. But if the designating word does not generate an emotional, vivid picture, and you need to use many more words to get the idea across then that word does not function to help in deciding, educating and persuading. The result is that marketing takes on that function with imagery of its own, for its own purposes of producing ever more meaningless consumable entertainments.

Now, there are readily available words that do in fact function to get across the ideas that are normally, albeit inefficiently, contained in “salon”, “milonguero”, “traditional” and “nuevo”. We normally try to express the emotional colouring of these designations using certain adjectives. If a person asks me what sort of music and style one finds in a Salon Style Tango milonga I would say that the music is dramatic. It’s usually quite loud and seems to aim at creating a sense of excitement and drama. This is reflected by the style of dancing, with an open embrace and somewhat exaggerated movements. I often hear that if the music being played is at a lower volume and is more traditional and laid back these people get bored and demand something louder and more exciting. They seem to always crave more of those dramatic peaks more typical in non-traditional (post-1950s music hall) recordings and always at an uncomfortably high volume (eg., you could not have a conversation at such volume without shouting).

Tango Nuevo on the other hand seems to me to be expressive, which is similar to the dramatic aspect of Salon Style Tango but there is even more use of outer space in the service of expressive and fluid movement. They seem to want move their arms and legs in wide circles in a manner that seems best described as expressive and outward. They usually emphasise the freedom to creatively explore possibilities and express one’s individual preferences, and to be open to possibilities and novelty.

Finally, if a person asks me to characterise Tango Estilo Milonguero I would say that it is interested in the romantic aspect of tango music expressed in a more introspective appraoch to dancing. Romance connotes a more receptive, introspective attitude that connects to the sense of longing and sadness in the music. The emphasis on conformity to tradition seems to be misunderstood. The sense of romance that is conveyed in Golden Era tango music can only be appreciated through a sense of quiet and stillness. As Roger Scruton points out, the first step in learning to listen is to learn to appreciate silence. The cultivation of the inner response to the subtle moments demand quiteness and inwardness. Unlike drama or expression, romance demands focused listening and the feeling to be shared in a more inward manner, as it were, as lovers might share a beautiful moment (a sunset, a moon) silently, holding hands.

I accept that perhaps these might not be the connotations that you make, and I am not claiming that these adjectives cannot be applied to all of the different styles. Just as Miles Davies’ jazz can be both cool and groovy, Salon Style Tango can be dramatic, expressive and romantic at the same time. The point is not to draw exclusive categories but to indicate the main focus and value that the participants attach to the event and the activity, what they prioritise. It seems to me that Salon Style Tango dancers prioritise a sense of drama, and that romance or self-expression are really just side dishes for them if one judges by the type and volume of the music that is demanded at those events and the manner of their movement. When Tango Estilo Milonguero people emphasise feeling in tango it seems to me that they are talking about the sense of romance that Golden Era Music always contains and that needs to be inwardly cultivated. When Tango Nuevo people prioritise individuality, creativity, freedom and improvisation it seems to me that their primary interest can be summarised as the pursuit of self-expression.

So I submit that the designations Dramatic Tango, Romantic Tango and Expressive Tango, or Tango Dramático, Tango Romántico and Tango Expresivo, designate much more effectively the different approaches to tango in terms of the dancing, music and ambiance. It expresses more effectively what sort of music the DJ is likely to select, his or her approach to the music set up (music files, player, DAC, speakers, filters and volume), the manner of promotion and event type (encuentro vs marathon), and the manner of dancing. The currently used designations simply do not provide useful information as to what type of teaching, organising and DJ-ing one can expect, and tend to lead to confusion and dissatisfaction among many dancers.