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, parsing the commonalities and differences that can be found across the continuum of individual styles to clearly describe the characteristics of various styles is challenging, potentially controversial, and possibly misleading. Nonetheless, if we regard style to mean an approach to dancing that creates incompatibilities with other approaches and has a sufficient number of adherents who stick firmly to the listed elements, I think it is possible to create rough definitions for a number of distinguishable styles of Argentine tango: tango de salon, Villa Urquiza, milonguero, club, orillero, canyengue, nuevo, fantasia and tango escenario.
Tango de Salon
Some Additional Comments about Style
Outside Argentina, what is sometimes called "salon-style" tango may refer to
the Villa Urquiza, tango fantasia,
tango escenario or a blend of these styles. The
blended style can have a looser embrace with a more pronounced V than the Villa
Urquiza style. The greater 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. The looser embrace accommodates
showy movements and may lead to a blending of styles that many observers
would consider only suitable for exhibitions.
Milonguero-style tango can also be identified as apilado-, cafe-, and
confiteria-style tango. One of the better-known dancers of the style,
Tete, referred to his own style as "tango de salon."
All of these styles have some degree of authenticity because they draw from the practices, idioms, and historical precedents of Argentine tango as it is and was danced in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and other cities in Argentina and Uruguay. Some styles are more popular in a particular city or in venues within a city, but popularity should not be confused with authenticity. Fantasia and tango escenario are authentic for exhibition dancing but not for social dancing.
Some of the confusion about authenticity may be the result of different styles serving different social purposes during the golden age of tango. The Villa Urquiza style of tango was danced in very nice clubs, where one was expected to get dressed up and dance very slowly. The milonguero and club styles were danced in more crowded venues, some of dubious reputation. Orillero was considered a lower class or street style of tango. In many cases, the same individual would dance somewhat different styles in different venues or to different music.
Which Styles Have an Open Embrace and Which Have a Close Embrace?
All of the styles except tango escenario can be danced in a close embrace. Although Villa Urquiza and orillero-style tango can be danced in a open embrace, they are more typically danced in a close embrace in Buenos Aires and other parts of Argentina. Milonguero- and club-style tango are only danced in a close embrace. The milonguero-style 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. The nuevo embrace is loose and elastic, but many of the movements that are emphasized in tango nuevo can be danced in either the apilado or the close offset V embraces.
Embrace and Frame
Some people distinguish between milonguero and other styles of tango by claiming that the frame in milonguero-style tango is in the woman, and in other styles the frame is created in the arms of the embrace. Whether the frame is inside the woman or in the arms of the embrace depends largely upon the closeness and softness of the embrace. A firm, distant embrace places the frame in the arms of the embrace. As the embrace becomes closer and softer, the frame is moved into the woman's body in all styles.
What Is Salon-Style Tango?
The term "salon-style" has been applied to a range of styles from Villa Urquiza to fantasia. Sometimes tango escenario is taught as salon-style tango. Because the Villa Urquiza style serves as the base for the exhibition styles of tango, it is relatively easy to add exhibition elements to Villa Urquiza that are inappropriate for social dancing. Adding these elements belies the name salon-style because the resulting style is unsuitable for dancing in crowded milongas.
Isn't Salon-Style Tango an Exhibition Style of Tango?
What is taught as "salon-style tango" can range from Villa Urquiza to fantasia or tango escenario. The two exhibition styles can be thought of as an extension of Villa Urquiza because they rely heavily upon Villa Urquiza tango for a basic set of movements. Exhibition tango adds showy figures and embellishments (and sometimes ballet or other theatrical movements) that are inappropriate for social dancing. Many tango instructors confuse their students by teaching an indistinguishable blend of social and exhibition figures and calling it salon tango. This hybrid style is characterized by an open embrace, large steps, dramatic pauses, conspicuous ornamentation, and sometimes a disregard for the line of dance. The hybrid style is danced socially by many thousands of dancers outside of Argentina and Uruguay, who are mostly unaware that their style of dancing of unsuitable for dancing in crowded milongas in Buenos Aires or elsewhere.
Which Styles Are Improvisational and Which Are Choreographed?
All of the styles are potentially improvisational including fantasia and tango escenario. Stage tango is often choreographed. Exhibitions at milongas can be improvised or choreographed. Many instructors who describe the style they teach as salon tango emphasize memorized figures in their teaching. Such teachers may still intend that their students understand that tango is an improvisational dance that follows a strict line of movement around the dance floor.
Which Styles Are Feeling and Which Are Analytical?
Some people look upon improvisation in Villa Urquiza, orillero, fantasia, and nuevo tango as puzzle pieces that are assembled as you dance, and those who teach the structure of tango within these styles can emphasize the analytical nature of the dance. If these styles are held in the intellectual domain and not moved into the intuitive and emotional domains, they can remain a dry, analytical puzzle. Dancers and instructors of milonguero-style tango often emphasize the intuitive and feeling aspects of the style, but it can be approached in an equally analytical manner to the other styles.
How Are the Milonguero and Club Styles Related?
As described above, the styles are very similar and may be or have become variations within a single style. According to Edaurdo Arquimbau, a leading dancer of the style, club-style tango was danced in some of the clubs de barrios during the 1950s, while milongueros were dancing somewhat different styles in central Buenos Aires (which Arquimbau seemed to imply was much like what is now known as Villa Urquiza). Arquimbau also maintains that several of the better-known milonguero-style dancers took lessons in club-style tango from him during the 1950s. His claim has led some to raise the possibility that club-style tango may have played an important role in the development of milonguero-style tango and that the two styles are essentially the same.
Other facts point to the possibility of evolutionary convergence. Club-style tango may have developed as orillero-style dancers moved indoors and adapted their rhythmic dance to smaller spaces. Milonguero-style tango may have developed after the tango salons closed, and some dancers modified their smoother style by adding highly rhythmic elements to create interesting movement in smaller spaces in which they now had to dance.
Ric-tic-tic is onomatopoeia for the staccato rhythms that are prominent in the music of Juan D'Arienzo, Rodolfo Biagi, and some other golden-era orchestras. With Biagi on the piano, D'Arienzo's orchestra debuted in the 1930s with the ric-tic-tic rhythm. Although some describe music with the ric-tic-tic rhythm as 2x4, the characteristic rhythm of this music is actually created through a variation in accented beats that yields an alternation of single-time and double-time rhythms. For example, the music might be played one and two and, one and two and, one and two and, one and two and (where boldface represents the accented beats), and the dancers might respond slow, slow; quick, quick, slow; slow, slow; quick, quick, slow. One might express the chararacteristic stacatto rhythm of this music as one, two; ric, tic, tic; one, two; ric, tic, tic.
Some tangos contain more complex rhythms and longer phrases of double-time staccato accents. Juan D'Arienzo's "El Flete" contains a rhythmic figure of one and two and one and two and, one and two and one and two and, one and two and one and two and, one and two and one and two and. For the dancer adhering strictly to the accents, that rhythmic figure becomes the demanding and rapid fire slow, pause, slow, pause; quick, quick, quick, quick, slow, pause; slow, slow, slow, slow; quick, quick, quick, quick, slow, pause. For a dancer taking the music at half speed, the rhythmic figure becomes the familiar slow, pause, slow, pause; quick, quick, quick, quick, slow, pause; slow, slow, slow, slow; quick, quick, quick, quick, slow, pause (where boldface represents the beats used for dancing).