I am the worst promoter ever. Here’s a typical interaction:
[potential customer, happy to meet me] “Hi Vio, I’m so glad to meet you. I’ve been admiring your dancing. It’s so beautiful. I love Tango Nuevo. Do you teach?”
[me, grumpy] “I don’t dance Tango Nuevo.”
[customer, feeling bad] “Oh, sorry. Well, uh… ”
[me, righteous] “I dance ALL of tango. I love close embrace and traditional music.”
[customer, feeling confused] “Uh oh yes, of course but um don’t you also – I mean you do this… well I really love what you do.” Then they go away, chastised and bewildered.
If I would act businesslike instead of suicidally self-righteous, my response would be:
[potential customer, happy to meet me] “Hi Vio, I’m so glad to meet you. I’ve been admiring your dancing. It’s so beautiful. I love nuevo tango.”
[me, smiling brightly] “Wow, thank you so much! I am so grateful that tango is always evolving. It gives a chance for everyone to express themselves in this amazing dance.”
[customer, feeling good] “So do you teach Nuevo Tango?”
[me, welcoming and warm] “We teach the biomechanics you need for Nuevo Tango and traditional tango…” [conspiratorial] “actually the technique is exactly the same.” And we teach how to improvise in tight spaces and to apply tango to every music you love.”
I have always refused to use the word ‘nuevo’ and this has always been a losing game. Because people don’t see me in close embrace, even when I’m snuggling there for an entire evening. They don’t notice my tight, traditional milonguera skills, and the uncharacteristic smile that comes to my face when I dance milonga …
Most tango teachers don’t want this label, not only because it’s unpopular and bad for business, but because most of us did learn traditionally, and appreciate and love the music, the embrace, and the humor and charm of traditional tango.
What’s wrong about the label is that there are no ‘styles’ in tango. Any advanced or professional dancer can dance with any other, in any embrace, to any music. We all use the same methods for connection and communication, we all reference the same lexicon of movements, and no new movements have been invented since the 1940s. (As I have written before, most of what is interpreted as “different styles of tango” is actually different LEVELS of tango.) There are personal preferences, but a dancer’s may change from one partner to another, from place to place, one year to another, even from hour to hour as the mood of the milonga changes. (In California and all of African-America the word ‘style’ is a description of courageous personhood, also called “self-creation” or “spirit” – similar to the German meaning of the word ‘authenticity‘: individual actualization, NOT –as in the non-German tango world: accurate replication.)
But those who unwittingly insult me with their compliments are also not wrong. To the extent that Nuevo Tango has any useful meaning it is the following two things, both of which are true about me (and most other professional dancers, regardless of what ‘style’ the observers paste on them):
- Argentine Tango improvisation built on the smallest possible elements, single steps (rather than improvisation built by chaining sequences).
- Argentine Tango in which the Revel’s body moves fully.
These two things I do embrace, and defend, and teach, and dance.
Here’s the briefest possible summary of what Nuevo Tango is (for references please see my summery of Caroline Merritt‘s excellent dissertation):
- 1940s: Petróleo claimed to invent a ‘Tango Nuevo’ (new tango) with his innovations
- 1955: Piazzola composes and performs (in Buenos Aires) tango music in a way that is seen as a dramatic (and controversial) innovation of tango music.
- early 1990s: As tango reemerges from a period of near-illegality under the c.1969-1983 dictatorship, the Cochabamba Investigation Group, organized by ex-academic Gustavo Naveira, analyzed tango to articulate its most elemental forms, enabling subsequent generations of tangueros to dance without relying on sequences. (Second Era of Tango Nuevo)
- early 2000s: Women came into tango after training as contemporary dancers, bringing with them a higher level of athleticism, flexibility and dynamic control, changing the aesthetic of the movements inherited from the 1940s.
My admirers are also correct in their bumbling assertions that “something is different here”. And if I am to stay sober in order to strive to be a good businessperson, I must acknowledge these. The important thing I hope readers will take to heart is that these differences are not about aesthetics, they are about gender and social-culture.
Category 1: “social tango”
The 2016 global hegemonic viewpoint about tango calls itself “social dancing”. Its ethics are: [purported] traditionalism, inclusivity (across levels, within friendship cliques), popularization (de-emphasis on accomplishment and hard work).
- music: Traditional tango music (composed and recorded before 1950) is “better” than other music for tango dancing, because of its musical complexity and richness.
- leading: A good mark constructs a physical frame and uses a simple vocabulary to enable even an inexperienced woman to have a nice time on the dance floor with him.
- who to dance with: Men should dance with the beginners, and might as well choose the ones showing the maximum amount of sexy legs. It’s ok for Revels to reverse-cabeceo because the Marks’ priority is social, not artistic.
- pleasure: Marks’ maximum pleasure comes from experiencing the smooth flow of all the dancers around the room, being desired, enjoying a nice embrace, and appreciating the music. Revels’ pleasure comes from being tenderly dominated, with musicality.
- safety: To assure the safety of other dancers, large steps should be avoided and the Revel’s leg should not use the airspace.
- pride: Marks’ pride comes from propriety to the ronda, mastery, smoothness, and elegance, so he only does things that he is sure he can do in these ways. Revels’ pride comes from obedience.
Category 2: “creative tango”
The global dissenting viewpoint about tango has not yet seized a name for itself (this is usual for minorities subject to slander). Its ethics are: personal creativity, meritocracy, innovation, ambition, and virtuosity. These are not “new” ethics in tango, these were Petróleo’s and his peers’, and they were the dominant ethics in Buenos Aires in the period before the ascendence of “social tango” c. 2010.
- music: The vocabulary and dynamic range of tango can be successfully applied to any music the dancer likes.
- leading: Tango is a technical artform, which relies upon the skill of both partners and all dancers are expected to constantly train and improve their skills.
- who to dance with: While dancers should give some of their time to help aspiring dancers, development is maximized by dancing with a partner of the highest possible level.
- pleasure: Maximum pleasure is experienced through unbroken connection while pushing the limits of physical ability and improvisational experimentation. For Revels, additional pleasure comes from the experience of moving their bodies with maximum expressivity within each movement marked.
- safety: If dancers are aware of the space around them, they can readily find places and times to safely execute nearly every movement, even when the dance floor is quite crowded.
- pride: Marks’ pride comes from their uniqueness, their rate of innovation, and their ability to reveal their talents with unexpected musical interpretation. To maximize their talent at any moment, Marks are taking risks. (Marking things they are not sure this revel will understand or execute.) Revels’ pride comes from expressing herself fully without in any way disrupting the mark’s intention.
Expanding the legacy
Indeed our admirers are deeply correct.
We have built the very first comprehensive KnowledgeBase of Argentine Tango technique. It defines and describes tango according to its most basic movements and dynamics and reveals the systems for exhaustively discovering all possible variations, to empower students with the maximum improvisational possibilities.
This work is absolutely indebted to and inspired by the work of the Cochabamba Investigation Group (progenitor of the Second Era of Nuevo Tango), both in method and substance. We have maintained their tradition of describing tango in its smallest units, and in some cases no improvement can be made, but we have sought an even higher level of precision and specification, and we have intensified the work by researching the correct anatomical and scientific terms for movement dynamics.
For dancers whose concern is the quality of the ronda and safety on the dance floor, Second Era Nuevo Tango is especially important. Crashes happen when Marks are trying to complete sequences. If you dance from the elements, you improvise with every step, so a mark can dance the whole heritage of tango with very little space.