Until the mid-1990s, tango was understood in groups of steps, or sequences. The Maestros of the Golden Age competed with one another for innovations in sequences. After the dictatorship, when young people began to learn tango again, they came with new perspectives. A young economist, Gustavo Naveira, organized the Cochabamba Investigation Group to analyze tango. He invited men and women trained in other dances and physical techniques. Using perceptions and vocabulary from classical and modern dance, as well as academic analysis, they were able to see tango beyond sequences. They distilled tango to its most basic elements, from which dancers could compose their own sequences.
One of the most elegant examples is sacadas. Instead of sacadas existing here and there as part of a sequence, the Cochabamba perspective identified the sacada as an element with a distinct character – displacement. Displacement requires a perpendicular movement into the partner’s axis. They then searched systematically for the variations, finding 48.
The receiver has 6 possibilities: front, back, and side with either foot. We show these possibilities for just one of the entrant’s steps. This means there are 24 sacadas for each partner.
There are 25 distinct tango Elements (see the Lexicon), each with a number of variations ranging from 5-100.
Classical and modern dancers also brought more power and flexibility to tango, enabling any element to be danced with a wide range of physical dynamics. This dynamic fluency enabled them to dance to the new tango being created by their compatriots, who integrated electronic instruments, jazz, and dramatic symphonic moods into the tango music tradition.
When dancers influenced by Cochabamba hit the floor, they improvised from the elements instead of dancing familiar sequences. With more muscle and flexibility they could take bigger, more powerful steps, and the movements of their free legs became more extended and fluid. The appearance of the dance changed, although the elements were nothing new.
Physical power and freedom in the dance were also facilitated by changes in textile technology and fashion. Rubber shoes could hold the floor under more muscle power, and stretchy, less restrictive, clothing allowed dancers to extend their bodies.
We can do any variation with a number of different dynamics bringing our total expressive possibilities well beyond 1000.
When Maestro El Pulpo visited Los Angeles, dancers in the milongas muttered that his spectacular performances must be choreography. I was only a beginner, but I knew they were wrong because I was dancing with him in private lessons and taking technique classes with his partner, Luisa Paez. This misunderstanding irked me, but it was many years until I understood tango more profoundly and could mark Pulpeades myself to be able to explain El Pulpo’s genius.
He took the classical vocabulary of barrida and sandwichito, a communication method between the dancers’ feet which says “do not break the contact, follow my foot” and he extrapolated it up the leg, so that barrida can be marked with the calf and thighs. It’s then possible to make barridas and sandwichitos to ganchos.
In this sense, like the Cochabamba Investigation Group, El Pulpo’s dramatically modern aesthetic of tango was nothing new, it only took a classical idea of tango and applied it to modern bodies, modern sensibilities. What changed was not the dance, but our sensibilities about propriety. It’s ok –even delicious– to have more contact between the legs.
Pulpo had extraordinary fluidity in his hips. This enabled him to move around me with incredible skill and sensuality, yet only making contact with our legs.
The sweep/pass-through: Standard barrida sweeps the revel’s projected leg from front or back step to side step. As a Pulpeade, the mark wraps his own leg around the revel’s calf or thigh. This can be done to the outside or inside of her leg. Can be initiated with a mark’s gancho or patada.
The pick up: Standard barrida who arcs up from the floor and down to another spot. As a Pulpeade, the foot is lifted into a gancho.
Sandwichito (Mark’s or Revel’s) when the first gancho is front or back open for the dancer doing the sandwichito. This has the result that the Revel transitions her free leg from a front to back gancho or vice versa (or to double-gancho).
Mark’s front or back step (equivalent to walking around her during calesita) this has the result that the revel’s gancho is transferred from one of his legs to the other leg.
Revel’s soltada-pirouette. The mark doesn’t have to move in order to release the revel in a soltada pirouette into the next gancho.
Tango as a collaboration with history
The dancers of the Cochabamba Group and El Pulpo are misunderstood as innovators, people who distorted and departed from tango. In reality, they found pleasure and power through very deep understandings of the tango inheritance.
Genius is to find something new inside of what we think we already know.