Neo logic

Vio's Blog: Argentine Tango

“Tell me again, what is this whole neo-nuevo-nano-nono conversation?” asked Daniel, concerned that I had collapsed into the breadcrumbs as soon as our meeting guest had departed.

I am tired of talking about it. So I’m going to just give you the latest bullet points and see if you can make any sense of it.

  • The meeting was with an organizer who wants us to help build a neo community on the other side of the planet.

“They are already very good dancers”, the organizer said, and showed a video with nice soltadas and unusual volcadas.

“Great! Then you don’t need us.”

“But for doing the neo!”

“What is that?” I asked.

“The music.”

“So you need a DJ. We don’t DJ.”

“But it’s about dancing to it in the milonga.”

“You have to find the money to fly Roberto and me there so we can give permission to dance from the elements in the milonga?” I feel like I’m being difficult. But we really do not understand what is the missing piece that we supposedly bring. If you can tell us, we will be very appreciative.

  • Last week we taught at the fabulous week-long Revelation Tango festival. We were responsible for the ‘neo’ track. Not having any idea what that was supposed to mean, we taught, as usual, tango technology, the biomechanics of connection, intention and projection, how to control the joints of the embrace, and how to improvise from the elements.

There was a daily teacher’s meeting to optimize the next day’s schedule.


“Whatever ’neo’ is, there is none of it in tomorrow’s class. It’s the basic technology of tango.”

“But,” said the organizers, “some people can’t stand your music.”

“We don’t use music in that class.”

They finally removed the word ‘neo’. After long and tedious classes about muscles, direction, and connection the students said “this is the information I was waiting for.”

  • We did a show, dancing to two pop songs because we like the emotions.

After the festival we went dancing in Berlin at our beloved Clärchens Ballhaus. The music was old tango stuff. We danced in close embrace. For us it was the same experience as the show. No comment.

Sometimes we do find music “un-danceable”. That’s usually when it’s a long series of very fast songs with unrelenting repetitive beats, like Tanghetto or that frantic French circus music, or an hour of violent violin and bandonéon like some of the more “modern” tango compositions. (We like the slow and melodic Piazzolas.)

What the tanda structure is supposed to provide is predictability. You enter the dance floor to a certain kind of music and that will continue for the length of time of a standard cabeceo contract. That block of music should not change from slow to fast or engage any other shocking change of mood.

At the festival, a friend derided the DJ for inappropriate changes between eras and composers within tranditional tandas.

I don’t know what people think Neo dancing is, but I do know what a Neo DJ is. The brilliance of true Neo DJs is the wave. Instead of tandas, they artfully design a journey of sensation and emotion, carefully weaving and transitioning between different music, using advanced techniques of beat matching and a huge range of emotionally resonant material, some of which they will only play for 15 or 20 seconds.

Someone once pointed out to me that in the Golden Age, when all milongas were under the auspices of live orquestas, there were no tandas. You went out onto the dance floor and danced to whatever the orquesta graced you with. You rose to the challenge. The sequence of songs was not in service to your comfort, but was an artistic collaboration between the orquesta maestro and you. From this perspective the neo wave is more authentic – dancers are subject to challenge and inspiration in the music, not just predictability.

It’s unlikely that cortinas existed either in the Golden Age, so dancers very likely had to take responsibility for their desire and end each dancing engagement on their own authority, rather than outsourcing social graces to the DJ.

  • Recently another friend reported on two recent festivals, which s/he had travelled to at extensive cost, with reason to expect dancing to a diversity of music.

The organizers in both cases had seemed surprised to be confronted by this expectation. One had indeed advertised a parallel ‘neo’ room. The other had not used the words ‘neo’ nor ‘traditional’ in promotion for the event, but had established over the last 15 years a branded reputation for playing a 50/50 mix of ancient tangos and other music, a reputation on which the client depended.

While I do feel this dancer deserves compensation based on fraudulent misadvertising, I am still tired of talking about it.

Here’s a blog post in which I try to sort out the meaning of nuevo, neo, etc…

  • After doing the “underscore” introductory class of contact improvisation twice, I determined that contact improvisation was not for me. The Revelation Festival was a mixed arts festival, with tango, contact, folkloric dance, and an orquestal track.

If a partner starts mixing dance techniques Roberto and I agree that the sensation is like being hit in the head. We made it clear that we were not teaching or promoting spontaneous mixing of dances.

Yet I felt there was something extraordinarily healthy in being in a context where Argentine tango is only one possible set of rules and roles. It put all of tango’s arrogance (including ours) into a box.

And I was charmed by a story of a mixed event with a fancy tango orquesta. While the tango dancers politely listened to the first song from their tables, the contact dancers responded to the beautiful music by sliding off their chairs and rolling across the floor.

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