Many different words are used to describe post-Golden Age tango: nuevo, electro, neo, alternative, contemporary, con-tango, fusion … Some people even use the term ‘non-tango’. Some of these terms already have historical or linguistic meaning; several do not have any clear or agreed meaning.
The term ‘neotango’ is becoming more common in Europe, and its meaning is becoming more interesting.
When I started to research this post, I intended nothing more than presentation of a few interesting opinions from DJs and organizers. As I’ve learned more, I feel that it would help us to have some clarity and consensus where possible about these terms, so I reoriented the analysis to the purpose of identifying useful terms and deprecating unuseful ones. What I’ll do here is work my way from the terms easiest to manage to the more difficult ones and then summarize at the end. My own personal observations are demarcated by italics.
For this investigation it’s vital to distinguish between different motivations for creating new alternative tango experiences.
- The desire for more physical freedom and possibilities in DANCE movement.
- The desire to dance on different MUSIC.
- The desire for a different social ATMOSPHERE.
Con-tango [DANCE] is a term about a fusion of two dance techniques: contact-improvisation and tango. (Note this is not a conjunction ot con[temporary] tango). It is its own community of dancers using different technique, and having quite different values than most tango dancers, as well as different aesthetics and footwear. It says nothing about music.
Electro-tango [MUSIC] specifically means the use of electronic instruments, rather than exclusively acoustic ones. The first electro tango band was the French Gotan Project. The first from Argentina was NarcoTango. Electro tango was extremely popular and then fell out of fashion. Today’s wave of Original Tango Orquestas may be acoustic or partly electronic; it’s no longer useful to try to strictly separate electro tango. This is a term about a historical moment in music history. Deprecated: replace with Nuevo Tango.
Nuevo Tango [MUSIC] has historical base beginning with the compositions of Astor Piazzola which fused tango with jazz, classical, and other non-tango musical movements of the time. This term is still useful for describing music that mixes tango tradition with other traditions of music.
Nuevo Tango [DANCE] The first person to use the term ‘nuevo’ about dancing was Petróleo, in the 1940s. He used this term to boast about his innovations, part of the competitive culture of the time. The more common understanding of the term ‘nuevo’ for dance applies to the period from 1993-2009. At the beginning of this period, Gustavo Naveira organized an “investigation group” which analyzed tango discovering the fundamental movement elements that underlie the sequences that Petróleo and his peers innovated. This re-conceptualization of tango enabled dancers to improvise much more easily, leading to a rapid and ambitious exploration of tango’s possibilities. Meanwhile women dancers modernized the follower’s role with agility, athleticism, strength, and flexibility from contemporary dance and yoga training. Although nobody was doing any new movements, the dancing of this era was far more varied, dynamic, and physically powerful. The term ‘nuevo’ stuck to this virtuosic expression of tango. Since 2009, nuevo has fallen out of fashion. It is rarely taught and is often denigrated and stereotyped, although most performers still use aspects of nuevo techniques. An interesting note is that Naveira did not and does not dance to Nuevo Tango MUSIC, although many of his collaborators did, and some still do. (See this page for more posts about Nuevo Tango DANCE.)
Non-tango [MUSIC] has no musicological relationship to Argentine tango music or tango sound. It is music from other genres to which dancers enjoy dancing Argentine tango. Deprecated, replace with Alternative.
Alternative [MUSIC] may or may not be “contemporary” (for example, dancers enjoy dancing to Chopin, classical operatic pieces, and older gospel and blues songs. According to DJ Elio Astor tango-danceable music is defined technically as having between 60 and 80 beats per minute and has “arrastre” (“drag”) which in tango is done mainly by bandoneón but in other songs can be done even with voice (example: Eminem) or other instruments. Arrastre enables dancers to predict when to step by dragging the rhythm before the first and third note.
As a dancer I believe that additional crucial elements of alternative tango songs are:  that the beat is not continuously heard, as that gets boring for us, and  that it have a strong melodic component, which imparts tango “feelings”.
Acoustic Tango Cover Orquestas [MUSIC] These are the living orquestas who play covers of pre-Piazzola tango songs.
Original Tango Orquestas [MUSIC] These are living orquestas who write new original tangos, staying within the tango tradition and not mixing with other musical styles. Many of these also play covers. The important distinction between Original Tango Orquestas and Nuevo Tango Orquestas is the intention is to stay within the tradition, not mixing with other music styles.
Fusion [DANCE] is not yet popular in Europe, but is growing in the US, where events encourage dancers to mix movements and techniques of different partner dances (tango, blues, swing, salsa, zouk, bachata…). According to Sébastian Sery, who knows 9 dances, zouk dancers tend to come from other dances and are happy and comfortable to mix them. According to Bo Wang, an organizer in the Los Angeles Fusion Scene, about half of the participants are dancers who have become bored with their chosen dance. The other half are beginners who want to dance to the music they like to listen to, instead of the strange stuff played at their dance school. His DJs do not rotate music from the different dance styles, but play diverse popular music between 60-90 bpm, choosing songs that appeal to and can be used by dancers of any style. (Alternative music.) This music is actually slower than what students are learning to, and they find that it’s easier to use what they’ve learned and feel competent when the music is slower.
Since 2004, DJ and Organizer Sonja Armisen. an organizer in Münich, who teaches “TangoFusionDance” explains that her
main goal…was to have a Milonga where people can dance Tango and/or freestyle (dancing alone or partner dancing in another way). The reason is so that nobody has to sit around and wait for a dance partner. It did not really work out so much that way, because only about 1% of dancers take the opportunity to dance alone. But at least people sometimes mix Tango steps with other moves from other couple dances or contact-improvisation, what makes the whole dance more free. By playing Alternative music we make the invitation to dance freely, not only Tango..
Neotango [ATMOSPHERE] ‘Neo’ is not a short version of ‘nuevo’. It is its own thing… It does not reflect any developments in dance technique or movements. It refers only to aspects of a milonga: the atmosphere created for social dancing. Neotango involves two specific atmospheric innovations in the dancing environment:
- The abandonment of a tanda structure for a continuous musical “wave” that may last from 30minutes to 2 hours, allowing dancers to get lost with their partners in a long trance, rather than being marshalled into a specific social routine.
- The use of immersive visual projections created by a VJ (Visual Jockey) and a network of high-powered projectors, along with white walls and screens, further protecting the dance couple from outside pressure of observation and social distractions.
Neotango events may be held which involve neither of these two innovations, but adhere to the values of Neotango Music (see below).
The people I interviewed emphasized a third aspect of the social atmosphere: friendliness: Ron Fenton, an organizer in Queensland, Australia describes it as “a happier bunch less concerned about what is right and what is wrong.” German VJ Andreas Lange emphasized diversity, freedom and joy, quoting Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt “We oppose the misery of power with the joy of being.” Lange explained that in neotango people “live and enjoy diversity” on the common basis of joy. “Joy is not a banality, it is the necessary strength to form a free society.”
A German organizer (who prefers anonymity) explained that for him Neo means not “relying only on big events and milongas” instead “creating small meetings with dancers who share a spirit of openness and who are sharp on experience and experiment.” For him it’s partly about creating a different context, and secondly that the dancers are more assertive in defining the physical experience, rather than mimicking standard movements: “One focus is on the body and self awareness with more engagement of the whole body, more athletic … more freedom within a mutual embrace.”
While I agree that neotango makes more space for physical expression, nevertheless the vast majority of what I have observed in neotango events is indistinguishable from any other milonga, and is danced in standard close embrace. A maximum of twenty percent of the dancers are doing anything beyond the most common tango repertoire.
Neotango [MUSIC] is inclusive of many kinds of tango and alternative tango music drawn from the world heritage of music. This can result in a diversity of different DJ styles. Some neo DJs play very little traditional tango music, while DJ Mona Isabelle of Tangoloft Berlin embraces all of tango, promising her avid audience a 50%/50% ratio of traditional tango and other music, including Original Tango Orquestas, Nuevo Tango, classical music, and popular music from blues to dubstep.
Neotango sometimes involves a DJ innovation: the mixing of songs using professional DJ hardware controllers and software, such as Traktor. This enables the DJ to create an experience that draws on the most danceable parts of songs that may not be interesting in their entirety, and to delight dancers by linking diverse music together into a single song.
Elio Astor argues that “our beautiful tango world cannot evolve relying only on the Argentinean young tango bands…the music is old and always tells the same stories.. It’s culture and stories ages far from our society, in terms of content and arrangement. It needs to be global. The dance is global…” He goes on:
Neotango, for me, is a movement of people built and based on the common sentiment of freedom shared between dancers and DJs/VJs. Due to this freedom as dancers and as djs we are both (djs and dancers) expressing our background, our skills, our tastes, our personalities. It’s a meeting with a higher degree of communication, between dancers and djs where stronger and broader range of emotions and vibrations can happen.
HOW TO REACH THESE EMOTIONS (technically).
- Every DJ can communicate in a different way, even with an iTunes playlist.
- Tracks are just TOOLS (herramientos), so DJs don’t have to focus on where the song comes from, which formal musical genre it belongs.
- If you can master DJ techniques you just have one more tool to create emotions.
- If you play a musical instrument or you sing over a track you have one more tool to create emotions.
- If you have a magic visual surrounding you have one more tool to transfer emotions.
- If you have glowing bracelets and you can dance for a while in the darkness, or if you put one hour of piano music, or one hour of synth music, this is also Neotango.
- It’s Neotango even if suddenly you play a song from Gardel!
- In this context those DJs who have more tools and do more research can be appreciated more than those who just propose a playlist. This is also relative because sometimes I enjoyed very good playlists more than badly made mixes.
Contemporary Tango [MUSIC ] is one of the most confusing and unhelpful terms. It refers only to music; there is no “contemporary tango” dance concept. The musicological meaning is music from after 1945… For Andreas Rochholl, organizer of the Contemporary Tango Festival in Berlin, DJs may play Alternative Tango but the live music is never Alternative, only from the tango tradition, including Acoustic Tango Cover Orquestas playing traditional tango songs and Original Tango Orquestas.
Others define Contemporary Tango as recently composed songs in the tango tradition (which would be me more clearly identified as Original Tango or Nuevo Tango) contrasting this music with Alternative. Dancers disappointed with the music at events advertised with the word ‘Contemporary’ are those who expect to hear Alternative tango music. Deprecated; choose a more precise and accurate term.
A consistent Vocabulary
Dancers, organizers, and DJs should to use terms consistently so that participants knows what to expect:
Acoustic Tango Cover Orquestas: Live orquestas playing covers of pre-Piazzola music. Examples: Quinteto Ángel, Orquesta La Juan D’Arienzo, Solo Tango Orquesta, Sexteto Milonguero. (Thanks to DJ Elio for this clarifying term!)
Original Tango Orquestas: Tango orquestas writing new songs but staying within the tango music tradition. Examples: Cuarteto SolTango, Esteban Morgado Cuarteto. Further additions to this list by Elio Astor: Lisandro Adrover (with various orquestas), New Tango Orquesta, Pablo Agri (Cuarteto and trio).
Nuevo Tango: This is music with roots in tango with the intention of mixing with other styles. Examples: Piazzola, Gotan Project, Narcotango, Metrotango, Tangorra, Milonga Roots, Tango Factory.
Alternative Tango: This is music that does not refer to the tango tradition. Examples: Chopin, Lindsey Stirling, Lhasa, Apocalyptica, Nat King Cole, Portishead, Hans Zimmer, Yann Tiersen, Eminem…
Neotango: A mix of world-historical music extending from Traditional pre-Piazzola Tango to Alternative, depending on the personal style of the DJ.
Terms that should be deprecated:
- Electro tango (except when speaking of the history of tango music)
- Contemporary Tango