All About Tango

tango [tang-goh] n. An improvised dance between two people as they share their experience of movement and connection across the dance floor.

Describing the Argentine Tango to anyone who has never danced it before can be challenging. They may have heard of the dance and might think they know what it is, but depending on where they encountered it they may have got the wrong impression. The ballroom version is not like Argentine Tango at all, and nor is anything they may have seen on stage or on television programmes like Strictly Come Dancing (Dancing With The Stars). If they have watched any documentaries then maybe they think of it as being for older people, or they might assume it all requires complex choreography and that you have to do exams.

So where do you start? Calling it a 'dance style' is accurate but misses a large part of the picture. You can call it 'improvised', but that can convey the false idea that there are few rules and that every dance is a little chaotic. It is described as a 'dance of connection', but if you have never danced the tango you may have no idea what that means. Popular culture often describes tango as 'sexy' or 'sensual', but whilst you can dance it in a sexy or sensual way that is not a necessary or even a common aspect of tango.

So if all those ways of describing tango are accurate but misleading, how do you describe this dance that we love so much?

Tango is...

Tango is a dance between two people who connect on the dance floor and who share a common experience of movement for the length of a piece of music.

There are no 'steps' in tango as you might understand the term from watching or learning other dance styles, but there is plenty of technique to master.

It is improvised, with no complicated step sequences to learn or choreography to follow, but this comes from every movement being infinitely variable and open to interpretation rather than there being a chaotic lack of rules.

The Many Faces of Tango

But if describing the dance is hard, understanding the differences between all the classes and events on offer can be even more confusing. Tango classes and events are often described in terms of being 'traditional', 'authentic', 'modern', 'nuevo', or any number of other categories, but what do these words actually mean? They are not different types or ways of dancing tango as the way we dance now is not substantially different to the way people danced in the 1940s. So perhaps it would help if we expressed the differences in terms of two different approaches: traditional tango and modern tango.

For many people the traditional way of learning and dancing Argentine Tango is where it comes as part of a package. As well as the dance itself there is an attempt to recreate the way things were done in Argentina between the late 1930s and early 1950s, an era known as the Golden Age. It covers more than just the dance itself, and includes a number of social codes and rules that create a unique environment for dancing. It is a holistic experience that many people find extremely rewarding as dancing becomes not just about the tango but is a temporary journey into a different world.

Conversely modern tango - or Neotango - focuses entirely on the dance itself, and makes no reference to the historical setting or the way things used to be done at a particular point in time and space. Neotango is more about celebrating the dance for its own sake in the same way that most other dance styles are viewed today. As a consequence it can also mean more or different kinds of moves, and dancing to any type of music.

As with all such groupings there is no hard or definitive line between the two. Many neotango venues carry on some of the Golden Age traditions in some way, and many traditional venues are starting to incorporate more modern ideas into their events. Both approaches have a strong and loyal following and there is no sign of that changing any time soon, and so it is important to remember that without traditional tango there would have been no way for modern tango to evolve. Equally the modern tango movement helps to raise the profile of tango overall and is no doubt contributing to the support and growth of traditional venues as well.

Tango is continuously evolving, and every few weeks it seems that we see something new appear on the tango scene. New music... new styles... new ways of teaching... new types of social dances... but very few things ever disappear. At every stage something great is formed, and so the range of choices available to new and experienced dancers only ever increases.

And that is why we love tango.