Tango is a dance that emphasizes playful movement, intense expression, flair, and romance. First popularized in Argentina in the late 19th century, the dance has inspired numerous different types of tango throughout the world. Usually danced to a traditional band of an accordion, bandoneon, piano, guitar, violin, double bass and vocals, this style of tango is an important part of Argentine cultural heritage.
However, when most people think of tango, they’re most likely to think of the modern ballroom variety. Full of expression, tricks, and dynamic movement, competitive modern ballroom tango is a truly spectacular dance designed to impress spectators. Equally, today, tango is danced to several different styles of music, which are divided into different categories. In this article, I’ll describe the main varieties of tango, illustrating the importance of Argentinian culture to the history of dance.
Argentine tango is one of the original types of tango that contains all the fundamental elements of 19th century tango styles: a flexible embrace, varied postures and lots of sensuality. It’s a complex dance with virtually unlimited improvisational opportunities, making it very different from the more rigid ballroom tango.
Salon-style tango is usually danced with an upright body position and can be danced in either an open or a closed position. Salon-style is characterized by both partners staying on their own axis, and by maintaining a flexible embrace that allows for rotations of the hips of both partners. Dancers must remain aware of the line of dance at all times. Salon-style tango is usually danced to the strongly-accented beats of tango music played in 4 by 4 time.
Milonguero-style tango is usually danced in a close embrace, with a slightly leaning posture. Partners must maintain constant upper body contact throughout the entire dance, even during turns. While some instructors of the style will coach dancers to lean against each other, others prefer that they maintain their own balance. Dancers should lean forward only enough to remain in the embrace. This embrace is often referred to as Apilado.
Club-style tango is a mixture of the salon and milonguero styles of tango. It’s danced in a close embrace, with partners loosening their embrace during turns. Club-style tango is danced with an upright posture.
The term orillero means “tango from the outskirts of the city.” Orillero-style tango can be danced in either the open or close embrace, although it is mostly performed in open embrace, allowing both dancers to take steps outside of the embrace. Many people agree that orillero-style tango is one of the easiest to master.
Tango canyengue is an historical form of the dance that originated in the 1920s and 1930s. This style is danced in close embrace, with dancers typically moving with bent knees to allow for smaller steps. Body movements are exaggerated in order to accent the small steps.
Tango Nuevo (new tango) developed as a style upon careful analysis of the basic structural movements of tango dancing, and the discovery of new step combinations. It is danced in an open, loose embrace in an upright posture, and each dancer must maintain their own axis. This style can be performed with either traditional tango music or more contemporary, non-tango music.
Fantasia (show tango) is danced in tango stage shows. This type combines several different tango styles, is danced in open embrace. This style of tango is characterized by exaggerated movements and “extra” dance elements not usually associated with basic social tango. The additional movements are often taken from the dance style of ballet.
Ballroom tango was developed from Argentine tango styles but modified to fit into the category of ballroom dancing. It incorporates different techniques than the smooth, Argentine dances. Tango is considered one of the easiest of the ballroom dance styles, making it a great choice for beginners. Ballroom tango is divided into two categories, American Style, and International Style. Each of these styles is considered to be a social and competitive dance, but International Style is generally used more often in ballroom competitions.
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