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Tango


Argentine Tango is a social dance and a musical genre that originated in Argentina and moved to Uruguay and to the rest of the world later on.

Argentine Tango consists of a variety of styles that developed in different regions and eras, and in response to the crowding of the venue and even the fashions in clothing. Even though they all developed in Argentina, they were also exposed to influences reimported from Europe.

Argentine Tango is danced in an embrace that can vary from very open, in which leader and follower connect at arms length, to very closed, in which the connection is chest-to-chest, or anywhere in between. Close embrace is often associated with the more traditional styles, while open embrace leaves room for many of the embellishments and figures that are associated with Salon Style or Tango Nuevo.

Tango is essentially walking with a partner and the music. Musicality (i.e. dancing appropriately to the emotion and speed of a tango) is an extremely important element of tangoing. A good dancer is one who makes you see the music. Also, dancers generally keep their feet close to the floor as they walk, the ankles and knees brushing as one leg passes the other.

Argentine Tango relies heavily on improvisation; although certain patterns of movement have been codified by instructors over the years as a device to instruct dancers. One of the only constants across all Argentine Tango styles, is that the follower will usually be led to alternate feet. Another is that the follower rarely has her weight on both feet at the same time.

Argentine tango is a new orientation of couple dancing. As most dances have a rational-pattern which can be predicted by the follower, the ballast of previous perceptions about strict rules has to be thrown overboard and replaced by a real communication contact, creating a direct non-verbal dialogue. A tango is a living act in the moment as it happens.

Argentine Tango is danced counterclockwise around the outside of the dance floor (the "line of dance") and dance "traffic" often segregates into a number of "lanes"; cutting across the middle of the floor is frowned upon. In general, the middle of the floor is where you find either beginners who lack floor navigation skills or people who are performing "showy" figures or patterns that take up more dance floor space.

It is acceptable to stop briefly in the line of dance to perform stationary figures, as long as the other dancers are not unduly impeded.

The school of thought about this is, if there is open space in front of you, there are likely people waiting behind you. Dancers are expected to respect the other couples on the floor; colliding or even crowding another couple, or stepping on others' feet is to be avoided strenuously. It is considered rude; in addition to possible physical harm rendered, it can be disruptive to a couple's musicality.

A striking difference between Argentine tango and ballroom tango is in the shape and feel of the embrace. Ballroom technique dictates that partners arch their upper bodies away from each other, while maintaining contact at the hip, in an offset frame.

In Argentine tango, it is nearly the opposite: the dancers' chests are closer to each other than are their hips, and often there is contact at about the level of the chest (the contact point differing, depending on the height of the leader and the closeness of the embrace).

In close embrace, the leader and the follower's chests are in complete contact and they are dancing with their heads touching or very near each other. In open embrace, there can be as much space as desired between the partners, but there should always be complete contact along the embracing arms to give optimum communication. Since Argentine tango is almost entirely improvisational, there needs to be clear communication between partners. Even when dancing in a very open embrace, Argentine Tango dancers do not hold their upper bodies arched away from each other; each partner is over their own axis. Whether open or closed, a Tango embrace is not rigid, but relaxed, like a hug.

Another difference is that the leader may freely step with his left foot when the follower steps with her left foot too. In English, this is sometimes referred to as a "crossed" or "uneven" walk (or as "walking in the crossed system") in contrast to the normal walk which is called "parallel" or "even”. Furthermore, the flexibility of the embrace allows the leader to change his weight (from one foot to another) yet keeping the follower's weight unchanged. This is another major difference with ballroom tango, where a weight change by one partner leads to an automatic weight change by the other.

Argentine tango music is much more varied than ballroom tango music. A large amount of tango music has been composed by a variety of different orchestras over the last century. Not only is there a large volume of music, there is a breadth of stylistic differences between these orchestras as well, which makes it easier for Argentine tango dancers to spend the whole night dancing only Argentine tango.

The are many representative schools of the Argentine tango music: Canaro, Di Sarli, D’Arienzo, Tanturi, Troilo and Pugliese to name a few. They are dance orchestras, playing music for dancing. When the spirit of the music is characterized by counterpoint marking, clarity in the articulation is needed.

It has a clear, repetitive pulse or beat, a strong tango-rhythm which is based on the 2x4, 2 strong beats on 4 (dos por cuatro). Astor Piazzolla stretched the classical harmony and counterpoint and moved the tango from the dance floor to the concert stage. His compositions tell us something of our contemporary life and dancing it relates much to modern dance.

Unlike the majority of social dance, Argentine tango is not a set step, but is a completely improvised dance combining various steps in a spontaneous manner, as determined by the lead. Most Argentine tango teachers teach complex figures, but then break them down into simpler parts. They then teach students how to improvise their own figures.

Here is what might be taught in beginner classes:

- Caminadas: "walks" in Spanish
- Baldosa: ("tile") a six-step figure similar to the ballroom box step. Except the man starts with his right foot, then steps back, side, forward, side, together.
- Salida: ("exit", also "beginning" - as of a journey) any of several patterns that begin a figure. The first half of the baldoso is one such pattern.
- Resolución: any of several patterns that end a figure. The second half of the baldoso is one such pattern.

An Argentine tango figure, then, is the pattern salida + basic steps + resolución. (In the baldoso the number of basic steps is zero.) This makes for flexible, ever-changing patterns unlike those of conventional partner dances. This gives leaders exceptional opportunity to improvise, and is part of why the Argentine tango is unique in the dance world.

There are other basic steps than caminadas, including the following:
- Cadencias: "cadence" as when soldiers "count cadence" by stepping in place. (The word is sometimes mistakenly applied to the following.)
- Cunitas or Cortes: rock steps, to side, forward, or back. Comes from rocking a cuna "cradle"
- Cazas: "chases" when one foot steps forward and the other chases it to step beside it. Can be used as a resolución.
- Stepping outside, walking outside: the man moves further to his left (or less often right) so that both his feet are outside his partner's.
- Cruzado: (from cruzar - to cross) the follower steps back right then back left, crossing her left foot over her right before finishing the step.
- A "chase" with a "cross": One way to go from the outside position back to the inside position.
- Ocho: a figure-8 traced by the follower's feet when moving forward or backward.
- Media Luna: a half moon, the shape of a half giro.
- Molinete or Giro: (windmill, wheel) the follower walks in a cadena (chain, braid, grapevine) around the leader (in either left or right direction).
- Paso Básico: "basic step" There are several, including the baldosa. Another popular one begins with the three-step salida from the baldosa. However, on step 2, the side step, the leader steps outside his partner. After step 3 he then leads his partner into the two steps of the cruzado. The three steps of the resolución makes eight steps in all. This eight-step pattern is abbreviated the 8CB.

Intermediate steps further spice up the caminadas, including the following "dueling feet" actions. These are ways for leaders to challenge and tease their partners.
- Sacada:  the leader displaces his partner's unweighted leg outward as they walk.
- Parada: the leader halts the motion of the other dancer with her legs apart and weight on both feet.
- Barrida: one partner sweeps the others foot, displacing it along the floor.
- Arrastre: (drag) synonym for "barrida".
- Sandwich: the leader places both feet on either side of the other dancers forward foot.
- Gancho: one dancer hooks their leg around their partner's leg.

Women also can contribute to the in-the-moment improvisations of tango dancing with adornos ("adornments"). These include the following:
- Golpecitos: "little toe taps" done between steps.
- Golpes: "toe taps" which rebound high behind the woman - not recommended on a tight floor!
- Amagues: "threats, feints" Generally a quick change of step done by one foot across in front of the other. May be very small changes.
- Boleos: “volley” or "throws" When an ocho is quickly reversed in the middle, the woman's foot is thrown to the side and wraps around her leg at the knee.
- Caricias: "caresses" Usually by the woman, who rubs her thigh, calf, or foot down his body.

Advanced tango steps are often borrowed from tango shows, but modified for the tight spaces and flow of other dancers around the floor.
- Saltitos: "little leaps".
- Elevaditos: "little lifts".
- Colgadas: spins around a common center while leaning outward.
- Volcadas: extreme leans, usually followed by an adorno. These include amagues or front boleos, a drag of the woman across the floor, and calesitas (carousels, or merry-go-rounds).

Argentine Tango dancers usually enjoy two other related dances: Vals (waltz) and Milonga.

Music for the Vals is in 3/4 time but otherwise very similar to Tango music. Tango dancers dance the Vals much like they do tango only with a waltz rhythm that has one beat per measure (at a beginner-level). This produces a rather relaxed, smooth flowing dancing style in contrast to Viennese Waltz where the dancers often take 3 steps per measure and turn almost constantly. Experienced dancers alternate the smooth one-beat-per-measure walk with syncopated walks, stepping on one- two- or (rarely) all three beats in a measure. Vals is characterized by its lack of pauses, and continual turns (giros) in both directions.

Milonga is essentially Tango; the differences lie in the music, which has a strongly-accented beat, and an underlying "habanera" rhythm. Dancers avoid pausing, and often introduce syncopations called traspies and broken rhythm into their walks and turns. Milonga uses the same basic elements as Tango, with a strong emphasis on the rhythm, and figures that tend to be less complex than some of those danced in some varieties of Tango.
Milonga is also the name given to tango dance parties. This double meaning of the word milonga can be confusing unless one knows the context in which the word "milonga" is used. People who dance at milongas are known as milongueros.

Styles of Argentine tango:

Tango canyengue:
"Tango canyengue" refers to a style of Tango danced until the 1920s. Reportedly, the long tight fashion in dresses of that era restricted the follower's movements. Consequently, the style involves short steps. The dancers tend to move with knees slightly bent, the partners slightly offset, and in a closed embrace. The style tends to be danced to a 2/4 time signature.

Tango orillero:
Tango orillero refers to the style of dance that developed away from the town centers, in the outskirts and suburbs where there was more freedom due to more available space on the dance floor. The style is danced in an upright position and uses various embellishments including rapid foot moves, kicks, and even some acrobatics, though this is a more recent development.

Salon Tango:
Salon Tango was the most popular style of tango danced up through the Golden Era of the dance (1950's) when milongas (tango parties) were held in large dance venues and full tango orchestras performed. Later, when the Argentine youth started dancing rock & roll and tango's popularity declined, the milongas moved to the smaller confiterias in the center of the city, resulting in the birth of the "milonguero/ apilado/ Petitero/ caquero" style. Salon Tango is characterized by slow, measured, and smoothly executed moves. It includes all of the basic tango steps and figures plus sacadas, barridas, and boleos. The emphasis is on precision, smoothness, and musicality. The couple embraces closely but the embrace is flexible, opening slightly to make room for various figures and closing again for support and poise. The walk is the most important element, and dancers usually walk 60%-70% of the time during a tango song.

Milonguero Style: (tango apilado/confiteria style)
This style originated as the 'petitero' or 'caquero' style in the 1940s and 50s in closely packed dance halls and "confiterias", so it is danced in close embrace, chest-to chest, with the partners leaning - or appearing to lean - slightly towards each other to allow space for the feet to move.
There are not many embellishments or firuletes or complicated figures for the lack of space in the original milonguero style but now also those figures are danced, which only at first glance seem impossible in close embrace. Actually, a lot of complicated figures are possible even in milonguero.

Tango Nuevo:
Tango Nuevo is a dancing and teaching style. Tango nuevo as a teaching style emphasizes a structural analysis of the dance. It is a result of the work of the "Tango Investigation Group" pioneered by Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas in the 1990's in Buenos Aires. By taking tango down to the physics of the movements in a systematic way, they have created a method of analyzing the complete set of possibilities of tango movements, defined by two bodies and four legs moving in walks or circles. This investigation provided a view of a structure to the dance that was expressed in a systematic way.
In walks, their explorations pioneered what were once called "alterations" and are now called "changes of direction" or "cambios". In turns, they focus on being very aware of where the axis of the turn is (in the follower/in the leader/in between them). This tends to produce a flowing style, with the partners rotating around each other on a constantly shifting axis, or else incorporating novel changes of direction.
Many of the recent popular elements in tango vocabulary, such as Colgadas, owe their debut on the tango scene to the popularity of Gustavo's and Fabian's approach.
From this teaching style, a new and unique style of dancing has developed, called by many a "tango nuevo" style practitioners of "Tango.
Tango Nuevo is often misunderstood and mislabeled as "Show Tango" because a large percentage of today's stage dancers have adopted "tango nuevo" elements in their choreographies.

Show tango:
Show tango, also called Fantasia, is a more theatrical and exaggerated form of Argentine tango developed to suit the stage. It includes many embellishments, acrobatics, and solo moves. Unlike other forms of tango, stage tango is not improvised and is rather choreographed and practised to a predetermined piece of music. This means that often moves are shown that cannot be led.

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