A Perspective on Argentine Tango
by Brent & Judy
tango presents a new dimension of variety for a “classically”
trained ballroom/round dancer. It is one dance that is as much or
more involved with the social expression of a culture than we in the
outside world associate with dance styles. This cultural influence
coupled with a wider variety of positions and some different
techniques employed in moving from position to position makes this
rhythm initially challenging to our traditional understanding. This
article will attempt to impart the flavor of the dance without
delving into descriptions of the figures.
the cultural tone of tango, here’s what the famous Argentine tango
choreographer and dancer, Juan Carlos Copes, says about it: “The
tango is a man and woman in search of each other. It is the search
for an embrace, a way to be together, when the man feels that he is a
male and the woman feels that she is a female, without machismo. She
likes to be led; he likes to lead. Disagreements may occur later or
they may not. When that moment comes, it is important to have a
positive and productive dialogue, fifty-fifty. The music arouses and
torments, the dance is the coupling of two people defenseless against
the world and powerless to change things. This is the best definition
of the tango as a dance, I think.”
the cultural influence is the key dilemma we face in acquiring this
rhythm. We use dance for many things--exercise, art, self expression,
mental stimulation, a social vehicle—but not for expressing the
cultural relationships between men and women. We must now utilize
that which we have learned from our previous dance training to
“formalize” the various nuances peculiar to the Argentine style
into a form that we can communicate easily to each other.
and foot action form the essential elements of any dance and the
Argentine tango style uses more positions than we normally associate
with closed position dancing and fewer but unique foot actions. The
Argentine style places emphasis on foot placement and each position
is a very logical and enabling element for each pattern of steps.
There are three to four variations of what we traditionally think of
as "closed" position. One is like the one we are most
familiar with, another is what we would think of as a looser or
"Latin" closed position, and the others have no ready
equivalents but are noted by different angles with the partner's body
and variations in arm positions. However, the common element is that
the footwork is between the partner’s feet for the right foot.
Teachers of Argentine tango call all these actions "dancing
addition to the "closed" positions, the familiar movements
outside the partner (what we descriptively call banjo and sidecar to
indicate which side) are utilized. They are at times very close and
at times quite loose but have that conventional feel that comes from
doing them many times before. Identify these actions as "dancing
set of positions is utilized in which the hips are essentially
parallel and in line with (or even slightly past rather than facing)
the partner’s hips. In some cases the couples are facing opposite
directions and in others the same direction. We do not have a similar
position but it is an essential position for many Argentine figures.
These positions are said to be "dancing beside or dancing along
promenade or sem-closed positions are similar to those we are
familiar with but do have that common feature of the Argentine style
of having degrees of looseness in the hold. These are called “dancing
actions in the Argentine tango are not based on the walking dance
that has developed in the Northern Hemisphere. They are more like
Latin dancing but with more flow. All basic steps are a ball of foot
glide when moving forward or to the side and whole foot when being
placed under the body. Some theatrical techniques, however, do
utilize gentle heel leads. Backing steps are as in all dances without
rise--toe to flat as body weight comes over the foot. And, when
closing, the feet are placed side-by-side (instead of off-set) which
causes some straightening of the knee. The resulting gentle rise and
fall naturally happens but is never emphasized in the Argentine
is a structural model for “basic” figures we find useful.
Fundamental figures (basics) have a beginning (called a start), a
middle (a salida or way out), and an ending (called the resolution).
A typical basic will occupy three measures of music--one for the
start, one for the middle, and one for the resolution. Usually more
elaborate figures take one of the elements (usually the middle)and
amplify or expand the action and can add any number of measures or
beats. We are aware of four starts, three middles, and two
resolutions--there may well be more.
“amplifications” which are added to these basic groupings are
added other fundamental actions such as swiveling (ochos), foot
flicking (ganchos and leg sweeps), swiveling and flicking together
(boleos) corte actions (with various shapes), and rotational actions.
to the mix some very non-classical head positions...the downward
gaze, the opposite head turn for lady in many closed positions, the
askance glance...and you begin to develop the sense of social
dynamism that Copes alluded to in his assessment of Argentine tango.
the past several years, round dancing has just begun to incorporate
this rhythm and is at a very fundamental stage in defining figures
and choosing cueing terms for them. The journey has been and will
continue to be full of various interpretations but it will continue
to be an exciting trip.
From Dixie Round Dance Council Newsletter, December 2015.