Odds are if you have ever watched a show like Dancing With the Stars, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of the exciting and dramatic ballroom style famously known as Tango. Originally, however, the tango dance was much more intimate and personal for the two partners who were dancing it. This focus on sensuality is retained in the modern Argentine tango but phased out from other adaptations as the style spread throughout the world in the early 1900s. Today tango has grown to become one of the most recognizable styles of ballroom dance, yet it can be confusing to tell the difference between Argentine tango and American tango unless you know what to keep an eye out for.
What is Argentine Tango?
Origin: Back in the late 1800’s, Buenos Aires became a hotspot for many new immigrants from Europe and Africa who settled in the city but found themselves depressed from loneliness, without a real outlet for entertainment. They began congregating at bars and as time moved forward, their different cultures mixed with the local Latin music and produced a new style of music dubbed “Tango”. Naturally, a new social dance developed from this exciting musical blend! The first dances were usually inspired by the sexual tension between pimp and prostitute and thus included very emotional and suggestive undertones. Hard times also introduced a sense of longing into the dance and sensuality continued to be a key component.
Music: The Argentine style music tends to be very melodic and romantic compared to what one would normally consider to be tango music. The primary instrument used is called a bandoneon, a German instrument similar to an accordion. In contrast to other styles of tango, the music almost never makes use of drums or has a heavy downbeat. Played in a 4/4 time signature, dancers are usually able to count the music in 8’s. The songs generally tend to be more romantic as well.
Steps: The basic step in this style is known as the 8-step that takes 8 full counts to complete. Unlike most other dance styles, the leader begins with the right foot and takes the first step backwards. This basic has many fancy variations in which the follower can travel around the leader and insert some intricate footwork before the basic is completed. The frame is also very different from other dance forms in that the dancers rest their heads together and the leader has a tighter embrace around the follower with the left arm, in what is referred to as a “close embrace”.
Characteristics: Sensual, intimate, complex, personal, indefinite
What is American Tango?
Origin: Tango first made its way to Europe around the turn of the 20th century where is was adopted by the the upper class and began to take on new influences. The style was first introduced to the American public thanks to the 1920’s film “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”. It then mixed with other popular social dance styles and drew on some Hollywood-inspired theatrics. The dance became a big hit in the social setting and developed a very simplistic, codified moveset. The style evolved to highlight all the drama which allowed much more open positions and distinctive body lines. It is now a hugely popular ballroom style in the country, both recreationally and competitively.
Music: Very specific music types are usable for the tango style and are in a 4/4 meter. Since tango movements are usually very smooth and fluid, interrupted only by sharp, sudden motions, the music is kept at a medium tempo and is usually very dramatic. The American style music is more flexible than the Argentine style and the International Style in its inclusion of percussive downbeats mixed with other instrumentation. And of course, the more dramatic, the better!
Steps: Most can identify American tango steps by the acronym of the word itself, with each letter representing a specific movement within the 5-step basic. The “T” and “A” are the first two slow steps done by the couple. The remaining “N’, “G” and “O” are the steps that when combined are known as the “tango close”. This is the defining movement in the American tango and is timed with a quick, quick, slow action. The final slow in the basic is an unweighted slide back into the starting position. Even the frame is stylized to be a bit more dramatic, with the follower leaning back and looking to the side in profile. This “open embrace” maintains a spacial separation between the partners similarly to the other ballroom styles while the legs are almost always connected at the thighs.
Characteristics: Dramatic, shaped, simplified, performance-oriented, codified
What is your favorite style of Tango? And why? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.
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This post is written by Duet instructor, Brennen Renteria.
Voted as one of Chicago Top 5 Dance Teachers 2013 by Art Intercepts, Szewai (C-Y) has been sharing the joy of partner dance since 2006. She is the founder of Duet Dance Studio, a Chicago dance studio that offers Latin and ballroom dance lessons, wedding dance lessons, and BYOB dance parties. Szewai believes partner dancing has the power to connect people and bring people closer. Besides dancing, she enjoys discovering hidden gems in the city, finding great music and making short videos about people and things that inspire her.
You can find Szewai on Google+