Tag Archives: Ballroom Tango

Book Review: The meaning of TANGO

The Meaning of TANGO: The Story of the Argentinian Dance by Christine Dennison

This is a fun book for Tango dancers of all types.  The book is very centered around traditional Argentine Tango and does an excellent job of conveying that perspective.  It’s also somewhat unusual in that it is predominantly about the history and philosophy of the dance but contains a section that is straight up technique with diagrams.

The book is a quick read and full of wonderful tidbits about the dance and its history.  Rather than a full-fledged review, I would like to highlight a few points that I feel gave me some useful insight into Argentine Tango.   I am someone with a ballroom background and  I believe this book helped me understand the dance in a way that I didn’t have even after taking a number of beginning Argentine Tango lessons.

Dance to the Melody

There is a section called “One Name, Many Dances” where the author talks about the relationship between Argentine Tango and ballroom dances.  In particular this quote from Freddie Camp, an early German Ballroom dancer:

In Argentina dancers prided themselves on their ability to dance the melody rather than the rhythm. Indeed, Tango orchestras almost never have a drum section. While most other dance music around the world is based on a strong, clear rhythm, generally emphasised by drums, newcomers to Tango music often complain that they find the rhythm of the music difficult to hear. This is one of the qualities that makes Argentinian Tango unique.

The idea of dancing to the melody rather than the rhythm goes a long way to explaining the thing that puzzled me about the practice music that was used in the beginning Argentine Tango lessons that I’ve taken.  I felt that the teachers were choosing music where the beat was hard to find, which I would not expect of a beginning class.  So I’m going to spend some time listening to the melody of Argentine Tango music and see if I can find myself moving to the melody.

Learning to Lead by Following

I found the description of how Argentine Tango was taught traditionally particularly enlightening.  The men would learn in prácticas which were all male and composed predominantly of expert dancers.  When learning to follow a young man would spend his formative years being led by experienced dancers.  Then he would spend additional years within the práctica leading other men before he ever went to a mix sexed milonga and lead a woman.   The fallout of this is that in the context of learning the dance, one was surrounded by experts.  Contrast this with the current practice of dance classes where there are one or two teachers and a crowd of inexperienced dancers.

In addition, from a lead’s perspective, learning to follow is invaluable.  I didn’t do this until I had years of lead experience and when I finally did spend some time learning to follow it fundamentally changed the way I lead.

The Tango Trinity

Finally, the author talks about the “Tango Trinity”: Tango, Milonga, and Vals.  From some other research and some discussion with Argentine Tango dancers, this appears to be the purist’s set of Tango dances.  I had originally categorized Neo Tango into the set of Argentine Tango dances, but that appears not to be the case.  Based on this, I almost went down the path of pulling Neo Tango from the catalog as a distinct dance and reworked it so that Neo Tango (or Tango Nuevo) would just be a style tag on top of the Tango Trinity dances.  But I’m glad I did some further research.  It looks like Neo Tango is a distinct style of dance and related to traditional Argentine tango about as closely as Ballroom Tango is.

The main thing that I got from that set of discussions is that Argentine Tango dancers are even more concerned with the tradition of the music that other styles that I’ve studied.  I got the impression that some would only consider “true tango music” to be that recorded by a specific set of artists from the golden age.  Someday, I’d like to see if I can get things sorted out so that it’s easy to distinguish these from others.

If you have thoughts on the Argentine Tango, the music4dance website or corrections to anything I’ve said about Tango and Tango music, please feel free to comment here or send me feedback.

Also, if this post sparked your interest enough to buy the book, please follow the affiliate link below.  And as a small aside, any of the Amazon and ITunes links on the site and blog help support the site, so if you find things of interest here, please use the links to make purchases.

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Tango, Argentine Tango, Ballroom Tango, Oh My!

I just took a beginning Argentine Tango class and really enjoyed the experience.  I’ve had some experience with Ballroom Tango (American Style) and even taken a little Argentine Tango before, but this particular class really underlined the difference in the actually dance style.  Searching the web, I find plenty of evidence for this.

From the musical perspective, I found that I would be comfortable dancing Ballroom Tango to most of what the instructors played for Argentine Tango.  The character of the music seems very much the same.  The tempo was definitely slower than I would choose, but it was a beginner’s class after all.  The beat was less clear in many of the songs than I would expect in a Ballroom tango played at a school, club or competition, which was surprising.  This was a beginner’s class after all.

Now that I think about it, the Spotify EchoNest integration in music4dance could shed some light on the subject of strength of beat.  You can do an informal analysis yourself:

  1. Go to the songs library page.
  2. Choose Argentine Tango.
  3. Click on the strength of beat sort (the header icon that looks like a drum) once for ascending and twice for descending order.
  4. This will get you a list of the (currently) 578 songs that have been classified specifically as Argentine Tango sorted by the strength of beat.
  5. Or just click here to see the list.
  6. In a separate window repeat step’s 1-4 substituting Ballroom Tango for step 2 to get the 438 Ballroom Tango songs that have “strength of beat” information.
  7. Or just click here.

Now you can see the lists of Argentine Tango and Ballroom Tango both sorted by strength of beat.  At a quick glance the distribution seems pretty similar, but if anyone is at all interested let me know via a comment to this blog and I will be happy to do a slightly more formal analysis.

The other aspect of Tango music for dancers that this brought up was where to draw the line on calling something generically Tango vs. Ballroom Tango vs. Argentine Tango, etc.  I am currently calling anything a Tango that someone has tagged as any kind of Tango, which I think is fair.  Often people will just call something just Tango if they are from a particular community and I think that’s fair too.

If you are interested in stretching your reach and finding all Tangoes of whatever classification that fit a specific tempo criteria, you can use advanced search to choose generic Tango as the dance and choose a tempo range you’re interested in.  Or if you’re a Ballroom dancer you can go to the Competition Ballroom Dancing page and just click on the tempo range for the category of Ballroom Tango that you’re interested in.  I’ve set things up with the current official tempos for DanceSport and NDCA competition classes.

Speaking of official tempos.  Although I’ve found quite a number of sites that advertise and even provide rules for Argentine Tango competitions, I have yet to find anything that defines any kind of official tempo ranges for the music played at the competitions.  I suspect this is something fundamentally different about those competitions.  However, if I’m missing something and there are such official ranges, please let me know and I’ll incorporate them into the site.

And as always, please let me know what I’ve missed.  This is a very nuanced subject and I would love to hear other perspectives.  Feel free to comment on this post or send feedback directly.