Part 2: Argentine Tango and Ballroom Tango

Lidia and Hector Legrand

Last month we covered different styles of Tango dancing. Argentine Tango dancing is often confused with Ballroom Tango and other non-Tango styles. Classic Argentine Tango dancing is a social dance and a musical genre that originated in Argentina and Uruguay and is now popular all over the world.

Other Tango styles are Spanish Flamenco Tango and from it, Cuban Tango. We should digress to mention that there is a musical style from Cuba called Danzón, danced with steps similar to Argentine Tango. It is not surprising that there is so much confusion about Tango dancing styles.

In Argentine Tango styles, the embrace varies from leader and follower connecting at arm’s length (improperly called open embrace), to an embrace in which the connection is chest-to-chest (improperly called closed embrace), or anywhere in between. Closed embrace is used in classic traditional styles.

Musicality is very important to authentic Argentine Tango dancing. Musicality deals with the partners adapting their dancing to the feeling and often the variable beat. Dancers keep their feet touching the floor, with the ankles and knees brushing each other.

Argentine Tango dancing is ultimately about improvisation. Instructors teach standardized steps as tools so students can develop their own improvisational dancing adhering to the elements of style. Most dances have a pattern that can be predicted by the follower, but in Argentine Tango dancing improvisation is achieved by body contact and an unspoken dialogue.

How does authentic Argentine Tango dancing differ from Ballroom Tango?

Ballroom Tango dancing consists pretty much of standard steps taught by most dance studios. The steps have remained relatively fixed in style for quite some time. Ballroom Tango is seldom, if ever, danced to Argentine Tango music. Argentine Tango dancing consists of improvised steps danced to Orquestas Típicas from Buenos Aires.

In Ballroom Tango dancing partners arch their upper bodies away from each other, while maintaining contact at the hip, in an offset frame. In Argentine Tango the dancers’ torsos are close to each other with their heads touching or very near each other. Since Argentine Tango dancing is 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.

Unlike Ballroom Tango music, Argentine Tango music is much more varied. There are no official statistics of how many danceable Argentine Tangos there are but, based on our own experience, we can safely say that there are more than five thousand pieces of danceable Argentine Tango music. This music has been composed by an untold number of musicians facilitating the creation of many styles of music within the genre. If to this we add the variations in style differences of the many Argentine Tango orchestras, Argentine Tango dancers can spend the whole night dancing nothing but this type of music.