After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tango Gringo Part I -- Estilo Americano

All over the United States in spacious milongas from San Diego to Atlanta to Boston, in dance studios, American Legions, banquet halls, and sometimes restaurants, dance enthusiasts are dancing the American way of Argentine tango.

Scary in our Anglo-Saxon culture, the close embrace of estilo milonguero is only with spouses and potential lovers (with a lot of measuring the distance between dance partners and commenting when too little). In classes there’s a preference for showy moves like ganchos (kicks between the legs of your partner) and fast and flashy stage steps that traveling tango shows have made popular. There’s little tango danced in an intimate space in the line of dance, la ronda. Little tango that shows the dancers’ emotions and connection such as is danced in the salons of Buenos Aires. Usually only the people who have danced in Argentina know that this is the stuff tango is made of and why it’s a latin dance.

In the U.S., Argentine tango attracts people with a certain profile: educated, intelligent, professional, single, childless; or divorced; intellectual, or artist; passionate, romantic in their dreams and desires but often with personalities that make it difficult to express these feelings.

An informal survey some years ago on the internet Tango-L --email: -- showed that most U.S. tango dancers are engineers, teachers, doctors, psychologists, scientists, computer technologists. The sensuality and close embrace of the tango lures people who miss those qualities in their lives.

The online Tango-L, with hundreds of subscribers in its heyday, has been a major outlet for people practicing “desk tango” (Gavito’s expression) and theorizing about the dance. In English, with most members subscribing from the United States, the internet Tango List has been a strong influence on American tango for more than ten years. People opine from their computers about all aspects of tango, sometimes at great length, as well as get practical information about tango in all parts of the world. The tango universe is small, everyone knows or has heard of everyone else across the globe, and the internet has made it easier. The strange—or not so strange—thing is that the people who know the most online are not necessarily the ones who dance the best. As a popular bumper sticker claims, I'd rather be dancing tango!

Only a very few tango dancers from any part of the world ever perform; tango is a social dance, one that’s recreated anew with each partner, each mood, each piece of music. It is also a serious dance with emotional complexities, and so people’s faces sometimes look reflective or even grim as all their energies turn inward. The American style of whatever dance form is happy, smiling and outgoing and we look and feel at home in a cheerful swing, foxtrot, or cha cha. We can even converse with our partners, too, something that is never done in Argentine tango while dancing.

Americans don't have a monopoly on the American style of tango. People dance it in Japan, England, and Sweden--and yes, also in Buenos Aires.

At right, the Buenos Aires milonga, Nino Bien.

(Click on the underlined link ("LINK") below to see a slideshow of gorgeous photos showing the emotions of Argentine tango, taken in Club Espanol by Jingzi. This photo is a sample.)


Caroline said...

I absolutely agree with what you wrote 100%. A man (Canadian) once told me that close embrace tango danced simply is boring. Unfortunately, a lot of people feel that way which makes me miss the milongas of Buenos Aires intensely.

Anonymous said...

Hi, what's the link for the slide show? clicking on the photos only opens up windows with bigger photos. Thanks.

Cherie said...

Hi Anon,

Sorry it's not real clear that you have to click on the underlined word: "Link" at the end of the post to go to the photographer's website. Please try again.

Un beso,