Copyright @ Clarin, 1999
According to Irene Amuchastegui and Laura Falcoff, the various styles of dance practiced at the popular milongas in Buenos Aires generate confrontations and polemics between milongueros. Their featured article was published in daily newspaper Clarin on Sunday, August 8, 1999. The translation by Alberto Paz was first posted on the Argentine Tango Open Forum of the Internet.
For ten years, the proliferation of teachers and schools have been modifying the way to dance tango. Although the change is evident, it has heterogeneous forms. As a result of that, there is a new paradigm: today, anyone can dance.
The static postcard of the milongas today, with its colorful mixture of “hip youngsters ” and “old time historical habitues” united in the “ritual” of the dance, is not more than that: a flat image that rarely reveals something more than a repertoire of archetypes. Behind that frozen scene, nevertheless, an unsuspected and burning world exists where the old can be new, the novelty can be obsolete, a simple thing can be difficult, and the excessive is insufficient. And in that, on the other hand, all these values are in permanent change.
In 1989, and in a symptomatic coincidence with the worldwide triumph of the musical review Tango Argentino, the social dance of tango began to rise from the ashes in which it had been almost buried for decades. It is known that throughout these last ten years, the panorama was modified completely.
Today, hundreds of instructors shape thousands of dancers who attend tens of milongas. In order to have an idea, it is enough to take a look at anyone of the specialized publications (El Tangauta, B.A. Tango), or to consider that at a single school (Estrella-La Viruta) there is an enrollment of six hundred students.
But beyond the numbers factor, the phenomenon of the contemporary milongas marks a historical change in another sense: a new change of direction in the continuous transformation of the styles of dance throughout the century.
What is being favored today on the dance floor? If it is what can be observed with more frequency, one would say that three tendencies are disputing for supremacy: the Urquiza style, the Almagro style and the Naveira style, as the fans know them, – implying a neighborhood, a club and a teacher.
They are not difficult to distinguish. Make yourself comfortable on a stool by the bar and you will see them move over the waxed surface: a couple that advances with long steps, touching the floor as if they are wearing gloves on their feet (Urquiza), is followed by other couple closely embraced and whose short steps adjust synchronously to the beat (Almagro), and behind, a third couple that unfolds all the imaginable variety of figures which the previous couples can do without (Naveira). Adding to that, there will be another couple schooled in the style of Antonio Todaro and belonging to an elite with technical formation, that alternates between the social dancing at the milongas and the professional stage performances.
The fans are simultaneously protagonists and judges of the prevailing tendencies. In some halls, one or another one dominates. But on several pistas the practitioners of different styles mix with each other, they seek each other out, they appraise each other, they admire themselves or they condemn the others. The commentaries can be listened to between the tables, but they can be tracked all the way down to the Internet (currently a Tango list site burns with opinions like: So and so’s dancing, looks like a cowboy with hemorrhoids ).
Miguel Angel Zotto and Milena Plebs led the first changes at the beginning of the 90’s. When they reconstructed in their spectacle Tango x 2 elements of style of the popular dance, they revealed to inadvertent eyes of the public, the wealth of the world of the milonga. Then, the halls, and the classes of Antonio Todaro, bricklayer and milonguero, with whom Zotto and Plebs had made their meticulous work of stylistic archaeology, began to fill with new customers.
A little later, Susana Miller began her classes at the traditional Club Almagro. Miller (of academic extraction) associated with Cacho Dante (a veteran aficionado) began from her classes the propagation of which usually is known as the Almagro style – very similar to the typical style of the downtown night clubs of the 40’s. Its less demanding requirements gave access even to those who were less fitted naturally, technically or sensitively. And it quickly put on the dance floor an enormous amount of new fans, generating a true leveling off of the dance.
Right now, the influence that registers greater growth is, perhaps, the one of dancer and teacher Gustavo Naveira. The faithful followers of his method of combination of steps and figures consider it the acme of creative improvisation. The detractors, who detest the way in which the Naveira dancers move around the floor looking for space for their movements, define them as the patrol cars of the dance floor.
Naveira himself affirms: a single person cannot be determining in the evolution of the dance. That’s been happening from the beginning of the tango, and without stop, always because of a conjunction of factors. Now, what is arising is a system of improvisation of an even greater variety of combinations. And these changes are also transferred to the marking techniques to lead the woman.
However, for disc jockey Horacio Godoy the future is in Villa Urquiza. Teachers Vilma Heredia and Gabriel Angió also agree that many young people are focusing their attention to the floor of the old Sunderland Club of Villa Urquiza, where they still can watch the habitues of half century ago. Urquiza is what’s coming, prophesies Godoy. There is a group of kids that realized that the maximum wealth is there. I am not talking about figures. It’s about the musicality and the quality of the movement. It’s about a wealth of knowledge so subtle and complex that for the ordinary eye is imperceptible.
The trends, in any case, hardly draw along general lines: common characteristics, airs of familiarity. As it has always happened with tango, there are so many ways to dance as there are dancers (it is what highly distinguishes it from almost all other forms of popular social dance). And in the same way, there will be so many opinions on the question as the number of people on the dance floor.