Tango (the Dance) Genealogy

2010 October 8
by Simba

The evolution of tango has not followed a single, easy to track, path. It is rather quite a mess, so in an attempt to figure out how it all goes together, I tried putting my current understaning together in a chart (pdf) showing the main developments of the tango dance in all its incarnations.

Just to reiterate: in my opinion there are two distinctions that really matter in tango: Social vs. performance, which I covered before, and good vs. bad. Which is nothing new, of course:

No hay tango viejo ni tango nuevo. El tango es uno solo. Tal vez la única diferencia está entre los que lo hacen bien y los que lo hacen mal

There is no old tango nor is there new tango. Tango is one. Perhaps the only difference is between those who do it well and those that do it badly.

Aníbal Troilo

Still, the intricacies of styles and evolution in tango is a fascinating topic, and this is my humble and far from perfect attempt to visualize  tango’s development. Constructive criticism, additions and corrections of errors are most welcome. Suggestions for improvements in formatting likewise. Bear in mind that many of the terms are not well defined, and different people may refer to the same things under different names or to different things under the same name…

Some notes about this chart: I started out from Stephen Brown’s Evolution of Argentine Tango Styles, but I have made some additions and modifications. The term “tango salón” is ambiguous at best when describing tango styles. In my opinion, what is often referred to as milonguero style is also tango salón, but there seems to be no widely acknowledged term for social tango not including  milonguero style or nuevo.

In lack of a better term, I used “Modern Salón” to denote the current mix of several styles of social tango. I grouped several geographical styles under the somewhat arbitrary Northern (roughly from Palermo, Crespo  to Pueyrredón, Urquiza and Saavedra etc.), Centre and Southern (roughly La Boca, San Telmo etc). This is in accordance with Christine Denniston’s observations.

I created the chart with graphviz (dot), the chart source is available hereTango (the Dance) Genealogy by Simba tango is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 October 8
    gyb permalink

    Interesting. Any support that Finnish came from canyengue (and not from some intermediate European prot0-ballroom)?
    By the way on styles I highly recommend reading the blog http://tangovoice.wordpress.com

  2. 2010 October 8

    It could well be that it is more correct with an intermediate European proto-ballroom. I’m not too familiar with Finnish tango. Taking it directly from Canyengue is based on there being direct cultural contact between Scandinavia and Buenos Aires at that time, most notably the Swedish musician Evert Taube, who stayed for several years in Argentina.

  3. 2010 October 9

    I think you’re making too many stylistic distinctions. Many (most?) tango historians differentiate between ‘downtown/confiteria’ style tango and the tango of the outer barrios in the 50s (see http://tangovoice.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/tango-estilo-del-barrio-versus-estilo-villa-urquiza-tango-estilo-del-centro-versus-estilo-milonguero/); I’m not sure there was really enough difference between the ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ barrios that they could be considered as separate developments. As I understand it, ‘liso’ is just a simplified version of 40s salon tango. Also, the time line from ‘centre’ to ‘club’ to ‘milonguero’ probably doesn’t represent enough change to be listed as separate entities. In some sense, modern salon (‘tango de salon’) is really ‘milonguero’ because, except for the nuevo practicas, that’s about all that is danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires today anyway. If you have some documentation supporting your distinctions, I would be interested in learning about it.

  4. 2010 October 9
    Chris permalink

    > I think you’re making too many stylistic distinctions.

    Agreed. Charts like this always do. Because those with fewer aren’t big enough to get published 🙂

  5. 2010 October 10

    @gyb: I just realized that incuding a European proto-ballroom makes sense in another way, too. Then it is possible to include the effect of tango returning from Europe and being a bit more accepted in the higher social circles of Buenos Aires.

    @rontango: Obviously, depending on how small distinctions you allow for, you will end up with more or fewer “styles”. I take it you didn’t read my post on style, where I argue for finer granularity when talking about styles, sometimes you have to go down to individuals because they were so influential. Different taxonomies for different purposes. If you “just want to dance”, you don’t have to worry about styles at all, as long as you stay within what is appropriate for different contexts (performance vs milonga).

    If, on the other hand, you are interested in the subtleties of the development of tango, a much more detailed investigation is in place in my opinion.

    Regarding south vs north, I think it is well established that early tango with cortes and quebradas, ganchos etc originated in the relatively poor neighborhoods of the south, and as the tango spread further north it “sobered up”, with more emphasis on elegance, walks and giros, lapises and so on, so it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see them as two main directions, and that this tradition was kept more alive in the south. I admit that it is somehow arbitrary grouping, but including all barrios would lead to an unreadable chart and I don’t know enough about the distinctions between barrios to make such a chart.

    Tangovoice has some good posts, but often mix up things, for example I do not accept their premise that Estilo Villa Urquiza is equivalent to one unified style of all the outer barrios of Bs. As. And confronted with conflicting evidence about the ‘estilo del centro’, they just dismiss one without a convincing argument. I think recognizing and investigating the variety is a more constructive path.

    ‘Tango milonguero’ is an even more ambiguous term than salón, in that it could mean everything from student of Susana Miller to covering all social tango as danced by the milongueros. Unfortunately is is probably too late to get rid of these confusing names, as they are used to such an extent. My reasoning for making two nodes was to show that the style/term invented by Susana Miller came from somewhere, it is a relatively modern development from the 50s, and the style of the centre must hence have beeen somewhat different before that invention/development. While there is a loose chronology in the arrows, they are better understood as ‘influence’. So the tango liso was partly a concurrent movement as tango made it to mass culture, but obviously it came to shape what people thought of as tango ever after.

    I agree that a broad categorization between outer barrios vs. the centre is a good approximation of a general divide in today’s Buenos Aires (but too simplistic to describe the tango of the 40s and 50s), both which are social tango, tango (de) salon or tango milonguero, whatever term you prefer. I’m interested in the nuances within, and also how things developed and what is in danger of getting lost forever as everybody is supposedly dancing the same nowadays.

  6. 2010 October 10

    @Chris: If the distinction of styles within tango does not interest you, that’s fine. I already covered that position, and you are welcome to stay out of this debate.

    If, on the other hand, you do have some constructive feedback, please be more specific.

  7. 2010 October 11
    Vladislav permalink

    It’s very interesting. Could you expand your research and observations and put some video as well as descriptions. Well, I understand it is a material for a book or more, but till now I haven’t seen such a good structured explanation.

  8. 2010 October 15

    @Vladislav: Thanks, I agree there is material for a book or three 🙂 I will keep writing, and include videos where appropriate. The trouble is most of tango’s historical development happened before youtube, or even the home video revolution, so to a large extent we are left in the dark.

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