Every tango dancer with good musicality probably asked him/herself how can one interpret the difference in the music of the different orchestras. It is considered a bad dancing if you dance the same way no matter what the music leads you to. Even so, it is surprising how many, even professionals, dance all the music in the same manner.
In this post I am going to give you some basics of the approach towards expressing the music of the different orchestras.
This post actually started as a lecture I gave at my last workshop. The organizers felt that among other things, the dancers in their town need a little introduction in the history of the tango music and how it influences the way of dancing. But, there was one more goal – some of the students wanted to have a lecture about tango music in order to help them in their DJing ambitions. The topic I am talking about in this article is equally important for the dancers as it is for the DJs. It is not a good DJ the one that does not know how his/hers music will influence the way people are dancing.
It is a broad topic, so I will try to keep things as simple as possible. After reading the short introduction about the basic lines in the tango music, you will get some guidelines how to interpret them. Every style is personal in nature, but there are some common things which everyone should consider.
Although you can find some correlations with the history of the tango music, you must take this divisions as a provisional. They will be useful only in your effort to make your dance more musical. Many of the orchestras mentioned belonged to all lines of tango music, as they developed and changed over time.
Before you continue you might be interested in some basics about musicality
The three lines in tango music
The tango music is so diverse and there are so much variations and divisions that sometimes it is very hard to find patterns which can help you dance better. In an ideal world every orchestra would have been connected to their own dancing style. At least the biggest of them. In the Golden Age every orchestra had its fans who visited places where their favorite musicians played. This way, as we are going to see bellow, the music and the dancing style influenced each other and created inseparable unity.
Unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world; and, of course, social dancers have other things to do in their life than learning dozens of styles.
But I have a good news – we can simplify the varieties and focus on just three styles. If we want to be more precise, we should here use the words ‘ways of thinking about the music’ instead of ‘styles’. Yes, we can simplify the approach to dancing on just three ways of dancing. They are all connected to the way the history of the tango music and the dance unfolded.
The first great division in the tango music was created by the Julio De Caro’s revolution. As Rick McGarrey explained in his excellent article it was De Caro who first introduced the smooth and the melodic style. It was quite different than the marching style of the old tango music, which orchestras like Francisco Canaro’s and Juan D’Arienzo’s were stubbornly preserving. The musicians who played the more sophisticated De Caros style, like Osvaldo Fresedo and Pedro Laurenz, considered D’Arienzo as a sort of ’embarrassing reactionary who was holding back the progress of tango’.
But there is another division which is not so visible. It can be felt in the music of those who ridiculed the traditionalists. There is this separation between the experimentalists and the perfectionists. On one side there is this group following the spirit of invention De Caro introduced; lead by Troilo and Pugliese. On the other side, the perfectionists who, in a way, tried to use the best from the both worlds and create elegant and melodic, but, in the same time, very disciplined music. The perfectionists were lead by Osvaldo Fresedo and Carlos Di Sarli, and found their most shiny example in the Miguel Calos ‘orchestra of the stars’. Their music was smooth and sophisticated, as were the upper class salons where the orchestra of Osvaldo Fresedo performed.
1. Dancing on D’Arienzos line – The music of the Old Guard orchestras was focused on the rhythm. So was the music of the traditionalists. This line includes the legendary orchestra leader Francisco Canaro, the ‘king of the rhythm’ Juan D’Arienzo and orchestras like those of Rodolfo Biagi, Ricardo Tanturi, Edgardo Donato, Angel D’Agostino, Enrique Rodriguez.
I do not know is it true that, than his pianist, Rodolfo Biagi was responsible for the strong rhythmic style of Juan D’Arienzo’s orchestra – but I am sure that it was D’Arienzo that made tango as we know it today.
D’Arienzo gave tango back to the dancers´feet and with that he made the tango be again of interest for the young. – Jose Gobello, Todotango.com
Keeping the implicit feel of the habanera in the background, the traditionalistic style of this orchestras called the dancer for dynamic and energetic dancing. The focus of the dancers when dancing this sort of music is more on what is going on ‘down there’ in the legs – compared to focus on the embrace and emotion of the more melodic orchestras.
If one analyzes the dancing of the old milongueros who kept the traditions of this kind of dancing, one can notice that they think about the music in ‘boxes’ made of two beats. 1, 2; 1, 2… As a result you have a dance with a lots of corridas or steps which reflect the 1-2-3 sequence. To illustrate this I will point out this dance of Antonio Yofre and the one of Ricardo Tito Franquelo. Watch them dancing and try to count how many times they use the 1-2-3 sequence. 1-2-3 … 1-2-3 … 1-2-3
To support this I will again paraphrase Rick McGarrey who in one place says that the music of Enrique Rodriguez calls for corridas.
The revolutionaries, who had more artistic approach, considered D’Arienzo a kind of ‘ embarrassing reactionary’, but the tango would have never been so popular without D’Arienzo and others that followed his approach. Or, as Anibal Troilo, one of the innovators, said about him:
Laugh if you will… but without him, we’d all be out of work
2. Dancing on De Caros line – De Caro’s revolution brought the melody on the surface and the rhythm went to the background. This means that the dancers could stop, make pause and breath together with the orchestras. The music became all stretched up, so was the dance.
The biggest invention the dance got from this style is the art of making pauses. Let me explain this using the words of Cacho Dante.
I used to go to ‘La Argentina’ first on Thursdays and later on Fridays, because we were fans of Pugliese. The way of dancing was changed there and also the music, he makes pauses and silences. And, who’s identifying with that music? The youth, we were in those times. Even the old milongueros called us a bunch of queers for dancing that way, more upright, with pauses and silences. They were used to a more staccato tango. – Cacho Dante (watch his interview)
Pugliese’s music was on the far side of this approach, but you can notice a lots of pauses in the Troilo’s, Demare’s and others music as well.
Yet another invention that followed somewhat naturally is the invention of apilado dancing. Some say that apilado started late, but I have this impression that even canyenge (the older form of tango) was danced in apilado. Check this video of canyenge.
Pauses are empty if there is no tension in the embrace; and the tension can be kept high only if the partners lean on each other – which is best done in apilado. Please check how Nestor La Vitola and Carlos Gavito dance to late Puglise’s music.
Since this style was more artistic, with a lot of drama and energy, this kind of music today is often used by show dancers. Yet, not many of them use apilado.
3. Dancing on Fresedo’s line – This approach unites the focus on melody that revolutionaries had and very disciplined rhythm used by the traditionalists. Fresedo’s orchestra produced music which has one of the most sophisticated sounds in tango. It is no surprise, knowing that he played for the upper class, which had very refined taste.
This style is characterized by wave-like melodies which brings you up and down, while the rhythm is almost uninterrupted.
It is interesting that the later the tracks were recorded, the music gets more stretched, rhythm slower and the melody more dramatic. The most drastic example for this is the transformation of Di Sarli’s music – who at earlier period could have even been considered a traditionalist.
The way to dance this music is by focusing on the wave-like nature of its emotion. The movements of the dancers should be wave-like as well, following the melody in the embrace, while the legs are following the rhythm. The most important for this kind of dancing is to be able to express the vertical movements of the body which can be achieved in different ways. In order to make this post shorter I will just mention here couple of them: bending of the knees, stepping on toes, coordinated breathing, lowering and elevating the center etc. Most of these changes during the dance can not be seen from the observer – they can be felt only by the partner.
As I already said – this is a very broad topic. I gave here some basics which can help dancers improve their musicality. If you need more knowledge like this, exercises and guidance to implement them please take a look at my Products and services page.
Please share this post with your friends so they can benefit from the knowledge explained here. If you have any questions or you want to share your experience write a comment or send me a private message.