Change is inevitable

Once upon a time…

There were no tourists in the milongas, only portenos.  All the men wore suits and ties.  Women wore dresses. There was respect for the codes, and men did the inviting.  You were given a front row table for your excellent dance skills.  Men and women wore street shoes for tango.

Today, foreigners are present in most of the milongas, but that wasn’t the case twenty years ago.  Men aren’t the only ones wearing pants or doing the inviting.  Anything goes these days in the milongas — shorts, sneakers, jeans.  Casual dress is more common for men and women.  Women change clothing and shoes, pack a bag, comb their hair, touch up their makeup at the table as if no one is watching.  All the women wear  shoes made for tango.  First-time visitors get a front row table on the dance floor and then dance tandas with milongueros without knowing how to dance well or anything about the milonga codes.

A friend and I were discussing change and the evolution of tango.  We agree that change is inevitable in life.  A dance originates from the music.  We listen to the same music from the 1930s and 40s.  Personal styles don’t change.  Tango is a feeling danced by two.  The embrace is basic.  The dance is different, and so is the embrace.  Today we have “thinking tango” and “feeling tango.”  It’s not difficult to tell them apart.

I danced recently with a man from Europe.  He moved well with the music, but he lacked the firm embrace I’m used to with portenos.  Although he has visited Buenos Aires many times to dance in the milongas and has taken classes with portenos, his embrace was typical for foreigners.  He dances tango, but hasn’t integrated the feeling of tango with an embrace.  He prefers to use the embrace from his country even when dancing in Buenos Aires.  I believe the main reason tango is changing is lack of cultural understanding and commercialism.

An example of tango’s evolution gone awry appeared on the cover of a tango magazine.  Two shirtless men with bare legs in high heels was the most shocking cover photo I had ever seen.  This style is sold as tango in Buenos Aires and around the world.  If men want to dance with men, and women with women, that’s fine; but they show respect for tango as a social dance with codes.


10 Responses to “Change is inevitable”

  1. michael3657 Says:

    When I got back from six months in BsAs last June, the best (technically-speaking) female dancer in our community refused to dance with me. She said I was dancing like a porteño, with a too-firm embrace. Apparently un abrazo porteño is not good enough for her. She has higher standards….!

  2. Carol Conway Says:

    This posting makes me feel really sad. I thought the tango scene was bad in NYC.

  3. Chris Says:

    Janis wrote: “An example of tango’s evolution gone awry appeared on the cover of a tango magazine. Two shirtless men with bare legs in high heels…

    Possibly that’s just an example of the evolution of tango magazine covers…🙂

  4. jantango Says:


    She doesn’t know what she is missing.

  5. jantango Says:


    Real tango still exists in a few Buenos Aires milongas, thanks to the milongueros.

  6. Felicity Says:

    I’ve danced with Porteños, Americans and Europeans so I know the difference between a Porteño and a European embrace. I’ve also danced with an expat in BA who was nearly Porteño in his way of dancing. It was like talking with someone with an almost fluent accent. But I wonder how a guy changes say his embrace if he hasn’t danced with guys. I asked this man how he’d come to dance like the Porteños and he said he’d just been there many years, sat with the men, watched. My impression was that it been a process of osmosis more than anything else.

  7. R. Bononno Says:

    Hi, Jan. Interesting, thanks for posting this. I suspect (but cannot confirm) based on personal experience that the reason for the looser embrace is the result of teaching methods that are roughly based on tango nuevo and the moves of performers. There is, as you know, a great emphasis on a variety of figures and larger movements in both those dance forms, so they require either a very loose or a very open frame (you can’t really call it an embrace). It is quite prevalent up here in the northern latitudes. And I’ve been asked more than once to “loosen my embrace” even though mine isn’t all that firm and I’m not all that big to begin with. Be that as it may, you do find many women here who appreciate a porteño embrace and know how to dance within it. It is changing because of commercialism, possibly, but, if so, it is being commercialized primarily by touring stage performers and the inevitable workshops.

  8. Chris Says:

    R Bonnono wrote: “I suspect (but cannot confirm) based on personal experience that the reason for the looser embrace is the result of teaching methods that are roughly based on tango nuevo and the moves of performers. … It is quite prevalent up here in the northern latitudes.

    Interesting theory.

    I guess most of the loose embrace dancers there have learned in classes?

    I suspect the reason for the looser embrace is the class teaching model, where teachers (show performers or otherwise) communicate more through visual demonstration and verbal instruction than through the embrace. The firm embrace is found more in dancers who’ve learned through the embrace, i.e. by dancing, whether in milongas or practicas or one-to-one sessions.

  9. Janet Rieck Says:

    No, the embrace has to do with communication. If the man feels you are with him, he does not have to hold on to you like a vice. If the embrace is too tight the woman feels she cannot respond to her partner. If you follow their energy or their body, you don’t need the “vice” embrace. Many men in Buenos Aries have wonderful embraces and know how to lead. Women have to figure it out and fast if they want to dance with them. A lot of competition down there.
    Just because there are new changes does not mean you have to change as well. Best to go there and watch Argentines dance and learn and talk to them. My opinion.

  10. Patricia Müller Says:

    To become a master it needs time. Many dancers did not have time to develop, so they cannot understand, study and develop their embrace. Figures are more visible and seemingly more important… This includes also the Argentines…

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