Improvisation – the soul of Traditional, Nuevo, and Fusion Tango

Argentine Tango emerged as a fusion of African and European music.  This fusion took place in the Rio de la Plata region in Argentina and Uruguay fueled by European immigrants. Because of the complexity of the music, there are several layers of rhythm and melody, it was not sufficient to create a basic step or rhythm like in all other dance forms. Instead, true improvisation had to be a key element of the dance. Even today, improvisation remains the essence of both traditional and Nuevo Tango.

The unique knowledge of improvised dancing has evolved over a hundred years. It produced the most powerful and versatile partner-dance system in existence – the new Tango, i.e. Nuevo Tango, and subsequently Tango Fusion. Around 1990 Gustavo Naveira, together with Fabian Salas and Pablo Veron, began to study (and later teach) Tango in a systematic way. They also discovered that many moves, which were choreographed by show dancers, can actually be led. Over the following decades, many new moves became available for improvisation on the social dance floor. The required leading and following technique, however, is often the opposite of the one that stage-dance specialists use.

The new teaching is based on understanding and developing concepts rather than memorizing sequences of steps. The new way of learning tango accelerated the learning of both the basics and the more expanded tango vocabulary considerably. This is especially true when comparing it to the earlier teaching methods e.g. the “basic 8”. Because there is no restriction with respect to melody or rhythm in Tango Nuevo, many dancers became interested to dance to a wider range of music – which encouraged further refinement of the dance technique.

Comparing Traditional Tango with Nuevo Tango

In theory, a dancer who knows the Nuevo-Tango system, should be able to do everything the students of older styles can do. However, this is often not true in practice. Traditional Tango specialists tend to get more practice and skilled with fast – and often very small- movements. Many of these moves involve cleverly used variations of weight changes. They tend to prefer close embrace dancing because small-step moves work best with chest-to-chest contact.

Nuevo Tango specialists, on the other hand,  have more possibilities when dancing to slower music (like music by Astor Piazzolla) because of their larger repertoire. The slow music also makes performing boleos and ganchos much easier and more natural. Some Nuevo Tango dancers often neglect the small and fast milonga-steps, which, with their rhythmic variations, can provide endless hours of fun, passion, and entertainment. Today, many Tango Nuevo dancers are not specialists. Instead, they often enjoy both styles equally. They may switch frequently between both open and close embrace.

Tango Fusion – the ultimate, most versatile partner-dance system in history

Open minded Tango Nuevo dancers began to experiment dancing to non-tango music such as the movie soundtrack to Amelie, already in the late 90s. Terms like Alternative Tango, Neotango, and Tangofusion were interchangeably used to describe the style given to the early Tango Fusion pioneers. Many of them had backgrounds in other dances an few problems to convert many moves such that they become lead-able – without breaking the addictive, unique mind-connection that characterizes Tango. Inspiration came from dancers and teachers who bravely pushed the boundaries of Tango Nuevo (Homer Ladas, El pulpo, Mauricio Castro, Nick Jones, Chicho Frumboli and many lesser known brave individuals).

Here is a video with Chicho Frumboli dancing Tango Nuevo to electronic Tango music by Narcotango.

Probably among the first hardcore Tangofusion dancers and teachers were Sharna Fabiano and Klaus Petritsch who promoted Neotango/TangoFusion in the US and around the world in the late 90s. During the past decade, Tango Fusion has gained increasing attraction, some “Milongas” are now even strictly non-tango (music). Tango Fusion dancers today are not limited to specific Tango events but can be seen dancing at social dance events ranging from ballroom, POP, Merengue, Bachata, Jazz, and Blues to Zouk, Kizomba, movie soundtracks, and even some classical music.

Tango Fusion dancers are able to move in any direction, at any time, at any speed, without pushing or pulling their partner or breaking the mental connection (this is what we call “the magic” or Jedi/force at Tangowizards!). Perhaps most puzzling to any observing non-tango dancers is that Tango Fusion dancers can move super-comfortably without synchronizing their steps. For example, the leader may interpret a complex beat or piano pattern, while he leads his partner (using his relatively quiet chest) to match the melody. Tango Fusion can be learned very fast or not so fast, depending on what type of music people like to dance to. Traditional Tango music is probably the most difficult to dance to for new dancers, while Blues is one of the easiest.

Below is an example of Tango fusion, danced by Nick Jones and Diana Cruz. The song is Blue Prelude by Koko Taylor.