The huge variety of Tango dance styles in Buenos Aires in the 1940s and 1950s represents the amazing depth and richness of Tango. I shall begin by describing three different broad styles, danced by the great Tango dancers who were dancing before the 1955 coup in Argentina, and that I danced with them in the 1990s.
I shall begin with a style popular in the geographical centre of Buenos Aires and the central part of the south of the city in the early 1950s. This was a style developed for crowded dance floors. The shape drawn on the floor as a couple moves in this style is like a kind of Brownian motion. It appears almost random and slightly jagged, with many changes of direction. This is probably the simplest Tango dance style, choreographically speaking, although it is technically demanding. It relies on the connection within the couple and the musicality of the dancers for its flavour and delight. The musicality of this style relies on steps on the beat and frequent double time steps. This form of musicality appears to be the easiest for people with an ear trained in European musical styles to understand.
The archetypal step in this style is the ocho cortado, not seen in any other style, and the archetypal orchestra is early Troilo .
The most elegant Tango dance style is without question the style danced in the north of Buenos Aires in the 1940s. This is a part of the city that has historically tended to be financially better off than the south. Dance floors here have tended to be larger. The shape drawn by the couple on the floor as they dance tends to be long straight lines, punctuated with a sudden, very complicated movement. The form of musicality in this style is probably the hardest for the person trained in the European tradition to understand.
While I was doing my research on the various styles of the Golden Age I would ask dancers that I met who, apart from themselves of course, was the best dancer of the style. In the north of the city the answer always came back "Portalea". I would ask why, and I was always told that it was the way he interpreted the music that made him the best. One evening someone told me that Portalea was in the room, so, very excited, I scurried off to watch him dance. And I looked at him in amazement, because I simply could not work out how what he was doing had anything to do with the rhythm of the music at all. And that, of course, was my mistake. He wasn't dancing the rhythm of the music. He was dancing the phrase.
In the style of the north it is very common to see people dancing three equal steps in four beats of the music, in a way that is utterly natural, and completely at one with the music.
The archetypal step in this style is a salida in which the leader takes just two steps to the four taken by the follower, followed by walking in line with frequent weight changes. The archetypal orchestra is Di Sarli .
Possibly the oldest of the Tango dance styles of the Golden Age is the style of the south. The shape drawn by the couple on the floor is one without many straight lines, made up of curves and arcs, looking very much like an Art Nouveau design. The stance of the dancers is a tiny bit closer to the floor. The interpretation of the music involves many pauses, and many rapid movements. This is the style where ganchos and boleos were danced.
The archetypal step is one where the leader takes the follower off her axis, taking responsibility for her weight, and perhaps walking her around the foot she is standing on. The archetypal orchestra is
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