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Argentine tango is said to be an ultimate expression of a man and a woman with total attention focused on one another.
There are three basic styles of tango in the world. These were described in 1993 Smithsonian Magazine article by Barbara Garvey:
"Argentine tango is when you're in the heat of things and all kinds of emotions are flying: passion, anger, humor."
"American tango is like the beginning of a love affair, when you're both very romantic and on your best behavior."
"International tango is like the end of a marriage, when you're staying together for the sake of the children."
On Argentine, American and International Tango by Bill Stillway
Argentine tango is a folk dance that has evolved over a span of many years. It is often said that, tango was danced by the "lower classes" in the fields and in the streets, and it was considered taboo by the "upper class." The dance proved to be so tantalizing that the "upper class" began dressing down in order to participate, and it eventually became a dance for everyone and a source of national pride to the Argentines. Naturally, it entered the world of art and became formalized in the theater as "stage tango," which is highly choreographed, exhibitionistic and flashy. Although stage tango is a part of the tango culture, it is not generally danced in a social sense.
Argentine tango belongs to everyone. The roots of tango have been nourished by several cultures. It is interesting to note, for example, that it is often called "Argentine," because so much of it evolved in the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. But some say that tango actually began in Uruguay, and it is known that some of the famous tango artists also composed music and developed tango dance in Uruguay. the truth is that Uruguay borders Argentina, so there was probably a dance evolution that occurred on both sides of the border. Tango is now found in virtually every country of the world.
Argentine tango is a dance for the romantic at heart, for it contains the elements of embrace, interpretive movement and heart-stopping anticipation. Ideally, it is danced from the heart, meaning that there is a special nonverbal exchange of movement between partners that is improvised as the music is interpreted. Each partner is focused on even the slightest touch, movement or glance from the other. This is improvisational tango--social tango dancing at its best.
There are at least four basic styles of Argentine tango (Please excuse me for excluding others.), including salon, milonguera, vals, milonga, and all of these have variations. Of course, like handwriting, there are as many styles of tango as there are people dancing it. Milonga is the name of both a specific style and a social dance, and it was the orginal dance from which tango evolved. For example, "Let's go to the milonga," means "let's go to the dance." Or, referring to a particular tune and dance style, "That's a milonga, may I have this dance"?
American tango is the style most often danced in ballroom studios of the United States, and it has the same roots as Argentine tango. There are two historical versions of how this dance became split into two distinct styles. The first is that American tango was born in Paris around the turn of the century, and the steps were defined in order to "cleanse the vulgarities out of tango," which was very popular during the Golden age of tango (ca 1900-1940). American tango is usually danced to a regular rhythm, while Argentine tango embodies syncopation, pauses and embellishments that require varying amounts of time. According to the dance historian, Richard Powers, the second version is that the so-called American tango most-closely resembles the original tango that was danced during the Golden age. Here, it is thought that tango continued to evolve in Argentina, but that it did not elsewhere. This conclusion was reached by reading actual dance manuals of the time. Actually, this phenomenon is quite common and there are many anthropological examples. When people immigrate from one country to another, they bring musical and dance traditions with them. These are passed on through family generations and preserved as is, while in the country of origin, they continue to evolve. Excellent examples of this phenomenon can be found in Appalachia of the United States and Cape Breton Island in Canada, where some of the most original Celtic music and dance can be found. In fact, musicians wanting to learn Scottish music as played 200 years ago, often go to Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia to learn.
International tango is a highly choreographed "dance" that is performed at ballroom competitions and could hardly be considered a social dance. It is really an athletic event that takes much training and practice, and the aim is to perform certain steps flawlessly according to standards defined by a panel of judges.