Tango Words

Tango Like a Porteño


Tango rouses strong emotions. I can understand why. But often this spills out into areas which seem to me to be inappropriate. Perhaps sometimes it’s good to take a moment to think, and to remind ourselves what a precious thing tango is. Tango is about the music, about the songs, and about the dance. But most of all, to me, it is about a feeling.

A few weeks ago I was chatting to some people at a Sheffield milonga who had been to the recent Cafe de los Maestros concert. Afterwards many went on to a well-known London tango club. Apparently there was a slight altercation at one point when a tanda of ‘alt tango’ was being played (don’t know what the music was). It seems that an Argentine dancer present took exception to this and said to the DJ that if he played anything like that again he’d demand his money back and leave.

The guy I was talking to went on to say that of course if some people wanted this sort of thing that was fine, but there was a separate room for nuevo and alt music, although this had closed and the dancers from there had joined the main group. At this point the Argentine guy said to Andrew, “Look, there are three kinds of dancers: a few are dancing like porteños, most are dancing like Europeans, and some are just wrestling.”


Tango is a dance which originated in area around the estuary of the River Plate, but has since been given to the world. It is important to acknowledge and respect its roots. And to be grateful, too, that it has been given to us. Maybe we do need people who cry halt sometimes, and seek to return to basics, to tango as it was born and developed in its home. Maybe we also need people who push the boundaries from time to time.

Because tango is, at least potentially, an interpretative art form which relies on the dancers’ emotional/spiritual response to each other and to the music, ultimately we each dance our own tango. If it was a dance which was rigid and prescribed, these arguments would not arise. And it wouldn’t be tango.

Of course there must be ground rules, or structures we work within. That’s true of any art form. We may start by copying steps and sequences. We must learn and practice our technique until it becomes body knowledge; only then can we truly interpret and react to what we hear, and what we feel.

And that must be different for us all. Again, if it wasn’t; it wouldn’t be tango.

“To dance tango is to tell an emotional story.” And to be true to tango that emotion has to come from us and our understanding of (ourselves and) reaction to the music.

Like all of us who love tango, I have my ‘tango heroes’, people I love to watch dance. Because I can see, or feel, something happening when they dance which touches something in me. But I’m not going to be able to dance like them. Nor should I wish to.

I cannot dance exactly like a porteño. I wasn’t born in Buenos Aires; I haven’t become steeped in the culture. My journey is to find my own tango. And to learn from those who have found their tango.

I hold no particular brief for neotango, alt-tango, tango nuevo, or whatever term you may wish to use. (Although there seems confusion sometimes over the use of ‘tango nuevo’ as music or as a dance style…) Much electrotango I find repetitive and somewhat tedious; then some ‘golden age’ tangos don’t speak to me either. I’m quite happy to accept that that may well be a shortcoming in myself rather than the music. (And the term ‘golden age’ tends to suggest something that partly lost in its own history?)

Of course, these are just my opinions. I’d love to hear what tango means for other dancers. It helps develop my own understanding. But I don’t wish to be told what it should mean for me. Part of the pleasure I find in tango is continuing to discover that for myself.

What do you think?