Sunday, 6 April 2008

A linguistic peculiarity

I've met a lot of people from a lot of different countries here, and I've noticed that the Americans often seem to have slightly different terminology from the rest of us. Of course, we're all used to this to-may-to to-mah-to business, and it's important that we all respect each others languages. And ultimately it doesn't matter if one person says 'giro' and another says 'molinete'.

But there's one difference that makes me disctinctly uncomfortable. If I say 'tango nuevo' to an American, most of them seem to think I mean 'open embrace'. For example, I might mention to a guy I'm dancing with that the style I learnt was nuevo, and he might then suddenly start dancing open embrace. Or I might say to someone that my teacher's style is very nuevo, and they might say, 'Oh, but he dances really good close embrace too.'

This is a crazy interpretation of the term. Nuevo is not a position of the arms, it's a style and an attitude. A nuevo dancer is dancing nuevo whether they're in close embrace or open. In fact, most nuevo dancers dance close embrace by default - they're in close embrace almost all the time, opening out only occasionally to do a particular figure, and then going straight back into close embrace. For crying out loud, most salon style professionals dance open embrace a lot when they're performing. I recently watched a series of exhibitions at Sunderland - all of them were in open embrace at least half the time. That doesn't mean that salon style tangueros suddenly become 'nuevo' when they're performing!

Really. Look. In this video of Gato and Andrea, who are self-declared salon, it takes them only 18 seconds to move from close to open embrace. And here's Chicho and Lucia (you can't get more nuevo than Chicho) - see - close embrace for the first 30 seconds. And these videos are both performances, of course - on the social dance floor both couples will spend most of their time in close embrace.

So, what is tango nuevo? Well, all these terms are horribly fuzzy. They mean different things to different people. And this idea that there are three basic styles - milonguero, salon, nuevo - is desperately unhelpful, because there are vast differences even between the practitioners of any given style, and similarities across styles. Having made that disclaimer, here are some of the things that characterise nuevo for me (other nuevo dancers may of course have a completely different list): a method of teaching and thinking about tango pioneered by Gustavo Naveira which pays close attention to things like where the axis is in a turn, the triangle of the feet, etc; a preference for each partner keeping their own, upright balance, even in close embrace; a preference for softness in the embrace, completely without force in the arms; the lead coming from circular movements in the chest, not signals of the hand or arm, to the point where you can lead and follow without any arm contact at all (and more recently ideas about the lead take an even more whole-body approach); a close embrace which is typically (but not always) more v-shaped than square-on; a willingness to occasionally change, open or dissolve the embrace to allow a wider range of movements of the lower body; a constant exploration and openness to new ideas; a quality of movement which is as organic and natural as possible, rejecting any stylisation.

Now some of these things are shared with other styles too. But, most importantly, we share the essential aspects of tango - the music, and the connection with the other. Just as with other styles, the music is everything, and we'd always rather dance simply but musically than do fancy steps at random. And just like other styles, we're all looking for that blissful embrace. Just look at Pablo and Moira snuggling at the start of Poema.

I'm sure this misinterpretation is a large part of the peculiar dislike of tango nuevo amongst afficionados of other styles (one day I'll get round to writing about that, but not right now). This idea that "nuevo" = "open embrace" gives the impression that all us nuevo types are interested in is kicking our legs around, and screw the music or the connection. And that's why it makes me uncomfortable.


Alex said...

I felt guilty at the Atlanta Tango Fest...during the "Alt" milonga...I was dancing estilo "trad"...cuz I don't know how do dance "nuevo"...

Psyche said...

Nothing wrong with that! For me, nuevo should always be inclusive.

La Nuit Blanche said...


i think this post should be printed as a hand-out and given to all tango students in every dance studio.

i've noticed this misuse of terminology in americans as well. what americans refer to as "nuevo" is actually "open embrace stage tango". i wonder how this came to be??

your definition of tango nuevo is excellent to me -- i've been studying with a maestro who studied with gustavo naveira for many years, and your paragraph pretty much sums up what he's been teaching me.

the beautiful thing about nuevo tango, is how completely different a lead can feel, for the same movement. for example, a simple boleo can have a totally different torque in the lead that can make the follower's body (at least for me) feel like it's flying.

i love it....

Psyche said...

Thank you! I'm glad you approve! And that you get where I'm coming from.

As I was saying over on your blog, really do study with Pablo if you can, especially if you can get a private lesson. For really nuevo nuevo there's nothing like him. (Well, noone trumps Chicho, of course, but that's because he's Chicho, and besides, they're very different dancers.) He's so soft, and so light, and musical, and inventive, and he's all about the connection.