Argentine tango London | History of tango spacer_small

Argentina during the 40’s and 50’s, or ‘the Golden Age’ was an exciting, thriving time for tango. Salon style was danced in posh clubs, where one was expected to get dressed up and dance a very slow and poised tango. Milonguero style tango was danced in less formal and more crowded venues.

Orillero was considered a lower class style of tango. In many cases, the same individual danced different styles in different venues or to different music.


A fascinating evolution which reflects that of Argentine society

Tango has always shown a capacity to evolve and change as naturally as we do but nonetheless, we’ve tried to pin down some characteristics of key styles in the history of tango, as undefinable as it is (most ‘Spanishy’ dance terminology you’ve maybe not heard of before is explained at the bottom of this section). So curtain up, here it goes…


Originating in the 1920’s and 30’s, canyengue is the oldest form of Argentine tango style and is characterised by a close embrace and slight “V” position. Dancers bend their knees when dancing, some use exaggerated body movements and all use short steps – to follow the ‘staccato’ rhythm popular at the time. The music from this era had a faster, peppier tempo lending the dance a rhythmic feel, similar to that of modern milonga.


Originating in low income neighbourhoods, this style was not accepted in dance salons during the Golden age of tango. Orillero style tango is playful, at times unruly, using uninhibited, expressive movements that can cause collisions with other dancers on the dance floor. Orillero is recognisable by men’s quick foot moves and even jumps. (Yes ladies, a sight not to be missed) Juan D’Arienzo and Rodolfo Biagio, two of the most famous orchestras from the Golden Age are ideal for this style of dance.


Milonguero style developed in response to Buenos Aires crowded dance floors and is a dance style which takes very little space. It is known for its closed embrace called ‘apilado’ in Spanish. The upper body of both partners is in constant contact from waist to chest so they share the same axis, each supporting the other’s balance. (not an awful thing to be in such close proximity with a passionate tango partner, we think). In milonguero style, partners lean into each other but it is never a lazy lean! This style works well with music of the more rhythmic type as characterized by famous orchestras such as D’Arienzo or Tanturi.

Tango salon

Tango salon is a smoother and more elegant style where close embrace is key. Both partners are centred slightly on the right side of one another, dancing slow, measured and smoothly executed moves. The embrace loosens during ochos, turns and giros, to give both partners more space and to allow the lady more freedom to express herself and then closes again for support and poise. Tango salon includes all of the basic tango steps with the emphasis on precision, smoothness, and elegant dance lines. It is usually danced to the strongest beat played by famous orchestras such as Di Sarli, Calo and Pugliese.

Tango fantasia (or scenario)

Fantasia is a choreographed version of tango for stage performances which found its feet in the 1950’s and made popular by Juan Carlos Copes. It is more theatrical than other styles, is performed in an open embrace and includes various elements taken from other dances, including ballet. This type of tango is not for the faint hearted and requires a whole lot of space (flailing legs in 9cm heels – danger alert) so DO try this and home and NOT at a milonga. Calling all dare devils!

Tango Nuevo

Tango Nuevo is the latest development for tango and is characterised by an open and flexible embrace where both partners maintain their own balance and positioning, making innovative shapes with their body such as volcadas and the like. You will easily recognise tango nuevo dancers by the emphasis on movements and fluidity, rather than connection.

Despite the insistence by the founders of the tango nuevo movement that it is not a style in itself, it has become accepted term by many as a separate and distinct style of tango. Considered by many as the most famous practitioners of tango nuevo are Gustavo Naveira, Norberto “El Pulpo” Esbrés, Fabián Salas, Esteban Moreno, Claudia Codega, Sebastian Arce, Mariana Montes, Mariano ‘Chicho’ Frumboli, and Pablo Verón.

‘Spanishy’ terms

  • Ocho: a figure where the woman steps and pivots in front of her partner, drawing an 8 (ocho means 8 in spanish) on the floor with her feet.
  • Giro: a figure where the man spins on his axis while the woman steps around him.
  • Ocho cortado: an ocho which is interrupted half way through so the woman only draws half an 8. The story goes that a milonguero invented the figure out of necessity. He started leading an ocho, realised he wouldn’t have enough space to finish it and interrupted the move. Because it was born on a crowded dance floor, and a god send for any dancer stuck in a sticky spot in a milonga, it is one of the most typical steps of tango milonguero.
  • Volcada: a step where the woman is completely out of her axis and fully leaning on her partner (he’d better be stable!). This allows her free leg to wrap nicely around her supporting leg.
  • Want more? Check our tango terminology page for a full run down of terms used in tango. Impress your boss or partner by casually dropping a few in a discussion…

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