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Tango Abierto(open-embrace) and Tango Milonguero (close-embrace)

Updated: Mar 22, 2022

Rummaging through my files, I found this article from Susana Miller, written some years ago. We agree that open-embrace Tango, what we like to now call "International Tango" has been the 'entry door" to Tango for most of us, and that Tango of the Milongas, like a fine wine, may require some maturing or ageing before it is fully appreciated.

We aren't so sure that the progression from International to Milonguero is seamless. Outside Buenos Aires, and even there, few people will have ever seen it, let alone felt it. The techniques are 180 degrees opposed, and we have found that it is hard for dancers to convert from open-embrace to milonguero. It takes dedicated learning and practice that only comes from having a vision of and desire for the goal.

"The so-called tango abierto (open), based on the spectacle and glamour of its moves, is the gateway to tango. It is what people see all over the world, in Buenos Aires; at the theatre and on TV. Can anyone possibly resist the match between great technical display and romanticism? Inevitably, it’s ‘love at first sight’. This is the type of tango that attracts many students to class. A small part of these go on, trapped by its passion, dancing in classes or on the stage or teaching it.

A great stage show. We saw this in Melbourne in the early 2000's. Beware - this is the entire show (about 1.5 hours)

As in any other discipline, knowledge of tango is shaped like a pyramid, with a large amount of beginners at its base and the few chosen and ambitious elite that will never stop studying at its peak. Dancing Tango isn’t easy. It’s never been a massive practice either, not even during the so-called “golden age of tango” in the forties and fifties.

The difference between this dance and any other is that you can’t learn it by going to the milongas, watching the dance floor or by studying a DVD. It needs study and time, just like an academic career. You need about 10 years to dance it properly. That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the journey. In fact, it’s enjoyment that moves the learning process forward, a process which is not linear, but two steps forward and one back. You need time for doubts and time to compare and double check the knowledge that comes with good, regular practice.

It’s almost impossible to avoid tango abierto. Throughout the world, most students, far away from the pistas porteñas, (Buenos Aires dance floors) start with this type of tango, as indeed do most young people, even in Buenos Aires. It’s here that they find a wide open space in which they can reassert themselves and hold on to in the midst of this global and somehow oppressive world.

The fact is that tango abierto is spectacular. It requires great physical challenge as your body is the protagonist. Hours of practice and dedication are needed.

Chicho was one of the dancing support stars of the movie "The Tango Lesson". He later founded the CITA congress with Fabian Salas and Gustavo Navieira, before moving on to perform and teach this style around the world.

Once you’ve started, nothing else matters. It is the only thing you talk about. You don’t even notice how boring you’ve become to all your friends, tired of hearing the same old story over and over again. At work you can’t avoid discretely practising a couple of steps. Nor can you avoid it whilst waiting for the three a.m. bus. Every single mirror, every shop window shop are an opportunity to double-check your posture. And after this (at first) subtle invasion of public places, you inevitably end up moving your own living room around in order to use it as a small studio.

The fact is we all started with tango abierto. It is part of our personal history: the game, the freedom and the challenge, all of these are fixed in our emotions, like the fond memories of childhood.

Tango’s ‘old guard’ that has been dancing for over 40 years, also started with tango abierto. They started with the many backwards sacadas, barridas and ganchos until they eventually ended up with their embrace del centro (city style), cerrado and parrillero that they continue to enjoy nowadays.

Tango abierto attracts beginners and inevitably makes their life easier, which is fantastic, since no popular dance continues for decades unless there are beginners. But the paths of learning gradually turn long and twisted, and you never know where and how the story is going to end.

Susana Miller with Roberto Peralta at Marabu. This classic venue was recently purchased and renovated by The Argentine Tango Society, a US based organisation.

But he or she who continues will finally reach something really big, a sort of climax, la fiesta del tango: a more mature tango, less narcissistic and less ostentatious. Tango is in no rush, it knows how to wait even until you reach your forties. Tango withdraws itself in order to get stronger, and emerges triumphant, a tango that is no longer based on the look of the others but on the profound dialogue between partners. Its conception of music is richer and more sophisticated. It isn’t formed by the muscular tension of the tango of stage performances but by relaxation of the body. Therefore, it’s a more organic tango, not suitable for theatres and performances where the tango abierto is danced.

Those who continue to dance tango abierto over the years become the maestros, those who dance it both properly and in the correct context, on bigger dance floors, with more space. They never run the risk of colliding with other dancers. They choose suitable places to dance, usually far from downtown. When they have to dance on smaller dance floors they adapt their style, dancing milonguero like the others.

For those dancers over 30 and those who are younger but with experience, the musical embrace of the tango milonguero leads the way to tango for the rest of their life. Tango abierto and tango milonguero are the two streams which fuel the source and maturity of tango. They are mutually indispensable. If one is lacking there will be no future for tango.

The maestros who generate communities should specialise. in one style, whilst acknowledging, accepting and supporting other existing styles. They should encourage those that teach other facets of tango, which in turn need to be nurtured by all the other expressions of tango. Each style and expression matches different ages, expectations and stages of life.

It is very difficult to begin without the game and the freedom of tango abierto but it is also very difficult to dance tango for a lifetime without giving it more significance, however important pleasure and fun may be.

Tango’s maestros and organizers should negotiate events, locations and times in an intelligent and rational way, smoothing down, regardless of egos and competences, for tango isn’t a place where you always have to compete and find out who’s who. Idolatry and selfishness can only serve to hurt the general well-being and growth of our community, or even divide and destroy it entirely. If tango entrenches itself in one style we’ll end up alone, dancing a virtual tango, seated in front of our computer, and we’ll lose its essence: the risk of both enjoying and suffering with someone else in your arms.

Susana Miller is an Argentine tango professional who is one of the most prominent teachers and dancers of the modern milonguero style of tango. She introduced the term Milonguero Style[1] in the mid 1990s when she was assisted by Cacho Dante, Pedro 'Tete' Rusconi, and other milongueros with whom she collaborated to develop a new didactic and system to teach tango. Born in Buenos Aires, Miller continues to teach there as well as internationally.

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