Saturday, February 20, 2010

Nuevo/Neo/Alternative..... what is it?

Fellow blogger (and I hope future contributor) 'El Ingeniero' and I had a little discussion about the role of 'Nuevo/Neo' tandas in DJing. He remarked how difficult it was to smoothly incorporate these into the mix without breaking the flow and the mood, and said he would probably omit these altogether if it wasn't for the crowd asking for these. This got me to think, what in the world is this Nuevo that we talk about so often? The terms nuevo/neo/alternative are vaguely thrown around in discussions of tango music and dance without there being a specific definition for these (as far as I know, at least). Linguistically, Nuevo and Neo are the Spanish and Latin word, respectively, for 'new'. So 'New Tango'... Naturally, it makes little sense to talk about the new tango without first addressing what the 'original' is. What is 'traditional' tango? Is it strictly the one originated in brothels, or is it the one danced to in the golden age? Milonguero, Villa Urquiza, Salón...... Which is it? As with all art forms, tango is continually evolving. I am no historian of any kind, but I am guessing that each style in a way represents an era and/or location of the dancers (as with Villa Urquiza). Yet even within these categories, there are endless variations because we, dancers, are such individualistic, unique entities that it is virtually impossible for one dancer to perfectly fit into one of these (in my opinion) arbitrary labels. And in the rare instance that a dancer can be categorized into one of these styles, dancers also tend to change over time. In these multi-layered complexities lie the difficulty of defining nuevo. Sebastián Arce said previous to a performance in Dublin last year that in defining Nuevo "it doesn't matter which way you dance, whether you dance with your arm here or your butt there [...], whatever you do: that's Nuevo". (source: ) At the time, I wasn't quite sure what he meant, but now I think I understand what he means. Nuevo is not necessarily the new; it's the now. Whatever the phase our own dance is going through now is the nuevo, not an arbitrarily set criteria of different technique/embrace or moves/figures.

As with the music...... the so called nuevo tandas mostly are one of two things: either completely non-tango music or 'electrotango'. Unfortunately, my background in music is too limited to precisely define what makes a piece of music tango or not. But I'm confident we can unanimously agree that Mraz is definitely not tango. I understand that the non-Spanish speaking dancers may not relate as much to the Spanish speakers to the music, so they may prefer more familiar music that they understand and can relate to. And I cannot realistically expect every non-Spanish speaking tango enthusiast to learn the language just for the sake of connecting to the music better. But really, these 'non tango music' tandas should be limited to one per night, if at all. Why? For one thing, I cannot tell if a song is part of a tanda or a cortina (I always hope it's a cortina). As for the Electrotango, a lot of it sounds to me like just electronic/house/chill music with a little bandoneon playing here and there. Once I complained about the high frequency of these kinds of tandas at a milonga, and someone told me that I should quit living in the past. This is true; it would be hypocritical for me to advocate the evolution of the dance but not the music. Indeed, there are current orchestras that are very danceable and respect the basic foundation of the music, while providing a little break from the usual Golden Age orchestras. El Arranque, Sexteto Milonguero, Tangamente, Orquesta Color Tango, Contramarca, Los Reyes del Tango, Imperial, Unitango are all current orquestras, each with their unique flavor while maintaining the essence of tango. These would be my nuevo tandas.

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