Historically, tango has been analysed in terms of different periodical headings — la guardia vieja, la guardia nueva, la edad de oro. The definition of these terms varies between sources and their scope is often overlapping and unclear. Our purpose here is to define these historical concepts to aid DJs in how to address their music, their source material. To do that we propose to define these terms in relation to important turning points in the evolution of tango music and dance. Here we have an overview of this division into periods, which will be further defined individually in later posts.
Before 1895 — Pre-tango
This is the pre-history of tango, a period when many diverse musical styles and dance merged in the emerging tango. This period is in many ways mythical, factual and written documents are not available. Most of the theory covering this period is therefore to the most part guesswork and conjencture. We will be summarizing these in more detail at a later time.
1895–1916 — Guardia vieja
From 1895 we do have a history of tango that can be verified. This first phase in the establishment of tango as a definite musical style has been called the guardia vieja (the old guard). This is the period when the music and dance first evolved, performed by small musical ensembles. At this time, from 1905 onwards, tango was first introduced internationally, taught by Argentine dancers and musicians in North America and Europe. The first recordings available to us stem from before 1910. It is of note here that in Iceland tango was first introduced as early as 1912.
1917–1926 — Early guardia nueva
This is the period when tango music matured. Around 1917 sung tangos were first introduced, fast becoming very popular. At the same time we have the establishment of larger orchestras and the instrumentation we call the orquesta típica(symbolic orchestra). This is also the time traditional tango established itself on the world stage, becoming, in a dilluted form, a standard in social dancing repertoire around the world. Although there are a lot of recordings from this time, they are of historical interest and not suitable for contemporary dancing.
1926–1930 — High guardia nueva
November 1926 is crucial for tango history. The introduction of electronic recording technology in Argentina meant that recordings were made that had a gretly increased scope and detail. This means these are the first recordings that are suitable for contemporary amplification and sound equipment, and thus playable in present-day milongas. It is this imporvement in sound that is the hallmark of the high guardia nueva.
1931–1935 — Late guardia nueva
When the financial crisis hit in 1929 and 1930, this had a serious effect on the production of records, with many companies going bankrupt and many younger performers, like Di Sarli, having to withdraw from recording. This period however led to a lot of innovation occurring behind the scenes, which would later fuel the evolution of the edad de oro. In the late guardia nueva we see an emphasis and influx of ideas stemming from a re-evaluation of Argentine musical history having an effect on the scene, this leading to an increased emphasis on the vals and the re-introduction of the milonga as a perceived historical origin of tango.
1936–1940 — Early edad d’oro
Dance theorists in general agree that the defining moment in Argentine tango was the changes following the indroduction of the cruzada, cross, in the woman’s backward step. This innovation changed the way tango was danced at the time, setting Argentine tango apart from other types danced around the world. This, coupled with greater intensity in music performance, led to innovations that culminated with a dance craze in the Rio del Plata area. It is this craze, and the music involved, that exemplifies the early edad de oro (early golden age) of tango, from 1936 until 1940.
1941–1949 — High edad de oro
By 1941 Argentine tango had evolved stylistically and in complexity into the major style we know today. The different versions — tango, vals, and milonga — were by now established as different ways of dancing. The dance had by now changed considerably from the social dance called tango in North America and Europe. For the next ten years, the high edad de oro, we see individual orchestras evolve the musical style even further, establising different and interesting identities, every one. It is in this period that most of the music we play in contemporary milongas originates — this is the heart of what DJs and dancers consider to be the definition of Argentine tango as a unique style.
1950–1955 — Late edad de oro
Around 1950 changes in recording technology led to an important improvement in the scope and depth of musical recordings. These changes involved improvements in microphones and the introduction of vinyl records with improved sound characteristics. At the same time magnetic tape technology led to a distinct improvement in mastering and preservation of recorded material. These are the reasons the sound of many post-1950 recordings is markedly different from their predeccessors. For DJs these improvements also involved re-recordings of many popular tunes by the major bands. This was the final stage of the golden period of tango, the late edad de oro.
1956–1969 — Early interim
In 1956 a number of political and social developements, within Argentina as well as worldwide, led to the demise of Argentine tango as a central element of Argentine youth culture. This meant that dancing tango no longer was a main-stream cultural experience in Argentina. In the period from 1956 to around 1969, the early interim, tango survived by evolving in a variety of different directions. Tango nuevo was created as a hybrid style, suitable for listening and concerts but not for dancing. This also applied to an increased emphasis on sung tango, also intended mainly for listeining, where a number of musicians developed tango singing in often unique ways.
1970–1985 — Late interim
Around 1970 new directions in world music meant that a greater attention was placed on the history of music, on vernacular music and traditional musical styles. Argentine tango gained some attention in terms of this back-to-roots musical trends, which included a revival in publishing older music. These events led some younger musicians to become interested the tango tradition, incorporating the style in terms of their original music. Important tango figures from the edad de oro facilitated this trend, performers and dancers that introduced tango to a wider audience.
1986–1994 — Early contemporary
Around 1986 a number of shows and films came out that presented tango as a unique artistic and cultural phenomenon. This led to a revival of interest, worldwide, in both the music and the choreograpy of performance tango. This led to a renewed interst in tango, in Argentina as well as in other countries. The result of this was a number of interesting tango productions produced worldwide of a wide variety, incorporating nuevo, traditional style tango, and singing.
1995–now — Contemporary
By 1995 this renewed interest in tango led to the revival of tango as a musical and dance phenomenon worldwide. Interest in traditional tango music, from the edad de oro and guardia nueva, became intense, with a lot of bands and DJs performing for dancers at milongas that popped up in all major cities around the world. At the same time interest in Argentine tango as a vernacular dance phenomenon increased a lot, interest in reviving the traditional dance patterns and methods of the edad de oro, the dynamic scene and traditions it provided. This increased interest led to a variety of revival groups being formed with the intent of cleaning up the traditional dance styles. At the same time novel forms of tango, such as electrotango for example, were introduced, functioning so as to present tango to a more youthful group of dancers and participants. This is the period we are still in today.