Tango History - Origin and Characteristics of Tango
Tango is one of the most influential and famous dances of the modern
history, originating from the streets of 18th century Buenos Aires in
Argentina and Montevideo in Uruguay as the favorite
dance of the European immigrants, former slaves, working and lower
classes of people.
The quick rise in its popularity enabled this famous dance to quickly
expand out of South America, becoming a commonplace in Europe, North
America and the rest of the world. With the rich history, numerous types
and styles, and incredible appeal, tango dance remains one of the most popular dances in the entire world.
The exact origin of the word ‘tango’ cannot be located entirely,
and many modern historians believe that several events and words shaped the
name of this dance. Some of the most popular theories is that tango
signified some other style of music that was popular in 17th and 18th
century Argentina and Uruguay, that was taken from Spanish language where
tango dancing (of a much different style than its modern version) become
popular in the 19th century, or that it was taken from some Niger-Congo
languages of Africa.
No matter what its exact origins are, the words “ tango” and “tambo” started being used
for naming dance and musical gatherings of slaves in the
region of the basin of River Plata. As this term started gaining
popularity, it quickly became a synonym for the entire tango dance and
tango music style.
First historical record of the word “tango” can be found in the government
proclamation in Argentina dated to 1789, in which authorities place a ban on “tango” musical gatherings that were
frequented by slaves, lower classes of free people living in the port areas
of Buenos Aires. The commonplace use of the word Tango in Argentina gained
traction around 100 years later, near the very end of 19th century.
Origin of the Tango Dance
There are two types of tango dance practiced today -original Argentinian tango, and Spanish Andalusian Tango (danced by single women) that
reached Central America during conization period.
Original tango was given birth by the mix of styles that were brewing in
the port cities and lower-class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
The early versions of the dance are not recorded in history, and only the
most popular type of dance managed to survive as Traditional Argentine
Tango, which also continued to morph and change into other styles over the
many years of modern tango’s history.
It is important to mention that the initial burst of popularity of Tango
dance was fueled with the emotions of thousands of young immigrant men who
arrived in Argentina searching for better life. Hundreds
of their influenced re-shaped original tango into a modern form that
managed to eventually capture the imagination of wealthier Argentine
citizens, who managed to spread this incredible dance around the world,
starting with their visits to Paris in the early 1900s where this dance
quickly became an overnight sensation.
An early form of Tango is thought to be formed in Cuba and Spain in the
mid-19th century where they were performed as a solo dance by women.
Andalusian tango was performed by one or two pairs of women with castanets,
with very strong public frowns and fears that this mix of tango and
flamenco was immoral and very flirty.
The development of Tango as we know it today started in the mid-1800s after
Argentina undergone massive immigration. A mix of the people from Africa,
Spain, Italy, England, Poland, Russia and native-born Argentinian created a
very potent cultural mix that soon started forming new traditions and a new
way of life. One of those newly created things came from the mix of
European minuet dances, polkas and many African influences that brought
rhythms and instruments that formed Tango, a dance that very quickly became
very popular in the poor neighborhood of Buenos Aires in the late 1880s
where it was known as “music of the immigrants”.
By mid-1800s, tango becomes a dance of choice during “conventillos
” gatherings (large houses owned by several families, which featured dance
halls or open ground suitable for dance gatherings) in the booming city of
Buenos Aires. Fueled by closed codes of those houses, particular language
used during a gathering, the dance became more and more popular, eventually
starting to be danced by actors on the stages of the theater houses.
By that point, the expansion of the tango’s popularity became unstoppable.
The tango reached the core of the Buenos Aires and other large Argentinian
cities, where people of all classes engaged in this dance that became
energized with many more types of musical and cultural styles. By that
time, the tango music became more and more developed, and dancers started
appreciating now “traditional” tango instruments such as solo guitar,
bandoneon “tango accordion” and ensemble bands (orquesta típica) that were
made from at least two violins, piano, flute, double bass and two
The popularity of the Tango grew in the 1st decade of 20th century, with
over 1000 gramophone records and countless tango sheets being created in
Buenos Aires alone. In the year 1910, history of tango was changed forever
with the arrival of bandoneon from Germany to Buenos
Aires, where it became inextricably linked with tango music from then on.
In the 2nd decade, tango was featured on up to 5,500 gramophone records in
Today it is believed that one of the first composers of Tango music was s
Juan Pérez, who authored songs such as Dame la Lata (Give me my pay). Other
popular early tango songs were El Tero and Andate a la Recoleta (Go away to
History of Tango in Other Countries
Tango craze did not stay in Argentina for long.In 1910 it reached New York and in 1912 Pairs. In both of those great cities, this dance
brought true revolution to the ballroom floors. The expansion was not fueled this time
by lower classes of dancers, but by wealthy Argentine youth who traveled to
this hubs of modern society (NY in the Americas and Paris in continental
Europe) and promoted this dance directly to the trendsetters who were
craving for any new indulgences and were eager for innovation and change of
By 1913, Tango was one of the most popular dances in Paris, New York, and
Paris. Other cities quickly followed, and
soon tango was danced across entire Europe and North America
, but there were some difficulties. Same as with the appearance of Waltz
during the early Victorian era, the introduction of Tango was welcomed as distasteful and too flirty. This
sentiment thankfully soon subsided, and high class of people soon started
accepting it and promoting it with the exploits of famous dancers and
musicians. With the arrival of Tango to the elegant dance floors of the
best-known ballrooms all across the world, maintaining its popularity to
North American Tango
Tango was well-received in the United States where a brand new style of
this dance was also developed. Named as “North American Tango”, this type
of dance features faster tempos and uses 2/4 or 4/4 rhythms such as
one-step. Usually, it is not even danced to the tunes of traditional tango
music and can be enjoyed with other popular music styles.
Today, traditional tango and North American tango are both well established
and can be danced separately with their own firm dancing rules.
After the rise of tango popularity in the 1880s,
Uruguay became one of the oldest places where tango was adopted and
danced in public
. Originally morphed in Montevideo from the influences of Buenos Aires
Tango and various black music and dance styles, it eventually moved from
the dance halls of slaves, ex-slaves, lower classes, working classes and
even gangsters to the dance and theatre halls of Montevideo and other
Today, Uruguayan tango dance is accompanied not only by tango music, but
also styles such as Milonga, Vals and Candombe, and most popular tango
dances are Al Mundo le falta un Tornillo, La Cumparsita, Vieja Viola,
Garufa, Con Permiso, La Fulana, Barrio Reo, Pato and La puñalada.
One of the most famous and well known Uruguayan tango songs is “ La Cumparsita”, which was produced in 1919 by Montevideo composer
and writer Gerardo Matos Rodríguez. Other famous Uruguayan
tango musicians are Manuel Campoamor, Francisco Canaro, Horacio Ferrer,
Malena Muyala, Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, Enrique Saborido, Carlos Gardel and
Tango arrived in Finland in 1913 by traveling musicians
, where it immediately found great popularity that enabled it to not only
stay but morph into a brand new form of Finish tango that
has several differences from traditional Argentine or Ballroom tango
styles. The defining characteristic of Finnish tango is reliance on minor
keys, which closely follows the style and conventions of their folklore
music, with lyrics being focused on the themes of sorrow, love, nature, and
The origin of this tango craze can be traced to the first local tango song
that was produced in 1914 by Emil Kauppi, and first, finish tango tunes in
the 1920s and 1930s. While initially Tango was danced mostly in Helsinki,
it eventually became popular across the entire country, with several
festivals being formed to celebrate the dance. Even today, over 100
thousand tango dancers visit Finish tango festivals, the most notably
Tangomarkkinat festival in the town of Seinäjoki.