Tango dance is one the most famous partner dances that emphasizes the vibrant and playful style of movement, rich expressions, improvisation and requires close connection and passion between dancers. It is currently practiced by millions of people from all around the world, who have learned to love not only a traditional tango style which was popularized in late 19th and early 20th century but also many of its other modern tango dance variations created in Argentina and many other countries. The core concept of the tango dance revolves around leader and follower, where leader through their embrace gives openings to the follower what to do, and follower then chooses how he will respond. The end result of this cooperative process can be a highly improvisational dance that fully captivates the attention of both the dancers and spectators. The attire of the tango dancers is also important because it significantly impacts the visual appeal of the dance, most notably with female dancers promoting their elegance and sexuality by performing the passionate tango dance routines while wearing revealing clothing and high heels.
When people think about tango, today they are most likely to think about its modern ballroom type, which has become famous for its focus on high spectator satisfaction and ability to be practiced in a competitive environment. In addition to various tango dancing styles, tango can also be danced to several styles of tango music, including traditional, nuevo and alternative. While the influences of those music styles change the dance, the core number of principles are shared among all types of tango dances. Musical instruments that can most commonly be heard during a tango dance are the traditional accordion, bandoneon (tango accordion), piano, guitar, violin, double bass and a human voice.
Originally developed with influences of African and European culture in Argentina and Uruguay under the name of “tango criollo” (Creole tango), this original dance managed to survive to today and is still danced as “authentic tango” in addition to many other historical Argentine dances. As of summer of 2009, UNESCO has included tango as the part of their UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists , and thus increasing the preservation, awareness, and significance of this important part of Argentinian cultural history.
Tango is national dance of Argentina ever since it reached mass popularity in the early 1900s
The history of tango can be traced all the way back to 18th century Argentina where a mix of influences brought by European immigrants, South American natives and dances of former African slaves in their candombe ceremonies brought the rise of the new type of partner dance that was practiced almost exclusively by poor and lower class. The popularity of this dance grew at a steady pace, especially in the lower-class districts of the cities such as Buenos Aires and Montevideo (Uruguay). It is important to mention that several types of tango dance existed then, with only one of them managing to find wide popularity outside of the lower class (in a dance that is today referred as tango criollo or authentic tango).
The origin of the word “tango” comes from the words tango/tambo which was used in the region around the basin of River Plata to describe the musical gatherings of slaves. With this term started being used for more types of musical gatherings, it eventually becomes a synonym of the popular tango dance. The earliest written record of the word tango comes from the year 1789, in a colonial government proclamation that attempted to ban these musical gatherings.
From the moment tango music expanded to the middle-class of people of Argentina, it’s growth became unstoppable. In late 19th and early 20th century, tango dance becomes commonplace in Argentinian theatres, dancing halls, and street performances, enabling it to quickly become one of the favorite dances of newly arrived European immigrants who were settling in Argentina. By early 20th century, many of those immigrants and other Argentinian natives formed entertainment groups that traveled to Europe with a goal of promoting their newly popular partner dance. They first found popularity in the early 1900s in the City of Light, Paris, and from there Tango quickly reached London, Berlin, and many other European capitals.
United States dancers become first fascinated with Tango dance between 1911 and late 1913, with them doing so much to develop new styles of tango dance that eventually got the monicker ”North American tango”. This new type of tango is distinguished with faster tempos and uses 2/4 or 4/4 rhythms such as one-step, and it was usually danced not to the tunes of traditional tango music, but other popular music styles from the US. By the year 1914, traditional Argentinian tango and North American tango settled down into their proper forms, enabling the US dances to enjoy dancing any type of tango dance they preferred.
Latin music would not be what it is today without the spirit of the underclass in Argentina and Uruguay that invented modern Tango
The popularity of Tango dance went through several ups and downs in its native Argentina. While the dance slowly becomes more and more popular around the world, dancing in Argentina became harder and harder to do during several prolonged periods of economic, government and civil unrest, such as during Great Depression, overthrowing of Hipólito Yrigoyen government, and during post-1950s military dictatorships. However, in between these dark events, tango managed to thrive and was revived several times as a point of natural pride.
Since tango is highly improvisational, personal and impulsive, it is not strange that it has managed to quickly evolve from its traditional form into dozens of styles that are today practiced all around the world. Musical historians have become aware that tango is one of the most “reactive” dances in the world, being able to be significantly reshaped by various factors, even things such as changes in simple cultural elements (including from big effects such as government regulations to even smaller things such as changes in clothing fashion styles, venue sizes, music, crowding, and more).
Style of tango is also distinguished in the way the dancers are supporting their center of gravity. In Argentine and Uruguayan tango, dancers first move their chests, and then their feet reach to support them. Ballroom dancing, however, uses a different style, where feet move first, and then the center body mass moves . Other styles involve differences in step movements, timings, speed, the character of movement and following of the rhythm. The embrace of the dancers (called “frame”) which can be tight, loose, in “V” shape or others, can also change from style to style, and even change several times during a single dance routine. Different tango types also use different styles of leg positioning, such as being intertwined and hooked together between dancers or being kept away one from another. Placement of the foot on the floor can also change between tango types , with some requiring landing the foot flatly on the ground, and others for toes to touch the ground first. Finally, the amount of time the dancers stay on the ground can vary, with some tango routines requiring the dancers to keep feet in the air for the prolonged period of time, such as with moves “boleo” (swinging leg into the air) and “gancho” (hooking a leg around a partner).
Here are brief descriptions of some of the most popular types of Tango dances:
All tango styles are practiced using one of the two types of embraces between lead and follow dances:
Tango dance can also be performed with several types of background music, including:
Tango music developed at the same time as the tango dance. It was originally played by the European immigrant populations of Argentina, and it continues to be played today all across the world. It’s defining characteristics are 2/4 or 4/4 beat and the focus on traditional instruments such as solo guitar, two guitars, or an ensemble (orquesta típica) that is made out of minimum of two violins, piano, flute, double bass and minimum of two Bandoneon (which are a type of concertina accordion that are especially popular in Argentina, Uruguay, and Lithuania, also known as "tango accordion"). Originally developed by a German instrument dealer Heinrich Band (1821–1860), this instrument was originally brought to the Argentina by German and Italian emigrants and sailors in late 19th century.
Passionate and emotional structure of tango dance is also emulated in its music
At first, tango music was closely associated with the underclass, same as the tango dance, but this style of music quickly reached mainstream in Argentina and Uruguay , fueled by the expansion of the dance and arrival of new composers that captured the attention of the general population. The early expansion of tango music was helped a lot by the arrival of tango song La cumparsita" which was composed in 1916 in the Uruguay.
To this day, Tango music is an important part of the music of Argentina . Tango remains the most internationally known traditional music of this country, but its population also enjoys genres such as folk, pop, rock, classical music, electronic, Cumbia, Cuarteto, Fanfarria Latina, art music and “nueva canción” (folk-inspired music with socially-themed lyrics).
The tango dance routines are intimate, passionate and elegant, which has pushed the dancers to dress appropriately. Tango dancers purposelyaim to look their best, while also picking outfits that don’t restrict their movement. During the early decades of tango’s popularity, it was customary for women to wear long dresses. This fashion choice remained popular in tango community, although the arrival of shorter dresses and dresses with openings have given female dances freedom to pick their favorite fashion style. Modern tango dresses are very sensual - short, have asymmetrical hemlines, are adorned with intricate fringes and crochet decorations, and show cleavage. They can be made both from traditional and modern (lycra and stretch fabric) materials. As for footwear, women should almost exclusively use high heel tango dance shoes.
Men’s tango fashion is much more traditional, with straight-cut trousers, shirt, and a part of good dancing shoes. Many of the dancers also frequently wear accessories such as vests, hats, and suspenders.
Since its popularization, tango has managed to become a phenomenon that has influenced many spheres of life across the world, including sports (synchronized swimming, figure skating, gymnastics), festivals, healthy living, film, music, and more. Many people were responsible for raising awareness of this music and dance, including: