Tango Dance - Types, Techniques and Influence
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
Ballroom tango - The most famous international version
of tango, that originated from Europe and managed to become famously
simplified tango style that is used in competitions. The American version
of this dance is used only as an ordinary social dance.
Salon tango (Tango de salon) - Not a specific tango
style per se, but a tango that was first played in dance halls of Buenos
Aires during the Golden Age of Tango (1935-1952).
Argentine tango (Tango canyengue) - One of the original
types of tango that contains all the fundamental elements of the
19th-century traditional Argentine tango styles.
Tango nuevo (Nuevo tango) - Developed in the 1980s, this
new tango style is distinguished by complex moves, and the mix of jazz,
electronic, alternative or techno-tinged inspired elements. Many see Tango
nuevo as a mix of tango music and electronica.
Finnish tango - Rise of the popularity of tango in
Finland in after First World War brought the development of new tango style
that promotes contact dance, horizontal movements and low standing stance
that features no kicking or aerials.
Uruguayan tango - Very old type of tango, developed at
the same time as earliest Buenos Aires tango styles. Today, Uruguayan tango
consists of several sub-styles and can be danced with several types of
music (Tango, Milonga, Vals, and Candombe).
Tango apilado - Close embrace tango which is best danced
on a crowded dance floor.
Show tango - Argentinian version of the theatrical tango
that is danced on a stage.
All tango styles are practiced using one of the two types of embraces
between lead and follow dances:
Open embrace - Lead and follow are dancing with open
space between their bodies
Close embrace - Practiced either with chest-to-chest
embrace (used in traditional Argentine tango) or more loose upper thigh,
hip area (common in international
and American tango)
Tango dance can also be performed with several types of background music,
Traditional tango music style
Alternative tango music, which is inspired by tango
Electronic tango-inspired 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.
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
, 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:
Composer and virtuoso of the bandoneón Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992) who rearranged traditional
tango with influences of jazz and classical music into a new style called “ nuevo tango.”
Carlos Gardel (1890-1935) - French-Argentine singer, composer, songwriter and actor, today regarded as
one of the most important figures in the history of rango. His work became
immortalized after he died in the plane crash at the age of 44.
Carlos Acuña (1915-1999) - Famous tango singer known for
his incredible voice.
Néstor Fabián (1938- ) - Famous tango singer and actor
in Argentina, best known for his songs and musical comedies.
Julio Sosa (1926-1964) - Regarded today as one of the
most important tango singers from 1950s and 1960s Uruguay.
Olavi Virta (1915-1972) - Famous Finish singer known for
over 600 tango songs. He is known as the “king of Finish tango”.
And many others