Yes! I couldn’t wait to learn more about this incredible passionate dance! Let’s start with its history… so how did Tango originate? What influences does it have?
Tango is a fusion of rhythms and dances of African, Native South American and European immigrants in the “Río de Plata” region. Río de plata is a river that divides modern day Argentina and Uruguay, and this dance known as Tango or Tambo was danced in both sides of the river, in Montevideo and Buenos Aires both of these nations capitals.
On the African side, Tango received its influence from a dance called “Candombe,” a style of music and dance that originated in Uruguay among the descendants of liberated African slaves. As this region became flooded with European Immigrants, they added their polkas and minuet dances, soon it became a dance popular in the lower classes.
For Tango to become the very popular dance it is today took sometime as it encountered many road blocks laid down by the most conservative members of all societies where it went. In the 1900’s Tango reached Paris, London and Berlin. It was soon banned because it was seen as very inappropriate and overtly sexual, and well its mucsic and rhythm having the strange mix of the Native South American, African and European mix was never heard of and too much of a culture shock!
Towards the end of 1913, it hit New York City as well as Finland. In the U.S., around 1911, the word “Tango” was often applied to dances in a 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm such as the one-step. The term was fashionable and did not indicate that tango steps would be used in the dance, although they might be. (1) Tango music was sometimes played but at a rather fast tempo. Instructors of the period would sometimes refer to this as a “North American tango” where the embrace begins at the hip level, versus “Argentine tango” where the embrace is chest to chest.
In Argentina, the onset in 1929 of the Great Depression, and restrictions introduced after the overthrow of the president Hipólito Yrigoyen government in 1930, caused a temporary decline in tango’s popularity. Its fortunes were reversed later in the 1930s, and tango again became widely fashionable and a matter of national pride under the first Perón government, which in turn had a major effect on Argentinian culture overall. Mariano Mores, a Tango composer and pianist played a role in the resurgence of the tango in 1950s Argentina.
Tango declined again in the late 1950s, as a result of economic depression and the banning of public gatherings by the military dictatorships; male-only tango practice—the custom at the time—was considered “public gathering”. However, in the late 1980s the tango again experienced a resurgence in Argentina, partly due to the endeavors of Osvaldo Peredo. He was a Tango singer.
In 2009, the tango was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
Styles of Tango
Well, something I didn’t even see coming! Styles? I thought that Tango was just well that, Tango, but it turns out there are many styles of Tango! And it even changes by country. For the sake of time I will concentrate on Argentine Tango, or Tango Argentino only.
Tango Canyengue is a rhythmic style of tango that originated in the early 1900s and is still popular today. It is the original roots style of tango and contains all fundamental elements of traditional Argentine tango. In tango Canyengue the dancers share one axis, dance in a closed embrace, and with the legs relaxed and slightly bent. Tango canyengue uses body dissociation for the leading, walking with firm ground contact, and a permanent combination of on- and off-beat rhythm. Its main characteristics are its musicality and playfulness. Its rhythm is described as “incisive, exciting, provocative”. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the Movimiento Cultural Canyengue Argentino or MOCCA, has revived the style. In its contemporary evolution, tango canyengue combines the original, grounded steps and close embrace with elegance, esthetics, and complicity between the two dance partners. (1)
In this video you can see a couple dancing this style in a MOCCA Festical in Argentina in 2016:
Tango Orillero refers to the style of dance that developed away from the town centers, in the outskirts and suburbs where there was more freedom due to more available space on the dance floor. The style is danced in an upright position and uses various embellishments including rapid foot moves, kicks, and even some acrobatics, though this is a more recent development.
Tango Salon does not refer to a single specific way of dancing tango. Rather, it is literally tango as it is danced socially in the salons (dance halls) of Buenos Aires. Salon tango was danced throughout the Golden Era of Argentine Tango (1935–1952) when milongas (tango parties) were held in large dance venues and full tango orchestras performed. Salon tango is often characterized by slow, measured, and smoothly executed moves, never moving against the line-of-dance, and respecting the space of other dancers on the floor around them. The emphasis is on precision, smoothness, musicality, good navigation, and following the códigos (tango etiquette) of the salons.
In this video coming up you will see two wonderful dancers from Argentina: Magdalena Gutierrez and Germán Ballejo. They were the champions in 2017 of the Tango World Cup in Buenos Aires.
This style mostly evolved over the 1940-1950 time span. The term Tango de Fantasía refers to music, dance, and dresses; it tries to codify a tango form different from the past. Dancers added little sits and fast footwork – doing fantasies, as some people called it. The related men’s suit with a white border is named traje de fantasía. In music, Osmar Héctor Maderna’s was referred to as Tango de Fantasía due to his arrangements which included fancy solos.
Milonguero or Milonga Style Tango
Milonguero-style tango, also known as estilo milonguero (in Buenos Aires, known by name Estilo del centro because it originates from downtown milongas where dance floors were crowded) or apilado (piled up, stacked), is a close-embrace style of social tango dancing in which the focus is inward and the leg and arm movements are kept small. It can be very playful.
In theory, all styles can be performed on stage, but the movement has to take stage elements into accounts, such as diagonals, centres, fronts, placement of lights, etc. Often, show tango routines includes embellishments, acrobatics, and solo moves that would be impractical on a social dance floor. Stage tango can be partially improvised, but in order for the general choreography to fit the set stage, some parts need to be rehearsed as a set routine.
About Tango Music
A tango orchestra typically consists of bandoneons, violins, piano and double bass, in addition to guitar and drums, accompanied by singers and dancers of the tango tradition. Among these instruments, the bandoneon is perhaps the most key instrument in producing the authentic, emotional and nostalgic sound of tango.
The bandoneon (or bandonion, Spanish: bandoneón) is a type of concertina particularly popular in Argentina and Uruguay. It is a typical instrument in most tango ensembles. It looks and sounds a lot like an accordion… but it has its very own particularities. In this poster you can see the different instruments that make up the accordion family:
Around 1870, German and Italian emigrants and sailors brought the instrument to Argentina, where it was adopted into the nascent genre of tango music, a descendant of the earlier milonga.
By 1910 bandoneons were being produced in Germany expressly for the Argentine and Uruguayan markets, with 25,000 shipping to Argentina in 1930 alone. However, declining popularity and the disruption of German manufacturing in World War II led to an end of bandoneon mass-production.
A bandoneon looks like this:
And here is a video with Fabio Furia, a great player of this instrument…
Famous Argentine Tango Singers
I only have time for one and of course it has to be Carlos Gardel!
Carlos Gardel (born Charles Romuald Gardès 11 December 1890 – 24 June 1935) was a French-born Argentine singer, songwriter, composer and actor, and the most prominent figure in the history of tango. He was one of the most influential interpreters of world popular music in the first half of the 20th century. Gardel is the most famous popular tango singer of all time and is recognized throughout the world. He was notable for his baritone voice and the dramatic phrasing of his lyrics. Together with lyricist and long-time collaborator Alfredo Le Pera, Gardel wrote several classic tangos. (1)
Famous Argentine Tango Dancers
Juan Carlos Copes
There are many famous Argentine Tango Dancers of course, but I will highlight one. His name is Juan Carlos Copes. He was born on May 31 of 1931. I saw him dance for the first time in the movie “Tango” … just WOW! This movie was so incredible… the choreography , the dancers, the plot, the visuals, and what an extraordinary vision to have this man, Juan Carlos Copes, a legend of Tango dancing was like the cherry on top. This was one of his dance scenes:
He started dancing with the dance partner of his life, Maria Nieves when he was 17 and she 14, and the pair later married. Copes and Nieves played a leading role in the renaissance in Tango dancing from the 1970s and, particularly, in Argentine Tango following the 1983 restoration of democracy in Argentina. Sadly, he died of Covid 19 on 16 January 2021. May he dance in peace!
Coming up is another great moment in the Movie Tango from 1998, when he danced the Tango “La Cuparsita with Cecilia Narova:
Calderón was born into a poor Italian immigrant family on 10 February 1905 in Villa Urquiza, Buenos Aires. Her mother died, leaving her, an older brother, and two younger sisters, when Calderón was 13 years old.
Calderón began dancing at 13 years old under the tutelage of her brother, Eduardo.[In 1932 she accompanied her sisters to a local dance at the Club Sin Rumbo in Villa Urquiza. It was here she met and danced with José Giambuzzi (better known as Tarila) who afterwards introduced her to El Cachafaz (Ovidio José Bianquet) and Carlos Gardel at the Bar Corrientes the following day. Pleased with her dancing, El Cachafaz took her on as his dance partner.They danced together for ten years in various productions, and created a unique style of tango with their “sentadas, corridas y cortes” (sits, runs and breaks). She and El Cachafaz debuted with the Pedro Maffia Orchestra at the Teatro de San Fernando in 1933. She also appeared alongside El Cachafaz in “¡Tango!” in 1933, her first sound film.In 1940 she performed in the film Carnaval de antaño accompanying Florencio Parravicini, whom she met via Carlos Gardel. She went on various tours, some with “La historia del tango” with Francisco Canaro. She made her final appearance with El Cachafaz at Mar del Plata in on 7 February 1942. He died of a heart attack in her arms at the performance.
After her partner’s death in 1942 Calderón continued making appearances. She danced at the Palermo Palace with the Ángel D’Agostino Orchestra, with singer Ángel Vargas. In 1969 she appeared in the musical film “Tango argentino”.
After the death of Ángel Vargas she continued dancing with other partners including Pibe Palermo and Juan Averna, in “El abrojito”, on Alsina street. The Buenos Aires Legislature paid tribute to her in 2001, at 96 years old, for her role in popularizing milonga and tango. In 2002 she was again honored at the Teatro Colón and at the IV Festival Buenos Aires Tango, where she danced with Juan Carlos Copes.
To mark her 100th birthday, Calderón performed a tango, with Jorge Dispari as partner, her final public performance. This event also featured an exhibit of her outfits and unreleased videos of her life. She died a few months afterwards, on 31 October 2005, of pneumonia, in the district of Villa Lugano, Buenos Aires. Her remains were cremated at the Chacarita cemetery.
This is from the movie TANGO (1933):
How amazing is that both of the dancers I chose starred in movies called “Tango”! Here is Carmencita dancing at 100:
Isn’t that extraordinary! She is so good!!!
Now let’s take a look at other great movie Tango moments! I will start with probably my personal favorite… Si! Antonio Banderas en Take the Lead… all I have to say… is keep near a cold shower when you watch this!
And… this is from Moulin Rouge… El Tango de Roxanne…
This one is so great for it is the woman that leads… or teacher how to lead?
And… this is sweet moment from Scent of a Woman… Al Pacino greatness! Here he dances with Gabrielle Anwar:
And here are many photos… they are so beautiful!
Ans now to end this fun post… here is that awesome quote from Scent of a Woman…
“No mistakes in the tango, Donna. Not like life. It’s simple, that’s what makes the tango so great. If you make a mistake, get all tangled up, just tango on.”