Table of Contents
THE HISTORY OF TANGO
Tango is a dance and music that originated in Buenos Aires at the turn of the century, developing in the melting pot of cultures that was Buenos Aires. Immigrants from Europe - Italy, Spain, Britain, Poland, Russia, Germany and every other European country mixed with earlier generation of settlers of all races from other South American countries. They brought their native music and dances with them, and continued to assimilate new innovations from abroad. Traditional polkas, waltzes and
Argentine Tango is rich with tradition and history and this makes the dance unique and a subject of much fascination. This topic is divided into three categories, the history, the dance styles and the etiquette used in many places throughout the world.
mazurkas were mixed with the popular Habanera from Cuba to form a new dance and music, the milonga, which was popular in the 1870s . This was known as the "poor man's Habanera". The word tango was used at the time to describe various music and dance, for example the "tango Andaluza" from Spain in the 1880s. The black population had their dances, the Candombe, a mix of many different African traditions, and the place they danced and the dance itself have also been referred to as tango.
Buenos Aires was very poor city, with almost penniless immigrants coming to make their fortunes on the plains of Argentina or Uruguay, failing and ending up in the cities. In the early years of the 1900 2 million immigrants arrived in BsAs from Europe, 1/2 from Italy, 1/3 from Spain. Many were single men, hoping to earn enough to return to Europe, or bring their family or buy a bride from Europe. A poor, desperate, male population bred crime, brothels, gangsters, and the tango! The generally accepted history has the tango dance originating from the minor toughs, the compadritos, with nothing to their name except macho pride, imitating the dances of the African population, as the danced on the street. Thus, the much wilder candombe was mixed with the milonga to form the early Tango. Men danced together - there were few women, but tango inevitably moved to where they could be found - in the brothels, and it is said that the women could chose their clients by their dancing skill. The man had three dances to prove himself! In the mysterious way that popular culture develops, this dance and music moved up the social scale, met more refined cousins coming down, and was picked up by the sons of the rich who preferred to send their time in the less salubrious parts of their city.
By 1910 the rich sons of Argentina were making their way to Paris, centre of the cultural and entertainment world. They introduced the tango into a society eager for innovation, and not entirely averse to the risqué nature of this import, especially as taught by the dashing, rich latin boys who brought it. In 1913 the Tango had spread from St Petersburg to New York, not without controversy, and had become an international phenomena, even if its heart was still on the Rio de la Plata and the cities of BsAs and Montevideo. The Argentine upper classes who had shunned the tango were now forced into accepting it, because it was fashionable in Paris. Hollywood glamorized the tango to a mass audience, with Valentino as the most famous if completely inauthentic tangoing gaucho. At this point a long conflict started between tango as the expression of the soul and experience of the Buenos Aires resident- the Porteño, and this being inaccessible to anyone else, and a universally practiced and meaningful music and dance.
The First World War was a hiatus to the development, but during this time the first films were made, the tango lyric and music developed and recordings made. After the War the tango was again taken up again and became the dominant music and dance of the fun seeking and culturally anarchic 20s. The development of tango in this period reflects its emergence from the small venues, where sex and machismo were the everyday, to become a mass entertainment, danced by thousands of respectable citizens of prospering cities: Argentina was now one of the richest countries in the world. The dance was refined to the slick and elegant 'salon' style, the lyrics of the songs slowly moved from lamenting the poverty and loneliness of the immigrant men, to more generic love songs for the mass market. However, many lyrics played on nostalgia for the "good old days" before the neighborhoods were cleaned up. Stars were made, singers, notably Gardel, and many other musicians, dancers, lyricists and composers. They were not only famous in Argentina and Uruguay, but travelled the world.
By 1930 it was out of fashion in Europe, but in Argentina the Golden Age was starting, with a flourishing in music, poetry and culture, and the tango came to be a fundamental expression of Argentine culture. The depression also changed the character of tango, and the lyrics reflected the renewed poverty and social divisions in the country. However the Golden Age lasted through the 40s and 50s, and this is the period of its greatest development and expression.
Tango changed with political and economic conditions, and we can hear this in the music. In poorer times, orchestras were smaller, and as political repression developed, lyrics become political too, until they started to be banned as subversive. The dance style changed, as large salons closed , and dancers were once again forced into small venues with less space. Tango eventually went out of fashion, crushed like many other dances, by the arrival of America swing and rock and roll, and was repressed by the nationalist government . From the 1960s to the 1980s it was only danced and played by a few of the older generation and enthusiasts.
The current revival dates from the early 1980s, when a stage show Tango Argentino toured the world creating a dazzling version of the tango and a romanticization of the early and golden ages of tango. This is said to have stimulated the revival in the US, Europe and Japan. With the arrival of democracy in Argentina, and a search for a national culture, tango interest was revived, and although still ignored by many young people, there is enough interest to supply the world with a steady stream of hopeful tango teachers and a market for musicians to rediscover and reinvent the music.
For the past two decades Tango has been in a period of renewal, of tension between the International and the Argentine, between a desire to recreate the Golden Age, and another to evolve it in the light of modern culture and values. There was an explosion of interest around the world with places to dance in many cities and towns, and a growing circuit of international festivals.
Tango continues to grow, gaining recognition on popular TV Shows and Movies. The appeal for new generations is irresistible...
THE STYLES OF TANGO
Argentine Tango is comprised of many styles and sub-styles, depending on the posture and the music.
This is what people generally think of when they hear the term "Argentine Tango". Danced to a variety of music, primarily accompanied by the "Bandoneon", the dancers have wide latitude to interpret the music and the timing. The intention of the Tango is to stop. However, over time, and for different reason, the Tango has divided further into sub categories as listed below.
The embrace is typically offset with the man slightly to the left of the woman and in a V. The dance is done towards the opening of the V (the man's left). This is known as "dancing to the Tango entity", defined as what the couple becomes when dancing as one unit. The embrace loosens or tightens, depending on the need of the pattern which is known as the "Bandoneon effect". This style of dance leads to great improvisation and interpretation of the music as the couple is free to open and close and perform elegant and interesting movements.
Having some space on the floor and control of the posture is a requirement of this style as maintaining the embrace and the structure while performing intricate movements generally requires skill and practice.
PECHO / APILADO / MILONGUERO
Developed in the 1950's, during the "Golden Era" when the dance halls of Buenos Aires were packed with people, this style of dance is designed to be performed in smaller tighter spaces. The man and woman face each other square on and the embrace stays close irrespective of the pattern performed. Usually the woman's head and body is so close to her partner that her left hand is placed far behind her partner's neck. An ocho cortado (cut ocho) is a fundamental dance step of this style.
Tango Nuevo was developed recently and looks to find new combinations of steps and moves. It is danced in an open and loose embrace in an upright posture and is generally danced to alternative Tangos, music not of traditional Argentine Tango history or of non-Tango music adopted for the purpose.
The term comes from an African dialect, is the singular of "mulonga" which means "words." The Milonga had originated as a form of song, and was a variant of the lengthy improvisations (with guitar accompaniment) that were the hallmark of the Payadores, the folk-singers of the pampa (country) who had played an important part in the now vanishing world of the gaucho.
Once in the city, the Milonga-music with its tempo simplified, acquired steps of its own. A new dance evolved based on the steps of: the Candombé (from African slaves in Argentina), the Habanera (from black Cubans in Buenos-Aires) the Mazurka (dance of Poland) and the Polka (dance of Czechoslovakia), that became known as a Milonga.
There are different variations of Milonga rhythm: Milonga campera and Milonga candombera. The music is normally played in 2/4, at a slower or faster tempo. Good examples of the Milonga Porteña include 'Pampas Calientas' (Eduardo Arolas) and 'La Puñalada' (Puntin Catellanos.)
The Waltz is the joyful one of the trio of the Argentine social dances (tango, Milonga and Vals) and it was the first dance to reach the Rio De La Plata in 1816. Waltz was derived and assimilated from Vals Criollo, brought by those persons both in South America of European parents, from persons of a mixed/Amerindian heritage and from people of the interior and rural areas. Also, the Waltz was mixed with the Vals Porteño, from the inhabitants of the port of Buenos Aires.
As with any type of waltz, the music is played in ¾ time at a slow, medium or fast tempo. The insistent tumult of the waltz, especially when they are just beginning invites dancers to use only one measure (three beats) for every change of weight or movement.