For other uses, see Tango (disambiguation).
Tango rhythm.[1]

Tango is a partner dance that originated in the 1880s along the River Plate, the natural border between Argentina and Uruguay, and soon spread to the rest of the world.[2]

Early tango was known as tango criollo (Creole tango). Today, there are many forms of tango extant. Popularly and among tango dancing circles, the authentic tango is considered to be the one closest to the form originally danced in Argentina and Uruguay.

On August 31, 2009, UNESCO approved a joint proposal by Argentina and Uruguay to include the tango in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.[3][4]


How Tango Conquered the World

Tango is a dance that has influences from African and European culture.[5] Dances from the candombe ceremonies of former slave peoples helped shape the modern day Tango. The dance originated in lower-class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The music derived from the fusion of various forms of music from Europe.[6] The word "tango" and "tambo" around the River Plate basin where initially used to refer to musical gatherings of slaves, with written records of colonial authorities attempting to ban such gatherings as early as 1789.[7]

Initially, it was just one of the many dances, but it soon became popular throughout society, as theatres and street barrel organs spread it from the suburbs to the working-class slums, which were packed with hundreds of thousands of European immigrants.[8]

In the early years of the 20th century, dancers and orchestras from Buenos Aires travelled to Europe, and the first European tango craze took place in Paris, soon followed by London, Berlin, and other capitals. Towards the end of 1913 it hit New York City in the US, and Finland. In the US, around 1911, the word "tango" was often applied to dances in a 2
or 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. 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", versus the so-called "Argentine Tango". By 1914, more authentic tango stylings were soon developed, along with some variations like Albert Newman's "Minuet" tango.

In Argentina, the onset in 1929 of the Great Depression, and restrictions introduced after the overthrow of the Hipólito Yrigoyen government in 1930, caused tango to decline. Its fortunes were reversed as tango became widely fashionable and a matter of national pride under the government of Juan Perón. Tango declined again in the 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". That, indirectly, boosted the popularity of rock and roll because, unlike Tango, it did not require such gatherings.[9]

In 2009, the tango was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.[10]


Tango postcard, c. 1919
Choreographed stage tango in Buenos Aires

The tango consists of a variety of styles that developed in different regions and eras of Argentina as well as in other locations around the world. The dance developed in response to many cultural elements, such as the crowding of the venue and even the fashions in clothing. The styles are mostly danced in either open embrace, where lead and follow have space between their bodies, or close embrace, where the lead and follow connect either chest-to-chest (Argentine tango) or in the upper thigh, hip area (American and International tango).

Different styles of Tango are:

These are danced to several types of music:

The milonguero style is characterized by a very close embrace, small steps, and syncopated rhythmic footwork. It is based on the petitero or caquero style of the crowded downtown clubs of the '50s.

In contrast, the tango that originated in the family clubs of the suburban neighborhoods (Villa Urquiza/Devoto/Avellaneda etc.) emphasizes long elegant steps, and complex figures. In this case the embrace may be allowed to open briefly, to permit execution of the complex footwork.

The complex figures of this style became the basis for a theatrical performance style of tango seen in the touring stage shows. For stage purposes, the embrace is often very open, and the complex footwork is augmented with gymnastic lifts, kicks, and drops.

A newer style sometimes called tango nuevo or "new tango", has been popularized in recent years by a younger generation of dancers. The embrace is often quite open and very elastic, permitting the leader to lead a large variety of very complex figures. This style is often associated with those who enjoy dancing to jazz- and techno-tinged "alternative tango" music, in addition to traditional tango compositions.

Tango de Salon (Salon Tango)

Main article: Argentine tango

Tango Canyengue

Main article: Argentine tango

Tango canyengue is a rhythmic style of tango that originated in the early 1900s and is still popular today. It is one of the original roots styles of tango and contains all fundamental elements of traditional Tango from the River Plate region (Uruguay and Argentina). 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".

The complex figures of this style became the basis for a theatrical performance style of Tango seen in the touring stage shows. For stage purposes, the embrace is often very open, and the complex footwork is augmented with gymnastic lifts, kicks, and drops.

Tango nuevo

Main article: Nuevo tango

A newer style sometimes called tango nuevo or "new tango" has been popularized in recent years by a younger generation of musicians and dancers. Ástor Piazzolla, composer and virtuoso of the bandoneón (so-called "tango accordion") played a major role in the innovation of traditional tango music. The embrace is often quite open and very elastic, permitting the leader to initiate a great variety of very complex figures. This style is often associated with those who enjoy dancing to jazz- and techno-tinged, electronic and alternative music inspired in old tangos, in addition to traditional Tango compositions.

Tango nuevo is largely fueled by a fusion between tango music and electronica, though the style can be adapted to traditional tango and even non-tango songs. Gotan Project released its first tango fusion album in 2000, quickly following with La Revancha del Tango in 2001. Bajofondo Tango Club, a Rioplatense music band consisting of seven musicians from Argentina and Uruguay, released their first album in 2002. Tanghetto's album Emigrante (electrotango) appeared in 2003 and was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2004. These and other electronic tango fusion songs bring an element of revitalization to the tango dance, serving to attract a younger group of dancers.

New Tango Songs

In the second half of the 1990s, a movement new tango songs was born in Buenos Aires. It was mainly influenced by the old orchestra style rather than by Piazzolla’s renewal and experiments with electronic music. The novelty lies in the new songs, with today’s lyrics and language, which find inspiration in a wide variety of contemporary styles.

In the 2000s, the movement grew with prominent figures such as the Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro, whose creator, Julian Peralta,[11][12] would later start Astillero and the Orquesta Típica Julián Peralta. Other bands also have become part of the movement such as the Orquesta Rascacielos, Altertango, Ciudad Baigón, as well as singer and songwriters Alfredo “Tape” Rubín,[11] Victoria di Raimondo,[11] Juan Serén,[11] Natalí de Vicenzo[11] and Pacha González.[11]

Contact tango

Contact tango takes inspiration from Argentine tango and Contact Improvisation, both of which are improvised and not choreographed. Contact tango 'blends' the leading and following roles in a similar way to Contact Improvisation, and the dancing partners may frequently change roles during the dance. Contact tango may include the 'floor work' of Contact Improvisation or other improvised movements which maintain contact between the partners. This differs from Argentine tango where stepping and walking are the dominant motifs. Contact tango is a partner dance but like Contact Improvisation, it may include more than two dancers on occasion.

Ballroom tango

Main article: Ballroom tango

Ballroom tango, divided in recent decades into the "International" (Yogita) and "European" styles, has descended from the tango styles that developed when the tango first went abroad to Europe and North America. The dance was simplified, adapted to the preferences of conventional ballroom dancers, and incorporated into the repertoire used in International Ballroom dance competitions. English tango was first codified in October 1922, when it was proposed that it should only be danced to modern tunes, ideally at 30 bars per minute (i.e. 120 beats per minute – assuming a 4

Subsequently the English tango evolved mainly as a highly competitive dance, while the American tango evolved as an unjudged social dance with an emphasis on leading and following skills. This has led to some principal distinctions in basic technique and style. Nevertheless, there are quite a few competitions held in the American style, and of course mutual borrowing of technique and dance patterns happens all the time.

Ballroom tangos use different music and styling from the tangos from the River Plate region (Uruguay and Argentina), with more staccato movements and the characteristic "head snaps". The head snaps are totally foreign to Argentine and Uruguayan tango, and were introduced in 1934 under the influence of a similar movement in the legs and feet of the tango from the River Plate, and the theatrical movements of the pasodoble. This style became very popular in Germany and was soon introduced to England. The movements were very popular with spectators, but not with competition judges.[13]

Finnish tango

Main article: Finnish tango

Tango arrived in Finland in 1913. The tango spread from the dominant urban dance form to become hugely popular across Finland in the 1950s after World War I and World War II. The melancholy tone of the music reflects the themes of Finnish folk poetry; Finnish tango is almost always in a minor key.

The tango is danced in very close full thigh, pelvis and upper body contact in a wide and strong frame, and features smooth horizontal movements that are very strong and determined. Dancers are very low, allowing long steps without any up and down movement, although rises and falls are optional in some styles. Forward steps land heel first except when descending from a rise, and in backward steps dancers push from the heel. In basic steps, the passing leg moves quickly to rest for a moment close to the grounded leg. Dips and rotations are typical. There is no open position, and typically feet stay close to the floor, except in dips the follower might slightly raise the left leg. Unlike in some Latin American tango styles, in Finnish tango there is no kicking of any kind, and there are no aerials.

The annual Finnish tango festival Tangomarkkinat draws over 100,000 tangophiles to the central Finnish town of Seinäjoki; the town also hosts the Tango Museum.

Queer tango

Main article: Queer Tango

Queer tango is a new way to dance Argentine tango free from traditional heteronormative codes. It offers the chance to dance tango without pre-established roles according to the gender of the dancers and change the roles of leader and follower, even in mid-dance. It is thus also called open role or same-sex tango. The queer tango movement permits not only access to tango for the LGBT community, but also opens up new possibilities for heterosexual dancers; women learn to lead and men learn to follow.

Comparison of techniques

A tango demonstration film from 1930

Argentine, Uruguayan, and Ballroom Tango use very different techniques. In Argentine and Uruguayan tango, the body's center moves first, then the feet reach to support it. In ballroom tango, the body is initially set in motion across the floor through the flexing of the lower joints (hip, knee, ankle) while the feet are delayed, then the feet move quickly to catch the body, resulting in snatching or striking action that reflects the staccato nature of this style's preferred music.

In tango, the steps are typically more gliding, but can vary widely in timing, speed, and character, and follow no single specific rhythm. Because the dance is led and followed at the level of individual steps, these variations can occur from one step to the next. This allows the dancers to vary the dance from moment to moment to match the music (which often has both legato and/or staccato elements) and their mood.

The Tango's frame, called an abrazo or "embrace," is not rigid, but flexibly adjusts to different steps, and may vary from being quite close, to offset in a "V" frame, to open. The flexibility is as important as is all movement in dance. The American Ballroom Tango's frame is flexible too, but experienced dancers frequently dance in closed position: higher in the elbows, tone in the arms and constant connection through the body. When dancing socially with a beginners, however, it may be better to use a more open position because the close position is too intimate for them. In American Tango open position may result in open breaks, pivots, and turns which are quite foreign in Argentine tango and International (English) tango.

There is a closed position as in other types of ballroom dance, but it differs significantly between types of tango. In Tango from the River Plate region, the "close embrace" involves continuous contact at the full upper body, but not the legs. In American Ballroom tango, the "close embrace" involves close contact in the pelvis or upper thighs, but not the upper body. Followers are instructed to thrust their hips forward, but pull their upper body away and shyly look over their left shoulder when they are led into a "corte."

In tango from the River Plate region, the open position, the legs may be intertwined and hooked together, in the style of Pulpo (the Octopus). In Pulpo's style, these hooks are not sharp, but smooth ganchos.

In Tango from the River Plate, Uruguay and Argentina, the ball or toe of the foot may be placed first. Alternatively, the dancer may take the floor with the entire foot in a cat-like manner. In the International style of Tango, "heel leads" (stepping first onto the heel, then the whole foot) are used for forward steps.

Ballroom tango steps stay close to the floor, while the River Plate Tango (Uruguayan and Argentine) includes moves such as the boleo (allowing momentum to carry one's leg into the air) and gancho (hooking one's leg around one's partner's leg or body) in which the feet travel off the ground. Both Uruguayan and Argentine tango features other vocabulary foreign to ballroom, such as the parada (in which the leader puts his foot against the follower's foot), the arrastre (in which the leader appears to drag or be dragged by the follower's foot), and several kinds of sacada (in which the leader displaces the follower's leg by stepping into her space).

Famous tango singers

Further information: List of tango singers

Tango influence

Casual, unchoreographed Argentine social style at an outdoor tango party

Music and dance elements of tango are popular in activities related to gymnastics, figure skating, synchronized swimming, etc., because of its dramatic feeling and its cultural associations with romance.

For 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentina, Adidas designed a ball and named it Tango[16] likely a tribute to the host country of the event. This design was also used in 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain as Tango Málaga,[17] and in 1984 and 1988 UEFA European Football Championships in France and West Germany.

Tango in Society

Tango appears in different aspects of socialty: Regular milongas and special festivals. A very famous festival is the 'Tango Buenos Aires Festival y Mundial' in Buenos Aires. But on a regional level there are many festivals too inside and outside of Argentina. One local festival outside Argentina is Buenos Aires in the Southern Highlands in Australia.

Health benefits

It has been suggested that tango makes people feel more relaxed, sexier, and less depressed, and increases testosterone levels.[18]

Dance targets 6 main areas considered to be important for high quality of life and successful aging: 1. physical exercise 2. social satisfaction 3. spirituality and mindfulness 4. cognition 5. meaningfulness 6. emotional and educational health

While all types of dance confers some types of benefits, Argentine tango dancing, in particular, has documented proof that these areas are improved in both healthy and disabled populations.[19]

Tangolates is an exercise method that combines the core stability of Pilates with the concentration, coordination and fluid movement of Tango, designed in 2004 by Tamara Di Tella. Utilizing a partner-method and incorporating the aerobic or cardio element of music, it started as a rehabilitation technique for patients with severe dysfunctions of the nervous system.

Tango in film

Argentine tango is the main subject in these films:

A number of films show tango in several scenes, such as:

Finnish tango is featured to a greater or lesser extent in the following films:



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  2. Termine, Laura (September 30, 2009). "Argentina, Uruguay bury hatchet to snatch tango honor". Buenos Aires. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  3. "Culture:The Tango". UNESCO Archives Multimedia website. UNESCO. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  4. "The Tango". Intangible Heritage Lists. UNESCO. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  5. Miller, Marilyn Grace (2004). Rise and Fall of the Cosmic Race. University of Texas Press. pp. 82–89. ISBN 0-292-70572-7. Retrieved 2009-03-22.
  6. Denniston, Christine. Couple Dancing and the Beginning of Tango (2003)
  7. Giménez, Gustavo Javier (30 September 2010). "Expresiones músico-religiosas como mecanismos de legitimación cultural. El caso de la comunidad africana en Buenos Aires entre 1776-1852" (PDF) (in Spanish). Instituto Ravignani, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, UBA. p. 5. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  8. Frommers. Destinations. Buenos Aires
  9. Denniston, Christine. "The History of Tango Dance". Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  10. "UN declares tango part of world cultural heritage". Sydney Morning Herald. Sep 30, 2009. Retrieved Sep 30, 2009.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Tangos de estreno: clásicos de las orquestas del futuro". Retrieved 2016-10-09.
  12. Cas, Andrés. "Levantar al tango de su siesta". Clarin.com. Retrieved 2016-10-09.
  13. PJS Richardson, History of English Ballroom Dancing, Herbert Jenkins 1946, pp. 101–102
  14. Jorge Palacio, Carlos Acuña, todotango.com. URL accessed 12 July 2006
  15. Roberto Selles. Julio Sosa. todotango.com. URL accessed 12 July 2006
  16. http://www.soccerballworld.com/TangoRiver.htm soccerballworld.com
  17. http://www.soccerballworld.com/TangoEspana.htm soccerballworld.com
  18. "Mind Your Body: Dance Yourself Happy". Psychology Today. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  19. "The benefits of Argentine tango dancing". Retrieved 9 August 2016.

Further reading

External links

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