Latin American Dance: The History of Tango
Imagine you’re spending an evening in Buenos Aires, enjoying a delicious asado while listening to the music of tango and watching people dance around you. Sounds amazing right?
Tango is a vibrant and playful dance between two people. There is much to learn about this popular partner dance, so I’ve broken it down into parts in this blog post.
- A short history
- What it represents today
- Traditional clothing
- Various styles of the dance
- Vocabulary in Spanish
Where Does Tango Come From?
Tango originated in the 1880s along the Rio de Plata, the border between Argentina and Uruguay.
The real origin is open to debate, but the most common story is that it originated in the lower-class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. This unique dance and its accompanying music have many influences. It is said that the dance was influenced by African, Native American, and European culture while the music was a fusion of various forms of music from Europe. However it came into being, Tango started to become popular internationally around the 1990s.
The Banning of a Dance Style
Due to the intimate nature of the dance, it created a lot of controversy among the most conservative countries. The dancers moved cheek-to-cheek, their arms wrapped in an intimate embrace, and this caused a scandal back in the day!
In fact, in 1913, Germany’s Kaiser banned the dance. Queen Mary of England also ordered for it to be kept out of the palace functions.
In the United States, however, it was gaining popularity, especially in New England. People liked to get together, attend dances, and in the midst of their fun, they danced the Tango. Even though officials were dispatched to stop these dances, this didn’t discourage people from making use of the dance.
Soon after, students, dancers, and dance instructors started to advocate for the dance. They tried to make tango acceptable, explaining how other dances like the polka and waltz had been seen as inappropriate once and then became acceptable.
It wasn’t until 1914 that people’s opinion about the acceptability of the dance started to change. The public began to realize that it did no harm. Even though there were still people with influence trying to ban it from various states, all those proposals died as the dance took off in popularity across the country.
Today, tango is an international dance. In many countries around the world, you will find at least one tango club. And while the community of enthusiasts for this dance style has grown worldwide, it remains the most famous in Argentina and Uruguay.
In recognition of tango’s importance to Argentine and Uruguayan culture, heritage, and national celebrations, the dance was inscribed in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
Clothes and Costumes
Now we’re getting to one of the most important parts of this dance—the clothes!
The sensual and passionate aspects of the dance are manifest in the woman’s costumes. Traditionally, women wore long dresses but they started to get shorter with time. Most of the traditional dresses have an asymmetrical hemline and have fringes and crochet. While they are certainly elegant, they’re constructed to be comfortable, light, and to provide easy movement.
The men’s costumes are not as shiny as the women’s. They usually wear an elegant shirt and pants combination that allow plenty of movement and air flow. Silk fabrics are preferred but are not exclusive. Men can enhance their appearance by wearing accessories like suspenders or even hats.
Top 5 Tango Styles
Tango has evolved since it originated in the 1880s. Now there are many styles and movements to the dance. Here are the 5 most popular styles.
1. Tango de Salón – Ballroom
This style comes to life on social occasions. It is less dramatic and more relaxed in terms of the steps. A lot of dancers improvise and even mix other types of movements to the dance. While in other styles the couple is close together, in Tango de Salón, they allow the woman more space so she can twirl and move more freely. Since it’s freer in its movements, it is the perfect choice for beginners!
2. Tango Argentino – Argentine
This style is one of the original types of tango. It contains most of the elements that the original tango from the 19th century had. It is a complex dance and leaves little room for improvisation, but it is no less passionate and fun to learn.
3. Tango Nuevo – New
This style is complex and different from the others. It is known for its mixes with jazz, electronic, and alternative elements. However, it is very fluid and can be danced with both traditional and non-traditional tango music.
4. Tango de Fantasía – Show
This style of tango combines many different styles. It is known for its exaggerated movements and flourishing steps. It is usually performed for competitions or special exhibitions.
5. Tango Uruguayo – Uruguayan
Just like the Argentine Tango, this one is extremely old and it is very close to the original style. However, it has developed and now it consists of many sub styles and can be danced to many types of music.
Being such a complex dance, it has a lot of terminologies to explain all the steps and styles. Here are some basic words you need to know when talking about tango.
|Caminata||Walking in tandem|
|Cortina||A musical pause|
|Milonga||Tango music or venues|
|Ronda||Line of dance|
|Tanda||Set of songs|
Learn About Other Dances!
Tango is just one of the many dances that characterize Latin America and Spain. There are many others from bachata to salsa. There are all kinds of dances and music styles that are perfect for music and dance enthusiasts.
If you want to learn more about these dances, check these out:
- The Salsa Festival and its Fascinating History
- The Magic Moves of Bachata Latin Dance: A Beginner’s Guide
- Spanish Dances: The Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
This is everything you need to know about Tango! Do you know how to dance any of the styles I mentioned? Let me know in the comments!
Want to learn more about Latin American culture? Check these out!
- All About Yerba Mate: Argentina’s National Drink
- The History and Tradition of Las Cabañuelas
- The Ultimate Traveler’s Guide to Flores, Petén, Guatemala
- History of Spanish
- A Traveler’s Guide to the Chicken Bus in Guatemala
- 10 Characteristics of the Perfect Spanish Teacher
- Biography of Philosopher and Spanish Educator Miguel de Unamuno
- Biography of Acclaimed Spanish Writer Ana Maria Matute
- It’s Time to Do Chores in Spanish! What’s Yours? (Get FREE Flashcards) - April 19, 2021
- A Definitive Guide on When to Use Reflexive Verbs in Spanish - February 16, 2021
- What is Neutral or Standard Spanish and Why Does the Media Use It? - February 15, 2021