Spirited dance; also a South American ballroom
dance. It evolved in the dance halls and, perhaps, the brothels of
poorer districts of Buenos Aires, Arg., possibly influenced by the Cuban
habanera. It was made popular in the U.S. by Vernon
and Irene Castle, and by 1915 it was being danced throughout
Europe. Early versions, danced to music in the prevailing duple metre (
2/4), were fast and exuberant; these were later modified to the smoother
ballroom step, characterized by long pauses and stylized body positions
and danced to music usually in 4/4 time. Among those associated with
tango are Juan D'Arienzo, Anibal Troilo, Osvaldo Pugliese, Carlos Di
Sarli, Francisco Canaro, Astor
Piazzolla, and Carlos Gardel.
Tango is a dance that has influences from Spanish and African
Dances from the candomble
ceremonies of former slave peoples helped shape the modern day Tango.
The dance originated in lower-class districts of Buenos
Aires. The music derived from the fusion of various forms of music
The word "Tango" seems to have first been used in connection with the
dance in the 1890s. 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,
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,
and other capitals. Towards the end of 1913 it hit New
York in the USA,
In the USA around 1911 the name "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. 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 "Rio de
la Plata Tango". By 1914 more authentic tango stylings were soon
developed, along with some variations like Albert Newman's "Minuet"
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 again became widely fashionable and a matter of
national pride under the government of Juan
Perón. Tango declined again in the 1950s with economic depression
and as the military dictatorships
banned public gatherings, followed by the popularity of Rock
In 2009 the tango was declared as part of the world's "intangible
cultural heritage" by UNESCO.
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
(a related dance that usually has a faster tempo)
"Alternative Tango," i.e. non-tango music appropriated for use in
the dance 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 complicated
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.
Ballroom tango, divided in recent decades into the "International"
(English) 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 4/4 measure).
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 Rio de la Plata region (Uruguay
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 Rio de la
Plata, and the theatrical movements of the pasodoble.
This style became very popular in Germany and was soon introduced to
England, one of the first proponents being Mr Camp. The movements were
very popular with spectators, but not with competition judges.
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 Rio de la Plata region (Uruguay
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 tango spread from the dominant urban dance form to become hugely
popular across Finland
in the 50s after the wars. The melancholy tone of the music reflects
the themes of Finnish folk poetry; Finnish tango is almost always in a
The tango is danced in very close full 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. Forward steps land heel first, 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.
Each year the Tangomarkkinat,
or tango festival, draws over 100,000 tangophiles to the central
Finnish town of Seinäjoki,
which also hosts the Tango Museum.
In the late 1990s a new style of tango dancing began appearing
worldwide. Tango Nuevo dance style features an open embrace, fluid
partner movements, trading of lead and further regional reinventions of
the tango dance. 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
Project released their first tango fusion album in 2000, quickly
following with La
Revancha del Tango, released in 2001. Bajofondo
Tango Club, a Rioplatense
music band consisting of seven musicians from Argentina
released their first album in 2002. Tanghetto's
(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.
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
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
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 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 Rio
de la Plata 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 Rio
de la Plata regionm, 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, stacco ganchos, but smooth ganchos.
In Tango from the Rio
de la Plata, Uruguay
the ball or toe of the foot may be placed first. Alternately, 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 Rio de la
Plata Tango (uruguayan
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
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
Finnish tango is closer to the one from the Rio
de la Plata (Uruguay and Argentina) than to Ballroom in its
technique and vocabulary. Other regional variations are based on the
Argentine style as well.
Tango from the region of the Rio
de la Plata was seen in one study to help heal neurological
disorders such as Parkinson's
disease in a manner that was greater than the same amount of
Parkinson's sufferers given tango classes showed improvements in
balance and other measures not seen in another group of patients given
regular exercise classes.
The researchers said that while dance in general may be beneficial,
tango uses several forms of movement especially relevant for Parkinson's
disease patients including dynamic balance, turning, initiation of
movement, moving at a variety of speeds and walking backward.
The study authors wrote in 2007 that more research was needed to
confirm the benefits observed in the small sample population.
Dancing tango has been linked to increased heart health, better
balance, improved memory, and weight loss.[citation