It Takes Two to Tango
How can one not love a dance that looks good whether danced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Pacino, Tango or Madonna? The Tango is the essence of romance and sensuality with its rhythmic musical beats and intricate and emotionally charged moves.
Tango, “Baille Con Carte” which translated literally means “the dance with the stop, ” originated in Buenos Aires Argentina in the late 19th century. Tango was the first couple’s dance that introduced improvisation and was only the third dance in history where the man and woman faced each other with the man holding the woman’s right hand and with his right arm around her.
Today there are many different styles of Tango, including American (ballroom), Chinese, Finnish, and Argentine. It is a dance full of machismo and theatrics, as the man “pursues” the woman and the woman “resists, ” but not completely. The patterns of Tango alternate between the hunter and the hunted and create a fascinating picture of passion and seduction.
The history of Tango is almost as theatrical as the dance itself. There are gaps in the written history and much is unknown or debatable about its origins. A long standing cliché asserts that Tango originated in the brothels of Argentina. According to this cliché, men had to wait in line at the brothels, so madams employed Tango musicians to keep the men entertained while they waited. Alas, Tango historians have refuted this version and instead say that the dance originated in the lower class districts of Argentina but was first encountered by the wealthier classes in brothels. The brothels were one of the few places where the rich and poor rubbed elbows.
Argentina was one of the seven richest countries in the early 1900s, and wealthy families sent their sons abroad for university or simply to tour. And the Tango went with them. While there is evidence to support that a couple danced the Tango on stage in Paris as early as 1909, 1912 is the year that the Tango took Paris by storm. The dance then took on the rest of the world. Women abandoned their corsets to dance the Tango and Tango fashions were all the rage. Even hat fashions changed to accommodate the dance – feathers that once swung freely across the forehead were now upright so they wouldn’t get in one’s partner’s face.
As the seductive dance became all the rage, it was also re-imported to Argentina in altered form. Wealthy Argentineans claimed to dance the more sophisticated Parisian Tango, not the tango of the “lower classes. ” Actually, in mid-20th century Argentina there was a wide range of regional Tango styles. In some regions the movements appeared random and jagged with sudden stops. In northern Buenos Aires the dance had long, straight lines punctuated by sudden stops and complex moves. Some styles had double time steps to the music and still others did not follow the music at all but the phrasing.
In this golden age of Tango, men and women did not learn the dance together. Boys learned to Tango at the age of 13 as practica partners for older men; they had to learn the woman’s part so that the men could hone their technique. Men and women attended milongas to dance. If the man did not do well he had to go back to practica!
The women learned the Tango from other women, uncles, and brothers. Typically, mothers danced the men’s part and the daughters learned the female part. Women were such a rare commodity that dancing well was not required. A woman would have no shortage of partners at a milonga and she did not have to worry about be sent back to practice.
In 1955, General Pèron was ousted as head of the government and the Tango went underground. Repression, nighttime curfews, and censorship ruled the day. It was not until 1983, when the military junta was brought down, that Tango had a resurgence. Freed from the repressive regime, the Argentines wanted to move! Yoga and martial arts classes quickly filled up, and Argentina reclaimed their national dance – the Tango. However, there was one small problem – there were no Tango teachers! All of the practicas were gone and there were no beginner Tango classes. The rebirth of Tango in Argentina was led by those who knew a little about Tango and taught those who hungered to learn.
Tango continues to be one of the most captivating dances to watch, and is certainly one of the most challenging to learn. The music, words, and the emotional connection of the dance partners bring this sultry dance to life. It is a dance that makes you feel that you have dropped in on a very private moment but you cannot turn from the beauty and passion. To dance the Tango requires technical skill, passion, and synergy between partners, and most importantly a love for the dance!