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Dance Music



Tango in the streets of Buenos Aires. Watch it. Tango in the streets of Buenos Aires.

Tango is a social dance form that originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The musical styles that evolved together with the dance are also known as "tango". Early tango was known as tango criollo or simply tango. Today, there are many tango dance styles including Argentine tango, ballroom tango (American and International styles), Finnish tango, Chinese tango, and vintage tangos. The Argentine tango is regarded as the "authentic" tango since it is closest to that originally danced in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Music and dance elements of tango are popular in activities related to dancing, such as figure skating, synchronized swimming, etc., because of its dramatic feeling and rich opportunities for improvisation on the eternal topic of love.


The dance originated in lower-class districts of Buenos Aires, during the late 19th century. The music derived from the fusion of music from Europe, the South American Milonga, and African rhythms. 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.

Tango postcard, c. 1919 Tango postcard, c. 1919

In the early years of the twentieth 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 in the USA, and Finland.

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 and Roll. The dance lived on in smaller venues until its revival in the 1980s following the opening in Paris of the show Tango Argentino and the Broadway musical Forever Tango.

Tango styles

There are a number of styles of tango:

  • Argentine Tango
    • Tango Canyengue
    • Tango Liso
    • Salon Tango
    • Tango Orillero
    • Tango Milonguero (Tango Apilado)
    • Tango Nuevo
    • Vals (the tango version of waltz)
    • Milonga (a related dance that has a faster tempo)
    • Show Tango (also known as Fantasia)
  • Ballroom Tango, see Ballroom dance
    • American Style
    • International Style

Ballroom tango

Image:TangoLesson4.jpg Ballroom tango illustration, 1914

Ballroom tango, divided in recent decades into the "International" (English) and "American" styles, has descended from the tango styles that developed when the tango first went abroad to Europe and 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 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 also use different music and styling from Argentine tangos, with more staccato movements and the characteristic "head snaps". The head snaps are totally foreign to Argentine tango.

Technique comparison

The ways that steps are taken in tango are quite different in ballroom versus Argentine tango. Ballroom tango does not use gliding steps but instead uses staccato steps. Teachers sometimes call out the steps as SLOW SLOW QUICK QUICK SLOW, where the SLOW steps are better described as QUICK-HOLD as the dancer rushes to make a step and then holds it as long as possible before rushing to make the next step. That is what gives the staccato action of the steps. This is an attempt to match the staccato accents that always appear in ballroom tango music.

In ballroom tango the feet move before the whole body weight is moved, in contrast to Argentine tango where the body center starts to move and is then supported by the movement of the feet.

Other forms of tango, including Chinese tango and Argentine tango, use more gliding steps that match the music which tends to be romantic and less staccato. The basic position is a closed position similar to that of other kinds of ballroom dance. In Argentine Tango, the "close embrace" with full upper body contact is often used. In Ballroom tango, the "close embrace" involves close contact, too, but the contact is with the hips and upper thighs and not the upper torso. In Argentine Tango, the ball 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, "heel leads" (stepping first onto the heel, then the whole foot) are used for forward steps. Ballroom tangos, including American and International, are based mainly on the movement of the feet across the floor, while the Argentine Tango includes various other moves such as the gancho (hooking one's leg around one's partner's leg), the parada (in which the leader puts his foot against the follower's foot), the arrastre (in which the leader appears to drag the follower's foot), and several kinds of sacada (in which the leader displaces the follower's leg, by stepping into her space).

Argentine Tango is not danced in a rigid dance position, or "frame" but inside an embrace, known as the abrazo. The embrace can be very close, somewhat open, or offset in a "V" position. One style that has gained popularity within the past ten years is the "milonguero" style, 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 footwork. The complex figures of this style became the basis for the 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 "Nuevo Tango" has been popularized in recent years by a younger generation of dancers and involves endless creativity in steps. The embrace is often quite open and very elastic, permitting a large variety of very complex figures. These dancers often enjoy dancing to rhythmic jazz- or techno-inspired music, in addition to more traditional tango compositions. Related groups preferring the identifier "Neo-Tango" dance almost exclusively to "Alternative" musical genres.


Carlos Gardel, mural painting by Carlos Páez Vilaró Carlos Gardel, mural painting by Carlos Páez Vilaró

For 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentina Adidas designed a ball and named it Tango[1] 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[2], and in 1984 and 1988 European Football Championships in France and West Germany.

Tango in film

Argentine tango is the main subject in these films:

The Tango Bar (1988), starring Raúl Juliá
The Tango Lesson (1997), starring Sally Potter and Pablo Verón, directed by Sally Potter
Tango (1998), starring Cecilia Narova and Mía Maestro, directed by Carlos Saura
Assassination Tango (2002), starring Robert Duvall, Rubén Blades and Kathy Baker, directed by Robert Duvall

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

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), starring Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry, directed by Rex Ingram.
Last Tango in Paris (1972), starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.
The World's Greatest Lover (1977), starring Gene Wilder (who also directed), Carol Kane and Dom DeLuise.
Never Say Never Again (1983), starring Sean Connery and Kim Basinger, directed by Irvin Kershner.
Scent of a Woman (1992), Al Pacino as blind Colonel dances Argentine Tango.
Strictly Ballroom (1992), directed by Baz Luhrmann
Addams Family Values (1993), Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston dance a tango so sensual that it makes all the champagne bottles in the nightclub pop their corks.
Schindler's List (1993), starring Liam Neeson
True Lies (1994), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, directed by James Cameron
Happy Together (1997), directed by Wong Kar-wai
Moulin Rouge! (2001), featuring Ewan McGregor and "El Tango de Roxanne"
Le Tango Des Rashevski (2002)
Chicago (2002), starring Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere, directed by Rob Marshall.
Shall We Dance (2004), starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon, directed by Peter Chelsom.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, directed by Doug Liman.
Rent (2005) had Anthony Rapp and Tracie Thoms perform a semi-elaborate ballroom tango in the song "Tango:Maureen" to describe their emotional relations and issues over a promiscious girl they both dated.
Take the Lead (2006), starring Antonio Banderas, directed by Liz Friedlander

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