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Argentine Tango Origins: From the Streets of Buenos Aires to the World

John Flower

10 Jan 2023

From its roots in Buenos Aires to its contemporary interpretations, discover the rich history, culture and techniques of Argentine Tango

The Intimate Connection of Argentine Tango: More Than Just a Dance Style

As a New Zealand Argentine Tango Dance Instructor, I can attest that the Argentine Tango is truly more than just a dance style. It is often referred to as “a secret danced between two people”, as it relies heavily on intuition and connection between the dancers. In fact, it is said that the Argentine Tango is felt in the heart, not the feet. The focus is placed on the dance partner rather than on the choreography or steps.

The Passion and Politics of Argentine Tango: A Dance of Melancholy and Nostalgia

The Argentine Tango is a style of dance that is as sexy as it is passionate. Its origins can be traced back to the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Montevideo, Uruguay in the late 19th century. The roots of this dance lie in African candombe, Cuban habanera, as well as waltzes and polkas. It was a popular dance among European immigrants, former slaves and the working and lower classes. It came about through the nostalgia and melancholy felt by those who were far from home.

During Argentina’s political struggles with prohibition and dictatorships, the dance was forced underground where some say performing it was considered an illegal act. It later came back to light in the 1980’s and its popularity soared again before spreading throughout the rest of the world.

The Varying Music of Argentine Tango: From Traditional Composers to Modern Interpretations

The music of the Argentine Tango is more varied than that of ballroom dancing and features a clear repetitive pulse with a strong tango rhythm. The most notable and representative composers of Argentine Tango music were actually descendants of Italian immigrants: Di Sarli, d’Arienzo, Troilo, and Pugliese.

During the 1990’s, the Argentine Tango experienced a resurgence of popularity as young dancers began pairing the tango steps to more contemporary music such as trip-hop and blues.

The Argentine Tango involves a variety of styles that have evolved across regions and eras. The focus of the Argentine Tango is to match the speed and emotion of the music while improvising the steps. The dance is performed by two people in an embrace that can vary from being open (the leader and follower dance at arm’s length) or closed (the dancers touch chest-to-chest). The follower alternates their weight from foot to foot and is led by the leader who steps outside the follower’s legs.

Even though the Argentine Tango depends heavily on improvisation, there are basic steps that form the foundation of the style: embrace, walk, cross, figure eight, cuts, breaks, half moon and rotation.

The Dynamic Styles of Argentine Tango: From Traditional to Nuevo

In the 1980’s, instructors began delving deeper into the specific movements of this tango. Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas took what they learned by analyzing the physics of movement in the Argentine Tango and began teaching dancers how to dance as opposed to what to dance. This movement is known as Nuevo Tango and, while not considered to be technically the Argentine Tango, incorporates many of the intuitive and improvisational elements of the tango into this new genre.

In my Argentine Tango classes, I strive to give students a deep understanding of this beautiful dance form and its rich cultural heritage. I aim to help them connect with the music and their partner, and to experience the passion and sensuality of the Argentine Tango.

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