The long, worldwide history of tango all begins with the history of Argentine Tango. In Argentina is where it all began, by mixing sounds and movements from several dance and cultural traditions.
Early History of Argentine Tango
The Argentine Tango has its roots planted in 19th century Argentina. In the cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo (in Uruguay), several dance forms and several musical styles fused to create the dance and music that is still known today as the tango.
Several dance styles are responsible for the advent of the tango in Argentina. Most notable are the habonera (from Cuba), the milonga and the candombe (both from Uruguay). These three cultural dances are thought to be the biggest influences on the original tango in the Argentine style. In addition, some elements of traditional African folk dance can be seen in tango dance steps and the tango style.
As tango dancing began, it was only danced in the fanciest of dance halls, such as the Teatro Opera in Buenos Aires. What made tango into a huge success was that tango was taken to the streets by street organs and brought into smaller theaters where it reached a much larger audience. The tango dance and music were both instant hits in the immigrant neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, where a very large population of Europeans was living. As the tango gained momentum in these communities, it took off nationwide and would eventually cross borders to entertain people virtually the world over.
As tango dancing has grown, so too has tango music, which is made up of a number of European styles of music that fused together. Perhaps it was because the original tango music was a fusion of European musical styles that so many Europeans received the tango so enthusiastically. One of the most characteristic sounds of the tango music is that of the 'bandoneón', an instrument imported to Argentina from Germany in 1910.You can see and hear this instrument and the typical Argentine Tango sound in the following videos:
- La Herencia de Piazzolla: A beautiful sound and interesting information (with English subtitles)
- Un Tropezon: Traditional tango orchestra with live singing
Types of Argentine Tango
The history of Argentine Tango began with simple steps done with lots of improvisation, always in a closed position (with man and woman facing each other). The tango did not have many fancy steps, instead focusing on the connection between partners and the intimacy of enjoying the music. Musicality is very important in the tango; the more sensitive one can be to the music, the more beautiful the tango becomes. As time went on, more and more types of dance within the Argentine Tango were born.
The salon tango was originally the most popular of the Argentine Tango styles because tango was traditionally danced in a large dance hall with couples very closely packed in together. Since couples were short on space, movements in this style are small and precise, with the most important features of the dance being the intimacy of the couple and the sensitivity with which one can dance to the music. The salon is an overcrowded sea of dancers, but each couple seems to be their own tiny island, dancing as though no one else is in the room.
This term only came about relatively recently in order to describe a style that is similar to the salon tango, but where the couple leans into each other more in order to create space between their legs. Only if there is enough space can a couple perform some tango dance moves; when there is no space between the feet, walking is virtually the only possible tango step.
One of the many resulting tangos inspired from the original Argentine Tango is that of ballroom (Latin) tango dancing. At ballroom dance competitions, you will see many dancers performing the tango. This form of tango is just one of the many offshoots from the original tango style developed in Argentina, and while the ballroom version is very different from the original, like Argentine Tango, ballroom tango is a lovely dance to watch.