Tango History and Popularity
Early tango styles greatly influenced the ways in which we dance today, and tango music has become one of the greatest of all music genres throughout the world. Spanish settlers were the first to introduce the tango to the New World. Ballroom tango originated in working-class Buenos Aires and the dance spread quickly through Europe during the 1900’s, then moved on to the United States. In 1910, tango began gaining popularity in New York.
Tango has become very popular in recent years, as evidenced by the various movies developed around the tango dance. Several films showcase the tango, such as Scent of a Woman, Take the Lead, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, True Lies, Shall We Dance, and Frida.
Argentine tango shares working class origins with American jazz that quickly attracted the interest of classical composers and folk composers who elevated their art. For most Americans, Astor Piazzolla best exemplifies this duality.
Piazzolla’s tango innovations were at first derided by tango purists who hated the way Piazzolla incorporated non-tango musical elements in his compositions. This is a battle that the jazz police and jazz fusion listeners are still waging in the U.S, however, Piazzolla eventually won out. His tangos have been recorded by the Kronos Quartet, who were early advocates, and some of the world’s great orchestras.
Tango Styles and Techniques
Tango is danced to a repetitive style of music, with the count of the music being either 16 or 32 beats. While dancing the tango, the woman is typically held in the crook of the man’s arm. She holds her head back and rests her right hand on the man’s lower hip, and the man must allow the woman to rest in this position while leading her around the floor in a curving pattern. Tango dancers must strive to make a strong connection with the music as well as their audience in order for it to be successful.
Argentine Tango is much more intimate than Modern Tango and is well-suited to dancing in small settings. Argentine Tango also retains the intimacy of the original dance. Several other different styles of tango exist, each with its own individual flair. Most of the styles danced include open embrace, with the couple having space between their bodies, or in a close embrace, where the couple is closely connected at either the chest or the hip area. Many people are familiar with “ballroom tango,” characterized by strong, dramatic head snaps.
Learning How to Tango
The best way to learn how to tango is to look for a class in dance studios in the area. Tango classes are a lot of fun and newcomers tend to pick up the dance quickly.
To learn at home, several videos are available for purchase online. When learning by video, it is recommended to try to take at least a few classes when feeling confident enough, as nothing can take the place of live, hands-on instruction.
Since tango is highly improvisational, personal and impulsive, it is not strange that it has managed to quickly evolve from its traditional form into dozens of styles that are today practiced all around the world. Musical historians have become aware that tango is one of the most “reactive” dances in the world, being able to be significantly reshaped by various factors, even things such as changes in simple cultural elements (including from big effects such as government regulations to even smaller things such as changes in clothing fashion styles, venue sizes, music, crowding, and more).
Style of tango is also distinguished in the way the dancers are supporting their center of gravity. In Argentine and Uruguayan tango, dancers first move their chests, and then their feet reach to support them. Ballroom dancing, however, uses a different style,where feet move first, and then the center body mass moves . Other styles involve differences in step movements, timings, speed, the character of movement and following of the rhythm.
The embrace of the dancers (called “frame”) which can be tight, loose, in “V” shape or others, can also change from style to style, and even change several times during a single dance routine. Different tango types also use different styles of leg positioning, such as being intertwined and hooked together between dancers or being kept away one from another. Placement of the foot on the floor can also change between tango types, with some requiring landing the foot flatly on the ground, and others for toes to touch the ground first. Finally, the amount of time the dancers stay on the ground can vary, with some tango routines requiring the dancers to keep feet in the air for the prolonged period of time, such as with moves “boleo” (swinging leg into the air) and “gancho” (hooking a leg around a partner).
Here are brief descriptions of some of the most popular types of Tango dances:
- Ballroom tango – The most famous international version of tango, that originated from Europe and managed to become famously simplified tango style that is used in competitions. The American version of this dance is used only as an ordinary social dance.
- Salon tango (Tango de salon) – Not a specific tango style per se, but a tango that was first played in dance halls of Buenos Aires during the Golden Age of Tango (1935-1952).
- Argentine tango (Tango canyengue) – One of the original types of tango that contains all the fundamental elements of the 19th-century traditional Argentine tango styles.
- Tango nuevo (Nuevo tango) – Developed in the 1980s, this new tango style is distinguished by complex moves, and the mix of jazz, electronic, alternative or techno-tinged inspired elements. Many see Tango nuevo as a mix of tango music and electronica.
- Finnish tango – Rise of the popularity of tango in Finland in after First World War brought the development of new tango style that promotes contact dance, horizontal movements and low standing stance that features no kicking or aerials.
- Uruguayan tango – Very old type of tango, developed at the same time as earliest Buenos Aires tango styles. Today, Uruguayan tango consists of several sub-styles and can be danced with several types of music (Tango, Milonga, Vals, and Candombe).
- Tango apilado – Close embrace tango which is best danced on a crowded dance floor.
- Show tango – Argentinian version of the theatrical tango that is danced on a stage.
All tango styles are practiced using one of the two types of embraces between lead and follow dances:
- Open embrace – Lead and follow are dancing with open space between their bodies
- Close embrace – Practiced either with chest-to-chest embrace (used in traditional Argentine tango) or more loose upper thigh, hip area (common in international
and American tango)
Tango dance can also be performed with several types of background music, including:
- Traditional tango music style
- Alternative tango music, which is inspired by tango styles
- Electronic tango-inspired music
Tango music developed at the same time as the tango dance. It was originally played by the European immigrant populations of Argentina, and it continues to be played today all across the world. It’s defining characteristics are 2/4 or 4/4 beat and the focus on traditional instruments such as solo guitar, two guitars, or an ensemble (orquesta típica) that is made out of minimum of two violins, piano, flute, double bass and minimum of two Bandoneon (which are a type of concertina accordion that are especially popular in Argentina, Uruguay, and Lithuania, also known as “tango accordion”). Originally developed by a German instrument dealer Heinrich Band (1821–1860), this instrument was originally brought to the Argentina by German and Italian emigrants and sailors in late 19th century.
Passionate and emotional structure of tango dance is also emulated in its music
At first, tango music was closely associated with the underclass, same as the tango dance, but this style of music quickly reached mainstream in Argentina and Uruguay , fueled by the expansion of the dance and arrival of new composers that captured the attention of the general population. The early expansion of tango music was helped a lot by the arrival of tango song La cumparsita” which was composed in 1916 in the Uruguay.
To this day, Tango music is an important part of the music of Argentina . Tango remains the most internationally known traditional music of this country, but its population also enjoys genres such as folk, pop, rock, classical music, electronic, Cumbia, Cuarteto, Fanfarria Latina, art music and “nueva canción” (folk-inspired music with socially-themed lyrics).
The tango dance routines are intimate, passionate and elegant, which has pushed the dancers to dress appropriately. Tango dancers purposelyaim to look their best, while alsopicking outfits that don’t restrict their movement. During the early decades of tango’s popularity, it was customary for women to wear long dresses. This fashion choice remained popular in tango community, although the arrival of shorter dresses and dresses with openings have given female dances freedom to pick their favorite fashion style. Modern tango dresses are very sensual – short, have asymmetrical hemlines, are adorned with intricate fringes and crochet decorations, and show cleavage. They can be made both from traditional and modern (lycra and stretch fabric) materials. As for footwear, women should almost exclusively use high heel tango dance shoes.
Men’s tango fashion is much more traditional, with straight-cut trousers, shirt, and a part of good dancing shoes. Many of the dancers also frequently wear accessories such asvests, hats, and suspenders.
North American Tango
Tango was well-received in the United States where a brand new style of this dance was also developed. Named as “North American Tango”, this type of dance features faster tempos and uses 2/4 or 4/4 rhythms such as one-step. Usually, it is not even danced to the tunes of traditional tango music and can be enjoyed with other popular music styles. Today, traditional tango and North American tango are both well established and can be danced separately with their own firm dancing rules.
After the rise of tango popularity in the 1880s, Uruguay became one of the oldest places where tango was adopted and danced in public . Originally morphed in Montevideo from the influences of Buenos Aires Tango and various black music and dance styles, it eventually moved from the dance halls of slaves, ex-slaves, lower classes, working classes and even gangsters to the dance and theatre halls of Montevideo and other Uruguayan cities.
Today, Uruguayan tango dance is accompanied not only by tango music, but also styles such as Milonga, Vals and Candombe, and most popular tango dances are Al Mundo le falta un Tornillo, La Cumparsita, Vieja Viola, Garufa, Con Permiso, La Fulana, Barrio Reo, Pato and La puñalada.
One of the most famous and well known Uruguayan tango songs is “ La Cumparsita”, which was produced in 1919 by Montevideo composer and writer Gerardo Matos Rodríguez. Other famous Uruguayan tango musicians are Manuel Campoamor, Francisco Canaro, Horacio Ferrer, Malena Muyala, Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, Enrique Saborido, Carlos Gardel and others.
Tango arrived in Finland in 1913 by traveling musicians , where it immediately found great popularity that enabled it to not only stay but morph into a brand new form of Finish tango that has several differences from traditional Argentine or Ballroom tango styles. The defining characteristic of Finnish tango is reliance on minor keys, which closely follows the style and conventions of their folklore music, with lyrics being focused on the themes of sorrow, love, nature, and countryside.
The origin of this tango craze can be traced to the first local tango song that was produced in 1914 by Emil Kauppi, and first, finish tango tunes in the 1920s and 1930s. While initially Tango was danced mostly in Helsinki, it eventually became popular across the entire country, with several festivals being formed to celebrate the dance. Even today, over 100 thousand tango dancers visit Finish tango festivals, the most notably Tangomarkkinat festival in the town of Seinäjoki.
Since its popularization, tango has managed to become a phenomenon that has influenced many spheres of life across the world, including sports (synchronized swimming, figure skating, gymnastics), festivals, healthy living, film, music, and more. Many people were responsible for raising awareness of this music and dance, including:
- Composer and virtuoso of the bandoneón Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992) who rearranged traditional tango with influences of jazz and classical music into a new style called “ nuevo tango.”
- Carlos Gardel (1890-1935) – French-Argentine singer, composer, songwriter and actor, today regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of rango. His work became immortalized after he died in the plane crash at the age of 44.
- Carlos Acuña (1915-1999) – Famous tango singer known for his incredible voice.
- Néstor Fabián (1938- ) – Famous tango singer and actor in Argentina, best known for his songs and musical comedies.
- Julio Sosa (1926-1964) – Regarded today as one of the most important tango singers from 1950s and 1960s Uruguay.
- Olavi Virta (1915-1972) – Famous Finish singer known for over 600 tango songs. He is known as the “king of Finish tango”.
- And many others