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Tango is a musical genre and its associated dance forms that originated in Buenos Airesmarker, Argentinamarker and Montevideomarker, Uruguaymarker, and spread to the rest of the world soon after.

Early tango was known as tango criollo, or simply tango. Today, there are many tango dance styles, including Argentine Tango, Uruguayan Tango, Ballroom tango , Finnish tango and vintage tangos. What many consider to be the authentic tango is that closest to that originally danced in Argentinamarker and Uruguaymarker, though other types of tango have developed into mature dances in their own right.

In 2009, the Tango was declared a world heritage of humanity by UNESCOmarker.


Tango is a dance that has influences from Spanish and African culture. Dances from the candombe ceremonies of former slave peoples helped shape the modern day Tango. The dance originated in lower-class districts of Buenos Airesmarker. The music derived from the fusion of various forms of music from Europe. 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, primarily Italians, Spanish and French.

In the early years of the twentieth century, dancers and orchestras from Buenos Airesmarker travelled to Europe, and the first European tango craze took place in Parismarker, soon followed by Londonmarker, Berlinmarker, and other capitals. Towards the end of 1913 it hit New Yorkmarker in the USAmarker, and Finlandmarker. In the USA around 1911 the name "Tango" was often applied to dances in a 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm such as the one-step. The term was fashionable and did not indicate that tango steps would be used in the dance, although they might be. Tango music was sometimes played, but at a rather fast tempo. Instructors of the period would sometimes refer to this as a "North American Tango", versus the "Rio de la Plata Tango". By 1914 more authentic tango stylings were soon developed, along with some variations like Albert Newman's "Minuet" Tango.

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 1983 following the opening in Paris of the show Tango Argentino created by Claudio Segovia & Hector Orezzoli. This show made a revolution worldwide, and people everywhere started taking tango lessons.

In 1990, dancers Miguel Angel Zotto and Milena Plebs founded the "Tango X 2" Company , generating novel spectacles and that a great current of young people incline for the dance of the tango, an unusual thing at the time. They created a style that recovered the traditional tango of the milongas, renewed it and placed it as central element in its creations, doing an archeological search of the diverse styles of the tango.

In 2009 the tango was declared as part of the world's "intangible cultural heritage" by UNESCOmarker.

Many shows toured around the world, such as Broadway Musicals Tango Argentino & Forever Tango, Tango X 2, and Tango Pasion among others.

Tango styles

Tango postcard, c.
The Tango consists of a variety of styles that developed in different regions and eras of Argentinamarker as well as in other locations around the world. The dance developed in response to many cultural elements, such as the crowding of the venue and even the fashions in clothing. The styles are mostly danced in either open embrace, where lead and follow have space between their bodies, or close embrace, where the lead and follow connect either chest-to-chest (Argentine tango) or in the upper thigh, hip area (American and International tango).

Different styles of Tango are:

These are danced to several types of music:
  • Tango
  • Vals (the tango version of waltz)
  • Milonga (a related dance that usually has a faster tempo)
  • Tango Electronico
  • "Alternative Tango," i.e. non-tango music appropriated for use in the dance of music

The "milonguero" style is 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 a 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 "Tango Nuevo" or "New Tango" has been popularized in recent years by a younger generation of dancers. The embrace is often quite open and very elastic, permitting the leader to lead a large variety of very complex figures. This style is often associated with those who enjoy dancing to jazz- and techno-tinged "alternative Tango" music, in addition to traditional Tango compositions.

Ballroom tango

Ballroom tango illustration, 1914.

Ballroom tango, divided in recent decades into the "International" (English) and "European" styles, has descended from the tango styles that developed when the tango first went abroad to Europe and North 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 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 use different music and styling from Argentine tangos, with more staccato movements and the characteristic "head snap". The head snaps are totally foreign to Argentine and Uruguayan tango, and were introduced in 1934 under the influence of a similar movement in the legs and feet of the Argentine tango, and the theatrical movements of the pasodoble. This style became very popular in Germany and was soon introduced to England, one of the first proponents being Mr Camp. The movements were very popular with spectators, but not with competition judges.

Tango Canyengue

Tango Canyengue is a rhythmic style of tango that originated in the early 1900s and is still popular today. It is one of the original roots styles of tango and contains all fundamental elements of traditional Argentine Tango. In Tango Canyengue the dancers share one axis, dance in a closed embrace, and with the legs relaxed and slightly bent. Tango Canyengue uses body dissociation for the leading, walking with firm ground contact, and a permanent combination of on- and off-beat rhythm. Its main characteristics are its musicality and playfulness. Its rhythm is described as "incisive, exciting, provocative".

Finnish tango

The tango spread from the dominant urban dance form to become hugely popular across Finlandmarker in the 50s after the wars. The melancholy tone of the music reflects the themes of Finnish folk poetry; Finnish tango is almost always in a minor key.

The tango is danced in very close full upper body contact in a wide and strong frame, and features smooth horizontal movements that are very strong and determined. Dancers are very low, allowing long steps without any up and down movement. Forward steps land heel first, and in backward steps dancers push from the heel. In basic steps, the passing leg moves quickly to rest for a moment close to the grounded leg.

Each year the Tangomarkkinat, or tango festival, draws over 100,000 tangophiles to the central Finnish town of Seinäjokimarker, which also hosts the Tango Museum.

Tango Nuevo

In the late 1990s a new style of tango dancing began appearing worldwide. Tango Nuevo dance style features an open embrace, fluid partner movements, trading of lead and further regional reinventions of the tango dance. Tango Nuevo is largely fueled by a fusion between tango music and electronica, though the style can be adapted to traditional tango and even non-tango songs. Gotan Project released their first tango fusion album in 2000, quickly following with La Revancha del Tango, released in 2001. Bajofondo Tango Club, a Rioplatense music band consisting of seven musicians from Argentinamarker and Uruguaymarker, released their first album in 2002. Tanghetto's album Emigrante appeared in 2003 and was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2004. These and other electronic tango fusion songs bring an element of revitalization to the tango dance, serving to attract a younger group of dancers.

Technique comparison

Argentine, Uruguayan and Ballroom Tango use very different techniques. In Argentine tango, the body's center moves first, then the feet reach to support it. In ballroom tango, the body is initially set in motion across the floor through the flexing of the lower joints (hip, knee, ankle) while the feet are delayed, then the feet move quickly to catch the body, resulting in snatching or striking action that reflects the staccato nature of this style's preferred music.

In tango, the steps are typically more gliding, but can vary widely in timing, speed, and character, and follow no single specific rhythm. Because the dance is led and followed at the level of individual steps, these variations can occur from one step to the next. This allows the dancers to vary the dance from moment to moment to match the music (which often has both legato and/or staccato elements) and their mood.

The Tango's frame, called an abrazo or "embrace," is not rigid, but flexibly adjusts to different steps, and may vary from being quite close, to offset in a "V" frame, to open. The American Ballroom Tango's frame is flexible too, but experienced dancers frequently dance in closed position: higher in the elbows, tone in the arms and constant connection through the body. When dancing socially with a beginners, however, it may be better to use a more open position because the close position is too intimate for them. In American Tango open position may result in open breaks, pivots, and turns which are quite foreign in Argentine tango and International (English) tango.

There is a closed position as in other types of ballroom dance, but it differs significantly between types of tango. In Argentine Tango, the "close embrace" involves continuous contact at the full upper body, but not the legs. In American Ballroom tango, the "close embrace" involves close contact in the pelvis or upper thighs, but not the upper body. Followers are instructed to thrust their hips forward, but pull their upper body away, and shyly look over their left shoulder when they are led into a "corte."

In Argentine tango open position, the legs may be intertwined and hooked together, in the style of Pulpo (the Octopus). In Pulpo's style, these hooks are not sharp, stacco ganchos, but smooth ganchos.

In Argentine Tango, the ball or toe 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 of Tango, "heel lead" (stepping first onto the heel, then the whole foot) are used for forward steps.

Ballroom tango steps stay close to the floor, while the Argentine Tango includes moves such as the boleo (allowing momentum to carry one's leg into the air) and gancho (hooking one's leg around one's partner's leg or body) in which the feet travel off the ground. Argentine Tango features other vocabulary foreign to ballroom, such as the parada (in which the leader puts his foot against the follower's foot), the arrastre (in which the leader appears to drag or be dragged by the follower's foot), and several kinds of sacada (in which the leader displaces the follower's leg by stepping into her space).

Finnish tango is closer to the Argentine than to Ballroom in its technique and vocabulary. Other regional variations are based on the Argentine style as well.

Tango influence

Music and dance elements of tango are popular in activities related to gymnastics, figure skating, synchronized swimming, etc., because of its dramatic feeling and its cultural associations with romance.

For 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentinamarker, Adidas designed a ball and named it Tango likely a tribute to the host country of the event. This design was also used in 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spainmarker as Tango Málaga, and in 1984 and 1988 European Football Championships in Francemarker and West Germanymarker.

Health benefits of Tango

Argentine Tango was seen in one study to help heal neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease in a manner that was greater than the same amount of regular exercise. Parkinson's sufferers given tango classes showed improvements in balance and other measures not seen in another group of patients given regular exercise classes. The researchers said that while dance in general may be beneficial, tango uses several forms of movement especially relevant for Parkinson's disease patients including dynamic balance, turning, initiation of movement, moving at a variety of speeds and walking backward. The study authors wrote in 2007 that more research was needed to confirm the benefits observed in the small sample population. Dancing tango has been linked to increased heart health, better balance, improved memory, and weight loss.

Tango in film

Argentine tango is the main subject in these films:

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

Finnish tango is featured to a greater or lesser extent in the following films:

See also

Casual, unchoreographed Argentine social style at an outdoor tango party


  1. Tango gets UN cultural approval
  2. Declaran el tango patrimonio cultural de la humanidad
  3. Christine Denniston. Couple Dancing and the Beginning of Tango (2003)
  4. Frommers. Destinations. Buenos Aires
  5. PJS Richardson, History of English Ballroom Dancing, Herbert Jenkins 1946, page 101-102
  8. The New York Times, February 12, 2008. Exercise: Parkinson’s Patients Benefit From Tango, by Eric Nagourney. Retrieved on June 23, 2009.
  9. The Michael J. Fox Foundation: Parkinson's in the News. Tango improves balance, mobility in patients with Parkinson's disease, by Beth Miller, Washington University in St. Louis. Retrieved on June 23, 2009.
  10. Hackney, Madeleine E. BFA; Kantorovich, Svetlana BS; Levin, Rebecca DPT; Earhart, Gammon M. PT, PhD. Effects of Tango on Functional Mobility in Parkinson's Disease: A Preliminary Study. Retrieved on June 23, 2009.

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