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Origins of Tango

Posted on November 06 2017

Buenos Aires.

The weather is hot and sultry, and the sun beats down on the courtyard of the tenement block. Guitars and the bandoneon form a melody staccato, legato. Dancers keep time, leg movements sharp and precise. Glances are heated. There is desire. There is a struggle, perhaps.

It is passion incarnate.

It is Tango.

Tango was born in the courtyards of Buenos Aires, not among the wealthy but among the poor. At the beginning of the 1800s the government of Argentina decided to seek workers from abroad, from Europe. Those hoping for a better life or the chance to earn some extra money came in droves, but they were not families – they were all men. And with a higher ratio of men to women, the chances of wooing a sweetheart required a little more effort. Dancing certainly helped. So in the tenement courtyards where the poor lived, someone might bring a guitar, another a bandoneon, and they would dance beneath bright sun or starlit sky.

With the influx of European immigrants came a new type of hold in dance: the partner hold, previously unknown. The only other dances at the time that featured a (scandalous!) two-person hold were the Viennese Waltz (1830s) and the Polka (1840s). Tango now made a third and also introduced the concept of improvisation in dance.

This is the Tango we know as Argentine Tango, and it contains African influence and rhythm as well as European influences. And it is only one of many styles. The ballroom version was only popularized in the early 20th century thanks to Rudolph Valentino’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” where he performed a version of Argentine Tango mixed with social dance steps of the time. Arthur Murray took this one step further and began to standardize the dance for his chain of schools, the result being the American Style Tango. International Tango developed in Europe slightly earlier, in England surprisingly, and is known as the official competitive style.

Tango has a rich history and this is only the first step of the dance. Now it’s time to put on your shoes and salida.

See you on the floor.


Favourite tango music:

Santa Maria de Buenos Aires (Gotan Project)


Dance, Dance (Tribute to Fall Out Boy) by Vitamin String Quartet


El Tango de Roxanne (Moulin Rouge)


What’s your favourite tango music? Tell us in the comments!


For more information on the history of tango, visit



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