All About the Tango

A Popular Dance and an Expressive Form of Art

Tango dancers, Argentina, Buenos Aires
David Sanger/Digital Vision/Getty Images

One of the most fascinating of all dances, the tango is a sensual ballroom dance that originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the early twentieth century. The tango dance is usually performed by a man and a woman, expressing an element of romance in their synchronized movements. Originally, the tango was performed only by women, but once it spread beyond Buenos Aires, it developed into a dance for couples.

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 dance. Several films showcase the tango, such as Scent of a WomanTake the Lead, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, True Lies, Shall We Dance, and Frida.

Tango Music

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.