The word “tango” is thought to be african in origin, and means a “meeting place”. This does not mean the tango itself is of african origin. The cubans, the spanish, the afro-argentinians and the italians, all influenced the evolution of tango. Tango rose from its humble beginnings to a dance in a class of its own.
In the late nineteenth century, europe had been ravaged by wars, with little hope of a stable life in europe, many young men immigrated to south america to begin a new life. Most of them disembarked in the new federal capital of argentina, the port of buenos aires.
Despite the high degree of prosperity in agrentina at this time, life was hard for immigrants, who were forced to live in the squaled outskirts of the city. Despite this, the immigrants kept coming, and by 1914 they outnumbered native born argentinians in buenos aires by 3 to 1. About half of the immigrants were italians and a third spanish. The old port area of buenos aires, la boca, where many italians settled, is a colourful reminder of the italian contribution to the history of tango.
The new argentinians of european decent shared a common bond, despair and disillusionment. This poured out into song, the song of sadness, but also of hope and inspiration. The passion of the song demanded further expression in a dance. So it was that in the back street gutters of buenos aires, the tango was born.
– The vast majority of the immigrants to argentina were young men, who eventually outnumbered women by fifty to one. These young men were often frequent visitors to low life cafes where the waitresses could be hired for dancing. In order to attract the women, it became very important for the young men to become good dancers. With no real dance schools, men would teach each other the tango, exchange steps, and practice together before exercising their skills to attract the women. Freed from the conventions of european dances, the men would devise very practical and often unique ways of skillfully leading the women.
In europe, the tango had undergone a massive evolution. The argentine tango did not accord with the long held european ideas about dancing, and the authentic style was quickly and ruthlessly changed. Walks were introduced to make the dance progress around the dance floor, and the seductive character of the tango was changed to a faster, and more aggressive beat. Unlike argentinian orchestra, a drum beat was added to modernise tango music and encourage a sharper interpretation, including the highlystylized head jerks. So this is called modern international tango commonly used in competitive dancing.
During the 1950’s in buenos aires, the argintine tango went into decline, mainly due to the economy moving downwards. There was less funding to promote tango events and its development. Again in the 1980’s, large scale productions went on tour around the world. A revival of interest outside argentina, a new generation discovered tango for the first time. Now, argentine tango is often taught in small clubs and established dance schools around the world.
The tango has come a long way from its humble beginnings, but it has a long way to go yet. Its history is rich with legend and romance. Tango is a supremely sensual dance, which captures the full gamat of human emotion; of hope, dissapointment and life itself.