For both professional dancers and the curious, it is the sultry, sensual tango that has long drawn visitors to Argentina. Kick back for a bit and discover the history of this phenomenal and timeless dance during your trip to Argentina.
It is in the streets and milongas (dance halls) of downtown Buenos Aires that the tango is proudly performed. It was right here that it originally unfurled into popularity two centuries ago as well.
Over the years, the tango has traveled widely through the world, assuming varied local inflections.
Today, we associate tango with grandeur and majesty. However it was not always this polished, and was not, historically, the glamorous dance for the bourgeoise that it is now.
From rags to riches
In the late 1800s Argentina was a land of economic dreams.
With immigrants hailing from Haiti, Cuba and Creole-speaking countries, the dance form emerged as a pastiche of quick-beat African tempos, nostalgic vibes and intense melancholia.
It is believed to have evolved from an influence of former slave songs.
Tenement blocks and street corners in lower-class districts of sprang to life with tango. Emerging in this environment, tango’s lyrics were, unsurprisingly, direct and often filled with cheeky humor.
Often boys as young as 13 years old chose to learn the tango as a means of impressing a girl. It required commitment: about nine months to first learn the women’s part and then the lead.
Perhaps this further fueled a young man’s passion! Meanwhile, girls learned and practiced in the confines of their home from both male and female family elders.
Tango allegedly releases endorphines and increase testosterone!
Recent studies suggest that tango can heal Parkinson’s Disease due to the dance’s unique movement.
As young men from the middle classes sneaked into the downtown areas to vicariously enjoy the pleasures of brothels and clubs, they became enchanted by the tango and its popularity grew exponentially.
A Parisian love affair
Tango reached what’s known as its Golden Age in the 1920s when these educated young men travelled to Europe, particularly to Paris during the La Belle Epoque era, and flirted in elite social circles with these erotic, entrancing moves.
Within a decade, tango had found a firm footing in Argentine high society as it reached the elites in palaces and even revolutionized the fashion scene.
Preceding the First World War, tango dancers and musicians were imported from Argentina to Europe, where huge quantities of gramophone records and tango sheet music were sold.
Classically trained artistes in Europe added their influences to tango music, slowing its pace whilst holding onto its electricifying roots.
In fact, tango’s influence on modern ballroom dancing is monumental, as you will doubtless discover if you do catch a show during your trip to Argentina.
A solo guitar or accordion originally accompanied the tango. Eventually its accompanying instruments grew to incorporate different influences.
By the time it was danced in palaces, these included a grand piano and a bass that replaced the guitar.
Imported from Germany, the bandoneón gave tango music those uniquely effervescent, illusory notes. This instrument is a hybrid of an accordion and a church organ.
As tango thrives across the world, it’s hard to imagine that it might have been stopped early in the history books by political and social issues. Yet tango almost vanished with two key historical events.
The first decline was during the Great Depression in 1929 which led to the restriction of activities believed to be extravagant or superfluous.
The second was when General Perón was outlawed by a military dictatorship coup in 1955.
The nation’s very own dance disappeared with Perón’s nationalist outlook. The lyrics, nightclubs and songs in which the tango thrived were banned.
A few underground clubs put themselves at great risk of being hunted down by the regime.
When being proudly Argentine was again acceptable, the tango returned to the limelight.
In 2009, tango made its way onto the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
Eva Perón was once referred to by a journalist as the Cinderella of the tango and the Sleeping Beauty of Latin America.
Today, there’s a milonga in Buenos Aires for everyone and we suggest you visit at least one!
La Viruta is a bustling place in Palermo for young people and often hosts foreigners. Bendita/Maldita Milonga in San Telmo is filled with young people whilst in El Catedral you’ll find a young hipster crowd of artsy bohemes.
Downtown, the Confiteria Ideal is more of an old-fashioned establishment that offers matinee milongas for those not wishing to stay out late. Or you could pop into the Club Gricel during your trip to Argentina, for a classic Tango atmosphere.
Enchanting Travels has chosen the finest tango shows within Buenos Aires, focused on preserving traditions that exude the charm of a bygone era.
From its sensuous moves, stirring music and magical ambience accompanied with mouth-watering delicacies, our guests always enjoy our authentic tango barrio in San Telmo recommendation.
We also offer unforgettable nights within the legendary Hotel Faena Hotel+Universe.
The stylish setting and enthralling music in El Cabaret showcases the sizzling eroticism of the tango by the best dancers in the country.
Make your own date with tango dancing in Buenos Aires with a trip to Argentina. Discover the fabulous milongas of Buenos Aires and tango shows for yourself.
Lead image courtesy of Enchanting Travels guest John Burke.