The Origin & History of The Tango

Man and woman performing the tango. Black background.

The tango is one of the oldest and most influential dance forms practiced today. It was once considered so salacious it was banned at musical gatherings, but two centuries later, it’s a sensation.

It’s made its way from Buenos Aires’ migrant communities and brothels to modern New York clubs and contest halls.

The dance has a staccato feel that’s driven by improvisation. It’s dramatic, celebratory, and intimate. The style has evolved enormously over the centuries, but it’s still referred to as “a secret danced between two people.”

It requires you to focus on your feelings, not your choreography, so it’s perfect for dancers seeking profound connection. 

The Birth of The Tango

The tango rose to popularity in 1880 in Argentina and Uruguay. In those days, it was the dance of immigrants and impoverished communities. It took much of its inspiration from the flamenco, but African migrants in Buenos Aires gave the dance its characteristic rhythm. The Cuban habanera lent it its dramatic flair. 

By the early 1900s, the dance had become a European trend that attracted famous music composers like Astor Pantaleon Piazzolla and Carlos Gardel. Gardel’s cancion style is still a definitive element of the tango. It’s traditionally performed by the solo guitar, accordion, or ensemble band. 

The dance quickly became a craze, but authorities promptly banned tango gatherings. Society considered the dance indecent and associated it with illicit behavior.

The tango’s reputation became increasingly respectable as the lower classes gained freedom through suffrage laws. By the time the 1920s arrived, it had spread to North America, England, and France. By the ’40s, the tango had hit the peak of its popularity. 

How the Tango Adapted

Many countries and cultures have had a profound impact on the tango. Today, there are eight categories: 

  • The Uruguayan tango is one of the oldest categories. 
  • The ballroom tango has its roots in Argentina, but it’s divided into American and International styles. 
  • Show tango is designed to entertain, so it’s known for its flourishes and spins. 
  • Salon tango has much in common with traditional tango, but it’s danced with an open embrace that allows more freedom. 
  • Tango nuevo is a modern style that borrows from jazz and electronic music. 
  • Tango Apilado is danced with a leaning posture and has its roots in Buenos Aires’ informal dance halls.
  • Finnish tango evolved in the wake of World War I. Dancers maintained a close embrace but were not averse to dramatic flourishes or spins. 

The Tango of the Modern Age

The Argentine tango enjoyed a global resurgence in the ’80s, so influential instructors began to study the dance’s unique movements.

During the Nuevo Tango era, instructors taught their subjects the principles of dance kinesiology. These in-depth analyses led to massive experimentation, not just in movement but in the music itself.

Astor Piazzolla became the leader of the era, combining classical music and jazz to achieve an entirely new oeuvre. The ’80s and ’90s were thus the tango’s most contentious years.

Some aficionados insisted that Nuevo Tango wasn’t tango at all, but dance can’t evolve by purism alone. Dancers must truly make the tango their own. 

Start Dancing Today 

If you’re curious about the world of tango, Fred Astaire Dance Studios will ensure your exploration is as fun as it is educational.

Our training is personalized for beginners and experts alike. We maintain a nonjudgmental and friendly atmosphere because we think dance should be vibrant and happy. 

Sign up for tango classes in Carmel with Fred Astaire Dance Studios by calling 317-846-3237 today.