The Sensual Argentine Tango
There are many legends and stories about the origins and development of tango. Tango is a dance and music that originated in Buenos Aires at the turn of the century, developed in the melting pot of cultures that was Buenos Aires. The word Tango was used at the time to describe various music and dance.
The exact origins of Tango—both the dance and the word itself—are lost in myth and an unrecorded history. The generally accepted theory is that in the mid-1800s, African slaves were brought to Argentina and began to influence the local culture. The word “Tango” may be straightforwardly African in origin, meaning “closed place” or “reserved ground.” Or it may derive from Portuguese (and from the Latin verb tanguere, to touch) and was picked up by Africans on the slave ships. Whatever its origin, the word “Tango” acquired the standard meaning of the place where African slaves and others gathered to dance.
Most likely the Tango was born in African-Argentine dance venues attended by compadritos, young men, mostly native born and poor, who liked to dress in slouch hats, loosely tied neckerchiefs and high-heeled boots with knives tucked casually into their belts. The compadritos took the Tango back to the Corrales Viejos—the slaughterhouse district of Buenos Aires—and introduced it in various low-life establishments where dancing took place: bars, dance halls and brothels. It was here that the African rhythms met the Argentine milonga music (a fast-paced polka) and soon new steps were invented and took hold.
Eventually, everyone found out about the Tango and, by the beginning of the twentieth century, the Tango as both a dance and as an embryonic form of popular music had established a firm foothold in the fast-expanding city of its birth. It soon spread to provincial towns of Argentina and across the River Plate to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, where it became as much a part of the urban culture as in Buenos Aires.
The worldwide spread of the Tango came in the early 1900s when wealthy sons of Argentine society families made their way to Paris and introduced the Tango into a society eager for innovation and not entirely averse to the risqué nature of the dance or dancing with young, wealthy Latin men. By 1913, the Tango had become an international phenomenon in Paris, London and New York. The Argentine elite who had shunned the Tango were now forced into accepting it with national pride. The Tango spread worldwide throughout the 1920s and 1930s and came to be a fundamental expression of Argentine culture, and the Golden Age lasted through the 1940s and 1950s. The current revival dates from the early 1980s, when a stage show Tango Argentino toured the world creating a dazzling version of the Tango that is said to have stimulated the revival in the US, Europe and Japan. 2008 is again a period of renewal, of tension between the international and the Argentine, between a desire to recreate the Golden Age, and another to evolve it in the light of modern culture and values. There is an explosion of interest around the world with places to dance in many cities and towns, and a growing circuit of international festivals.
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