Argentine Tango: Presentation


Argentine tango originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay in the late 19th century. It is both a social dance and a music genre.

Tango began as a working-class dance in Argentina and Uruguay, but was taken to Europe in 1912 and became popular in Paris among the high society, and later went to London, Berlin and other European capitals before arriving to New York in 1913.

The dance received a boost on popularity when Rudolph Valentino brought the tango to the silver screen in the 1921 movie “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

Although it lost popularity due to other dances  such as swing and later rock and roll, it regained popularity in the 1980s after the Paris opening of the show “Tango Argentino ” and the Broadway show “Forever Tango.”

In the late 1990s, the movies again helped popularize Argentine tango. In 1997, Sally Potter’s semi-autobiographical movie “The Tango Lesson” came out starring Pablo Veron (who won an American Choreography Award for the film) and in 1998 Carlos Saura’s “Tango, no me dejes nunca” debuted at Cannes and was nominated for both an Academy Award (Best Foreign Language Film) and a Golden Globe (Best Foreign Language).

In 2009, Argentine tango became registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Tango music combines several musical traditions including German, African and Spanish and is considered to have sprung from the mixing of the immigrants to Argentina and Uruguay. The terms for moves are from Spanish.

Night club dance:

In ballroom competitions, Argentine tango is considered a night club dance like Lindy hop and the Hustle. This generally means that it is not a regular competitive category. There are no strict levels (bronze, silver, gold), step patterns (toe lead versus heel lead) or level requirements. Some competitions restrict the use of lifts or aerials while others are “anything goes.”

Other dances derived from Argentine tango:

Ballroom dances such American tango and International style tango came from Argentine tango, but are part of the regular curriculum of ballroom dance and dance sport and have specific levels and requirements.

Ballroom tango differs from Argentine tango also in that the leader and follower do not face the same way and the ballroom frame usually has an extreme backward lean from the waist down.

In Argentina and Uruguay, there are many variations of tango. Some countries have developed their own style of tango such as Finland and Taiwan.

Important figures

Famous tango figures include  singer/song writer Carlos Gardel (b. 1890 in France-d. 1935 in Colombia in airplane crash) and composers Francisco Canaro (b. 1888 in Uruguay-d. 1964 in Buenos Aires), Juan D’Arienzo (1900-1976 in Argentina), Osvaldo Pugliese (1905-1995) and Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992).

Famous current tango bands include the Gotan Project (mix of Argentine, French and Swiss musicians whose 2001 “Santa Maria” was included on the 2004 Jennifer Lopez-Richard Gere movie “Shall We Dance”), Narcotango (neotango, electronica), Argentine-Uruguayan Bajofondo and Texas-based Tosca Tango Orchestra.

Dancing tango:

Argentine tango music can be divided into:

  • Most tango music  is easy to recognize, but the most familiar songs to Americans will be “La Cumparsita” and “Por Una Cabeza” (1935 by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera) “Por Una Cabeza” was used in “Scent of a Woman,” “Schindler’s List,” “True Lies,” “Titanic,” “Frida”  and “All the King’s Men.”

(from 0.25)

(from 1:42)

  • A milonga is usually an upbeat song. There are different steps typicallly used, however, beginner tango dancers just dance tango steps at a faster pace.
  • Vals is a tango waltz with 3/4 time.  Dancing vals usually uses more turns.

Milonga is also the term used for Argentine tango dance parties.

Most people comment upon the embrace, but there are different types of embrace. Typically there is a more open embrace and a close embrace. However, the close embrace isn’t any more closed than the ballroom quickstep or the night club dance Balboa.

Like many Latin dances, the heels for both men and women are about a half an inch higher than standard ballroom. This forces the couple to lean forward and pull the chest out and the shoulders back.

Argentine tango is danced with a line of dance motion which means the couple moves around the dance floor in a counter clockwise motion. This is in contrast to East Coast Swing or Balboa which are slot dances, dances where the couple occupy a slot on the floor.

Salon tango is what is generally danced socially. The emphasis is on slow measured moves and nothing above the knees.  The walk should be elegant and the embrace flexible, but close.

Tango is characterized by contra-body motion and considerable foot play such as displacements (sacadas), leg wraps (ganchos), leg swings (boleos) and off-axis movements (colgadas).

Like any night club dance, Argentine tango is evolving and that means there are not only regional differences, but generational differences. Electronica and even hip hop have incorporated into tango music (groups like Bajofondo) and dance.

Bajofondo “Pa’ Bailar” (Fiesta Tanguera-Electronica) See 1:18 to 1:45 for hip hop solo and changing fashions.

Bajofondo “Pa’Bailar (Bailarin en el Tren)

Bi/Rain (Korean K-pop “Sad Tango”) See from 0:10 to 0:40. Includes lapiz, boleos and golpes.

Shakira “Objection Tango”  See 0 to 1:04. Belly dance into tango.

Argentine tango official competitions

In competition, Argentine tango is usually divided into salon style and show/stage tango.

In salon tango, the dancers do not break their embrace and no movements above the knee line are permitted.  No ganchos, saltos (jumps) or trepadas (lifts) are allowed. This is how most people dance Argentine tango on the crowded dance floors in Buenos Aires.

Most people are familiar with show/stage tango which has high kicks, lifts and a breaking of the embrace. In contrast to Buenos Aires,  American social dancers usually do something between stage and salon tango.

The American National championships are held in San Francisco in April. Two national championships teams came from the Los Angeles area.

  • Brian Nguyen and Yuliana Basmajyan: USA Salon champions 2011
  • Naomi Hotta and Laurent Lazure: USA Salon champions 2013
  • Naomi Hotta and Laurent Lazure: USA stage tango finals 2013



1. How long does it take you to learn the dance?

It depends upon the person. I had a background in gymnastics on the balance beam and ice skating. Both have contra-body movement and require pivoting on the ball of the foot. Because of this, I progressed rapidly from beginning to advanced beginner. To get really good, you’d need a regular practice partner as well.

Argentine tango takes longer to learn than East Coast Swing or Lindy Hop and requires more close body contact than salsa. Most people have to take lessons regularly before they advance to intermediate stage and some never quite make it to a solid intermediate level of dance.

2. What are the influences in tango?

The music of tango is influenced by Spanish culture as well as the different immigrants who went to Argentina and Uruguay. Besides the Spanish, there were also immigrants from Germany and Italy and you can hear the influence in the usage of the bandoneon, an accordian-like instrument. In some tango, you can hear the Candombe beat which comes from African slaves.  I believe you can hear a candombe beat in the “Pa’Bailiar” by Bajofondo and also in “Tango Negro.”

3. Where did I buy my dress?

I bought an children’s ice dance dress meant for tango. You can tell because the slit on near the left leg and not the right. The specific Internet shop is Skate-Mart International. 

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