Tango is thought to have originated at the end of the 19th century in the bustling suburbs of Buenos Aires, and Montevideo, Uruguay. It originates from a diverse mixture of African slave music and classic European music including polka, opera, waltz and folk songs. At the turn of the century, it quickly grew in popularity and spread internationally.
The origins of tango are unclear because historical documentation from that era is limited. However, it is generally thought that the dance developed in the late 19th century in the working-class neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires after slavery was abolished resulting in the mixing of former slaves and immigrant labourers.
Argentine tango music is much more varied than other tango music. A large amount of tango music has been composed by numerous orchestras over the last century. Not only is there a large volume of music, there is a breadth of stylistic differences between these orchestras as well. As a result, makes it easier for Argentine tango dancers to spend the whole night dancing to only Argentine tango. New music is still being composed today, continuing the long and varied history of the dance.
Argentine tango dance consists of a variety of styles that developed in different regions and eras. Timing signatures for dance are also quite variable with 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 timing used for different rhythmic interpretations. Argentine tango is danced in an embrace that can vary from very open, in which leader and follower connect at arms length, to very closed, in which the connection is chest-to-chest, or anywhere in between.
Tango dance is essentially walking with a partner to music. Dancing appropriately to the emotion and speed of a tango is extremely important to tango dance. A good dancer is one who transmits a feeling of the music to the partner, leading them effectively throughout the dance. Also, dancers generally keep their feet close to the floor as they walk. The ankles and knees brush as one leg passes the other.
Argentine tango dancing relies heavily on improvisation; although certain patterns of movement have been codified by instructors over the years as a device to instruct dancers. Some would argue that there is no “basic step.” One of the few constants across all Argentine tango dance styles is that the follower will usually be led to alternate feet. Another is that the follower rarely has his or her weight on both feet at the same time. In many modern variations of Argentine Tango, particularly in Europe, teachers of Tango may establish a “basic step” in order to help students to learn and pick up the “feel” of the dance, while others will purposely avoid teaching this “basic step” explaining that it hinders dancers from progressing in their understanding of the basic movements. The only rule in Tango – is that there are no rules.
Argentine Tango is danced counter clockwise around the outside of the dance floor (i.e. “line of dance”). Dance “traffic” often segregates into 3 of “lanes”; cutting across the middle of the floor is frowned upon. In general, the middle of the floor is where one finds either beginners who lack floor navigation skills or people who are performing “showy” figures or patterns that take up more dance floor space. It is acceptable to stop briefly in the line of dance to perform stationary figures, as long as the other dancers are not unduly impeded. The school of thought about this is, if there is open space in front, there are likely people waiting behind. Dancers are expected to respect the other couples on the floor; colliding or even crowding another couple, or stepping on others’ feet is to be avoided strenuously. It is considered rude; in addition to possible physical harm rendered, it can be disruptive to a couple’s musicality.
Ballroom tango steps were standardized by dance studios. The steps have been relatively fixed in style for decades. However, Argentine Tango has been an evolving dance and musical form, with continual changes occurring every day on the social dance floor in Argentina and in major tango centers elsewhere in the world. Argentine Tango dance is, and is still based heavily on improvisation. While there are patterns or sequences of steps that are used by instructors to teach the dance, even in a sequence every movement is led not only in direction but also speed and quality (a step can be smooth, pulsing, sharp … etc.). The Government of Argentina hosts an annual competition of Argentine Tango dance in Buenos Aires, attracting competitors from around the world.