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‘Inside Story’ Argentine tango traveling the world

Smooth Moves Ezine March 2008

Argentine Tango came about in the late 1800’s, at a time when many cultures were mixing (mainly European and Argentine), in music, in culture and in a basic need to survive in a place where work was scarce, The lure of promised riches from fertile land in Argentina were laid barren when many immigrant men arrived from countries all around the world. They found desert or rock in their allotted land, and so most migrated into the big cities, namely Buenos Aires and Montevideo. At one time there was approximately 70% men to 30% women and it was said to be even worse, this was due to many of the immigrants having left their families behind. These where the circumstances that lead to the formation of Tango, and the common representation of two men practicing together in order to increase their chances of dancing with a woman.

Its very hard to say exactly where it came from or how it formed, due to the many myths that engulf its past adding to the element of mystery in the dance which is so much a part of our intrigue as dancers. Some say it developed in the brothels of La Boca a barrio of Buenos Aires, others whisper conspiracy in saying that it originated in Montevideo and isn’t of Argentine origin at all. For me as a dancer I feel its origin isn’t so much important as its nature to evolve and change with the times, and even the fashions of clothes, music and the way people are expected to relate to each other in society have had influence. The pencil skirt for example, made it impossible for the women to make large steps, so in the 50s when this was ‘ la mode’ the movements become smaller and much more compact. But there is also a wonderful sense of preserving the old, there are many organizers that promote traditional tango in a form that is as close to Buenos Aires as it ever can be considering that we live in a another culture with a different way of life, tempered also by a change in times and the roles of men and women. 

But the dance is something more than an explanation of its existence. This is merely a context for tango, a generality or cerebral way to try and understand it. My personal experience of Tango has been an adventure I could not have predicted. Improvisation, playfulness and a willingness to explore are characteristics in the dance that have unconsciously diffused and taken residences as a way of life.

I still remember my first lesson which was in a big theatre, edges darkened, lights dimmed for atmosphere and its most prized possession was a perfect wooden dance floor. A woman clad in a beautiful flowing dress, red when caught by the light, took us through the first steps of tango. There was one moment about half way through the class, when she gave me some hint or glimmer of what the dance could be like in experience both in terms the sensuality in the body while creating the movements of tango, and the feeling of simply expressing the music. I was hooked in the space of half an hour only to be told afterwards that there were too many followers, and that I being the last to sign up would have to wait until the new classes started. I was upset and crying when I left, but was soon rescued by another teacher who had more men than women. So the precarious start to my tango journey had begun only to lead to more obsessions in body and movement as the months past. I now teach and dance all around the world, moving from one dimly lit room to another. 

I am always in search of something that the dance gives me and still I cannot name it. But what I do know is this dance is beautiful for the fact that you can never stop learning if only you are open to the possibilities. The improvised nature of Argentine Tango gives special moments of spontaneity and connection very hard to find elsewhere. With music and a space to explore and freely express it being introduced to the concoction, I am surprised any of us ever find a reason to stop. 

The dances existence was provoked by the differences between men and women. Its evolution and origin forming from the immigrants with their many dances, and music traditions when arriving to Argentina. Its status and reputation growing with the travel between Buenos Aires, Paris and the popularity that is growing around the world. Continually evolving with the times but protectively coveting the old and the traditional. Lastly Tango is the technique and playful improvisation that allow two people to experience connection with each other around and through the music.