For many beginners, the first question that arises is what Tango Argentino actually means. What distinguishes it from standard tango, European, international or ballroom tango?
Interesting facts about Argentine dance, its music and poetry
The Tango Argentino is a free and very individual improvisation dance. In contrast, the standard tango is danced according to fixed steps. It is based on the rules of the European or international tournament dance program.
The Argentine tango, on the other hand, is a dance of the people. Competitions like in the standard dances are not important. They remain rather an exception, as they do not really correspond to the individual essence of Tango Argentino.
But the Tango Argentino is much more than just a dance. It is also a distinct genre of music for which Argentina is known around the world. Tango also has a special poetry that is often demanding and linguistically interesting. Many lyrics are written in "Lunfardo", the dialect from the former crooks of Buenos Aires. This slang, which is still in use, has taken many words from the Italian language.
From heart to heart
The dance "Tango Argentino" is based on the body signals of leading and following. The guidance takes place with the chest instead of with the arms. From heart to heart (de corazón a corazón), it is called in Argentina. You don't dance any set choreographies or step combinations. That makes the tango infinitely variable and exciting.
Of course there is also the variant of the stage tango (Tango éscenario). This is mainly used to entertain the audience. It often shows spectacular acrobatic figures influenced by classical ballet or modern dance. Here rehearsed choreographies are necessary, if only for a group of dancers to dance synchronously.
What the hobby or professional dancers celebrate on the dance floors of the public milongas (dance events) when dancing Tango Argentino is usually pure improvisation.
You dance differently with every partner, to every mood and music. The steps are elegant, the upper bodies mostly connected in a tight embrace. The lower body and legs, on the other hand, do not touch, except in certain figures. Embracing and walking in harmony as a couple are the basis of Tango Argentino. The dancers perform a variety of figures, but in between they always return to simple walking. You can find more about the typical Tango Argentino figures in our Dictionary of tango steps.
Tangodanza 4/2020: Portrait of the tango teacher couple Constantin Rüger and Judith Preuss
On the origin of the Tango Argentino
Anyone who wants to learn and dance Tango Argentino will soon be interested in the history of this fascinating dance. It was created around 1900 in the huge estuary of the Río de la Plata. The Argentine cities of Buenos Aires and Rosario as well as Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, are located here. The correct name would actually be “Tango ríoplatense”, i.e. Tango from the Río de la Plata.
Melting pot on the river
Millions of immigrants from all over the world, especially from Europe, ended up in the three major port cities. Most of them were Italians and Spaniards, and there were also many French, English, Germans, Russians and Poles.
Everyone brought the music of their home countries with them and merged it into a new genre, the tango from the Río de la Plata. This also received strong influences from the African population, who had lived there since the times of slavery. Styles like Candombe, Canyengue and Milongaemerged. They are considered to be the forerunners or early archetypes of tango.
Where does the word tango come from?
The word "tango" probably comes from an African language and means "drum". However, there are various theories about this. If you hear tango music today, you can still feel the homesickness, melancholy and longing of the immigrants that resound from the melodies and lyrics.
The group of Italian immigrants in particular contributed a lot to the development of Tango Argentino. Most tango musicians, composers and poets still have Italian surnames today. The Italians incorporated melodies from Neapolitan songs, then influences from Viennese waltz, polka, foxtrot, habanera and other styles were added.
The sound of the bandoneon
Finally the very own, typical sound was formed. This is also characterized by the bandoneón, a harmonica instrument of German origin. It resembles an accordion, but has no buttons, but buttons on both sides. The bandoneón is considered difficult to learn and has become a symbol of tango. It gives the music its particularly melancholy expression. Over time, the most danced and played music and dance styles developed: the tango itself, the vals (tango in waltz beat) and the milonga, a fast, rhythmic variant.
The golden age - the Época de Oro
Tango was already popular in the 1910s and 20s. But the period from the mid-30s to the end of the 40s of the last century is considered the golden age of tango (Época de Oro). A great variety of orchestras emerged, thousands of compositions and texts were written. The orchestras recorded countless records. The Tango Argentino was played live everywhere and was famous all over the world as a ballroom dance. It became the fashion dance of the hour in Buenos Aires as in Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo or Helsinki. At times the tango dance was banned by the Pope because it was viewed as too erotic. However, that did little to harm his popularity!
The big four of Tango Argentino
The central figures of Tango are Juan d'Arienzo, Carlos di Sarli, Osvaldo Pugliese and Aníbal Troilo. They were the big four orchestra leaders of the time. They composed many successful tangos and gave their orchestras (Orquesta típica) an unmistakable sound.
Further names of the most famous musicians and orchestras can be found in our Tango Lexicon. First and foremost is the Argentine singer and national hero Carlos Gardelwho was the first to popularize a sung tango around the world. Later he also excelled as an actor in several tango films.
Time of change and Tango Nuevo
After the Época de Oro, other creative decades followed. Towards the end of the 50s, however, tango slowly lost its popularity, rock'n roll and pop music emerged and supplanted it. The young people preferred to dance to the new rhythms. The composer and bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla gave the Tango Argentino again new impulses and made it concertante. Many jazz fans were enthusiastic about his "Tango Nuevo". The Argentine people were divided, however, as his compositions were not considered danceable. Today, his achievements are also highly valued in his own country.
Time for a siesta and a new beginning
During the gloomy days of the Argentine military dictatorship from 1976-83, tango culture almost came to a standstill. Public gatherings were forbidden and dancing was a part of it. Even so, there was a core of dancers and musicians who kept tango alive.
Time of renewal
From the mid-80s, tango experienced a renaissance. The Argentinian show productions "Tango Argentino" and "Tango Pasión" with Tango icon Alejandra Mantiñan toured all over the world and found enthusiastic followers. Suddenly there were many people tangoing again learn to dance tango and to take lessons again. Dance schools for Tango Argentino were founded, there were workshops and courses. Young Argentinian musicians learned to play the music of their grandfathers. Soon there were public milongas (Tango dance festivals) again. The new wave of tango spread all over the world, similar to what it had done decades before.
In the early 2000s, a new style of music became popular: the Argentines in exile living in Paris Gotan Project invented the "electrotango" and released the CD "La Revancha del Tango". This became a worldwide success and soon gained a permanent place in all club charts. This multiplied the worldwide interest in Tango Argentino.
Electric and Neotango
Other bands like Otros Aires or Bajofondo followed the new style. The dance has also been further developed to match the modern sound. People danced “Neotango” or "Tango Nuevo", which is characterized by sweeping, soft movements and often giving up on one's own body axis.
This created a completely new expression of dance. The Argentine dancer Chicho Frumboli developed many figures of the Neotango and has been an icon of this style ever since.
The Tango Argentino today
Nowadays, the neotango and electrotango are no longer represented quite as often at milongas, especially in Argentina. In the tango scene there, they are returning to the roots, i.e. to traditional tango. There is also more emphasis on the traditionally handed down “Codigos de la Milonga”, the rules of the game for a harmonious coexistence of the couples on the dance floor. The expansive movements of the Neotango had turned out to be a bit disturbing on a crowded dance floor. Nevertheless, many elements of Neotango have flowed into the dance. Today they are just performed a little more subtle and sophisticated.
Argentine Tango styles
Other Tango Argentino styles that are danced and mixed with each other today are: Tango de Salon, Tango Milonguero or Canyengue - more information in our Tango Lexicon.
Young tango orchestras and musicians have won many fans in recent years with new interpretations of traditional tangos and their own compositions. On their travels around the world, they have a loyal and ever-growing audience. To be mentioned here are e.g. Sexteto Milonguero, Orquesta Misteriosa Buenos Aires, Orquesta Romántica Milonguera, La Juan D'Arienzo, Carlos Quilici or Cuarteto Mulenga. Also European ensembles like Bandonegro with their fresh versions of the classics have a growing fan base.
Today you can dance tango in almost all major cities in the world outside of Argentina. Thanks to the media coverage of Tango videos you can also find a milonga in remote places or attend a course. You also meet up festivals and marathons to live out the common passion for dance. There are also so-called encuentros, where tango dancers meet at a high level.
Readings and films about Tango Argentino
If you want to learn more about the Tango Argentino, we recommend the website Todo tango: An encyclopedia in English and Spanish where you can find out everything about musicians, orchestras, tango titles, texts, etc.
Article about Códigos
Tango teacher Fabián Lugo published the article “Tango dancing in style" about the Códigos de la Milonga(milonga rules). Here you can find out more interesting details about the manners in the world of tango (available only in German language).
Tango movie nights
Ralf Sartori (Tango à la carte) has shown over 2019 different tango films until 50, always alternating between two cinemas. Here you can find his film archive as an international Tango film lexicon. In the vicinity of Munich, Ralf Sartori regularly organizes tango film nights with after-film milongas at Seefeld Castle, also tango film screenings at Breitwand Gauting cinema, with dance afterwards.
- “Tango Lesson” by Sally Potter with Pablo Verón
- "Assassination Tango" with Robert Duvall
- “12 Tangos - Adios Buenos Aires” by Arne Birkenstock, music by Luis Borda
- “The last applause” by Germán Kral
- "Our last tango" by Germán Kral
- “Tango Libre” with Chicho Frumboli
- “Tango” by Horacio Salas
- “Tango stories” - portraits of musicians by Michael Lavocah
- "Tango - Refusal and Mourning" by Dieter Reichardt
- “Tango - the unifying force of dancing eros”, Ralf Sartori
- "Tango global“ Worldwide book series on Argentine dance, Ralf Sartori
Films from the golden age
- “Las Luces de Buenos Aires” with Carlos Gardel
- “Tango Bar” with Carlos Gardel
- "El Tango on Broadway", also with Carlos Gardel
- "In Heaven Tango" by Elsa Osorio
- “Three minutes with reality” by Wolfram Fleischhauer
- “The Tango Singer” by Tomás Eloy Martinez
- Tangodanza (German tango magazine)
- El Tangauta (Spanish)
- La Milonga Argentina (Spanish)
As a tango dancer, in addition to suitable clothing, you also need suitable shoes. There are more and more providers of Tango shoesspecially developed for dancing. Likewise, one can find many manufacturers of suitable and elegant Dance fashion.
Cover photo: Pixabay, other photos: Thomas Lackner, Mikael Holber (Tangodanza)