Tango is a Europeanized African Diaspora song, drum and dance tradition from the Rio de la Plata region of Uruguay and Argentina.
It is also cultural in Medellín, Colombia. 🇨🇴
Today, you can dance Tango around the world. [We have.]
New York City has a lively social Tango scene with several dances most nights.
New York Tango Beat ®
New York Latin Culture Magazine ™ grew out of Tango Beat ®, the world’s most popular Tango magazine.
Tango is really fun to dance, but it’s also fun to watch.
East Village, Manhattan
Thu, June 9 – Sat, June 18, 2022
ALL OVER NYC
Tuesday, April 5, 2022
Thursday, May 5, 2022
Saturday, March 11, 2023
Sunday, December 11, 2022
Sunday, December 11, 2022
Tango’s African roots include milonga and candombe. It’s European roots are the Spanish contradanza (La habanera), and the French contredanse which is the French version of the English country dance, the first international dance. Vals is based on European waltz.
Milonga has two meanings. Tango dances are “milongas.” In the African barrios of Montevideo and Buenos Aires, a milonga was a gathering where people danced. Today we dance three rhythms: tango, milonga and vals. Milonga is the older rhythm descended from candombe.
Most New Yorkers don’t understand, but the milonga is sacred ground. Folk traditions come from expressions of faith and community. The dance floor is sacred. Leave your mess at the door and dance with love and respect. You are not only dancing with a partner, you are dancing with everyone in the room. Enter the milonga and be one.
Juan Carlos Copes created the tango show by putting the folkloric dance on stage in Argentina. His “Tango Argentino” (1983) of Paris was the seminal tango show. It came to Broadway in 1985 and seeded the first generation of tango teachers in the United States. They taught at Stepping Out Studios. Two or three of those first U.S. dancers are still active in New York.
The Tango World
There is nothing in the world quite like the tango of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. It’s cultural there and people respect tradition. Dancers really know how to dance and the floor functions as a group.
People don’t dance so much, tango dancers are more social. The cabaceo, or traditional invitation with a wink or nod, is understood. In fact there is a great game around choosing and getting chosen to dance that doesn’t quite work anywhere else. People dance different music differently and when violins play, the whole floor turns together like a school of fish.
BUENOS AIRES, March 15-21, 2020 ~ The CITA (appointment) is one of the world’s best tango festivals.It was started by Fabian Salas and Gustavo Naveira, the contemporary dancers who studied tango movement in the 1980s the way a ballet dancer might.
Argentine teachers who work around the world go home for the holidays (summer in Argentina), stay until the CITA and then head back out into the world. So the CITA is a gathering of the world’s best international teachers.
International Tango Festival and World Cup
BUENOS AIRES, August 15-27, 2020 ~ The tango world championships are a major event in Argentina every August.
The only problem with dancing tango in Argentina is that nothing is nearly as good when you come home. Still it’s something you should do once in your life. Who knows, maybe your tango lesson will become one of the great love stories, like a movie.
Early tango was very naughty in the Caribbean manner. Francisco Canaro (1888-1964) recorded music written by some of the earliest composers such as Casimiro Alcorta (1840-1913).
In the earliest recordings you can hear the influence of Haitian syncopation which reached Cuba and New Orleans with the diaspora from the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804. It sounds like march music and ragtime.
Carlos Gardel (1890-1935) set the tango song’s tragic tone with “Mi Noche Triste” (My Sad Night) in 1917. His many early recordings and then movies popularized tango around the world.
In 1935, Juan D’Arienzo’s (1900-1976) steady beat made the music popular with dancers.
Carlos di Sarli (1903-1960) wrote tangos that were soft and smooth.
Osvaldo Pugliese (1905-1995) gave the music a symphonic scope until tango dancing was banned in Buenos Aires in 1955.
Astor Piazzolla mixed classical music and jazz into tango in the 1950s.
Gotan Project mixed it with house music in 1999.
UNESCO declared tango an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
A Tango Story
Today Argentine Tango is loved around the world. Paris and New York City played roles in its love story.
Tango is African
Argentine tango is a folk dance originally from the African neighborhoods of Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. The two cities are on either side of the River Plate (Rio de la Plata).
There is a Brazilian religion with west African origins called Condomblé. The roots of tango are candombe, then milonga, then tango. There must be some relationship between Condomblé and candombe. There is still an important Carnivalesque candombe celebration in Uruguay.
Today tango dancers dance three rhythms: tango, milonga and vals. Tango in 4/4 is sad. Milonga in 2/2 is happy. Vals is a form of European waltz.
Milonga is how Africans in Montevideo and Buenos Aires danced the Habanera. The Habanera is the way people danced the Contradanza in Havana, Cuba. If you ever get to watch people dance danzón, the official dance of Cuba, you can see that it’s almost tango, but not quite.
The Contradanza was the Spanish version of the French Contredanse, both danced by Criollo or Creole families (European families in the Americas, often mixed-race European-African). Cuba is famously has the place where Spanish flamenco mixed with African drum to create what we now call Latin music. Whatever happened in Cuba spread across the Spanish Americas, and event went back to Spain as Rumba flamenca (American flamenco).
Contredanse influences entered Cuba with the Haitian diaspora that spread out across the Caribbean before and during the Haitian Revolution. The Contredanse came to Haiti in the time of the notorious French sugar colony Saint-Domingue. The richest sugar colony in the Caribbean influenced the entire region included Veracruz, Mexico and New Orleans.
The French Contredanse combined English Country Dance with Italian court dancing in the court of King Louis XIV, the Sun King who loved parties and ballet. This is the root of both ballet and the social dances of Europe and the Americas. Italian court dancing was brought to France by Queen Catherine de’ Medici. Yes she was one of those Medici’s of Florence where the Italian Renaissance began. The Italian Renaissance is the rebirth of Latin culture from the decline of the Middle Ages after the fall of Rome which seeded the Greco-Roman beginnings of Latin culture.
So tango is a mix of European and African cultures in the Americas. The English country dance was the world’s first international dance. It became popular among high society in France, Germany, and Italy.
The Tango Craze of 1913
One hundred years ago, Argentina was one of the world’s ten richest countries. Wealthy Argentines used to send their children to Paris for schooling and finishing. Young Argentines seduced the French with Tango.
In 1913, a Tango craze swept Paris, jumped to Venice, and crossed the ocean to New York City. Only then did Argentine high society claimed the Tango as their own.
Carlos Gardel and My Sad Night
French-born tango icon Carlos Gardel sang “Mi Noche Triste” (My Sad Night) in 1917 and established the melancholy tone of tango forever.
The rise of Gardel coincided with the coming of radio and the phonograph. At the beginning of the phonograph, a large percentage of the records made were tango.
After Rudolph Valentino, French-Argentine singer Carlos Gardel became the Latin idol. In New York, Tito Puente’s mother listened to Carlos Gardel along with everyone else in East Harlem.
Golden Age of Tango, 1935-1955
The tango was popular, but it was hard to dance to. In 1935 Juan D’Arienzo “El Rey del Compas” (The King of the Beat) put a stronger beat in the Tango which made it popular for dancing. The Golden Age of Argentine Tango had begun.
Dancing Tango became the way you found a girlfriend or boyfriend, so all the young men learned it. It takes a couple of years for a man to learn to dance Tango.
Juan and Eva Peron adopted the Tango. It’s not clear whether they really like the Tango or only used it as a way to connect with the people.
Tango Goes Underground in 1955
When the military junta took over Argentina in 1955, the military banned the Tango in Buenos Aires. They believed that people getting together in the middle of the night must be Peronists plotting against the government.
Swing dancing, called “Rock” was allowed, so young people stopped learning Tango and began dancing Swing. Swing is still popular in Argentina today.
Tango remained part of the culture of the outskirts of Buenos Aires, in Villa Urquiza, Flores, and other neighborhoods outside of the city center. It survived in secret in Palermo in a room that is now called Salon Canning. It was in the middle of a city block, so you couldn’t hear the Tango from the street.
Javier Rodriguez told us stories about Salon Canning of putting your hair in a scarf, your shoes in a bag, pretending to walk the dog and slipping down the long corridor to the patio in the center (which is now covered over as Salon Canning). From the street you couldn’t hear the tango, so you danced a few songs, then put your scarf back on, grabbed the shopping bag and walked the dog back home. That’s how the tango survived.
Juan Carlos Copes creates the Tango Show
Tango is a social dance, but one dancer, Juan Carlos Copes began creating choreographies. He was the father of the Tango show. Somehow Copes managed to put on shows during the ban. It’s said that one side of the room would be all generals. The other side would be Tango people.
Astor Piazzolla’s Tango Nuevo of 1955
Piazzolla is Argentine, but spent some of his youth here in New York City’s Greenwich Village where he studied Classical music and was exposed to Jazz. Piazzolla continued his studies in Paris where he heard an American Jazz octet. That gave him the idea to create his own octet.
Back in Argentina, Piazzolla created the Orquesta de Cuerdas with Leopoldo Federico as the second bandoneon. They played Tango mixed with Classical and Jazz influences.
Piazzolla called it Tango Nuevo. At first, the Argentines rejected the music, saying it wasn’t Tango. Today Piazzolla’s style of Tango Nuevo is the dominant style of Tango music (not to be confused with the Tango Nuevo of the late 1990s).
Tango Renaissance of 1983
When the military dictatorship fell in 1983, Argentines took a deep breath and sought to recover their Argentinidad (Argentine character). People turned to Tango.
Juan Carlos Copes put together a show. Ironically, they flew to Paris on an Argentine military plane. The day after the show Tango Argentino opened, Tango again became the rage in Paris and the Tango Renaissance began. Tango Argentino came to Broadway the next year. The dancers taught at DanceSport in New York City. These dancers and their students seeded the Tango across the United States.
Tango Nuevo, Club Tango of 2000
In 1999, a Paris-based band with Argentine, French, and Swiss members started playing a House music influenced version of Astor Piazzolla’s “Tango Nuevo” sound. They were called Gotan Project.
In 2000, Last Tango in Paris became a global club hit. Tango dancers call it Tango Nuevo although, strictly speaking, Tango Nuevo is actually Piazzolla. The trend led to great bands like Bajofondo, Otros Aires, and Tanghetto.
The Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
In 2009, UNESCO, the United Nations culture organization, declared Argentine and Uruguayan Tango to be part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Today you can travel around the world from one Tango community to the next.
Follow your Heart to the Tango Beat
New York Latin Culture Magazine began publishing in Paris, France as Tango Beat ® on September 1, 2009. Tango Beat quickly grew into the world’s most popular Tango magazine, with coverage of the Tango scenes in Buenos Aires, New York, and Paris, plus Tango festivals around the world.
In 2012, Tango Beat became New York Latin Culture Magazine and the rest is history. There is a lot more to Latin culture than the Tango, but the Tango will always be with us.
Wink, nod, smile…