Tango and Buenos Aires

Tango and Buenos Aires.

What do you think of when I mention ‘Argentina’?. Steak? Football? Maradona? Great Wines? Malbec? Tango? You may be surprised to hear that the last of those may not actually be Argentine  Tango originated in France and spread throughout Europe, coming with the German, Spanish and Italian down to South America where it became hugely popular in Argentina and Uruguay.

maradona wine

Maradona label Wine. Could we get any more Argentine?

For many years, Tango has been known as one of the most passionate dances in the world. The sexy hooks (ganchos) between the legs, the fiery glances, and the passionate music are some of the most recognized characteristics of tango that makes this art one of the most popular points on the to-do list of every visitor to the city.

Many people would be surprised just how different the tango show is from the tango salon (or milonga as they are popularly known). They almost seem like two different types of dance. While tango show demands a high fitness and flexibility skills the “milonga” is more about subtle moves and instinct, improvisation and having fun.

As you can see, the women often wear sensual clothing when dancing the tango

So what’s the story behind tango?

Argentine tango art was born in the streets, bars, and brothels of mid-19th Century in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay.

Carlos Gardel is a very famous tango singer. However, like the tango, his origin is also disputed as many think he was from Uruguay, Argentina, France or Germany!

Immigrants had to work long hours in the slaughterhouses and sometimes stayed five or six to a room, in tenement housing.  At night, dreaming of the women they had left behind, they looked for comfort and distraction- a few drinks, companionship, and a little happiness. The tango arose out of the pain,melancholy, nostalgia, and desire of ordinary people far from home.   In a world where men often outnumbered women five to one, men had to wait in lines at the brothels to visit a prostitute.  The bordello owners, not wanting to lose customers who got tired of waiting, hired musicians as entertainment.    The first tango lyrics were improvised and usually about sex.  The first great tango artist was the singer and guitar player, Angel Villoldo, who, in 1905, wrote and recorded El Choclo (the corn cob), a comedic song, which he made more respectable by loosely disguising its poor lyrics.

Originally there were no tango academies so this art was learned in the cafes and bars, where waitresses would be hired for dancing.   The men had to be skilled dancers to entice the most desirable prostitutes.  It was not uncommon to see men practicing tango among themselves.  Dancing well was (and still is in Argentina) considered a sign of masculinity and the tango was a prelude to sex. But of course without women, there would be no tango. Some of the early tango dances re-enacted a fight between two men or the relationship between a prostitute and her pimp.

In the early 1900’s, tango became popular with rich young men who searched for the exotic in the outskirts of Buenos Aires.  Tango worked its way up into the high-class bordellos, finally finding its way into respectable dance halls, cafes, cabarets and eventually, dance schools. That is when tango start getting international fame. Paris welcomed the tango with open arms and in Argentina it became a trend along with fashion, music, and opera. So when the tango came home to Buenos Aires, in a more respectable and subdued way, smelling of French perfume, it was embraced by every level of society.   Classically trained musicians, such as Julio de Caro, started playing tango.  Tango music competitions were held and the winners were recorded.  Tango musicians were in demand as accompanists for silent movies and it was here when it really started to flourish.

As mentioned before, there are really only two styles of tango. There’s the showier version used by performers that they call “tango escenario”, tango show or “tango fantasia”(stage tango), and there’s the social tango, normally danced in milongas and it is called “tango salon” (“dance hall tango”).

Since Buenos Aires is a city that offers different cultural activities you can learn about both styles by taking classes or simply practicing frequently to try something new like a tango show or a wine tasting.

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