The Argentinian and Uruguayan tradition of the Tango was developed by the urban lower classes in Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the Rio de la Plata basin. Among this mix of European immigrants to the region, descendents of African slaves known as ''criollos,'' a wide range of customs and beliefs were transformed into a distinctive cultural identity. As one of the most recognizable embodiment of that identity, the music, dance and poetry of tango encourages diversity and cultural dialogue. Tango is also woven into celebrations of national heritage in Argentina and Uruguay and reflects the widespread embrace of this popular urban music.
Today, there are many forms of tango, to name but a few:
Initially it was just one of the many dances, but it soon became popular throughout society, as theatres and street barrel organs spread it from the suburbs to the working-class slums, which were packed with hundreds of thousands of European immigrants.
In the early 20th century, dancers and orchestras from Buenos Aires travelled to Europe, and the first European tango craze took place in Paris, soon to be followed by London, Berlin, and etc. Instructors of this period would sometimes refer to this as a "North American tango", versus the so-called "Argentine Tango".
In Argentina, during the Great Depression of 1929 and political turmoil in 1930 caused tango to decline. Tango became widely fashionable under the government of Juan Perón. It declined again in the 1950s as a result of economic depression and the banning of public gatherings by the military dictatorships .That led to the popularity of rock and roll because it did not require such gatherings.
The tango dance developed in response to many cultural elements, such as the crowding of the venue and even the fashion in clothing. The styles are mostly danced in either open embrace, where lead and follow have space between their bodies, or close embrace, where the lead and follow connect either chest-to-chest (Argentine tango) or in the upper thigh, hip area (American and International tango).
In tango, the steps are typically more gliding, but vary in timing, speed, character and follow no single specific rhythm. This allows the dancers to vary the dance from moment to moment to match the music (which often has both legato and/or staccato elements).
The Tango frame, called an abrazo /embrace/, is not rigid, but flexible and it adjusts to the different steps. It may vary from being quite close, in a "V" frame, to open. The flexibility is just as important as is all movement in the dance.
Tango is often described as a passionate dance, because of the close connection partners can have and the character of the music.
At the heart of tango (Argentine tango) is the desire to listen to, understand and converse with the person you dance with. Tango can be many things for different people. Almost any type of music that can be walked to can be tangoed to, which means that anyone can do it!
In tango there is a 'leader' and 'follower'. Through the embrace, the leader shows the follower where and how to step. The follower decides in what way to do it. Both leader and follower try to maintain harmony and connection through the embrace.
Like the symbols of yin and yang, the roles of leader and follower each have a little of the other within them. Tango is a process of collaboration which encourages the development of sensitivity, clarity, trust and respect.
One of the more important aspects of the tango is the frame, or the way the dancers hold their bodies with each other. The dance position is "closed," with the leader’s right hand on the follower’s left shoulder blade and left hand extended to the side, grasping the follower’s right hand. The follower's left hand is placed halfway down the leader's right arm. While this gives the appearance of the arm resting, no actual weight should be placed on the leader's arm.
The leader and follower look to the side, towards the left and right, with spines very straight and a slight tilt back to the follower's head. Occasionally there will be tango dance steps that require them to snap their heads around and look at each other (often with a sultry look) but their heads should always go back to the rest of the frame.
The easiest way to remember the basic tango step is to think of the acronym T-A-N-G-O - Slow…slow…quick-quick-slow.
Like many ballroom dances, the leader and follower mirror each others’ steps. Many of the more complicated tango steps give each part their own specific roles to play. The leader always begins with the left foot, the follower with the right, and the leader’s steps are "heel leads" - that is, the heel of the foot comes down first, not the toe.
One of the more dramatic, and very simple tango steps is the corte. It has a practical use when used on a crowded dance floor. It starts not with a step forward, but rather with the leader taking a step back with the left foot, the follower forward on the right. This puts both dancers into a bit of a lunge, with the leader's right leg and the follower's left held straight.
For the length of a well-danced and magical tango, we touch each others' hearts in ways words cannot. We get a sense of returning to a home where we belong, even if that home exists only in the depths of our souls. Then the song ends, the dance is over, and we return as strangers to our tables or sides of the room.
While the language of tango is filled with metaphors and colorful street poetry, its message is usually simple and direct. It doesn’t try to hide strong feelings under a layer of irony or indifference. Tango just hangs out there, and says exactly what it feels.