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The Origins of Tango


Guardian journalist Robert Elms summed up Buenos Aires as the heart of tango when he visited a few years ago:

"This is the "tangopolis", a swaggering yet blue city obsessed with the wheezing melancholia of the accordion, and the blazing footwork of the dancers. If you really want to understand the complex psyche of the Argentinean capital, you have to know tango. If you really want to know tango, master its moves and more importantly its soul, you have to fly for 13 hours and immerse yourself in this big, disorientating southern town. But then what a town!"

We can't help but agree. To experience tango in Buenos Aires is akin to experiencing salsa in Cuba, kizomba in Lisbon and flamenco in Jerez - there's no better place to learn an art form than in the place it was born.

History tells us that tango, the music and the dance, originated in the brothels of Buenos Aires in the 1880s. Occupied by immigrants from Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Poland, the city's houses of ill repute enjoyed live music in the shape of a violin flute and guitar, and if a guitar was not available it was replaced with a comb, a cigarette paper and an expert blower.

Like all good things though, the novelty soon wore off. Brothel owners needed to step up their game and they started to bring in different bands with a more sophisticated entertainment repertoire. The bands encouraged the punters to get up and dance and this is where tango the dance began. Surprising, the first organised ballroom tango dancing was for men only.

Tango spilled out from the brothels on to the streets and from the streets it reached more upmarket establishments until it became the pulsing heart of the city's music and dance scene. By the 1990s tango was enjoying massive international success and Buenos Aires celebrates its annual "Tango Day" every December. Even UNESCO has bestowed tango with an impressive title the "Patrimonio Cultural Inmaterial de la Humanidad" (Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity).

The people of Buenos Aires are immensely proud of their tango heritage and will always promote the differences between Argentine and other types of tango. The ‘original’ tango is improvised and is danced in a social setting (at parties called milongas) rather than choreographed for a show. Argentine tango's posture, embrace, improvisation, movement, balance, steps, and music are all unique.

By keeping tango alive, Argentine people are paying homage to their ancestors by way of a vibrant artistic movement. Tango is the symbol of the nation’s creativity and identity as well as a source of deep pride. And who can blame them – what a great thing to be known for.