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THE DANCE

The older Tango people tell us that the true forms of Argentine Tango Dance that we know today started in 1938 to 1940 with the Tango singer Carlos Gardel.

The Golden Age of Tango took place in in the late 1940's and the 1950's. Recording companies set up offices in Buenos Aires and produced recordings of Tango orchestras and singers.

You may think of Argentine Tango as a smooth, elegant and glamorous dance with ladies and men in formal wear - gowns and tuxedos.

In reality the Tango originated with the Argentinean society's low-life. It got its start in the brothels of of the late 1800's in Argentina. Tango then travelled a rocky to respectability

Tango is not purely Argentine it is a mix of African, Italian, Cuban, French and Spanish. Immigrants poured into Argentina from Africa, Europe and many other areas of the world. Many settle in the surrounding areas of Buenos Aires during the 1880's, It has become well known that the city's houses of ill repute, the portenos (as they were called) became the places where these immigrants could unload the troubles and sense of rootlessness with drinks as well as find a companion.

More than four million immigrants settled in Buenos Aires between 1840 and 1940, and the dance mirrors some of these immigrants dance styles. The Milonga reflects the European Waltz, some French and Italian country-dances, the Cuban Habanera, and the Polka.

From this, intermingled cultural melting pot emerged a a very different music which became the Argentine Tango. It is accepted that the tango borrowed from - the relentless rhythms that the African slaves--the candombe--beat on their drums (known as tan-go); the popular music of the pampas (flatlands) known as the milonga, which combined Indian rhythms with the music of early Spanish colonists; and other influences, including Latin music. Some say the word "tango" comes from the Latin word tangere (to touch.)

It is said that the African-Argentine community developed its own dance style. It was a wild, frenetic dance with plenty of improvisation. It came for within the slave community of Buenos Aires. This dance was called the tango. Milonga dancers copied the steps from the tango into their own dance. It is said that milongueros adopted the term "tango" as a mockery of the slave's dance.

The oldest Argentine Tango was influenced by the Tango Habanera, which bears no resemblance to the Argentine Tango we know today. The Tango Habanera came about from two types of Tango: the Milonga with its influence in the guajira flamenca and the Tango andaluz or Tango flamenco. The Milonga was danced and played by country side people of Argentina. The Tango Habanera was an amalgamation of the Habanera and the Tango Andaluz or Tango Flamenco.

The rhythm of the guitars playing the Tango flamenco or andaluz could not be reproduced in orchestra instruments and with the piano, so the Tango andaluz or flamenco was modified with the habanera rhythm. The Tango Habanera was heard in 1883 but died towards the end of the century. The Tango Habanera has been entirely associated with the first forms of Argentine Tango. The flexing of the knees is associated to a dance called Candombe which was danced by the Africans living in Buenos Aires. The male Candombe dancers danced with their knees flexed, to show their dance skills using walking steps (corridas) and turns.

It is also documented that in the 1900's someone known as the compadrito created the straightened out forms of the antique Argentine Tango and created the traditional patterns of tango. His dance style and stance came from his manly view of his world at those times. The compadrito imitated the Candombe Dancers including their flexing of the knees, walking steps, and turns.

It is said that as these lonely immigrants and societal outcasts sought to escape from their feelings, they developed a music and dance that acted out these feelings. The woes of the tango sound is said to dramatize frustrated love, fatality, destiny, pain and sorrow.

Originally, the tango dance developed as an "acting out" of the relationship between the prostitute and her pimp. The names of the first tangos referred to people in the world of prostitution. These tango songs and dances had no lyrics, were often improvised, and were regarded as obscene. These tangos not only represented a form of sexual choreography, but often a duel, a man-to-man combat between challengers for the favors of a woman, that usually ended in the symbolic death of an opponent.

Tango has always been a dance of seduction. Since it originated in the brothels of Argentina it was a way for the women to try and seduce the "johns" into choosing them, and into giving up their money.

The wailing melancholy of the bandoneon - an accordion-type of instrument imported from Germany around 1886 became a typical part of tango music.

With the advent of the universal suffrage law--passed in Argentina in 1912--the lower classes were allowed to vote, which served to legitimize many of its cultural mainstays, including the tango. As it became absorbed into the larger society, the tango lost some of it abrasiveness. Tango became overwhelmingly popular worldwide - even in America Some ladies wore what they called "bumpers" to protect themselves from rubbing a bit too closely against their male partners.

During the first two decades of the new century, Paris went wild for Tango. This made it more acceptable to Argentinean high society. With its sensuous moves, the tango was still a considered a slightly "risque" dance by Europeans, but because they had not seen its evolution from the street, tango was not seen as "dirty". Argentineans looked up to Parisians as examples of high society, so when Paris accepted the tango as a fashionable dance, Argentina did too. Tango then became big in the cabarets and theatres patronized by the wealthy. Now the tango musicians were recognized as professional composers. Roberto Firpo, a pioneer, created the typical tango orchestra. He created rhythm played on the piano and double bass with melodies played on the bandoneon and the violin, and strong counter melodies and variations. Other stars of this era were Osvaldo Fresedo and Julio de Caro.

In 1918, lyric writing for the tango become the trend, giving birth to a star who is still celebrated five decades after his death -- singer Carlos Gardel. The memory of this attractive, mesmerizing singer has made him a major Argentinean hero.

In 1930, a sudden military coup in Argentina ended the citizens' right to vote, and thus largely silenced the voice of the people, the tango. During this time, a very pessimistic philosopher/singer of the tango emerged, Enrique Santos Discepolo. He is famous for the line, "The 20th Century is a trash heap. No one can deny it.."

Tango revived in the late 1930's when the Argentinean masses regained a good measure of their political freedom. They celebrated their social rise with the tango, which became a symbol of their physical solidarity and part of their daily life. Again, tango musicians emerged who took the form in new directions including Fresedo, de Caro, Pugliese, and Anibal Troilo.

The wealthy intellectuals, no longer just the working class, "orilla," now wrote new Tango lyrics. Their influence elevated tango to a more romantic, nostalgic, and non threatening form. It became a idealized memory of a time in an perfect society that never existed.

The oldest Argentine Tango was never danced with castanets or with a flower.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, because of the summertime heat it became a custom to dance tango at late-night milongas. Milonga is a Spanish word meaning a social dance and a style of tango.

Today in Buenos Aires or Río de la Plata, there are three forms of Argentine Tango: Salón, Fantasía, and one for scenario (stage). This has been the norm. With the internationalization of Tango, other forces have been shaping the Tango dance. The form known for stage, sometimes is referred as "for export", was aimed at English speaking people. Outside Argentina, people from North America had their first exposure with Stage Tango brought by the show and dance companies from Buenos Aires. At the end of the shows, the people asked for classes on what they had seen on stage. They wanted to learn what they saw on stage. Some of the dancers were available to teach, but knew only show routines. Other times seasoned dancers from Buenos Aires were asked to teach. They found it very difficult to explain that the correct form was to learn Argentine Tango from Buenos Aires rather than what they had seen at the show or on stage.

When Juan Peron rose to power in 1946 the tango again reached the pinnacle of popularity in Argentina, as both he and his wife Evita embraced it wholeheartedly. Yet, with Evita's death in 1952, the tango again fell from the mainstream spotlight. American rock-and-roll invaded the popular scene, and the tango again seemed out of step with its times.

Today the Tango has a strong and growing place in the worldwide dance community. Untold thousands of new dancers are discovering its mystery and beauty every year.

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