What is a tango

Tango is a dance that originated in the late nineteenth century on the banks of the Rio de la Plato, a large river that flows through Uruguay and Argentina. Music and dance began in the streets of Montevideo and Buenos Aires. In this regard, it cannot be claimed that the birthplace of Tango is Argentina, as the dance originated in the territory of two countries, Argentina and Uruguay. Subsequently, the dance in connection with the more active development and spread of music and dance in this country and in particular in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, became known as the Argentine Tango. This is due to several factors:

  • the difference in the size of the two capitals (Buenos Aires and Montevideo);
  • the number of population;
  • the influx of immigrants from Europe.

The term tango appeared much earlier than the dance with that name. The origin of the name “tango” has several hypotheses:

  • from the Latin verb tangere – to play a musical instrument, to touch;
  • from the Spanish word tambor – drum;
  • from the word from an African dialect, where it meant dancing to the sound of a drum, a circle or a confined space.

The influence of African culture on the name and on the dance itself is an undeniable fact, since Uruguay and Argentina were home to many slaves from West Africa (modern-day Nigeria, Congo, Kenya and Tanzania). In Buenos Aires at the end of the nineteenth century, African dances were preserved in the Negro taverns of the old port area. The locals adopted the African tradition of dancing and transformed it into their own style.

The story of the birth of the rhythm and tango dance is related to the dance of African-Uruguayan origin, Candombe.


The original sound of the African drums of the candombe dance gave way to the guitar and bandeneon, but the rhythm of the tango continues to be African.

Also, a great influence on the musical development of tango music and dance was such music and dance form as milonga. It is believed that milonga has Argentine and Uruguayan roots and a second name, “gaucho music. The rhythm of the milonga is more upbeat and faster than the rhythm of the tango. Originally, milonga as music and dance existed only in rural areas and was called musica surena, which means “southern music,” or “musica campera,” which means “field music” or “field music. But over time, this music and dance genre moved to the cities and already has a name as “musica ciudadana”, which means “City music”. Subsequently, the milonga form and mixing with other rhythms, grows into the rhythm and dance of the tango, and the word milonga itself remains and is transformed into the concept of a dance evening where everyone gathers to dance the tango. In this form, the concept of milonga has reached our days and is now used among amateur and professional tango dancers.

For the consideration of tango culture, one cannot not mention another music and dance form Habanera, because this form also influenced the rhythmic structure of tango. Habanera has Cuban roots and is considered a Cuban contradance.

Jorge Luis Borges, in his book El idioma de los argentinos (The Language of the Argentines) writes: “The tango belongs to La Plata and is the “son” of the Uruguayan milonga and “grandson” of the habanera.

The end of the XIX-beginning of the XX century is the period of great emigration of the lower classes of the European population to the territory of South America, which had a great historical significance in the formation of musical and choreographic culture of tango.

The considered direction is the synthesis of the European and Latin American choreographic tradition, dance forms of different rhythmic expressions such as waltz, habanera, candombe, and milonga. Synthesizing, these rhythms led to quite unexpected results. Street musicians spread the tango tune to all corners and neighborhoods, you could see people dancing the tango in the street, especially men dancing opposite each other. In this dance form we recognize the features of Spanish flamenco, where the dance is an emotionally intense dialogue without physical contact. In this dance, dialogue, confrontation, and clarification of relationships were born.

The main purpose of this dance: to study the opponent, to determine the position of the participant (conflict or friendship), self-demonstration, dialogue, conflict, struggle, the outcome of the conflict (the result is unpredictable).

Very often, this male dance transitioned from a dance without physical contact to a pair of dance.

The men were in a distant position from each other, arms were folded in a rounded position. One of the participants in the dance supported his partner’s elbows, while the other put his hands on top. The dance in this position already symbolized the struggle and distribution of dominance, and the situation during the dance could change in the direction of one or the other opponent, depending on this changed the position of the hands.

There could be many participants in the conflict, then the dance moved from a conflict of two to a mass clarification of relations.

Initially, the dance developed in the poor port areas of Buenos Aires, directly in small bars and restaurants, where men spent their time. But very quickly the tango conquered the higher strata of society.

This is evidenced by the fact that in the city began to open “Academies of Tango”, teaching the dance. From 1902 balls began to be organized in the Teatro Opera, the repertoire of which included, along with other ballroom dances, the tango.

At that time, actors sang and danced on stage in operettas and other small genre plays, and tango music began to be heard in these performances.

The nature of the dance and its movements were embodied in the rhythmic basis of the music. Tango music has a pronounced rhythmic basis, which is overlaid with a melody full of sadness and nostalgia.

The steps of the tango are always very clear and advancing, which conveys the rhythmic structure of the music. But for all the clarity, there is a sliding side of the step, which colors the melodic structure of the music. The clarity of the stride shows an offensive, defensive stance. The sliding side adds plasticity, lyricism, caution, possibility of dialogue, pliability.

Thin rhythmic fragmentation inside each bar creates special “heat”, “nerve”, stressing the origin of tango and the sense of “duel.

Characteristic for this dance are precise, whipping leg movements and taking quick positions in the couple. Very typical are levantomientos (lifts) of the partner.


1 The element of tango is fire.

The emotional richness of the tango structure is so high that this dance was able to conquer the world and was performed in Paris in 1907. From this period begins a new history of development of the European choreographic tradition of tango. In 1909, the tango was first performed together with the English waltz (slow waltz), foxtrot and wonstep (in the future, the quickstep) at the first unofficial world championship in Paris. At this time, the competitive basis of ballroom dance was born and established. It was then that the tango took its European form. The French composer and choreographer Camille de Rinal transformed tango in the traditions of the French ball school, adapted its performance for the European audience and created ballroom (classical) tango.

The main differences between ballroom and Argentine tango are: the position of the pair, the addition of rhythmic accents, marked out by the head (in the Argentine tango it is mostly legs), bringing to the forefront a rhythmic rather than melodic component of the music, the lack of improvisation.

Tango has Latin American roots, but as we see from the history of this dance, its development has led to the fact that there are two directions of this species: Argentine tango and European (classical) tango, which in turn has subtypes:

1. Argentine tango: domestic, competitive, stage.

2. European tango: stage, theatrical, competitive.

2 European competitive tango

In competitive ballroom tango, there are 27 approved figures that can be used by dancers in their choreography and connected with each other depending on the convenience and imagination of the choreographer. Over a century of existence, competitive tango has acquired new forms and features:

the complication of dance technique and choreography;

the addition of new rhythmic accents highlighted by the bodies of the dancers;

bringing to the fore a clear rhythmic structure of dance.

Contest tango is developing and is one of the most spectacular and emotionally intense dances of the European program of ballroom dancing.

Also, ballroom tango absorbs the features and movements of the Argentine tango – it is mainly the addition of small, clear emphasis of rhythm in the choreography of the feet.

Since the competitive version of the dance has a certain standard for judging the performance, in this form more can improve only technique of performance, musical interpretation of movements, psycho-emotional delivery of the dance to the audience.

Ballroom dance in the form of a show program has no limitations and in this regard has more opportunities to develop in the form of choreographic vocabulary. In such choreographic productions, we observe the synthesis of two cultures and choreographic traditions, such as the use of accumulated choreographic material of ballroom (classical) program and choreographic material of the Argentine school. This synthesis gives a new perspective on choreography and musical basis of tango. It gives more fantasy in the work of the choreographer, as well as more technical work on the dance material and emotional expression of the dance for the performer.

In my opinion, the future in the development of stage and theater productions lies in the synthesis of two choreographic traditions – Latin American (Argentine) and European.

3 Argentine Stage Tango

Argentine stage tango as a direction develops mainly in Argentina and represents theatrical performances on the material of tango music and choreography. This species is a tango performance, which has a plot, plot, conflict, development and dénouement. The whole plot is conveyed to the audience in the language of musical and choreographic tango vocabulary. The quality work and rich choreographic material of the director is always important in such performances as the whole performance is based on the choreographic material of one dance.

The fact that out of many existing dances, choreographers turn to the tango lexicon for staging performances, undoubtedly, speaks for the fact that:

  • this dance has a rich rhythmic and melodic structure;
  • interesting choreography;
  • emotionally filled character;
  • the opportunity to create a story that is understandable and exciting to the soul of the viewer.

The tango form is often used to characterize a character in a particular work of fiction. The nature and essence of the tango is so sensual and emotionally rich that it is reflected in film and literature.

There are numerous films about tango: “Tango Lessons” (Sally Potter), “Killer Tango”, “Tango” (Carlos Saura), “Tango Bar”, “Tango. Exile of Gardel” (directed by Fernando Solanas), “Naked Tango”, “My Sad Night”, “The Day You Love Me” (Carlos Gardel, Astor Piazzolla). And also films with choreographic and musical material of tango: “A Scent of a Woman”, “Australian Tango”, “True Lies”, “Evita”, “Moulin Rouge”, “Chicago”, “My Last Tango”, “They Don’t Talk About It” (director M. Bemberg, 1993), “Frida” (director Julie Taymor, 2003), “Dreaming of Argentina” (director Christopher Hampton, 2003). In literature, such writers as Jorge Luis Borges, Federico García Lorca, Joseph Brodsky addressed the subject of Tango.

Undoubtedly, the Tango is a historical dance of the XX century, in spite of its complex history of development, it continues to evolve today. This is due to various aspects:

the use of the rhythmic basis of tango by the greatest composers of the 20th century (Shostakovich DD, Maurice Ravel, Manuel de Falla, Astor Piazzola, Gabriel Fare);

enrichment of tango by the 20th century choreographers at the expense of lexical form development (Roland Petit, Maurice Béjart, F.V. Lopukhov, L.F. Myasin, I.A. Moiseev, A.O. Ratmansky, L.V. Yakobson);

directors’ appeal to the musical and choreographic material of tango when staging dramatic productions (“The dimensionless kim – tango” Moscow Hermitage Theater, “Lessons of Tango and Love” Saint Petersburg with Alisa Freindlich, “Tango. 

A Dramatic Experiment in Three Acts” St. Petersburg Malyshchitsky Chamber Theater, “Besame mucho” based on the plays “Lover” by G. Pinter and “Tango in the Desert” by N. Yakimchuk, St. Petersburg Dramatic Improvisation Theater);

the use of musical and choreographic material in cinematography to portray this or that character.

4 What are the trends in development?

Musical material.

Appeal of modern composers of the XXI century to the musical basis of tango and development of musical material in the trends of the new millennium.


Preservation of the historical form of tango with the appearance of new forms of dance as a synthesis of the accumulated choreographic material.

The structure.

Development of the dance content. Bringing to the forefront the psycho-emotional state of the human soul. The transfer of the emotional meaning of the dance through a more profound approach to the partner.

Lexical elaboration.

Improving the existing forms, developing the virtuoso dance technique, searching for the new lexical features – the interconnection with the music development.

What is tango slang for?

There is no definitive answer to this question as tango slang can vary depending on the region in which it is used. However, some common slang terms for tango may include things like “milonga” (a party or dance event), “cabeceo” (a way of indicating interest in someone by looking at them and then nodding your head), “giro” (a turn), and “contragolpe” (a move where the man steps back with his left foot and then steps forward with his right, while the woman steps back with her right foot and then steps forward with her left).

What is tango dance about?

Tango dance is a passionate, dramatic dance that is often done in close embrace. It is believed to have originated in the late 1800s in the port city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tango is a dance that is full of emotion and expression, and is often characterized by sweeping, dramatic movements.

What makes a tango a tango?

A tango is typically characterized by its rhythm, which is often played by a bandoneon, and its sensual, close embrace dance style.

What is tango in America?

Tango in America refers to the adaptation and diffusion of the Argentine tango dance and music style in the United States. The style of tango that has developed in America is typically more upbeat and energetic than the traditional Argentine tango. Tango in America has also become popular as a social dance, and there are now many tango dance clubs and classes throughout the United States.