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Learn all about the Tango

What is Tango?

The tango is a slow, sexy dance that originated in the slums of Buenos Aires in the mid-1800s. It’s become a universal symbol of sexual tension in the movies, but most commonly, is a popular dance in ballrooms and nightclubs around the world. Although many variations of the tango exist, the most famous is still the original Argentine Tango.

History of the Tango

Like so many of history’s most popular and enduring dance styles, the tango’s legacy stretches back from its current cachet as a sensuous, exotic ballroom dance to its origins in the immigrant African slums of Argentina. No one knows for certain where the tango really came from, but it’s generally accepted that the word itself likely has African origins and that it evolved from the free mixing of cultures and ethnicities in working-class Buenos Aires in the mid-19th century. There, poor immigrants from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland, and Russia mixed and mingled with African slaves and shared their dance traditions with each other. Cuban and African musical styles and instruments were introduced, and an early style of the tango was born.

Later, wealthy members of the Argentinian elite who weren’t above slumming among society’s poor introduced the dance to their own circles and eventually brought the steps and music with them to Paris, where many had moved for education and leisure travel. Unlike conservative Buenos Aires society, Parisians loved and embraced the coarse, sexual nature of the new dance. The tango craze spread throughout Europe and soon landed in London and New York. Before long, even the most scandalized Argentinian matron couldn’t help but proudly claim the wildly popular tango as a homegrown phenomenon.

Over the years several different styles of the tango have evolved, including International, American, French, Gaucho, Ballroom, and others, but the original Argentine Tango remains the most favorite. Although its popularity has waxed and waned over the generations, it’s become one of the most famous dance styles in the world.

How to Dance the Tango/Basic Steps

The tango looks quite complicated, but learning the basic steps is quite easy. In fact, you’ve probably already done it at least once in your life — that’s how popular the tango is. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you learn the tango:

  • The tango starts with a simple walk: el Paseo (the “stroll”). Thus, if you can walk, you can tango.
  • The basic tango rhythm is slow-slow. Step on every other beat.
  • Keep your head and posture erect but not stiff.
  • If you can’t execute the more complicated moves while still keeping in time with the music, stick to the basic steps. Don’t sacrifice rhythm for fancy embellishments.
  • Listen carefully to the music! Because the tango is a very slow dance, keeping in rhythm is of critical importance.

The following is a basic forward walking step for the leading partner in the tango:

  • Step forward with the left foot. (Count 1, 2.)
  • Step forward with right foot. (Count 3, 4.)
  • Step forward with left foot. (Count 5.)
  • Step forward slightly and to the side with the right foot so that both feet are at an angle. (Count 6.)
  • Close the left foot to the right foot. (Count 7, 8.)

As you progress in the tango, you can add turns and other embellishments.

Great Tango Songs

  • “La Cumparsita”
  • “El Tango de Roxanne”
  • “Phantom of the Opera Tango”
  • “Orchids in the Moonlight”
  • “Tango Argentino” (Orchestra Tango Cafe)

Tango in the Movies

  • “Scent of a Woman” (1992)
  • “Addams Family Values” (1993)
  • “Evita” (1996)
  • “Moulin Rouge” (2001)
  • “Frida” (2002)
  • “Chicago” (2002)
  • “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (2005)

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