American Tango

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Tango
Stylistic origins Habanera, Milonga, Polka
Cultural origins 1850–1890 Argentina and Uruguay
Typical instruments Accordion, Bandoneón, piano, guitar, violin, double bass, human voice and more
Mainstream popularity Rioplatense working class urban areas until the 1910s; upper and middle class cosmopolitan urban areas thereafter
Derivative forms Canyenge, Maxixe, Tango Waltz
Subgenres
Finnish tango, Ballroom Tango, Tango Fantasia, Tango Nuevo, Tango Argentino, Tango Oriental, Tango Liso, Tango Salon, Tango Orillero, Tango Milonguero
Fusion genres
Alternative tango, Tango Electronico
Other topics
Tango music A couple dance the Argentine Tango

Tango dance and tango music originated in the area of the Rio de la Plata, and spread to the rest of the world soon after.[1]

Early tango was known as tango criollo, or simply tango. Today, there are many tango dance styles, including Argentine tango, Uruguayan tango, Ballroom tango (American and International styles), Finnish tango, and vintage tangos. What many[according to whom?] consider to be the authentic tango is that closest to that originally danced in Argentina and Uruguay, though other types of tango[which?] have developed into mature dances in their own right.

In 2009, Argentina and Uruguay suggested that the Tango be inscribed onto the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists and in October of the same year UNESCO approved it.[2][3]

History

Tango is a dance that has influences from European and African culture.[4] Dances from the candombe ceremonies of former slave peoples helped shape the modern day Tango. The dance originated in lower-class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The music derived from the fusion of various forms of music from Europe.[5] The word "tango" seems to have first been used in connection with the dance in the 1890s. 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, primarily Italians, Spanish and French.[6]

In the early years of the 20th century, dancers and orchestras from Buenos Aires travelled to Europe, and the first European tango craze took place in Paris, soon followed by London, Berlin, and other capitals. Towards the end of 1913 it hit New York in the USA, and Finland. In the USA around 1911 the word "tango" was often applied to dances in a 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm such as the one-step. The term was fashionable and did not indicate that tango steps would be used in the dance, although they might be. Tango music was sometimes played, but at a rather fast tempo. Instructors of the period would sometimes refer to this as a "North American tango", versus the "Rio de la Plata tango". By 1914 more authentic tango stylings were soon developed[which?], along with some variations like Albert Newman's "Minuet" tango.

In Argentina, the onset in 1929 of the Great Depression, and restrictions introduced after the overthrow of the Hipólito Yrigoyen government in 1930 caused tango to decline. Its fortunes were reversed as tango again became widely fashionable and a matter of national pride under the government of Juan Perón. Tango declined again in the 1950s with economic depression and as the military dictatorships banned public gatherings, followed by the popularity of rock and roll.

In 2009 the tango was declared as part of the world's "intangible cultural heritage" by UNESCO.[7]

Styles

Tango postcard, c. 1919
Tango Show in Buenos Aires

The Tango consists of a variety of styles that developed in different regions and eras of Argentina as well as in other locations around the world. The dance developed in response to many cultural elements, such as the crowding of the venue and even the fashions 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).

Different styles of Tango are:

These are danced to several types of music:

The "milonguero" style is characterized by a very close embrace, small steps, and syncopated rhythmic footwork. It is based on the petitero or caquero style of the crowded downtown clubs of the '50s.

In contrast, the tango that originated in the family clubs of the suburban neighborhoods (Villa Urquiza/Devoto/Avellaneda etc.) emphasizes long elegant steps, and complex figures. In this case the embrace may be allowed to open briefly, to permit execution of the complicated footwork.

The complex figures of this style became the basis for a theatrical performance style of Tango seen in the touring stage shows. For stage purposes, the embrace is often very open, and the complex footwork is augmented with gymnastic lifts, kicks, and drops.

A newer style sometimes called tango nuevo or "new tango", has been popularized in recent years by a younger generation of dancers. The embrace is often quite open and very elastic, permitting the leader to lead a large variety of very complex figures. This style is often associated with those who enjoy dancing to jazz- and techno-tinged "alternative tango" music, in addition to traditional Tango compositions.

Tango de Salon (Salon Tango)

Tango Canyengue

Tango canyengue is a rhythmic style of tango that originated in the early 1900s and is still popular today. It is one of the original roots styles of tango and contains all fundamental elements of traditional Tango from the Rio de la Plata region (Uruguay and Argentina). In tango canyengue the dancers share one axis, dance in a closed embrace, and with the legs relaxed and slightly bent. Tango canyengue uses body dissociation for the leading, walking with firm ground contact, and a permanent combination of on- and off-beat rhythm. Its main characteristics are its musicality and playfulness. Its rhythm is described as "incisive, exciting, provocative". The complex figures of this style became the basis for a theatrical performance style of Tango seen in the touring stage shows. For stage purposes, the embrace is often very open, and the complex footwork is augmented with gymnastic lifts, kicks, and drops.

Tango nuevo

A newer style sometimes called tango nuevo or "new tango" has been popularized in recent years by a younger generation of dancers. The embrace is often quite open and very elastic, permitting the leader to initiate a great variety of very complex figures. This style is often associated with those who enjoy dancing to jazz- and techno-tinged, electronic and alternative music inspired in old tangos, in addition to traditional Tango compositions.

Tango nuevo is largely fueled by a fusion between tango music and electronica, though the style can be adapted to traditional tango and even non-tango songs. Gotan Project released its first tango fusion album in 2000, quickly following with La Revancha del Tango in 2001. Bajofondo Tango Club, a Rioplatense music band consisting of seven musicians from Argentina and Uruguay, released their first album in 2002. Tanghetto's album Emigrante (electrotango) appeared in 2003 and was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2004. These and other electronic tango fusion songs bring an element of revitalization to the tango dance, serving to attract a younger group of dancers.

Ballroom tango

Ballroom tango illustration, 1914.

Ballroom tango, divided in recent decades into the "International" (English) and "European" styles, has descended from the tango styles that developed when the tango first went abroad to Europe and North America. The dance was simplified, adapted to the preferences of conventional ballroom dancers, and incorporated into the repertoire used in International Ballroom dance competitions. English tango was first codified in October 1922, when it was proposed that it should only be danced to modern tunes, ideally at 30 bars per minute (i.e. 120 beats per minute – assuming a 4/4 measure).

Subsequently the English tango evolved mainly as a highly competitive dance, while the American tango evolved as an unjudged social dance with an emphasis on leading and following skills. This has led to some principal distinctions in basic technique and style. Nevertheless there are quite a few competitions held in the American style, and of course mutual borrowing of technique and dance patterns happens all the time.

Ballroom tangos use different music and styling from the tangos from the Rio de la Plata region (Uruguay and Argentina), with more staccato movements and the characteristic "head snaps". The head snaps are totally foreign to Argentine and Uruguayan tango, and were introduced in 1934 under the influence of a similar movement in the legs and feet of the tango from the Rio de la Plata, and the theatrical movements of the pasodoble. This style became very popular in Germany and was soon introduced to England, one of the first proponents being Mr Camp. The movements were very popular with spectators, but not with competition judges.[8]

Finnish tango

The tango spread from the dominant urban dance form to become hugely popular across Finland in the 1950s after World War 1 and World War 2. The melancholy tone of the music reflects the themes of Finnish folk poetry; Finnish tango is almost always in a minor key.

The tango is danced in very close full upper body contact in a wide and strong frame, and features smooth horizontal movements that are very strong and determined. Dancers are very low, allowing long steps without any up and down movement. Forward steps land heel first, and in backward steps dancers push from the heel. In basic steps, the passing leg moves quickly to rest for a moment close to the grounded leg.

Each year Finnish the tango festival, Tangomarkkinat, draws over 100,000 tangophiles to the central Finnish town of Seinäjoki, which also hosts the Tango Museum.

Queer tango

Queer tango is a new way to dance Argentine tango free from traditional heteronormative codes. Its proposal is to dance tango without pre-established roles according to the gender of the dancers and to perform the exchange of leader and follower. Therefore it is also called open role or same-sex tango. The queer tango movement permits not only an access to tango for the LGBT-community, but also opens new possibilities for heterosexual dancers: women learn the lead, men learn the follow.

Let´s Tango

In the dance-, music- and songfestival Let's Tango, there are courses and dance exhibitions in all forms of tango. There is are championships in both Finnish/Nordic tango song and tango dancing. The Let's Tango-festival is held annually in August in Karlstad, Sweden. For more information see http://www.tangofestival.nu

Comparison of techniques

A tango demonstration film from 1930

Argentine, Uruguayan, and Ballroom Tango use very different techniques. In Argentine and Uruguayan tango, the body's center moves first, then the feet reach to support it. In ballroom tango, the body is initially set in motion across the floor through the flexing of the lower joints (hip, knee, ankle) while the feet are delayed, then the feet move quickly to catch the body, resulting in snatching or striking action that reflects the staccato nature of this style's preferred music.

In tango, the steps are typically more gliding, but can vary widely in timing, speed, and character, and follow no single specific rhythm. Because the dance is led and followed at the level of individual steps, these variations can occur from one step to the next. 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) and their mood. The very good Argentine Tango dancer knows to lead and does this in the way that the foot steps of him and of his partner steps into the music as dancing the sheet of music, like being a further instrument. One of the very interesting parts of the Argentine Tango is, that man and women does not dance the same part as in a mirror. He can lead her other elements, then he will dance himself and combines them to new combinations.

The Tango's frame, called an abrazo or "embrace," is not rigid, but flexibly adjusts to different steps, and may vary from being quite close, to offset in a "V" frame, to open. The flexibility is as important as is all movement in dance. The American Ballroom Tango's frame is flexible too, but experienced dancers frequently dance in closed position: higher in the elbows, tone in the arms and constant connection through the body. When dancing socially with a beginners, however, it may be better to use a more open position because the close position is too intimate for them. In American Tango open position may result in open breaks, pivots, and turns which are quite foreign in Argentine tango and International (English) tango.

There is a closed position as in other types of ballroom dance, but it differs significantly between types of tango. In Tango from the Rio de la Plata region, the "close embrace" involves continuous contact at the full upper body, but not the legs. In American Ballroom tango, the "close embrace" involves close contact in the pelvis or upper thighs, but not the upper body. Followers are instructed to thrust their hips forward, but pull their upper body away, and shyly look over their left shoulder when they are led into a "corte."

In tango from the Rio de la Plata region, the open position, the legs may be intertwined and hooked together, in the style of Pulpo (the Octopus). In Pulpo's style, these hooks are not sharp, but smooth ganchos.

In Tango from the Rio de la Plata, Uruguay and Argentina, the ball or toe of the foot may be placed first. Alternately, the dancer may take the floor with the entire foot in a cat-like manner. In the International style of Tango, "heel leads" (stepping first onto the heel, then the whole foot) are used for forward steps.

Ballroom tango steps stay close to the floor, while the Rio de la Plata Tango (Uruguayan and Argentine) includes moves such as the boleo (allowing momentum to carry one's leg into the air) and gancho (hooking one's leg around one's partner's leg or body) in which the feet travel off the ground. Both Uruguayan and Argentine tango features other vocabulary foreign to ballroom, such as the parada (in which the leader puts his foot against the follower's foot), the arrastre (in which the leader appears to drag or be dragged by the follower's foot), and several kinds of sacada (in which the leader displaces the follower's leg by stepping into her space).

Finnish tango is closer to the one from the Rio de la Plata than to ballroom in its technique and vocabulary. Other regional variations are based on the Argentine style as well.

Tango influence

Music and dance elements of tango are popular in activities related to gymnastics, figure skating, synchronized swimming, etc., because of its dramatic feeling and its cultural associations with romance.

Mural of Carlos Gardel painted by Uruguayan Carlos Páez Vilaró

For 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentina, Adidas designed a ball and named it Tango[9] likely a tribute to the host country of the event. This design was also used in 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain as Tango Málaga,[10] and in 1984 and 1988 UEFA European Football Championships in France and West Germany.

Health benefits

Tango from the region of Rio de la Plata was seen in one study to help heal neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease in a manner that was greater than the same amount of regular exercise.[11] Parkinson's sufferers given tango classes showed improvements in balance and other measures not seen in another group of patients given regular exercise classes.[11] The researchers said that while dance in general may be beneficial, tango uses several forms of movement especially relevant for Parkinson's disease patients including dynamic balance, turning, initiation of movement, moving at a variety of speeds and walking backward.[12] The study authors wrote in 2007 that more research was needed to confirm the benefits observed in the small sample population.[13] It has also been suggested that tango makes people feel more relaxed, sexier, and less depressed, and to increase testosterone levels.[14]

Tango in film

Argentine tango is the main subject in these films:

A number of films show tango in several scenes, such as:

Finnish tango is featured to a greater or lesser extent in the following films:

Casual, unchoreographed Argentine social style at an outdoor tango party

Books