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.
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.
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, 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.
Adiós Buenos Aires (1938)
The Tango Bar (1988), starring Raúl Juliá
De mi barrio con amor (1996), starring Luis Brandoni
The Tango Lesson (1997), starring Sally Potter and Pablo Verón, directed by Sally Potter
Tango (1998), directed by Carlos Saura
Tango salon Villa Urquiza
Tango milonguero (Tango apilado)
Tango Nuevo (New Tango)
Show Tango (also known as fantasia)
These are danced to several types of music:
Vals (the tango version of waltz)
Milonga (a related dance that usually has a faster tempo)
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 like Villa Urquiza style, 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 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 "alternative tango" music, in addition to traditional Tango compositions.
"Warning: tango contains highly addictive ingredients, such as pain, pleasure, passion, excitement, connection, freedom, torment, and bliss. In seven out of ten cases it takes over a person's life."
“A good dancer is one who listens to the music…We dance the music not the steps. Anyone who aspires to dance never thinks about what he is going to do. What he cares about is that he follows the music. You see, we are painters. We paint the music with our feet..”
"When you dance with a partner you are close and the dance is very suggestive, but it is not personal… Close is what the music inspire you to become. The embrace looks personal, but what we are actually embracing is the music.”
"Beginners want to dance like intermediates; intermediates want to dance like advanced dancers; advanced dancers want to dance like the greats; but the greats always go back to basics.”
"A good tango dancer is someone who has rhythm and who has a good musical ear. He also has respect for the woman; to know what to do at the right time with the right partner. He adapts himself to the woman. He makes her feel that she is the best dancer. He dances for her."
"In social tango you move with your partner and with the music. The relationship between you and your partner is not personal. What is personal between the two of you is that you both are trying to caress the music with your feet. A good tango dancer is one who listens to the music. We dance the music, not steps. You see, we are painters. We paint the music with our feet."
"Tango is not a race: there is no finish line."