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It Takes Two to Tango

The tango, that sensual and evocative partner dance is Argentina’s best calling card, but the tango is truly a universal social dance in both its origins and its reach.

The origins of the tango are challenging to pinpoint. In its signature rhythms are hints of Spanish flamenco, Cuban Habanera, Uruguayan milonga and staccato African beats, which somehow all fused together in the polyglot waterfronts of nineteenth-century Buenos Aires. Dance historians speculate that musicians first played tango to entertain men waiting for their turn at the overworked waterfront brothels. The lower class origins and associations of the tango made it anathema to upper class Argentines. The tango was the third “partner dance” in history where a man and woman faced one another and danced in each other's arms. The tango was far more intense and open to sensual interpretation than its precursors, the waltz, and the polka.

Dancing the tango takes skill and practice. The dance consists of a leader and a follower, but the execution is very much a conversation: the leader proposes a direction, but it is up to the follower to agree. Often known as the “mating dance,” the tango is tinged with something of a melancholy sense of longing that is never satisfied as the partners move in their elaborate curves and swirls.

It was the wealthy young men of Argentina, schooled in the scandalous tango from their forays to the waterfront bordellos, who brought the dance to Europe where it became a sensation amongst the upper echelons of society.  By 1913, the tango was all the rage: Kaiser Wilhelm II banned it after learning that one of his daughters-in-law was taking lessons. London’s top restaurants and hotels, such as the Savoy and Trocadero introduced “Tango Teas,” while nightclubs such as the Four Hundred made if possible for Europe’s aristocrats to dance the tango all night long.

The tango influenced fashion: women took off their corsets and raised their hemlines.  The divided “tulip” skirt offered a woman more range of movement, and hat decorations went from vertical to horizontal to avoid feathers and other accessories bashing a male partner in the face.

Argentinian society was slower to accept what was still considered a lower-class tradition into mainstream society. The political chaos of the early twentieth century saw the tango swing in and out of fashion with each successive ruler. By the 1950s, however, the tango was firmly entrenched in Argentinian culture, and in 2009, UNESCO declared the tango an intangible cultural heritage for both Argentina and Uruguay. Today, the tango is considered a way of life and a celebration of Argentina’s unique culture. Any lingering concerns in Argentina about the tango’s propriety were vanquished when native son Pope Francis publicly declared his love of the tango. In 2014, the pontiff’s birthday was celebrated by thousands participating in a flash mob tango party in St. Peter’s Square.

Tango is never hard to find in Argentina, where thousands of “milonga” host impromptu tango parties every day, such as the Placa Dorrego in San Telmo where locals perform tango and give informal lessons. To find one near you, visit for an updated schedule with times, places, and addresses.

Alexander + Roberts invite you to tango on our popular private Argentina vacation, Five Days in Argentina, which includes a visit to La Ventana for dinner and a passionate performance of authentic Argentine Tango. Speak to one of our knowledgeable reservation agents for more information, and to plan your trip to Argentina!

Posted: 9/6/2018 12:30:15 PM by Alexander + Roberts