Imagine……… the music starts, you take a woman in your arms (or a man if that’s your thing!) and you start to move, as if you are one. Every move you make is met with a response from your partner just like in a conversation. Your hearts beating in unison, your legs entwined and hooked together as you move silently across the floor, it’s just you, the music and the floor on which you dance. It’s as though you are the only two people on the floor. The music ends, and that bliss which is Tango ends, until the next song starts to play.
I first discovered Tango whilst on holidays in Seattle, USA. At the time I was walking home from a ballroom dance (a style of dance that at that stage, I spent many hours per week dancing) and heard music that was kind of familiar but different. Following the music, I found a group of people dancing Argentine Tango, a dance form unlike anything I had seen before. It’s funny how one can be involved in the world of dance and be totally unaware of other dance forms. The passion and connection created within the dance grabbed me and I quickly enrolled in local Tango classes. Three weeks later, I was back in Australia and eager to continue my journey in this new dance. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy finding suitable teachers and nearly gave up hope. Luckily, I found my first Tango mentor in Brisbane and then later continued my development as a Tango dancer in Sydney. My love of the dance continued to grow as I found myself dancing many times every week. Tango now takes me to different parts of the world to attend festivals as a means of continued development and enjoyment. The journey continues.
As the name suggests, Argentine Tango started in Argentina (although Uruguayan’s may argue that) and was first danced in the 1890’s. The dance originated in lower-class areas of Argentina. It would often be practiced between men before going to brothels to dance with women.
During the early part of the 20th century, the Tango found its way to Paris and soon after, London and Berlin. This is when Tango gained popularity with the upper classes.
Tango has had a chequered past in Argentina with restrictions in the 1930’s and then suffering another decline in the 1950’s as a result of economic depression and the banning of public gatherings. On each occasion, however, Tango has recovered and in 2009 was declared part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO. Today, thousands of tourists visit Argentina every year to experience Tango at its home and also to develop their own Tango.
Argentine Tango includes 3 different dances, Tango, Vals and Milonga, each with their own unique rhythms. Within Argentine tango there are also various styles that you may hear people refer to. Styles are as unique as dancers and I think it’s rather foolish to try to categorise either. Broadly speaking, Tango may be danced in a ‘close embrace’ where the torsos remain in contact throughout the dance or ‘open embrace’ where the embrace will be opened during the dance to allow more complex figures. As with any art form, Tango continues to evolve with new generations of musicians and dancers adding their own interpretations.
Tango is danced at social gatherings called Milonga’s (different to the Tango dance form named Milonga) whereby it is common for a couple to dance a series of 3 – 4 songs (called a tanda) followed by a short break of 20 – 30 seconds (called a cortina) before inviting another partner to dance the next “tanda”. Unlike some dance forms, it is most common for people to dance with a wide variety of people during a milonga. For an example of a milonga go to
Any form of dance is a great creative outlet as well as a means of socialising and increasing activity. Creatively, it allows you to express your personality freely without the restrictions some people may feel in life generally. It is a valuable skill to have from a social standpoint as it can help you to experience different cultures around the world whether that be through the dance itself or in meeting new people. It is also a great skill to have at social functions such as weddings and other celebrations. The benefits of dance for fitness include improving strength, flexibility and aerobic fitness (depending upon the vigour with which you dance). Posture, balance, agility and co-ordination can also be improved making it a valuable activity for people of all ages.
I continue to be amazed at the effect that Tango has on people. I have encountered many people who after ‘discovering’ Tango, have found themselves living in Argentina for 3+ months. So beware, Tango is addictive.
Tango can now be found in most cities throughout the world as well as a lot of smaller towns. Most cities will have a website with information on where you can dance Tango in that particular city.
As a beginner dancer, I was not very good, certainly not a ‘natural’. I struggled with most aspects of the dance but through persistent effort, became more accomplished. When I now hear people say, “I couldn’t do that” or “I’ve got two left feet”, I shake my head because I know that in by far the majority of cases, it is possible to become an accomplished dancer and enjoy the many benefits of dancing. I look forward to seeing you sometime on a dance floor somewhere.