The Early Days of Tango

Tango dance Brisbane
Tango dance Brisbane

It was not uncommon for men to pair up with other men when dancing Tango during what was believed to be its Golden Age. The first thing that men learn in Tango is to be a follower, then, after about a year (and when enough expertise had been achieved) they would be taught the role of being a leader. People understood that it was generally because women were not allowed to go to practices which is why men had to practice with other men to prepare them in meeting women at the milongas.

A typical milonga congregation in the early days had more men than women. This means that the level of competition among men was significantly higher and, as a matter of course, higher skilled male dancers get to have a higher chance to dance with the girls compared to the lesser skilled ones.

The women’s part in being the inspirational influence of men for wanting to learn Tango was not clearly established at all. However, it was firmly believed that Tango began in the brothels, basing on the eroticism of the movements and the sex laden imagery of the song titles.

In the late 1800s, prostitution in different forms was commonplace as flocks of mostly male immigrants arrived, further elevating the demand in the sex industry specifically in the lower-class areas where Tango was believed to be born. Thus, men danced with men due to the unavailability of women and used their Tango skills to meet and attract women in brothels.

At that time, brothels in Buenos Aires were disguised as dance schools or cafes as they were known to be illegal. There, men danced Tango with women and engaged in sexual activities in exchange for money. The presence of men in the brothels were primarily for the purpose of obtaining sex with women and Tango just became a good excuse for them to be able to do so.

Alberto Castillo, The Singer of the 100 Barrios

Alberto Castillo, Tango Singer

Born Alberto Salvador De Lucca, Alberto Castillo was a renowned Argentine tango singer and actor. Before he became ‘El cantor de los cien barrios portenos’ (‘the singer of the 100 barrios’), Castillo was raised in the neighbourhood of Floresta in Buenos Aires. He was the fifth child of Italian immigrants Salvador De Lucca and Lucia Di Paola. At a young age, Castillo was already interested in music, taking violin lessons and singing whenever and wherever he could.

Alberto Castillo, Argentine Tango SingerAt 15, fate struck when he was singing for his friends and the guitarist Armando Neira heard him. Neira added the young Alberto to his band, marking the young man’s professional debut under the name of Alberto Dual (and occasionally, Carlos Duval). Castillo went on to sing with the orchestras of Julio De Caro in 1934, Augusto Berto in 1935 and Mariano Rodas in 1937.

In 1938, Castillo temporarily left the music scene to devote his time to studying medicine, but by 1939 he was back again singing for Typical Orchestra Los Indios led by the dentist-pianist Ricardo Tanturi. Castillo began recording in 1941, his first hit being ‘Recuerdo’ by Alfredo Pelala. A year later, Castillo graduated with a gynecologist degree and worked as a professional physician from his parents’ house.

Alberto Castillo, Tango SingerEventually, Castillo gave up his medical profession to be a full-time singer. His style of entertainment at the time was considered unprecedented–the way he moved on the stage with his handkerchief hanging from his coat pocket, shirt unbuttoned, tie loose, and bouncing the microphone to and fro. He would even improvise boxing matches when singing ‘Asi se baila el tango.’ One of his most successful recordings was ‘Cien barrios porteños (the one hundred barrios of Buenos Aires),’ which gave birth to his nickname.

Castillo’s popularity was so great that, in 1944, when he sang at Teatro Alvear, the police had to stall traffic on the streets. Castillo eventually split from Tanturri and became a soloist. He also was a lyricist, writing songs such as ‘Candonga,’ ‘Yo soy de la vieja ola,’ ‘Muchachos, Esuchen,’ ‘Cucusita,’ ‘Asi canta Buenos Aires,’ ‘Un regalo del cielo,’ ‘A Chirolita,’ ‘Donde me quieren llevar,’ ‘Castañuelas,’ ‘Cadia dia canta mas,’ ‘La perinola,’ and ‘Año neuvo.’

Castillo started his acting career in 1946, first appearing in ‘Adiós pampa mía.’ He appeared in several more films like ‘El tango vuelve a París’ in 1948 with Aníbal Troilo, ‘Un tropezón cualquiera da en la vida’ in 1949 with Virginia Luque, ‘Alma de bohemio’ (1949), ‘La barra de la esquina’ (1950), ‘Buenos Aires, mi tierra querida’ (1951), ‘Por cuatro días locos’ (1953), ‘Ritmo, amor y picardía’, ‘Música’, ‘alegría y amor,’ ‘Luces de candilejas’ (1955, 1956 and 1958 respectively. The last three films also starred rhumba dancer Amelita Vargas.

But even as a man of music, Castillo still spent some time as sports physician. In December 1951, he tended to members of the Velez Sarsfield football team, which he supported.

Castillo recorded music well into the end of the 20th century, recording ‘Siga el baile’ in 1993. He passed away on July 23, 2002 and is buried in La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires.


Juan D’Arienzo, ‘King of the Beat’

‘El Rey del Compas’ (‘King of the Beat’ or ‘Rhythm King’) was what they called Juan D’Arienzo back in the Golden Era of tango. According to D’Arienzo himself, it was the famous singer and composer Angel Sanchez Carreño, a.k.a ‘Principe Cubano’ (‘Cuban Prince’)

“The nickname Rey del Compás (Rhythm King) was given to me at the Florida cabaret, the old Dancing Florida. There Osvaldo Fresedo played, while I performed at the Chantecler, which belonged to the same owners. Back around 1928 or 1930 I met the famous Príncipe Cubano (Cuban Prince), who was the show announcer. Julio Jorge Nelson was there, too. That happened when I replaced Fresedo at the Florida. The pianist was Juan Carlos Howard. It was on those days that Príncipe Cubano had the idea of calling me Rey del Compás, because of the style I had.”

But before his rise to tango fame, D’Arienzo was actually interested in jazz as a young boy. He started playing the violin at 12, and later the piano. The eldest of three children, his younger siblings were also musically skilled. Ernani was a drummer and pianist, while Josephine a pianist and a soprano. Despite this, their father, Don Alberto D’Arienzo had many disagreements with young Juan about taking up law. Juan wanted to pursue music, his father wanted him to be the owner of a major agricultural production plant. However, his mother Amalia, encouraged Juan and sent him to the Mascagni Conservatory when Juan was 8 years old.

Tango Lessons near meD’Arienzo started playing tango at 18 and by 1919, he was considered successful enough that the Teatro Nacional (National Theatre) took him in. He premiered with the Arata-Simari-Franco company, performing ‘El Cabaret Montmartre’, a comic play by Alberto Novión. D’Arienzo did not abandon his interest in jazz, though. Through the 1920s, the last few years of silent films, D’Arienzo played at theaters like Select Lavalle and the Real Cine.

In 1926, he returned to tango, playing at the Paramount with Luisito Visca and Angel D’Agostino. D’Arienzo says of the experience, “There I started to polish the style that later was distinctly mine, that one of highlighting the piano and the fourth string of the background played by Alfredo Mazzeo.”

The Golden Age of tango was from 1935 to 1955 and has been closely linked to D’Arienzo. While playing a new tango called ‘La Puñalada,’ the orchestra pianist Rodolfo Biagi recommends they change the 4/8 beat to a milonga of 2/4. D’Arienzo initially disagrees, but that night, he arrived late and found his orchestra playing the tango to this new style.

“July 9, the public danced with such gusto that when the crowd, shouting and clapping, asked D’Arienzo to continue with that new style, the director had no other choice but to play it all night.”

D’Arienzo’s style caught the attention of the youth, which reinvigorated the tango scene.

Young people like me. They like my tangos because they are rhythmic, nervous up-tempos. Youth are after that: happiness, movement. If you play for them a melodic tango and out of beat, they won’t like it,” said D’Arienzo.

D’Arienzo recorded more than 1,000 tangos, milongas and fast valses, and composed 46 tangos. He passed away on January 14, 1976 and is buried at the La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires.

The Origin of ‘Adios Muchachos’

Brisbane Tango Classes near me

Composed by Argentinian pianist Julio Cesar Sanders, ‘Adios Muchachos’ was intended as a playful hymn for a group of friends, but since its inception in September 9, 1927, the tango has evolved in many ways.

One night, Sanders had been in a cafe with his friends in the Buenos Aires district of Flores. As the evening ended and they parted ways, one of them said, “Adios, muchachos (goodbye, boys).” Inspired by this, Sanders created the song on the piano and a friend, Cesar Vedani, added lyrics.

Brisbane Tango Classes near meWhen Sanders and his friends performed the tango in public, it was highly acclaimed. Many singers and orchestras recorded the tango, supposedly reaching 1,500 recordings within the first few months of its debut. However, a tango database notes that the song has had 118 distinct recordings.

The first recording was by Agustin Magaldi in 1927. Carlos Gardel recorded it as well in 1928 and the song became a hit throughout Europe when Gardel went on tour. The tango has appeared in numerous films as well as on television, including ‘Scent of a Woman’ (1992) and an episode of ‘I Love Lucy.’

The original lyrics portrays a very ill man on the verge of death, saying farewell to his friends while fondly looking back at his life. Below is a translation of Vedani’s lyrics.

Goodbye boys, fellows of my life,

Loved bar from those times.

It’s my turn, today, to commence the retreat

I have to move away from my good group of young people


Goodbye boys, I go now and I resign,

Nobody beats the destiny.

All the parties/mockeries are over, for me,

My ill body doesn’t resist anymore.


In my mind come memories from other times,

Of the beautiful moments that I have long ago enjoyed,

Close to my mother, old saint,

And to my beloved one, whom I have so much idolised.


They remember that she was beautiful, prettier than a Goddess,

And what a full of verve love, did my heart give her.

But, God, jealous of her charm,

Took her away, sinking me in cry.


God is the supreme judge, nobody resists in front of Him,

I am now accustomed, to respect His law,

Well, my life ended with His orders

Taking away my mother and my beloved one, also.


Two sincere tears cried at my depart

For the loved bar that never forgot me,

And giving to my friends, my last goodbye

I give them, my blessing, with all my heart.


Goodbye boys, fellows of my life,

Loved bar from those times.

It’s my turn, today, to commence the retreat

I have to move away from my good group of young people


Goodbye boys, I go now and I resign,

Nobody beats the destiny.

All the parties/ mockeries are over for me,

My ill body doesn’t resist anymore.

Tango Classes ToowongIn the United States, the jazz musician Louis Armstrong recorded ‘Adios Muchachos’ in 1951, but with the title changed to ‘I Get Ideas.’ Dorcas Cochran was credited as the lyricist and this version became an international hit. While it retained its title in Italy, the new lyrics have been criticized for straying too far from the original essence of the tango. The new words were more about a man about to be imprisoned for a year. This version was recorded by the singer Milva, whose interest in tango was so great, she was called “an Italian that loves Buenos Aires.” In Great Britain, two versions were recorded, one called ‘I’ll Always Keep You in My Heart’ and ‘Paul the Dreamer.’

After the 1943 Argentine coup d’etat, some changes to the lyrics were made by the military dictatorship. A 1945 recording by Enrique Rodriguez had the words ‘la barra querida (beloved gang)’ to ‘viejos amigos (old friends),’ ‘nadie la talla (no one size fits all)’ to ‘nadie batalla (no battle),’ and ‘todas las farras (all those binges)’ to ‘todas las fiestas (all those parties).’

The Dark Age of Tango

Tango dancing near me

Tango, just like many other art mediums, has also gone through a dark phase. When General Juan Perón was ousted in 1955, it brought about a myriad of consequences to the whole of Argentina. The new military government was made up of elite members of society who did not have an understanding of the mass culture of Argentina. Tango was not part of their norm. To them, it was the dance of the poor and inferior.

In addition to that, they seemed to have a prejudice on anything related to or can be associated with Perón. They believed that anything Perón said and believed in were wrong. Just like Perón, Tango was both national and popular and is something that can be identified with Perón as he had used it for his political campaigns. Many tango artists had been involved with the Pro-Perón movement and had been either imprisoned or blacklisted as a consequence.

A nightly gathering of men in the social halls of political associations to dance was regarded suspicious and was thought to be an undeniable disguise for political upheaval. As a result, the new regime devised ways to curb the growth of Tango, if only to cripple the opposing organisations and prevent an uprising.

Because banning Tango was impossible, specific songs were banned and some song titles were revised. The new government’s restrictive measures had put a strain on dance. Curfews were imposed and meetings involving more than three people were forbidden. It made things difficult for Tango with it being a social dance held mostly during the night.

Tango Classes BrisbaneThere had been one particular attack made against Tango that was very subtle yet clever at the same time. The military government started banning minors in nightclubs. What made it even more offensive was that it strictly imposed on Tango clubs only. For some reason, some clubs such as the Rock and Roll ones were spared. It was viewed to be a deliberate strike against tango as boys and girls abruptly stopped learning Tango and went to Rock and Roll clubs instead. Back then, going to dances was the way for men and women to meet. So, if they cannot meet through Tango, they will move on to the next club where they can gather and socialise.

The new regime, although particularly conservative, oddly enough supported and encouraged a rather rough and callous dance like Rock and Roll, especially during the time when the rest of the world seemed adamant in stopping young people from dancing to this wild new music. Why? Because it conveniently served its purpose to the regime. It was undeniably the biggest competition of Tango and they used it to their advantage and they used it well.

The dark era spanned from 1955 until 1983, the fall of the military junta which took place after the Falklands War. No one learned how to dance Tango in the period of 28 years that the military government reigned. However, Tango did not completely disappear. Tango just went underground and many people still went to dance. Some professional Tango dancers made a living out of teaching Tango and made choreographies for shows as an attraction for the foreign market. And slowly Tango was reborn.

The Origin of ‘Volver’

tango lessons near me

In 1934, French Argentine composer Carlos Gardel along with lyricist Alfredo Le Pera created the tango ‘Volver.’ It is considered one of the most famous and beautiful tangos as it has become a symbol of nostalgia for all the Argentines forced to migrate from their homeland.

Like many migrants to the United States, Argentines were seeking better economic opportunities. However, it was in the 1970s when many of them fled the ‘Dirty War’ and political and military upheaval. They numbered 44,803 people.

Argentine Tango Classes BrisbaneThe tango was recorded on March 19, 1935 for the film ‘El Dia Que Me Quieras (The Day you Love Me),’ which was also written by Le Pera and starred Gardel. In the movie, Gardel plays Carlos Arguelles, the son of a wealthy man whose only interests in life are business and making money. While trying to succeed in show business he falls in love with a dancer and they elope to marry.

In ‘Volver,’ Gardel sings about the pain and nostalgia of exile. The tango symbolises the fleetingness of life and the destiny of a man who is heading down the path of no return.

Only three months after the recording, on June 24, Gardel and Le Pera perished in a plane crash in Medellin, Colombia. ‘Volver’ is reputed to be his last song for his fans, a melodic and nostalgic piece for the adoring millions in mourning. It has since been surrounded by an atmosphere of veneration and superstition. No orchestra or discerning DJ would play this piece in a tango ball.

This tango has been covered by multiple singers, including Julio Iglesias, Libertad Lamarque, Los Panchos, Andres Calamaro, and Il Divo. In 2006, Pedro Almodovar’s film also entitled ‘Volver,’ utilized the tango, but turned it into a flamenco sung by Penelope Cruz.

Below is an English translation of the lyrics:

I imagine the flickering

of the lights that in the distance

will be marking my return.

They’re the same that lit,

with their pale reflections,

deep hours of pain

And even though I didn’t want to come back,

you always return to your first love

The tranquil street where the echo said

yours is her life, yours is her love,

under the mocking gaze of the stars

that, with indifference, today see me return.


To return

with withered face,

the snows of time

have whitened my temples.

To feel… that life is a puff of wind,

that twenty years is nothing,

that the feverish look,

wandering in the shadow,

looks for you and names you.

To live…

with the soul clutched

to a sweet memory

that I cry once again


I am afraid of the encounter

with the past that returns

to confront my life

I am afraid of the nights

that, filled with memories,

shackle my dreams.

But the traveler that flees

sooner or later stops his walking

And although forgetfulness, which destroys all,

has killed my old dream,

I keep concealed a humble hope

that is my heart’s whole fortune.


To live… with the soul clutched

to a sweet memory

that I cry once again

The Beginnings of Couple Dance

argentine tango classes kelvin grove

Couple dancing was originally sequence-based where couples dance the same steps at the same time, except maybe the Boston which was a rhythmic dance that was a more difficult form of the Viennese Waltz but never really became popular. Then came Tango and it revolutionised couples dance into something that we all now know.

Tango really set the standard of couple dancing that is widely known in the world today.  It was the first couple dance in Europe that involved improvisation. It came to Europe around the early 20th century and probably began in France when Argentine sailors arrived in the port of Marseille where sailors danced Tango with local girls. There had been evidence that Tango was danced on stage in Montmartre, Paris in 1905 but it wasn’t entirely felt until 1912, when Paris was taken over by the Tango invasion.

Tango Lessons BrisbaneDuring that time, Argentina became one of the richest countries in the world. It was ranked seventh, even higher than Spain or Italy in terms of average per capita income. Although, the overall standard of living in Argentina was high, the poor became poorer whilst the rich became even richer. It became a trend in well-off families to send their children to Europe to either go to university or simply just to tour lavishly.

As expected, young men frequented places they weren’t supposed to visit and dated women their families would prefer they don’t marry. And it so happened that these young men were pretty good Tango dancers despite the fact that Tango was still not acknowledged by Buenos Aires’ elite society. But when these young men danced in Paris, the upper classes fell in love with it and became an instant hit.

1913 was the year Tango invaded the world. It was the couple dance that everyone was dancing throughout many parts of Europe. But of course, like all great things, there were many who disapproved of it. Nonetheless, Tango had already gained a foothold and grew quickly. Victorian corsets and hooped skirts were gradually changed into less constricting clothing to allow women to move freely when dancing Tango. Vertical feathers in women’s hats came into fashion to accommodate a partner’s embrace. Tulip skirts that opened at the front became the new trend as well as Tango shoes, stockings, hats, dresses, and basically anything that would make dancing Tango easier. This also meant that the majority of the outfits were in orange as it was the colour of Tango.

Tango’s popularity in Paris and throughout the rest of Europe has transformed it into an alluring couple dance that roused the interest of Buenos Aires’ upper class, which eventually swayed them into accepting the dance. And because of this, Tango was re-introduced to Buenos Aires, its original home. This has been evidenced by a book published in Buenos Aires around the First World War which says that it was written to teach Tango as it is elegantly danced in Paris. This turned into a total transformation of the dance as opposed to the tasteless, indelicate dance previously danced by the Buenos Aires’ lower class.

Tango: More than just a dance

Private Tango Lessons Brisbane

Tango, once labelled as an erotic dance, was only performed in localities of lower class. Fast forward to the present, tango is now being danced by people from all social classes and is even dubbed as the most elegant dance in the world.

Private Tango Lessons BrisbaneTracing the roots of tango to the date that it was created or to identify the person who invented it is impossible. As far as we know, it originated in Rio de la Plata in Greater Argentina in the late 19th century. It was brought about by the collision of different people and cultures —a mixture of Europeans, African slaves and Peones (farm labourers) who all moved in to the seaport in search for a better life. This was followed by the emergence of Barrios (slums) and the sudden boom of prostitution that ultimately made Tango the artistic outlet of overall misery.

Argentine dancers and orchestras began travelling to Europe at the dawn of the 20th century. A “Tango de salon” was then developed in Paris as it was known to be the birthplace of trends and new fashions. However, it was still regarded by Europeans of the upper class as a vulgar dance thus it was not considered acceptable in the social norms of that time. In the later years, various standardised styles and techniques have been developed as English dance teachers formed a new version of the dance. Tango was officially announced cultural heritage by UNESCO in September of 2009.

Because new influences and techniques were mixed, European tango was born. Now, what is the difference between Latin Tango and European Tango? It’s all about the people’s attitude towards dancing. Whilst people in Europe prepare and make time to go dancing, things are far more casual in Latin America. People just turn on their radio while doing their chores and dance to the beat whenever they feel like it. It’s sort of a common occurrence in households where pieces of furniture are pushed aside to make room for the entire family. They never had to go to dancing schools or attend Tango lessons or classes to learn how to dance. They just allow themselves to be taken over by the rhythm. They don’t follow any rules and figures. They just follow where the rhythm takes them. They dance at family celebrations, gatherings of friends or even on the streets. Tango is virtually everywhere. It seems as cliché as a scene straight out of a musical but in Buenos Aires, dancing is basically their way of life.

In addition to the fact that tango has become more popular than ever in the last decade, it has now been regarded as a new method of treatment for neurological problems. A study has been conducted on patients with neurological problems and it was found out that dancing tango slows down the progress of some neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease. Tango improves the patients’ balance and enables them to walk backwards. And to top it all, it gives them joy and rids of their feelings of isolation brought about by their disease.



What Makes an Advanced Tango Dancer?

Advanced Tango Classes Brisbane

All tango beginners start at the same level but progress at different rates and in their own ways. They are all novices, often unsure about what to do first, how to walk, and how to embrace a partner. The first time at a milonga can be a harrowing experience for some as they take their first step into the world of dancing tango socially.

Ideally, it would take one to two years for a beginner to reach the intermediate level, another three to four years to reach an advanced level, and five more years to reach a master level. Then again, there isn’t really any standard as to how long it would take a person to progress into another level. It all boils down to their individual pace. Some would only take 3-4 years to reach the master level while others get stuck in the intermediate level for 10 years.

Advanced Tango Classes BrisbaneUnlike learning ballet, there is no prescribed order in progressing from one level to another. It’s just a matter of signing up for a particular class. It’s commonplace to find a variety of different levels of dancer in a single Tango class or workshop. Anybody can learn tango. Whether you’re musical or not, or whether you move easily or not, it doesn’t matter. You could be young or old. There is no right or wrong reason for wanting to learn tango. It may be to meet a potential partner, general exercise or the challenge of learning a new skill. What matters is that you enjoy the dance whilst you’re learning the basics and slowly discovering the wonders of dancing tango.

So how does one become an advanced dancer? Just like in any other domain, one has to have the passion and the drive to learn tango along with religiously following a routine of practice. However, one should not settle on just taking Tango classes or lessons. Going to milongas is also an important part of the learning process. On the other hand, if you keep going to milongas without properly learning the basics, you will only enhance your bad habits. It needs to be a good mixture of both.

Passion without dedication amounts to nothing in becoming an advanced tango dancer. This and, of course, good tango teachers to guide you and teach you what you need to learn are paramount. Unlike traditional professional dance education though, there is no standard way of teaching or a good way of dancing. It’s basically about what you want and what the teacher can offer you. Tango teachers are of every kind, not only in the style with which they dance but also the way in which they teach. There are no good or bad teachers, some are just more suited to different students. You just have to find the one whose style of teaching works best for you.

When can we say that a person is advanced in tango? Well, for starters, an advanced dancer has good posture, feels at ease when dancing, and someone who has a comfortable yet functional embrace. The leader is able to navigate around the floor safely whilst effectively leading their partner and the follower should be able to keep their balance without the leader’s help and complete their movements whilst maintaining connection to their partner.

We can say that a dancer is truly advanced when they know how to adjust their dancing to effectively dance with their partner, no matter what their partner’s level of expertise. No matter how good you are at dancing, you should be able to dance according to your partners ability.

Advanced dancers should also be musical, able to improvise easily, and, of course, someone who has a good understanding of the tango vocabulary. When you consider all of the aspects it takes to be truly an advanced Tango dancer, very few dancers actually can be considered such.

At the end of the day, however, whether you are considered an advanced tango dancer or not, it will always be about the connection that you create with your partner and the enjoyment you derive from dancing tango.