Tango is a partner dance and social dance that originated in the 1880s along the Río de la Plata, the natural border between Argentina and Uruguay. The tango was born in the impoverished port areas of these countries from a combination of Argentine Milonga, Spanish-Cuban Habanera, and Uruguayan Candombe celebrations.[1] It was frequently practiced in the brothels and bars of ports, where business owners employed bands to entertain their patrons.[2] It then spread to the rest of the world.[3] Many variations of this dance currently exist around the world.

Tango dancers at the Festival Internacional Viva el Tango, Montevideo, since 1987.
OriginRío de la Plata (Argentina and Uruguay)
CountryArgentina, Uruguay
RegionLatin America and the Caribbean
Inscription history
Inscription2009 (4th session)

On August 31, 2009, UNESCO approved a joint proposal by Argentina and Uruguay to include the tango in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.[4][5]


Video How tango conquered the world, 2014. Duration 2 min 42 s.

Tango is a dance that has influences from African and European culture.[6] [7]Dances from the Candombe ceremonies of former African enslaved people helped shape the modern day tango. The dance originated in working-class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The music derived from the fusion of various forms of music from Europe.[8] The words "tango" and "tambo" around the River Plate basin were initially used to refer to musical gatherings of slaves, with written records of colonial authorities attempting to ban such gatherings as early as 1789.[9]

Initially, it was just one of the many dances, but it soon[when?] 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.[10]

When the tango began to spread internationally around 1900, cultural norms were generally conservative, and so tango dancing was widely regarded as extremely sexual and inappropriate for public display. This led to a phenomenon of culture shock. Additionally, the combination of African, Native American and European cultural influences in tango was new and unusual to most of the Western world.[11]

Many neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires have their particular tango histories: for example La Boca, San Telmo and Boedo. At Boedo Avenue, Cátulo Castillo, Homero Manzi and other singers and composers used to meet at the Japanese Cafe with the Boedo Group.[12]

El Tango by Uruguayan painter Pedro Figari

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. Tango historian Nardo Zalko, a native of Buenos Aires who lived most of his life in Paris, investigated the mutual fertilization between the two cities in his work, Paris – Buenos Aires, Un Siècle de Tango ("A Century of Tango").[13] Towards the end of 1913, it hit New York City as well as Finland. In the U.S., around 1911, the word "tango" was often applied to dances in a 2
or 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 so-called "Argentine tango". The tango was controversial because of its perceived sexual overtones and, by the end of 1913, the dance teachers who had introduced the dance to Paris were banished from the city.[14] 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 a temporary decline in tango's popularity. Its fortunes were reversed later in the 1930s, and tango again became widely fashionable and a matter of national pride under the first Perón government, which in turn had a major effect on Argentinian culture overall. Mariano Mores played a role in the resurgence of the tango in 1950s Argentina. Mores's Taquito Militar was premiered in 1952 during a governmental speech by President Juan D. Perón, which generated a strong political and cultural controversy between different views of the concepts of "cultured" music and "popular" music, as well as the links between both "cultures".[15]

Tango declined again in the late 1950s, as a result of economic depression and the banning of public gatherings by the military dictatorships; male-only tango practice—the custom at the time—was considered "public gathering". That, indirectly, boosted the popularity of rock and roll because, unlike tango, it did not require such gatherings.[16] However, in the late 1980s the tango again experienced a resurgence in Argentina, partly due to the endeavors of Osvaldo Peredo.[17]

In 2009, the tango was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.[18]



There are several theories regarding the origin of the word tango, none of which has been proven.[19] An African culture is often credited as the creator of this word; in particular, it is theorized that the word derives from the Yoruba word shangó, which refers to Shango, the God of Thunder in traditional Yoruba religion.[20] This theory suggests that the word “shangó” was morphed through the dilution of the Nigerian language once it reached South America via slave trade. According to an alternative theory, tango is derived from the Spanish word for "drum", tambor.[20] This word was then mispronounced by Buenos Aires’ lower-class inhabitants to become tambo, ultimately resulting in the common tango. It is also sometimes theorized that the word is derived from the Portuguese word tanger, which means "to play a musical instrument". Another Portuguese word, tangomão, a combination of the verb tanger ("to touch") with the noun mão ("hand") meaning "to play a musical instrument with one's hands", has been suggested as the etymon of tango.[21]

According to some authors, tango is derived from the Kongo word ntangu which means "sun", "hour", "space-time".[22][7][23]


Tango postcard, c. 1919.
Choreographed stage tango in Buenos Aires, 2005.
Tango Dance World Championship 2011, Luna Park, 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:

Tango rhythm.[24]

These are danced to several types of music:

  • Tango
  • Electronic tango-inspired music (Tango electronico)
  • "Alternative tango", i.e. music that is an alternative to tango, or non-tango music employed for use in tango-inspired dance

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 1950s.

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 the execution of the complex 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 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 River Plate 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' was popularized after 1980 by a younger generation of musicians and dancers. Ástor Piazzolla, composer and virtuoso of the bandoneón (so-called "tango accordion") played a major role in the innovation of traditional tango music. 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 (electrotango [es]), 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.

New tango songs

Tango Porteño. Two Argentine tango street dancers in Corrientes street, Buenos Aires, 2020.

In the second half of the 1990s, a movement of new tango songs was born in Buenos Aires. It was mainly influenced by the old orchestra style rather than by Piazzolla's renewal and experiments with electronic music. The novelty lies in the new songs, with today's lyrics and language, which find inspiration in a wide variety of contemporary styles.

In the 2000s, the movement grew with prominent figures such as the Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro, whose creator, Julian Peralta,[25][26] would later start Astillero and the Orquesta Típica Julián Peralta. Other bands also have become part of the movement such as the Orquesta Rascacielos, Altertango, Ciudad Baigón, as well as singer and songwriters Alfredo "Tape" Rubín,[25] Victoria di Raimondo,[25] Juan Serén,[25] Natalí de Vicenzo[25] and Pacha González.[25]

Ballroom tango

Ballroom tango illustration, 1914.

Ballroom tango, divided in recent decades into the "International" and "American" 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

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 River 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 River Plate, and the theatrical movements of the pasodoble. This style became very popular in Germany and was soon introduced to England. The movements were very popular with spectators, but not with competition judges.[27]

Finnish tango

Arja Koriseva at the 2004 Tangomarkkinat in Seinäjoki, Finland.

Tango arrived in Finland in 1913. The tango spread from the dominant urban dance form to become hugely popular across Finland in the 1950s after World War I and World War II. 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 thigh, pelvis and 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, although rises and falls are optional in some styles. Forward steps land heel first except when descending from a rise, 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. Dips and rotations are typical. There is no open position, and typically feet stay close to the floor, except in dips the follower might slightly raise the left leg. Unlike in some Argentine-Uruguayan tango styles, in Finnish tango there is no kicking of any kind, and there are no aerials.

The annual Finnish tango festival Tangomarkkinat draws over 100,000 tango fans to the central Finnish town of Seinäjoki; the town also hosts the Tango Museum.

Comparison of techniques

A Dutch tango demonstration film, showing French Tango", the "Argentina", the "Promenade", the "Reserve Wave" and the "Habanera", Haarlem, 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 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 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 River 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 River Plate 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 River Plate, the ball or toe of the foot may be placed first. Alternatively, 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 River Plate 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).

Famous tango singers


Tango influence

Outdoor milonga tango dance party in the gazebo at Lake Merritt, Oakland, California, 2007.

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.

For the 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentina, Adidas designed a ball and named it Tango, likely a tribute to the host country of the event.[30] This design was also used in 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain as Tango Málaga,[31] and in 1984 and 1988 UEFA European Football Championships in France and West Germany.

In society


Tango appears in different aspects of society: regular milongas and special festivals. A very famous festival is the Tango Buenos Aires Festival y Mundial in Buenos Aires also known as World tango dance tournament. On a regional level there are also many festivals inside and outside of Argentina. One local festival outside Argentina is Buenos Aires in the Southern Highlands in Australia.

Gender and tango


Typically the tango is performed between a man and a woman; however, the two have very different aspirations within the tango. Women often looked to the tango to help them gain confidence and to help them find a potential relationship.[32] Men, however, looked to the tango for intimate reasons, and were known to be flirty and sexually willing.[32] Women, however, were primarily focused on the dance itself and became wealthy.[32] As time went on and the tango culture changed, women and men often wanted to travel and compete and also teach tango classes and then both women and men are viewed as equals.[32]

Gender roles also plays a big part in the mechanics of tango due to the tango needing a leader. But in more recent times this is being challenged due to woman not wanting to be dependent on the male for the dance.[33] In the early 1900s, there were often more male dancers than female so the dance was performed between two men. This allowed for both men to learn the leading and following roles of tango and adapt to both lead equally in the dance. This changed the mechanics of the dance to be closer to two equally leading roles between men and women or same sex pairs.[34]

A Queer Tango movement has emerged from the first Queer Tango Festival, held in Hamburg in 2001, to counter conformity to the traditional male-leader, female-follower convention.[35][36]

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:


  1. ^ Chasteen, John Charles (2004). National Rhythms, African Roots: The Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance. University of New Mexico Press.
  2. ^ Castro, Donald (January 1990). "The Soul of the People: The Tango as a Source for Argentine Social History". Studies in Latin American Popular Culture. 9: 279–295.
  3. ^ Termine, Laura (30 September 2009). "Argentina, Uruguay bury hatchet to snatch tango honor". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  4. ^ "Culture:The Tango". UNESCO Archives Multimedia website. UNESCO. 25 September 2009. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
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  6. ^ Miller, Marilyn Grace (2004). Rise and Fall of the Cosmic Race. University of Texas Press. pp. 82–89. doi:10.7560/705722. ISBN 978-0-292-70596-8. JSTOR 10.7560/705722. Project MUSE book 3020. Retrieved 2009-03-22.
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  9. ^ Giménez, Gustavo Javier (30 September 2010). "Expresiones músico-religiosas como mecanismos de legitimación cultural. El caso de la comunidad africana en Buenos Aires entre 1776-1852" (PDF) (in Spanish). Instituto Ravignani, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, UBA. p. 5. Retrieved 21 April 2016.[self-published source?]
  10. ^ Mroue, Haas; Schreck, Kristina; Luongo, Michael (2005). "Tango: Lessons in the Dance of Seduction & Despair". Frommer's Argentina and Chile. Wiley. pp. 76–77. ISBN 978-0-7645-8439-8. Also available from "Tango in Buenos Aires". Frommer's.
  11. ^ "Culture Shock: Flashpoints: Music and Dance: The Tango". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 2020-03-24.
  12. ^ Diego Ruiz (February 8, 2016). "El Grupo de Boedo: mito fundacional" [The Boedo group: foundational myth] (in Spanish). Desde Boedo. Retrieved June 22, 2024.
  13. ^ Written and published in a French edition: Paris: Du Félin, 1998, ISBN 2-86645-325-5. Reprinted in 2004, ISBN 2-86645-569-X. Reprinted in paperback in 2016, ISBN 978-2866458454. Published in Spanish translation: Paris – Buenos Aires, Un Siglo de Tango [Paris – Buenos Aires, One Hundred Years of Tango] Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 2001, ISBN 9500513137
  14. ^ Knowles, Mark (2009). The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances: Outrage at Couple Dancing in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-3708-5.[page needed]
  15. ^ Feinmann, José Pablo (2007). "Peronismo: Filosofía política de una obstinación argentina" (PDF). Pagina 12. pp. iii. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  16. ^ Denniston, Christine. "The History of Tango Dance". Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  17. ^ "Antes éramos todos cantores de esquina y jugadores de potrero" [Before we were all corner singers and paddock players] (in Spanish). Nos Digital. 24 June 2013. Archived from the original on 30 September 2013.
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  20. ^ a b Poosson, Sylvain B. (2004). "'Entre Tango y Payada': The Expression of Blacks in 19th Century Argentina". Confluencia. 20 (1): 87–99. JSTOR 27923034.
  21. ^ Megenney, William W. (2003). "The River Plate 'Tango': Etymology and Origins". Afro-Hispanic Review. 22 (2): 39–45. JSTOR 23054732.
  22. ^ Plisson, Michel (2004). Tango: du noir au blanc. Cité de la musique. ISBN 978-2-7427-4592-0.[page needed]
  23. ^ Thwadi-Yimbu, Esther (16 August 2017). "Tango Negro : et si les racines du tango étaient (aussi) africaines ?" [Tango Negro: what if the roots of tango were (also) African?]. Le Point (in French).
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  33. ^ "Dancing Tango" (PDF).
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  35. ^ Batchelor, Ray (17 September 2015). "Uncovering the Histories and Pre-Histories of Queer Tango: Contextualizing and Documenting an Innovative Form of Social Dancing". Congress on Research in Dance Conference Proceedings. 2015: 24–29. doi:10.1017/cor.2015.6. ISSN 2049-1255.
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Further reading

  • Ochoa Pedro et Cécile Boucris (2024) Dictionnaire Tango et du Lunfago, Allegre, Cap de l’Étang Éditions, ISBN 9782376131878
  • Davis, Kathy (2015). Dancing Tango: passionate encounters in a globalising world'. NYUP.
  • Kassabova, Kapka (2011). Twelve Minutes of Love, a tango story (English), Portobello.ISBN 1846272858, 9781846272851
  • Leymarie, Isabelle (1996). Du tango au reggae: musiques noires d'Amérique latine et des Caraïbes. Paris: Flammarion. ISBN 2082108139.
  • Leymarie, Isabelle (1997). La música latinoaméricana: Ritmos y danzas de un continente. Barcelona: BSA. ISBN 8440677057.
  • Nau, Nicole (1999). Tango Dimensionen (German), Kastell Verlag GmbH, ISBN 978-3-924592-65-3.
  • Nau, Nicole (2000). Tango, un baile bien porteño (Spanish), Editorial Corregidor, ISBN 950-05-1311-0
  • Park, Chan (2005). Tango Zen: Walking Dance Meditation (English), Tango Zen House, ISBN 0-9759630-0-7
  • Park, Chan (2008). TangoZen: Caminar y Meditar Bailando (Spanish-English), Editorial Kier, ISBN 978-950-17-1032-8
  • Savigliano, Marta E. (1995) Tango and the Political Economy of Passion. Westview Press, ISBN 978-0813316383
  • Turner, David (2006). A Passion for Tango (English), Dingley Press 2004 Revised and augmented, ISBN 978-0-954-70831-3