Everything has to start from somewhere, and that’s just as true about classic Latin dance styles as it is about anything else. The tango is a passionate, fast-paced partner dance that has joined styles like the waltz and the swing dance as one of the most popular dances in the world. However, back when it began, the tango was simply how the people along Rio de la Plata in Argentina danced.
The Etymology Of Tango
One of the real mysteries of the tango style has to do with the name. The most popular theory is that it’s a loan word brought to Argentina by Bantu peoples, Africans who originally came from the southern part of the continent but were enslaved and brought to Argentina. The Bantu called their drums tango, and they used the same word for the dances they’d perform to tango music. However, other theories include the words “tanga” (meaning “festival”), “tang” (meaning “touch”), and “tangama” (meaning “leap”).
The Evolution Of Tango
People first described the tango style we know today back in the 1880s, but it didn’t show up out of nowhere. Several styles from Spain and other Latin American countries helped shape it, not to mention the candombe style that came to Argentina along with African slaves. Buenos Aries, which sits at the mouth of Rio de la Plata, was a hub of the slave trade back in the day, but unlike in other areas the Spanish in Buenos Aries allowed African slaves to perform their rituals. One such ritual was the candombe, a drum-based dance.
Up in Cuba, black slaves developed another dance called the habanera, which fused African rhythms with the Spanish contradanza. The contradanza originally came from the country dances of Elizabethan England, and both it and the polka from Central Europe would significantly influence modern tango. All of these influences would come together in the melting pot of Buenos Aries’ Criollo population, a group of mixed-race, working-class people who liked to dance on the weekends.
Developing Modern Tango
- The first true tango style is known as Tango Criollo. It takes its name from the Criollo people who danced it, and it still carries strong influences of earlier styles like the waltz and the habanera. However, it doesn’t have the full range of movement options you see in modern tango.
- Since tango first appeared among Argentina’s lower classes, their upper classes denounced it as a crude style. However, it caught on as an exotic and passionate dance in 1910s Paris, and here the style evolved into Tango de Salon. This style added more moves without losing the dance’s original passion.
Today, tango is a well-established dance style you can perform in the middle of a crowded ballroom or on an open floor where there’s only you and your partner. Tango music has developed right along with the dance, and throughout the 20th-century musicians have perfected the tango song. Today, tango has hit the mainstream in the United States and dance salons in America are creating some of tango’s boldest moves yet.