Few dances stimulate our senses as much as the tango. It’s a dance that captures all the drama and zest of life. The tango is sensual, passionate, elegant and playful.
It’s a partner dance, so it’s coordinated and choreographed between two people. Often there’s a chemistry between dancers, where two souls meet and express themselves on the dance floor. It’s a beautiful thing to see and perform—a moving embrace.
As you’d expect, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on tango dance scenes and festivals across the world. Besides the inherent closeness of the dance and tactility of the dancers, many elderly people like to dance the tango or learn how to dance it. And statistics show the coronavirus is more hazardous to the elderly, even if dancing keeps us feeling young and fit. Despite the major setback of a global pandemic, tango communities everywhere have gotten creative in keeping the dance alive.
With COVID-19 curfews and lockdowns becoming the norm, tango dancers have gone online. Instructors give tango dance lessons using video chat apps, and there are many pre-recorded lessons to stream on the Internet. Although it normally takes “two to tango”, individuals can dance with invisible partners, mannequins or even stuffed toys and still practice their tango dance steps. Dancing partners who are couples in day-to-day life face less inconvenience, though naturally they miss the warmth of the tango community.
History of the Tango Dance
There’s a reason why the Argentine tango is the most famous of all tango forms. The dance grew along the River Plate (Río de la Plata) between Argentina and Uruguay during the 1880s. Today, Buenos Aires is considered the tango capital of the world. The “tango argentino” is arguably the purest variety of the world’s most romantic dance. But how did it begin?
Argentine tango music was seeded originally by African slaves and their descendants. Around the mid-1800s, when slavery was banned in Argentina, the term “tango” described any place where Africans gathered to dance. In the ensuing decades, an influx of immigrants from Europe mingled with Africans and Argentines and began to blend various dance styles. These included the African candombe, Cuban habanera, Polish mazurka, Euro-American polka, Spanish flamenco and the Austro-German waltz.
So, the Argentine tango dance was not invented overnight. It evolved. Many of the immigrants that landed in late 19th-century Argentina lived in poverty, and they were mostly single men. These men would often dance together, no doubt to lift their spirits, but also to practice their moves and impress the women who they vastly outnumbered. Inevitably, the tango moved to brothels and became the prohibited dance, unacceptable in high society. Today it remains a little risqué, but it’s as much an art form and means of socializing as it is a way of flirting. The tango encapsulates life.
When you hear tango dance music, what do you hear? And how does it feel to dance the tango? You’ll find the answers to these questions yourself, or answer them right away if you’re a seasoned tango dancer. But let’s have a go at defining what makes the tango special. More than anything, it’s the most romantic and passionate dance in the world.
Tango music is frequently played on a bandoneon, which is a type of concertina instrument brought to Argentina and Uruguay by German and Italian immigrants around 1870. The instrument looks like an accordian, but it’s smaller, lighter, and lends itself better to tango characteristics like marcato-style notes.
Argentine tango music is very rhythmical, so it’s ideal for dancing even if the dance is hard to master. There is a regular beat—an ebb and flow—that can be predicted and choreographed with improvisation. Most genres like the Argentine tango and the Milonga use simple music. Tango music is characterized by four beats in a bar, a repeated rhythm and accented notes. The net effect is usually dramatic, but tango dance music is not normally complex.
In traditional Argentine tango dance, males are masculine and females are feminine, and this is reflected in everything from the clothes dancers wear to the dance roles. The man traditionally acts as the lead and the woman the follower. This is for practical reasons as much as anything else, since the lead must be physically strong and supportive while the follower is usually the lighter and nimbler. The woman or follower beautifies the dance in many respects. But make no mistake, the roles can be interchanged, and when both dancers have a good control of their axis, the need for support can be minimum.
Although the male is normally the lead in a tango, he should never lead the dance forcefully. The lead choreographs the dance subtly and thoughtfully, allowing the woman (traditionally) to shine in his company. Far from being disrespectful of gender, the tango is a chivalrous dance as well as being passionate. During the dance, the male should protect, admire and revere the female.
The tango makes men feel manly and women feel womanly. It’d be false to say otherwise. The dance is empowering in other ways, too, making the dancers feel skillful, in control of their bodies, creative, confident. And for those that are just learning, it’s still fun! Of course, physical exercise is also a stress reliever, keeping cortisol levels in check and releasing endorphins into the bloodstream.
Tango shoes must be functional, first and foremost, but few people who dance the Argentine tango for long are content to leave it at that. Like the dance, the shoes are part of a dancer’s self-expression, whether they’re an extension of feminine sensuality or a show of masculine panache. The more confident dancers become, the more they’re likely to dress up.
There are at least three or four dozen manufacturers in the world who make shoes for the Argentine tango dance. Many of these manufacturers are based in Argentina and Italy. Examples include Madreselva, Comme il Faut, Lisadore, LaLucila in Germany, Darcos and Neo Tango in Argentina or Madam Pivot, Tangolera and SUR in Italy. Robin Tara shoes is a US brand. There are several UK makers.
Specialist shoes aren’t the only way to go for tango dancers. Many wear conventional off-the-rack shoes, sometimes adjusted for their needs. So, what should you look for in tango dance shoes? Here are some key points:
- Soles in tango shoes or most dance shoes should not protrude beyond the shoe, creating an oversized rim. The shoe should closely envelope your foot.
- Straps or laces are necessary to prevent the shoe from falling off when your foot is airborne or when walking backwards.
- A round front end is favored over a pointy shoe, aiming for a close fit without being too tight. Pointed shoes are uncomfortable for pivoting.
- The toe of the sole must be able to pivot on the dancing surface. Suede soles are often chosen for smooth dance floors while leather works well on other surfaces.
With regard to the last point, some dancers may have different shoes for different dance floors, and some use duct tape (aka duck tape) to make shoes glide more on grippy surfaces. You can also buy shoes with interchangeable soles.
Of course, the aesthetics and style of tango shoes vary between men and women. The lead dancer, often a male, needs balance to support the follower. So, if a woman dances the tango with another woman, the lead will likely wear a sturdier pair of shoes than she would as a follower.
Women’s tango shoes in their traditional follower role are very often glamorous high-heeled affairs with bejeweled straps and fancy patterns. But it’s far from obligatory to wear shoes like this. Many women prefer to wear flatter shoes with elegant designs, like ballet shoes. And if they’re taking the lead, a more solid wedge shoe may suit.
Men’s Argentine tango shoes are inherently suitable for the lead role, being flat and stable. But they needn’t be boring. Some men wear stylish sneakers provided the sole isn’t too grippy, in which case they can adapt them as previously described. And of course, there are smarter options like brogues or dress shoes. A wide range of styles is available, from understated to flamboyant.
In keeping with its romantic style, the Argentine tango dance inspires people to dress up. Women might wear a sensuous Argentine tango dress, or perhaps a halter top with flowing skirt or Capri pants. Clothes can be figure-hugging but shouldn’t restrict leg movement. Slit skirts are common in the tango for this reason.
A good place to shop for dresses is Etsy, since many skilled seamstresses offer their services there and hand-make dresses to customer specifications. In Germany, Folle de Toi is one Etsy vendor to look out for. Other places where you can buy elegant tango attire, such as Mimi Pinzon, Pepitango, and ConDiva.
For men, dress slacks and a collared shirt are common, perhaps with a waistcoat. More formally, they may wear a suit and tie. Smart casual is also often acceptable, so many men wear clean jeans and a dress shirt to practice the tango in.
Traditional Argentine tango colors are red and black. You might see this combined in a single tango dance dress, or sometimes the lead wears black while the follower wears red. Many women wear a red tango dress. Naturally, you can dance the tango without a colour code, but black and red do seem to capture the dance’s broodiness, sultriness, suggestiveness and passion.
Online Tango Lessons
In 2021 more than any other year, many people have turned to the Internet for their work and play. That’s certainly true for tango communities. As much as everyone wants to get back to normal, actually there are many resources online for tango dancing. It’s a great place to polish up Argentine tango steps or even take up the dance for the first time.
Choosing the right online classes for you might be tricky. For that reason, you might want to check our guide on how to learn Tango online.
Argentine tango has a culture of its own. If you explore its interactions you will discover unique ways to understand yourself and others. Moreover, especially if you want to develop your dance above the average level, there are many things you will need to understand about the dance itself and the way your body moves. For those reasons, it comes as no surprise that tango books play an important role in many dancers’ tango lives.
In general, you can expect four types of books.
Self understanding and social relationships in tango
The Quest for the Embrace, by Gustavo Benzecry Sabá is a great read as well.
Some other books are focusing on helping you develop the technical part of the dance. As each teacher is having a personal approach to teaching and a different style, such books give you great insight on the differences between one approach and another. This helps you develop your own style.
Tango Tips by the Maestros is a unique collection of tango advice by more than 40 world tango champions, judges of the world tango championship, and experienced maestros that can give you a holistic understanding of your tango. Another favourite book is Caminar Abrazados, which is accompanied by a 2,5 hour DVD so you can both read and see the instructors. Other books you may want to consider are Embracing Tango, and The Art of Leading and Following.
Spanish and terminology
Finally, there are many books that focus on helping you understand Spanish for tango and tango terminology. If that’s something that you are interested in, then The New Glossary of Tango Dance, by Gustavo Benzecry Sabá, and Tango Spanish and Buenos Aires Travel Tips, by Jeanie Tsui, might be two good choices.
If you are looking for practical musicality so you can understand how to dance better according to the music, while being at home, it is usually better to take an online class. You can check the section about online classes for some great material. LIIINK Having said that, if you are looking for something more theoretical, a book like Tango Stories: Musical Secrets, might be for you.
Finally, if you just want to read about tango for a few minutes, you might want to consider some tango blogs. In the Bautanz – Constructing Dance you can find unique blog posts focused on helping you create an effortless dance. Alex Tango Fuego is another alternative with hundreds of posts, since its creator blogs since 2007.
Finally, in the Tango Thoughts blog you can find heart-touching tango stories and insights in tango psychology.
The term “milonga” has different meanings in tango circles. In general, it refers to an Argentine tango dance or event. It’s also a separate form of tango music and dancing, dating back to roughly the same era as the Argentine tango. The milonga dance is looser but also faster than the Argentine tango, which makes it harder to execute. Sometimes, Argentine tango and the milonga are danced together at a milonga. …
Milonga meaning can be a source of confusion, then, but it’s all about context. Most beginners would learn the Argentine tango before the milonga tango, because it’s more forgiving. Naturally, the faster a dance is, the quicker you can get into trouble and faster you grind to a halt. Indeed, it’s often advisable to learn tango moves slowly until they start to become second nature, at which point you can get more creative with them.
If a milonga is an Argentine tango event, how to you find a milonga near you? One way is to browse the Internet, but you can also get in touch with like-minded dancers directly via the Tango Partner app. Using the app, you just swipe through potential tango partners in your area and send a virtual “cabeceo” to any dancers you like. At a Buenos Aires tango milonga, a cabeceo is a nod of the head that signifies an invitation to dance.
Find a Tango partner for the local milonga
Thanks to the TangoPartner app, new dancers in unfamiliar locations can connect with other dancers who know the local tango scene and can introduce them to communities and milongas. When the pandemic recedes, you can meet up with new tango partners and perhaps share a glass of wine before taking to the dance floor. What could be better?
Check this if you are curious to understand more about milonga’s beautiful and intriguing microcosmos.