Born of life’s experience in the back street cafés of Buenos Aires, the Tango rose from its humble beginnings to dazzle at high class Parisian soirées. The emergence of the world “Tango” is shrouded in mystery, but the word is thought to be African in origin and denotes a “meeting place” or “Special Place”. The Cuban Habanera, the Spanish Contradanza, the Afro-Argentinian candombé and most of all the Milonga. All influenced the evolution of the Tango. In the closing years of the nineteenth century, Europe had been ravaged by wars, famine and economic uncertainty. With few prospects and little hope of a stable life in the land of their birth, many young men emigrated to begin a new life in South America. Many hundreds of thousands disembarked in Buenos Aires, the federal capital of Argentina.
Despite a high degree of prosperity in Argentina at this time, life was hard for the immigrants, being forced to live in the squalid out-skirts of the city. Despite this, the immigrants kept coming, and by 1914 outnumbered native-born Argentineans in Buenos Aires by three to one. About half of the immigrants were Italian, and about a third Spanish. Those new Argentineans of European descent shared common feelings of despair and disillusionment. This poured out into song, the song of sadness, nostalgia and longings, but also of hope and aspiration. The passion of the song demanded further expression in a dance, and then the Tango was born. The vast majority of the immigrants to Argentina were young men who eventually outnumbered women by fifty to one.
These young men were often frequent visitors to the “academias” and pregundines, low-life cafés where the waitresses could be hired for dancing. In order to attract the women, it became very important, for the young men to become good dancers and the men who could dance it well, acquired a very macho image. With no real dance academies, men would teach each other the Tango, exchange steps and practice together before exercising their skills to attract the women. Women too, would dance together to lure the men. The first instruments to accompany the Tango were the guitar, flute and violin, eventually, though, the bandoneon, became the crucial instrument; it has come to symbolize the soul of Tango.
The principal themes evoked by the Tango lyricists adopted a fatalistic view and focused on the trials of life as they saw them. The sentiments are typical of Tango lyrics, and express the sorrow of an abandoned lover consoling himself with drink. Carlos Gardel, who was the archetypal latin lover became the greatest Tango singer of all time. He was tragically killed in an air crash in 1935. After 1912, the fame of Tango soon spread from South America to New York, London and Paris, where Tango tea-dances became the rage. But as the war came to an end, Tango entered its golden age of the 1920s. Perhaps the best known and most enduring reputation was held by the legendary El Cachafaz who was revered by the public. The greatest Tango dancers of recent times must be Juan Copes and Marie Nieves.
In more recent times, Show Tango made its appearance around the world and over the years, it has grown less and less to resemble the authentic Tango of Buenos Aires. However, the uncompromising and daring character of the Tango placed it in immediate conflict with authority figures in Europe and Latin America, especially by religious, military and political people. A military coup on 6 of september 1930 in Argentina heralded a period of unsettled government, during which the authorities, nervous and anxious to control any possible criticism, started to ban any Tango which had any political innuendo, or any songs about social injustice.
During the 1950s, in Buenos Aires, the Tango went into decline, Peron fell from power, and the health of the economy moved precariously downwards. The immigrants no longer viewed themselves as immigrants, but as Argentineans, and the power of Tango to console nostalgic longing had waned with economic decline, there were less funds to promote the huge Tango events and orchestras typical of the 1940s. Tango was still played by smaller groups, but now the audience listened rather than danced.
Despite its reputation as a melancholic dance, Tango is a sensual dance which captures the full of human emotion, of hope, disappointment and life itself.