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Tango Dance Analysis

Tango dance is one of many popular social dances that also include Ballroom dance, Country and Western dance, and English country dance. Tango dance first came into existence in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires in the 1890s. It is considered as the grandson of the Spanish dance style ‘habanera,’ and the son of the Uruguayan dance style ‘milongo.’ The musical styles that accompany the social dance, also called ‘Tango’ (Wikipedia.org), were born out of the mixture of many music styles brought to Argentina by thousands of European immigrants. Tango dance, which involves very close contact between the dancers’ bodies, began initially as a sensual way of entertaining men by prostitutes in Argentine bordellos (Susmano).

The reputation and popularity of the new dance were quickly extended over a wider scope by theatres and street barrel organs, causing it to rapidly spread throughout Argentina (Wikipedia.org). It was only natural that France was the first country to which Tango spread from Argentina. At that time, Paris was the global focus of culture and science. Young men from all over the world were attracted to it for higher studies in its excellent universities, as well as for its vacationing and socializing enticements (Susmano). The rich sons of Argentina presented Tango to the French public for the first time. Parisian society eagerly accepted it. To women, it had an appealing sexually suggestive nature, whose attraction was accentuated by its introduction by wealthy, handsome Latin boys (Stewart). To men, the dance’s characteristic intimate enmeshing of male and female bodies gave it a highly erotic attraction, seeming to give them machismo power and control over women. The dance soon spread to other parts of Europe and became a hit in European capitals like London and Berlin. By 1911, Tango had overtaken the waltz as the most popular dance. Tango tea parties became a fashion in London. The reputation of tango even reached the Vatican, with the Pope requesting an exhibition dance to be performed before him so he could judge whether or not it was a ‘dangerous’ dance’ (Susmano). Tango spread to New York and Finland in 1913.

In Argentina, the development of Tango experienced a series of tumultuous stages. Tango’s image changed from a risqué dance associated with bordellos and prostitutes to a more refined dance fit to be performed in cities against the background of multicolored lights. The image of Tango brightened further when the cabaret was born. Tango music titles became conventionally correct with no sexual insinuations, as composers began to target an audience comprising the upper echelons of society, military officers, and government ministers to bring Tango into conformity with approved usage. Tango flourished after President Irigoyen came to power in 1916. Cabarets featured good orchestras and singers, refining the image of Tango and turning it into a dance performed by well-dressed, well-behaved, and respectable men and women in society. Tango’s popularity enjoyed yet another boost when President Alvear came to power in 1922. Government ministers increasingly favored cabarets as venues of amusement, enjoyment, and social interaction. The numbers of cabarets shot up quickly, the most famous of them being Moulin Rouge, Royal Pigalle, Chanteclair, and Armenonville. The acceptance of Tango was further enhanced when the cabarets began featuring a new group of contemporary musicians who were respectable, well-versed in Tango music, and expert instrumentalists (Susmano).

The decline of the Tango began in 1929, precipitated by the Great Depression that resulted in austere economic and political displacements. As a result, the attraction of cabarets (and Tango) gradually waned until they became nearly non-existent by the early 1940s. It was only in 1946 that Tango was revived when Juan Peron came to power in Argentina. However, cabarets were not allowed to re-emerge; Tango instead became patronized by the Peronist ideology with a strong backing of the middle and working classes of Argentine society (Susmano). The second period of decline began in the 1950s, caused by the onset of economic depression, the prohibition of public assembling, and the advent of ‘Rock & Roll.’ Tango continued in Argentina, but on a more subdued level in small gatherings.

Tango was rejuvenated in 1983 when the show ‘Tango Argentino’ by Claudio Segovia and Hector Orezzoli opened in Paris. The show was a huge hit that propelled Tango to international fame. Tango suddenly became a global craze, with people all over the world clamoring to learn the dance. The “Tango X2” company formed by Miguel Angel Zotto and Milena Plebs further increased the popularity of Tango. They developed a newer style, one that took the classical ‘milongo’ and made certain alterations to it based on an archeological analysis of the different tango styles. The resultant product was a huge success, causing a large number of the younger generation to adopt it as their favorite dance. The Tango hype was kept up by the many Argentine shows that traveled all around the world, such as the ‘Tango Argentino,’ ‘Forever Tango,’ ‘Tango Passion’ and ‘Tango X2’.

Three distinctive styles of Tango have evolved from the original 1890s version. They are the Argentine Tango, Ballroom Tango, and Finnish Tango. Each style has its unique steps.

Argentine Tango comprises 7 sub-styles, namely, Tango Milonguero, Tango Nuevo, Tango Liso, Tango Salon, Tango Conyengue, Tango Orillo, and Tango Fantasia. In general, Argentine Tango involves initial movement of the center of the body, while the feet follow to support the body weight. The steps are smooth and gliding, but follow no single precise rhythm, and can differ in timing, speed, and character, something that enables the dancers to change their dance from time to time in response to the music and their mood. The embrace involved in the dance is not fixed, but subject to adjustment according to different steps and may either be intimate or open. The embrace is characterized by intimate contact of the complete upper bodies of the dancers excluding the legs. Argentine Tango allows the dancers to indulge in special, unique actions like the ‘boleo’ {permitting speed and force of a forward movement to propel one’s leg into the air}, ‘gancho’ {wrapping one’s leg around the partner’s leg or body}, ‘parada’ {where the leader places his foot against that of the follower}, ‘arrastre’ {where the leader seems to trail along the ground or caused to trail along the ground by the follower’s foot}, and ‘sacada’ {where the leader’s leg replaces the follower’s leg}. Tango Milonguero is the most popular sub-style of Argentine Tango; it features an intimate embrace, small steps, and rhythmic footwork stressing a normally weak beat. The second most popular sub-style is Tango Nuevo {particularly liked by young dancers}, which is characterized by an open, elastic embrace that allows the leader to engage in a wide array of extremely complex figures.

Ballroom Tango is a derivative from the original Tango that became popular in Europe and the U.S. in the early 20th century. There are 2 forms of Ballroom Tango: English Tango and American Tango. English Tango, first introduced in 1922, is required to be danced only to modern tunes, theoretically at 30 bars a minute, which is equivalent to 120 beats a minute if a 4/4 measure is undertaken. English Tango is usually performed in highly competitive events. On the other hand, American Tango is essentially a social dance that focuses on leading and following techniques. Both English and American Tango involve a separate style, using more rapid, short movements {‘slow, slow, quick, quick, slow’ rhythm where the ‘slow’ step involves a ‘quick, hold’ technique where the dancer hurries to step, and then holds or stops before hurrying to the next step}, unique ‘head snaps,’ and moving the feet first followed by the entire body weight. Also, the intimate embrace is characterized by close contact from the chest down to the pelvis or upper thighs of the dancers.

Finnish Tango is a different version of the Tango that was first introduced to Finland in 1913. It always employs a minor key while dancing to music that epitomizes themes of Finnish folk music. Finnish Tango grew in popularity after 1913, reaching its zenith in the 1950s after World War II. The Finnish Tango version involves an intimate, full torso contact of the dancers in a wide and strong surrounding structure, accompanied by steady, flowing horizontal actions that are firm and strong. Dancers assume low postures, employing long steps without any up and down action. Basic steps involve moving the passing leg rapidly to rest for a while close to the stationary leg. Forward steps involve first landing on the heel. Backward steps involve pushing from the heel.

Tango Music is an inseparable part of Tango dance. It is usually phrased to 16 or 32 music beats. It is like a story, involving paragraphs {Major melodic divisions} and sentences {Minor melodic divisions}, while the ‘Tango close’ is the length of time at the close of the sentence (Heikkila). Tango Music’s lyrics, the tender feelings evoked, and the way dancers understand and react to it is very significant. Knowledge of Tango music style and composition enables dancers to perform with more self-assurance and jest.

Before 1920, orchestras conducted by Canaro, Fresedo, and Fripo popularized Tango music with famous song arrangements such as Fripo’s 1914 ‘Alma de Bohemio.’ A typical Tango orchestra {‘Orquesta tipica’} used the bandoneon {a large, complex concertina that is the nucleus of the orchestra}, piano, guitar, violins, and bass. In the 1920s two distinct lines of Tango music evolved: Classical Tango music that was founded on rhythm and ‘Decareno’ Tango music that concentrated on melody and harmony. Classical Tango music was attractive to dancers and suitable for dancing. Decareno Tango music, played mostly for listening pleasure, involved taking and then releasing tension and time changes interspersed with dramatic brief stops and accelerations, and was very difficult to dance to, which eventually resulted in it losing its dancing audience. The most famous composers of Classical Tango music were Canaro, Ricardo Tanturi, Rodolfo Biagi, Alfredo De Angelis and Juan D’Arienzo {called the ‘King of Rhythm’}. Composers like Troilo, Carlos Di Sarli, Miguel Calo, Osvaldo Pugliese, Sulgan, Maffia and Francini popularized Decareno Tango music. A new stream of Tango music called ‘Tango Nuevo,’ or ‘Neo-Tango’ or ‘Tango Fusion’ emerged in the 21st century. This music mixed Classical Tango music with current music. It was popularized by artists like Daniel Melingo and Carlos Libediniski (Stewart).

The world of Tango has produced some great singers. Male singers include Charlo, Agustin Magaldi, Vargas, Fiorentino, Dante and Martel. The most famous male singers are Ignacio Corsini, whose songs are characterized by his wonderful voice and non-existence of slang words in deeply melodic lyrics; Alberto Castillo, an eccentric gynecologist who hated the rich; J. Sosa, with a solemn baritone voice; R. Goyeneche, with the gift of altering the magnitude and pace of his voice that gave his songs actual life as if they were just written; and Carlos Gardel, the greatest Tango singer who is still revered today by adoring fans who poignantly claim that “he sings better every passing day”.

Great female Tango singers include Rosita Quiroga, Mercedes Simone, Ada Falcon, Azucena Maizani, Amanda Ledesma, Sofia Bozan and Tania. Among the most famous singers are Libertad Lamarque, an elegant, refined woman with a wonderful soprano voice that endeared her to middle and upper-class women; Tita Merello, who generated huge sex appeal and used humor in her songs to point out faults in society; and Susana Rinaldi, a very beautiful film star with the ability to vary the tone and pitch of her voice and time the words with the same accuracy as Frank Sinatra (Susmano).

The clothing worn by Tango dancers is unique in that the dress or suit must aid dancing and not cause disturbance to dancers’ steps. When Tango first evolved, Tango dancing clothes included full skirts for women and high boots and spurs for the male dancers (Heikkila). As time passed, Tango clothing became distinctly involved with 2 characteristics: movement and stunning appearance. An ideal Tango dress reflects the historic Argentine age with realism and recreation. The right split in the dancer’s dress or skirt is a must as it not only conforms to tradition but also makes it possible for her to dance. In addition, most female Tango dancers like to show off their legs, so the skirt or dress is designed to fly away in response to a sudden step movement.

Typical Tango dresses include crochet dresses with spot beads and fringe, halter dresses with spaghetti straps and irregular hemline, and leopard print gathered bandeau halters with back strap and double ruffle. Typical Tango skirts include spandex seamless skirts with cascading fishtails, A-line spandex shirts with asymmetrical hemline, and mini-skirts with elastic waistbands. Typical Tango Tops include crinkle chiffon wrap tops with shaped hems, stretch lace tops with spaghetti straps, spandex halters with smoked satin bands, and spandex cami with front ruffle. Typical Tango pants include stretch lace pants with nude lining, wide-leg palazzo pants, and flowing wide flare pants (Tangoleva.com). Ready-to-wear Tango clothes are available at many internationally famous ateliers such as Giselle Anne, Elina Roldan, Claudia Codega, Nancy Louzan, and Alejandra Hobert.

Professional Tango dancers hire the services of specialist Tango clothing designers {like Mona Estecho, award winner for a Tango ready-to-wear collection} who first draws a sketch, alter it after discussion with the dancer, selects the material with the dancer’s approval, measures the dancer’s sizes, cuts the material and either stitches it personally or uses professional seamstresses to carry out the job. Clothes for a Tango play are usually designed from the same fabric and need to be very showy because the stage is situated at a distance from the audience. For example, the play ‘Tango Vivo’ directed by Esteban Moreno and Claudia Codega, required men to wear striped suits and women to wear striped backless halter dresses (Graff).

Tango has been immortalized by movies such as ‘The Tango Bar’ {1988} starring Raul Julia, ‘Scent of a Woman’ {1992} starring Al Paccino, ‘The Tango Lesson’ {1997} starring Sally Potter and Pablo Veron, ‘Tango’ {1998} starring Cecilia Narova and Mia Maestro, and the documentary ‘Orquesta Tipica’ {2005} directed by Nicolas Entel that won the Audience Award in the Beverly Hills Festival in 2006. Tango fever is kept burning by events like ‘Tangomarkkinat’ or ‘Tango Festival’ that attracts more than 100,000 tango enthusiasts annually to the Finnish town Seinajoki (Wikipedia.org). ‘The New York Times’ writer Janny Scott paid arguably the best tribute to Tango when she wrote: “Tango is elegant and formal, passionate and intimate. It is about power and vulnerability. It is both a dance and a metaphor, and to its captives, it can become a magnificent obsession” (Susmano).

References

Graff, Sarah. “Interview with Clothing Designer Mona Estecho.” Tango Noticias. (N.d). 2007. Web.

Heikkila, Lori. “Tango History.” Centralhome.com. 2007. Web.

Stewart, James. “A Short History of Tango.” Edinburgh Tango Society. 2005. Web.

Susmano, Armando. “Two 2 Tango.” Gardelweb.com. 2000. Web.

“Tango Clothing for Tangueras.” Tangoleva.com. (N.d). 2007. Web.

Tango (dance).” 2007. Web.