Intensity, passion, intricacy and beauty are common words one hears when asked about the Argentine tango. This is also what I first thought of before I actually tried tango. However since beginning this latest dance journey, I have found some other words to describe it like traditional, complex, intimate and humbling.
How it All Began
Although there is some mystery surrounding the exact origins of Argentine tango, most seem to agree that it found its early beginnings in the seedy, dark brothels of Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century. At that time Buenos Aires was not much more than a small town. This changed when the Argentine government began recruiting workers from Europe to help build railroads and turn the small South American town into a booming city. As a result of an overwhelming majority of men immigrating to Argentina, the disproportionately low number of women present caused large numbers of men (both the working class and wealthy) to turn to brothels to seek out the company of the opposite sex. It is said that the high demand for the scarcely available prostitutes caused brothel owners to hire tango musicians to entertain the waiting men. While waiting most men practiced their dance steps with each other. There was so much importance placed on becoming a good tango dancer (and primarily to attract a mate), that just about everyone started dancing.
Unlike most dance styles that can be learned in a relatively short amount of time, Argentine tango is notorious for taking years (in many cases), just to be able to dance at an intermediate level. Most of the now elder dancers from the Golden Age of tango in the 1940’s recall the days of having to practice their steps in private, usually with partners of the same sex for up to three years before being good enough to dance at a Milonga (place) with a desired partner of the opposite sex. Many others have added that they would often sit all night without dancing a single dance due to the high standards held by their peers. This tradition still carries on today in Milongas around the world.
The Politics of Dance
The beginnings of tango play out like a dramatic novel. A culmination of drama, culture, politics, passion, tradition and the harsh realities of daily life helped to create this intricate dance and the complexities surrounding it.
By 1912 sailors and wealthy young men traveled from Argentina to Europe and introduced tango to the upper class elite of London and Paris, where it caught fire and became a massive craze. While tango was still spreading throughout Europe, back in Argentina a period called The Dark Age of Tango arose in 1955 when a coup ousted then leader General Perón, giving way to a new military government ruled by the upper class elite – who did not understand nor dance tango. Since so many tango artists were involved with Perón’s political movement, they were later imprisoned or blacklisted by the new regime after his removal from office. This had lasting and profound effects on the arts as some tango songs were banned while others had their titles changed. Curfews were imposed and meetings of groups consisting of more than three people were prohibited, making social dance illegal. In addition, new laws banning minors in nightclubs that played tango (but not clubs that played rock and roll), led to an era where hardly any one danced or learned tango. Young boys no longer needed to invest so many years to learn a dance to meet girls when they could do so quickly and easily at a rock and roll club. It wasn’t until after the Falkland War and the subsequent fall of the regime in 1983 that tango emerged from underground and people started dancing again.
Tango Takes Over ATOMIC
Fast-forward three decades to the present where tango fever has struck again and has set its grip on Orange County. Without any oppressive political regimes to contain its heat, tango fever has been spreading like wildfire.
Even I, who was not so interested in tango before, suddenly found myself seduced by its complex patterns and hypnotizing beauty, much like an unsuspecting creature falls into a spider’s web. Having studied and taught countless other dance styles, I have experienced a ride quite like no other since entering the tango world. Like being on a roller coaster, I have had my share of ups and downs, with lots of unexpected twists and turns. More on this later!
Right now the big news is the first ever Tango Week happening here at ATOMIC! (See schedule for further details). If you’ve never done it, you must come give it a try. You never know, the tango bug might bite you! If you have tried it and perhaps lost your way, this is the perfect time to jump back on the horse and get back on track. From April 6th through April 12th visiting tango masters from Argentina and Mexico, Luciano and Alejandra will be offering special master classes every weeknight, as well as an advanced workshop and private lessons. This promises to be a fun filled week that you won’t want to miss!