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The Argentine Tango: From Buenos Aires to London via Hollywood

23rd August 2011 Print
Argentine Tango

The Argentine Tango seems to be a phenomenon that has swept the UK over the past ten years.  Nearly every large town and city has a Tango club allowing members to take classes or attend a Milonga (an event where the Tango can be danced).  In particular, there are now a whole variety of places for beginners to experience Tango classes in London.
So what is Tango and why is it so popular?  The Argentine Tango originated from Buenos Aires in the 1890s, taking its influence from African rhythms and European music.  It was in the densely populated, working class areas of the city that the dance thrived amongst the mainly Spanish and Italian immigrants.  The bars and drinking houses of Buenos Aires would fill with mostly male immigrants, outnumbering the women fifty to one and thus making it extremely difficult for these men to meet a potential partner.
Of course, given such a huge disparity in numbers, many men remained lonely tangueros - and this sense of hopeless desire, of urgent longing, has remained within the spirit of the dance.  It is this passion, energy and emotion that attract people to learn Tango; the intense feeling of being close to a partner to enjoy the small steps and rhythmic footwork that fuses two movements into one.  Other men decided to learn the female aspect of the dance, which allowed them to become a more rounded dancer as they progressed to the male role.  The learning of the female role by men is still practised in some of Argentine Tango’s leading dance schools.

The resurgence of Tango’s popularity from Buenos Aires to London was largely due to the end of the military dictatorship in Argentina, which had banned the dance.  The country adopted the Tango as a form of national identity, which also helped reduce its perception by the wealthy classes as being a lower class pastime.  Since then, Tango clubs and classes have sprung up all over the world and breathtaking scenes within Hollywood movies such as ‘Take the Lead’ (Antonio Banderas) have taken the passion to the masses.

In London, Banderas wannabes have many ways to learn how to dance Tango; group classes are popular and add to the fun and sociable nature of the dance, whilst there is also an upward trend in busy London folk enrolling in private lessons to get to their first Milonga more quickly.  In fact, the British reserved culture means that many of us are too self- conscious to attend a class without at least knowing the basic steps first.  Motivations for taking up Tango can vary; from gaining inspiration from increasingly common dance-based TV shows and Hollywood movies, to engaged couples secretly learning their sultry moves to release during their wedding dance.  Whatever the reason and however the method of learning, Tango is sweeping the nation and here to stay.

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Argentine Tango