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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Argentine Tango – a Language of Movement and Passion


No other dance evokes so much passion than Argentine Tango. It is not merely a series of movements but a language all on its own. In fact, during the 8th Tango Dance World Championship held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the winners of the 2010 Mundial de Tango were dance partners who spoke little of each other’s mother tongue. However, they did speak a fluent language, the language of Tango.

Dancers, 21 year-old Diego Ortega and 42-year old Chizuko Kuwamoto, barely understood each other verbally. But when it came to the dance, they completely understood what each other was saying based on their movements. They share their feelings and emotions through each touch, step, sway, look, and breath on the dance floor.

The Argentine Tango history

Argentine Tango is a very exacting dance with precise movements and steps. A dance believed to have been born in Rio de la Plata some 100 years ago, it has since become a symbol of the Argentinian soul and part of the country’s national character. In 2009, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO, declared Argentine Tango as part of the cultural heritage of the world.

The word “tango” is believed to have come from one of the African languages. It means, “closed space.” In the middle of the 19th century, a big percentage of the population of Buenos Aires was black owing to the fact that the city served as a main entry port for the African slave trade in the region. Tango, in the colonies of Spain, was a place where the Africans congregated to dance. Others believe that Tango stems from the Portuguese word “tanger”, which means to play a musical instrument. The word is also attributed to the Latin word “tangere”, which means to touch.

The dance was born in the mid 19th century in the streets, bars and the brothels of Buenos Aires. It was also seen early on in Montevideo in Uruguay. Tango became a way for immigrants in Buenos Aires to cope with the situation of being far from their homelands and their women. Pain, nostalgia, desire and melancholy gave birth to Tango. Since men were in greater numbers compared to women at that time, those seeking companionship and sex from prostitutes often had to wait in line in brothels. The brothel owners would hire musicians to entertain the men who were waiting in line.

The men needed to be skilled in dancing in order to entice the prostitutes that they desired. To practice their skills, men danced Tango with waitresses in cafes and bars who could be hired as dance partners. During this era, dancing was a sign of masculinity and Tango became a prelude to sex.

Tango became popular with the rich men in the early part of the 1900s. It eventually became popular in the bordellos frequented by the rich. In due time, the sensual dance found its way into dance halls and cafes. Cabarets in Buenos Aires also featured this “forbidden dance.” The dance then became popular in other countries especially in France, England and Germany. Today, dance schools all over the world offer Tango classes. From its not-so pristine beginnings, Argentine Tango has become a sophisticated dance embraced by different cultures throughout the globe.

Argentine Tango as a language

Language is not only oral or written. Hand signals and body movements also communicate messages, feelings and thoughts. Argentine Tango is a language spoken by its dancers – the individual movements are their words. Each time the partners dance together, they speak to each other’s hearts and souls through movement. There is no thinking in Tango, only feeling. This is why when executed perfectly it is a very moving dance for the dancers and the audience as well.

Experienced Argentine Tango dancers have often said that even if you dance the same choreography to the same music each time, the dance is never the same. Beginners in this dance do not have this language yet. One has to master the movements to be able to speak Argentine Tango. Mastery only comes from rigorous practice, dedication and passion.

Learning Spanish through Argentine Tango

When one studies Argentine Tango, he can pick up another language – Spanish. Non-Spanish speakers can learn Spanish words through the names of the different movements of the dance. Some examples of these words are: cruzadas (crosses), ochos (eights), el dibujo (the drawing), colgadas (hangers), cadena (chain), cambio de frente or alteracion (change of direction), gancho (hook), parade (stopped), salto (jump), soltada (let go) and volcada (tip-over). The terms used in Argentine Tango are said to have originated from the barrios (a district of a Spanish town) of Buenos Aries during the 1800s.

The Argentine Tango has been often called “a secret danced between two people.” It is a dance not performed from the feet, the hips or the arms but from the heart and soul. To the uninitiated, Tango may seem to be simple because the dancers look like they are merely walking with their partners. But to those who truly understand Argentine Tango, they see it as an intimate form of communication. There is a language quietly spoken between the partners and generously shared with their audience in a most intimate way.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

4 comments:

susana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
susana said...

Good article!
I would like to add that Tango is also music. And there is much poetry in the lyrics, generally written in "lunfardo" (a dialect). Take for example the lyrics of "Mi noche triste" a 1916 Tango written by Contursi and beautifully sang by Gardel. It satrts using "lunfardo":
"Percanta que me amuraste
en lo mejor de mi vida"
"Percanta" means "mujer" (woman) and "amurar" means "abandonar" (abandon). So it means that the woman has abandoned him in the best moment of his life.
I recommend everyone to listen to this piece of Argentine culture. You´ll love it!
Susana from Argentina

Day Translations said...

@Susana, thanks a lot. I didn't even know about Lunfardo.

Dine Racoma said...

Thank you Susana for sharing! There's so much more to write about Argentine Tango as a dance and as music. The history behind Argentine Tango alone is fascinating. It really deserves to be on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.