Kapoors Year 3B: Mexico/Chile/Argentina travel blog

Florencia and Rodrigo



Here is a clip of the tango performed by the lovely couple we met shortly after arriving in Buenos Aires. Our friend Julien is taking dancing lessons with them, and they encouraged Julien to bring us to a late night milonga - probably one of our best experiences in Buenos Aires.

Another friend in Buenos Aires, Vicky Miles sent me this link by chance - she didn't know that I was fascinated by the fact that tango was first a dance for men only. These two brothers, Enrique and Guillermo, are incredible dancers - please take a look at this clip: Watch Los Hermanos Macena.

Intrigued, I searched the internet and I found this fascinating information about tango at a site EscapeArtist.com.

Over the years tango, and its style has waxed and waned under successive governments, almost as a barometer with which to measure the prosperity or austerity of the economy; sometimes disappearing underground it's cadence rebellious, despairing, disillusioned, other times enjoying an explosive renaissance, the choreography passionate, ebullient, alive.

In the 1870s, when tango arrived in Latin America, the men, and only the men, dance improvised steps that told a story, often melancholic, other times confrontational, always dramatic, drawing their movements and footwork from the kicks and flicks of the gauchos, the Argentinian horsemen who roamed the vast pampas (grasslands) of the interior. This created a form of dance called ‘milonga’ now considered the earliest ancestor to the original tango.

Today 'milonga' is enjoying a revival almost unsurpassed in its history. 'Milonga' is invariably danced in big, smoky dance halls once again in the barrios where lovers of the tango culture meet to eat, drink, learn and dance the tango. Saturday night sees droves of teenagers arriving dressed in the ubiquitous jeans and t-shirts; fathers arrive in crisp suits, mothers in skin tight, black dresses and inordinately high-heeled shoes; grandmothers in skirts and twin-sets. Tango transcends street fashion, class and age. Women dance with women, men with men, children with adults.

They dance until the early hours. Tango is actually a word of African origin, meaning 'closed meeting place'; it was, if you like, a secret code word that, at the end of the 18th century, the slaves used to refer to a place where they would meet, usually in secret, to make music and dance. It has also been said that the word 'tan-go' imitates the beat on percussion instruments used to mark the timing of a dance called 'candombe'. This was a dance of complicated and improvised choreography that had a strongly marked rhythm. In the second half of the 19th century, the Argentinian government had encouraged immigration from the European lands to help nurture its ailing economy and as these Italians, Spanish, French and others flocked to Argentina, they brought their own folk dances with them. These diffused with the 'milonga', created tango as it is today.

When tango became a dance for couples it was only danced in brothels; the women were generally prostitutes, the men pimps, showcasing their girls to possible clients. The men who frequented the seedier parts of the city competed for female attention by showing off their moves. It was also a somewhat erotic form of dance, requiring couples to dance in close embrace, with a concentration on moves from the waist down, and thus was considered bad taste by the upper classes of Argentinian society.

But of course, to the youngsters of well-to-do families it was irresistible because it was forbidden - even so it wasn't until the late 19th century that they started going to the outlying suburbs of Buenos Aires, in defiance of their parents, to indulge in tango and the nightlife that surrounded it.

By the 1920s, young Argentinians were pouring over to Europe to study, taking their tango with them. The dance took Paris by storm. The uninhibited Parisians adopted the dance and transformed it into an overpowering craze; suddenly, everything was tango. Tango parties were staged in grand hotels, couturiers designed figure hugging dresses with deep splits up the sides to facilitate movement, orange-strong, vibrant, passionate, became the tango colour.

There were many who criticized the dance as being too wild and sensuous, but no one wanted to miss out on the new fashion - soon Germany, Italy, England, had all joined the tango frenzy. On its trip to Europe though, the essence of the dance had changed; the intimacy and sensuality of Argentinian tango had become diluted with other folk dances and so a more choreographed form, adopted by the ballroom dancing culture, emerged. When tango returned to Argentina, its new legitimacy ensured that even the aristocratic classes embraced it.

During the military junta years following the death of Eva Peron, tango went into hibernation for nearly three decades before emerging once again in the 1980s, since when tango has gained strength not only as a formidable and classic dance form but also a way of life.

As tango progressed to the stage as a form to be watched by audiences, the style perceptibly changed, with highly trained professional dancers executing intricately choreographed dances with athletic grace. This became known as 'tango for export' because the older 'milongueros' know the original dance to be one of improvisation - steps and turns being taken from endless permutations based on a basic inventory of complicated moves.

The structure of tango has as much to do with the music, which was also largely improvised and played originally on a violin and a clarinet. Again, with the influence of European immigrants the tango duet was replaced by a trio playing a flute, a violin and a guitar and in the late 19th century, an instrument called a bandoneon (an type of concertina) created by a German called Heinrich Band, altered the dynamics of the trio which thenceforward was composed of the bandoneon, the piano and a violin.

The bandoneon, synonymous now with tango, and called 'the bellows' in tango slang is an extremely difficult instrument to play because it is a double action instrument the sound of which changes depending on whether the bandoneon is open or closed. It produces the perfect sound to portray sadness, nostalgia and melancholy, which are an integral part of tango music. Some have up to 200 tones which are created in five lines of studs on the outside of the box, and pressing them in various combinations can produce an almost infinite number of sounds, all of which have to be memorized by the player. These original instruments are no longer made and have become collector's items, as well as part of tango culture. Bandoneon players are tango celebrities.

In Buenos Aires itself there are hundreds of tango clubs, halls and shows. There are tango hotels, holidays, bars and schools. At any hour of any day, a tango class is in session - teaching beginners, refining the steps of those who know how. Ten years ago, the older 'milongueros' feared that the tango would die with them, but they need not have worried. Such is the devotion that tango inspires that it has been kept alive and kicking by young dancers, borrowing from the old style 'milonga' as well as new jazz dance choreography. They perform not only in the salons and sometimes on stage, but more often in the streets, shopping precincts and market places of the city, attracting impromptu audiences and ensuring that tango is a timeless fashion. Its endlessly rich and constantly changing moves ensures that even the least accomplished couple can feel beautiful. It does take two to tango.

I originally had a link to Florencia dancing with Rodrigo, but the link is no longer active. I found this video of Florencia with Marcos Pereira that was filmed in San Diego in 2018. Watch Florencia Tango.


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