“Tango is a sad thought that is danced.” – Enrique Santos Discépolo
There are a number of American and Canadian studies detailing the therapeutic benefits of tango for those with Parkinson’s disease. This is because Tango promotes balance, stability, and a good posture. Of course, the tango, like many other styles of dance, comes with mental and physical benefits.
Tango is famous all over the world and a great way for couples to do something together. Both sensual and musical, a dancer of any level can learn to do the tango.
In this article, we’ll look at the history of tango, tango classes, and everything else you need to learn about Argentine tango dance lessons.
You can’t talk about tango without talking about Argentina, the place where both tango dancers and tango music originated from. In fact, you could argue that this type of Latin dance is one of the most famous Argentinian exports!
There are a number of socio-economic reasons for tango dancing. At the end of the 19th century, Argentina freed its slaves.
At the same time, immigrants from Italy, France, Spain, and Germany made their way to the country. These immigrants spurred on Argentina’s economic growth and the capital, Buenos Aires, was home to many immigrant communities.
At the time, habanera and guajira were the most popular styles of music. These styles were inspired by both Latin American and African musical styles.
The inhabitants of Buenos Aires weren’t always housed in the best of conditions. The poorest immigrants lived in dilapidated buildings with former slaves in La Boca neighbourhood, near the port.
Argentina is the birthplace of both tango music and tango dancing. (Source: werner22brigitte)
The blend of musical styles led to the creation of “La Milonga” in La Boca. This would later be known as tango. At the time, it was mainly men who danced since there weren’t that many women around to embrace these new dance styles on the dance floor.
Men developed various steps and would dance with each other or with prostitutes, which certainly didn’t help the discipline’s reputation.
At the start of the 20th century, a few songs made their way as far as Paris. Oddly, they were via word-of-mouth rather than written music. “Lunfardo”, a special language, was created. Many of the words are still used in the Argentine capital today.
Tango gained a reputation in Paris and was popular amongst some of the bourgeois. Its success in the French capital helped the discipline to become more respected.
Instruments such as the violin, piano, and the bandoneon were added to pieces that usually included just guitars and drums. The main themes covered included the melancholy and sadness of the European immigrants who’d travelled to Argentina to start their new lives.
The discipline changed over time. However, today it’s mainly known as a discipline for couples given its sensual nature rather than for its origins in urban neighbourhoods.
Argentine tango is often seen as a difficult discipline. This is because there’s a lot of improvisation unlike styles like salsa, pasodoble, rhumba, the waltz, etc.
If you take lessons in Buenos Aires, you’ll probably be surprised how often the teacher will let you just do your own thing. You just need to know the basic steps and then let yourself be guided. Of course, this is only true for women as the men have to lead their partner.
That said, it isn’t easy for women as they have to be able to perform some incredible footwork. In the milongas, where tango is performed, you’ll learn to improvise as early as your first lesson.
Originally, it was just the men who danced the tango. (Source: werner22brigitte)
Traditionally, the men ask the women to dance. A man needs to catch a woman’s gaze. This whole procedure is done without uttering a word. Of course, this isn’t always the case but most Milongas around the world will respect this process.
Once on the dancefloor, the couple get into position. The woman will put her weight on the man’s shoulder, who will act as the counterweight. The man leads the woman by lightly pushing or moving towards her.
All these gestures are light and discreet, making tango technique very difficult to understand for those watching.
So how do you know what you should be doing?
There are a few basic steps that both the man and the woman need to remember. Once you’ve learnt these, each person needs to decide where and when to use them. That’s why tango requires a lot of chemistry between partners as well as a good understanding of the music.
Sometimes, you have to improvise. This is when the woman can express herself by caressing her leg against her partner, for example. The music plays a huge role in terms of rhythm and the steps you’ll do. You need to listen out for pauses, etc.
The best way to learn the tango is to practice. The same is true for styles like dancehall, salsa, Merengue, Bachata, rumba, swing, Zumba, Kizomba, mambo, tap, Oriental, rock ‘n’ roll, flamenco, modern Jazz, ballet, etc., but especially for disciplines where you dance as a couple.
Don’t hesitate to dance with someone who’s better than you. By dancing with a partner who’s better than you, you’ll learn a lot. Especially if you let them guide you. Don’t be scared of making mistakes, either. Tango is all about improvisation and most people won’t even notice if you make a mistake.
Footwork is absolutely key when dancing the tango. (Source: Bernard-Verougstraete)
If you start learning the tango as a couple and both of you are beginners, you’ll probably not learn as quickly if you stick together in your classes. It’s probably better for each of you to learn the basics apart and then move ahead together.
So where can you find couples’ tango lessons?
You can always visit a dance school, academy, or studio for courses, group lessons, private tutorials, weekly classes, intensive classes, etc. You can enrol at the start of the year but if you’ve missed the deadline, you’ll have to probably wait an entire year. You can also get private tutorials. This can be useful for couples with complicated timetables or schedules. Additionally, you won’t have to loan your partner to another dancer. A private tutor can guide you both.
You can also learn to dance in the comfort of your own home. There are online tutorials, DVDs, and books on tango. This can be more practical and affordable but you have to make sure that you’re paying particular attention as there’ll be no one there to correct you if you get it wrong.
It’s a good idea to attend tango nights in milongas. Just like salsa evenings, there are often free tango lessons at the start of the evening. This could be your chance to practise what you’ve learnt on the dancefloor.
Why not head to Argentina?
Of course, you’ll have to save up. However, it’s a great way to learn more about Argentine culture, tango, its history, and try a few empanadas. Tango classes, tutorials, or evenings are a great way to learn how to dance the tango.
Why should you learn to dance the tango with your partner rather than on your own?
Organising classes for two people can sometimes be difficult. You need to find a time when both of you are free.
You have to listen to your partner when you dance the tango. (Source: fsHH)
However, there are plenty of benefits to learning the tango as a couple as it can bring couples closer together. The tango requires couples to communicate without saying a word. It’s all about your body language and both partners need to be on the same wavelength to get it right. This is why each dancer tends to have a partner that they prefer dancing with.
The two partners learn to listen to each other and communicate through gestures, an exercise which is beneficial for any couple. As a sensual dance, the tango can relight any couple’s fire. Both men and women have to dress nicely to tango. This means you can both wear your best outfits.
Making the most of time together is great for couples. So if you would like to become a student of dance, are an absolute beginner looking for an authentic Argentino tango class, or just looking for someone to teach you a bit of choreography, have a look at some of the private lessons available from the passionate tutors on Superprof!
If you’re getting married, why not consider learning the tango for your first dance to spice things up?