Tango History from Buenos Aires Argentina

Tango History 1880’s

The beginning of the high times in Buenos Aires history, is where Tango history begins. In the 1880’s, there was a large influx of unmarried Europeans into the city. Brothels became the popular pastime for the immigrant workers and sprung up all over La Boca and San Telmo. Soon brothel owners began to hire musicians to fight off competition. Instruments were the violin, flute and guitar. If a guitar could not be found, then comb and cigarette paper would do. Later the bandoneon, or small accordion, was added and increased the popularity of the style. Even later, Vicente Greco popularized the tango sextet as consisting of piano, double bass, two violins and two bandoneóns.

Tango historyThe style of music played was influenced by African rhythms the French colonists had heard from their African slaves. Spanish and Cubans contributed a little of their own flare from there homeland. The word itself is a hybrid from the Latin verb “tangere”, which means to touch, and the African/Congo word “tangu” which means to dance. Over time, the public became bored with this style so the musicians played with mas vivo, or more lively, so the brothel patrons could dance. (In San Telmo, the Casa de Tango was once a tango brothel.) The popularity spread with surprising success and first became the favorite music of popular criminals and gangsters.

The first tango composer is considered to have been a man called Juan Perez, author of the song “Dame la lata “, sometime around 1880. It is likely that the first tangos were “Dame la lata “, “El Tero” and “te a la Recoleta “. The first Tango record ever recorded was made by Angel Villoldo in Paris and played by the French National Guard because at that time there was no recording studio in Argentina.

Tango History 1900’s

Tango historyIn the early 1900, Tango music spread to the upper class and found its way into highbrow social affairs and ballrooms. It is during this time that an orchestra was added and the social dance steps began to evolve. In those times men would often practice dancing together in men’s clubs so infused in the dance is an interesting mix of machismo (or macho) and sensitivity. Which is still found in the Argentine men today.

During the early 1900’s in Buenos Aires, tango was commonly found in the Café Tarana, Café Hansen, El Kiosquito, La Glorieta, La Red and El Velódromo. It was at that time when women were added to the dance because it had become socially acceptable and a public dance. In 1904, Casimiro Ain appeared at the Opera Theater as a dancer of tango joined by his wife and after that, dancers like Ricardo Güiraldes, Florencio Parravincini and Jorge Newbery rose.

Writer Ricardo Güiraldes helped popularize tango internationally by the end of World War 1. He wrote a poem (“Tango”) that describes the music as the “all-absorbing love of a tyrant, jealously guarding his dominion, over women who have surrendered submissively, like obedient beasts”.

Towards the end of 1913 tango hit New York. These exported versions of Tango were modified to have less body contact (“Ballroom Tango”); however, the dance was still thought shocking by many, as had earlier been the case with dances such as the Waltz.


Tango History 1920’s

Tango soon became the first of many Latin dance crazes to gain popularity in Europe, beginning in France. Rudolph Valentino became a sex symbol that brought the tango to new audiences, especially in the United States, because of his portrayal of tango in film. In the 1920’s bandleaders like Roberto Firpo and Francisco Canaro dropped the flute and added a double bass in its place. Lyrics were still typically macho, blaming women for countless heartaches, and the dance moves were still sexual and aggressive.

Carlos GardelCarlos Gardel became especially associated with the transition from lower-class “gangster” music to a respectable middle-class dance. He helped develop tango-canción in the 1920s and became one of the most popular tango artists of all time. Carlos Gardel’s “El dia que me quieras” was released and made him a huge star. Gardel helped inaugurate the “Golden Age of tango”, which ended after his death in a plane crash in Colombia. A division in tango followed Gardel’s death. Evolutionists like Aníbal Troilo and Carlos di Sarli were opposed to traditionalists like Rodolfo Biagi and Juan D’Arienzo. Info about Carlos Gardel

In 1922 guidelines were first set for the “English” (international) style of ballroom tango, but it lost popularity in Europe to new dances including the Foxtrot and Samba, and as dancing as a whole declined due to the growth of cinema.

(There is a bar in San Telmo known as Tango 1921 that depicts the traditional tango and what it was like during this period in tango history.

Tango History 1930´s

Argentina in 1929 was involved in the Great Depression and restrictions on social gatherings introduced after the overthrow of the Hipólito Yrigoyen government in 1930 caused Tango to decline. Yet it was still practiced and there are several clubs that were popular then that have survived in Buenos Aires today. However, outside of Argentina, tango music hit it’s peak during the same period as Big Band music did in the US.



Tango Between the 1930’s and 1940’s tango was being danced all around the world although there were slight changes made to tailor each societies taste. Almost all Buenos Aires people become experts and may reproduce in their memory the most complicated arrangements. These surviving legends of the great era of Tango are more than happy to relive what that time was like.

Tango History 1950’s

In Argentina, during the government of Juan Perón tango’s popularity rose again but declined again in the 1950s with economic depression and as the military dictatorships banned public gatherings, followed by the popularity of Rock and Roll. The dance lived on in smaller venues.




tango historyIn the 1950’s, Astor Piazzolla attempted to turn tango into pop thus changing the reputation of Tango. Some of the many popular and influential orchestras included the orchestras of Juan D’Arienzo, Francisco Canaro, and Aníbal Troilo. D’Arienzo was called the Rey del compás or “King of the beat” because of the driving rhythm heard on many of his recordings like “El flete”. Other popular orchestras were Osvaldo Pugliese and Carlos di Sarli. Di Sarli had a lush, grandiose sound, and emphasized strings and piano over the bandoneon, which is heard in “A la gran muñeca” and “Bahía Blanca” (the name of his home town).


Pugliese’s first recordings were not too different from those of other dance orchestras, but he developed a complex, rich, and sometimes discordant sound, which is heard in his signature pieces, “Gallo ciego”, “Emancipación”, and “La yumba”. Pugliese’s later music was played for an audience and not intended for dancing, although it is often used for stage choreography for its dramatic potential.

Tango History 1970’s


Tango declined during the late 60’s and early 70’s although it was often used in experimental jazz and electronic music. In the 1980’s tango began to revive in Europe following the opening in Paris of the show “Tango Argentino” and the Broadway musical in USA called “Forever Tango”.

Tango History 1990’s

Buenos Aires tangoIn the 1990’s tango music and dance had huge internationally success and many new artists surfaced in Buenos Aires, as well as around the world. The younger generation in Buenos Aires revived tango rhythms and taught them to their children again. Tango courts multiplied at the rhythm of the dancers and tango began to be taught all around the world. New orchestras knew how to combine tradition and modernity. Tango also began to be featured in many popular films again.



Buenos Aires tangoIn Buenos Aires tango can be found everywhere. It is a major attraction for locals and tourists alike. There are tango shows in many of the theaters in Buenos Aires that have huge success. Tango on the weekends is danced until dawn at a large number of bars. Many of the tango musicians of the 40’s are once again playing to packed houses. Often there are large private and public tango dance parties called Milongas.

buenos aires pictures In the neighborhood of La Boca at the streets of De Valle Iberlucea and Magallanes is the area known as Caminito. It is an open air street museum and tango shows are offered by professional tango dancers and singers everyday. These performances can also be found on the corner of Florida and Lavalle in the Microcentro of Buenos Aires and in San Telmo at Plaza Dorrego on Sunday’s.

The Tango Museum is located on top of Café Tortoni on Ave. de Mayo in Buenos Aires Argentina.

The “Tango Day” is celebrated in Buenos Aires on December 11th.





Argentine tango (tango argentino) consists of a variety of styles that developed in different regions and eras, and in response to the crowding of the venue and even the fashions in clothing. Even though they all developed in Argentina and Uruguay, they were also exposed to influences reimported from Europe and North America. Consequently there is some confusion and overlap between the styles.


In sharp contrast to ballroom tango, Argentine Tango relies heavily on improvisation, and in theory, every tango is improvised. Although there are many steps and sequences of steps that a tango dancer learns, every dancer is free to modify them. Argentine Tango is danced counterclockwise around the outside of the dance floor (the so-called “line of dance”); cutting across the middle of the floor is frowned on. It can be acceptable to stop briefly in the line of dance to perform stationary figures, as long as the other dancers are not unduly impeded. (There is a saying about this: “If you look down the line of dance and there is space for you — you are probably keeping everyone else waiting behind you.”) Dancers are expected to respect the other couples on the floor; colliding with, or stepping on the feet of another couple is to be avoided. The leader wants to protect his lady and give her a most memorable time while dancing.

Tango danceArgentine Tango is danced in a relatively close embrace, with many dancers choosing to remain in chest-to-chest (and sometimes head-to-head) contact, whereas the feet are apart. The couple therefore looks like a “V” on the reverse. The walk is one of the most important elements, and dancers prefer to keep their feet in close contact with the floor at nearly all times, the ankles and knees brushing as one leg passes the other. A striking difference between Argentine tango and ballroom tango is that the follower remains upright on her axis, or may even lean toward the leader (and in a close embrace dances “chest-to-chest” with the leader). In ballroom tango this posture is unheard of. In fact, in ballroom tango the follower shyly pulls her upper body away from the leader whenever he draws her toward him.


Another interesting difference is that in Argentine tango, the leader may freely step with his left foot when the follower steps with her left foot. In English, this is sometimes referred to as a “crossed” or “uneven” walk. In ballroom tango this is unheard of and considered incorrect (unless the leader and follower are facing the same direction).


A third difference is that Argentine tango music is much more varied than ballroom tango music, allowing Argentine tango dancers to spend the whole night dancing only Argentine tango. There is a great variety of music. Canaro alone produced more than 4000 titles. Argentine Tango has its own waltz and a fast dance – called Milonga, the same name that dance parties are called. Unlike the social version of ballroom tango, Argentine tango is a constantly evolving dance with continual innovation in Argentina and in major tango centers elsewhere in the world. These innovations may offend some traditionalists but they make sure that it remains relevant to contemporary culture and society.


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About the author of this blog.

Tom Wick is an American expat living in Buenos Aires. An expert travel consultant and tour guide offering free travel inforamtion and private guided tours of Buenos Aires.

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Please write to me about any Buenos Aires Argentina travel information or about living in Buenos Aires as an expat. tangohistorytours@gmail.com

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