Inventors of the Tango

The beautiful, vigorous, sexy ballroom dance we know today as the tango came into existence in the brothels of Argentina.

During the last years of the 1800s, prostitutes and their customers in Buenos Aires invented a new kind of dance based on the milonga and its precursor, the Spanish habanera. This new dance, the tango, featured powerful rhythms and blatant eroticism; it was the original "dirty dancing". Like ragtime and jazz in the United States, the tango was denounced by Argentina's polite society even as its popularity grew in brothels. Prostitutes were, at first, the only women bold enough--and sufficiently comfortable with their own sexuality--to dance it.

Mass produced in the form of sheet music, phonograph records, and movies, and spread by sailors from port to port and brothel to brothel, the tango traveled the world during the early 1900s. Denounced as lascivious and offensive by the Archbishop of Paris in 1914, and publicly disavowed by the Argentine ambassador, the tango nonetheless rocketed from the maisons close to the high society of France. Acceptance by the French legitimized and popularized the tango around the world (including, ironically, back in Argentina), leading to the "Golden Age" of tango in the 1920s.

Perhaps because of its informal origins, the tango may be performed by a wide variety of musical ensembles ranging from solo piano to full orchestra. Most common among these, however, is the bandoneon (pictured here in the hands of a musician), an accordion-like instrument controlled by buttons instead of piano-style keys.

The tango has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, appearing in dance halls, ballroom dancing competitions, and movies ranging from "True Lies" to "Scent of a Woman". To perform it, or simply to watch it, is a joy for which we have the prostitutes of Argentina to thank.

Tango de Manzana by Kevin MacLeod

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