When we got to Argentina, Alina Aguilar told us that our trip to Argentina included tango lessons and a tango show. I am not too much of a dancer, but I was excited to learn to dance the tango. My dad listens to it all the time, but neither he nor my mom knows how to dance it. I thought it would be cool to teach them when I get back home. When we got to the studio, Alina asked the instructor, Alejandro, to tell us a little bit about the history of the tango. I had no idea that it was going to be so interesting! As Alejandro spoke we all sat on the floor and listened to him.
First, Alejandro talked about the origins of the tango. He said that it was born in the mid 1800’s in a barrio in Buenos Aires where poor immigrants lived. Immigrants from Africa, Italy, Spain, England, Poland, Russia, Germany were all hoping to make money to bring back to their countries or to be able to bring their families to Argentina. Also poor native Argentines lived there too. All these groups borrowed dance and music from each other, and so the tango was born from a mix of these different kinds of music and dance. Alina, who is also Alejandro’s dance partner, told us that this music and dance reflected a longing for the places and people the immigrants left behind.
Because most immigrants were single men, they danced with each other. These male dancers were called the compadritos. They were young, mostly poor, and liked to dress in slouch hats, loosely tied neckerchiefs, and high-heeled boots with knives tucked into their belts. These young men took the tango to various poor neighborhoods in Buenos Aires where dancing took place. Soon new steps were invented and practiced.
Alina also told us that, at first high society looked down at this kind of music and dance from the poor immigrant barrios, but eventually everyone joined the dance craze and, by the beginning of the 20th century, the tango became so popular that pretty much everyone in Buenos Airesm men and women of all social classes, listened and danced to it. Then it soon spread outside Buenos Aires to the rest of the country where it became part of the urban culture. By the early 1900’s, when wealthy sons of Argentine society families made their way to Paris, they introduced the tango to a society eager to learn new things. By 1913, the tango had become an international phenomenon in Paris, London and New York. There were tango teas, tango train excursions and even tango colors—mostly orange. The Argentine rich and famous, who shunned the tango, were now forced to accept it with national pride. Since 1940s and 1950s the tango has become one of the greatest expressions of Argentinean culture.
I found the tango’s history so interesting that I was eager to see how it was danced. So Alina and Alejandro danced a tango for us called “La comparsita.” We were all looking at them in awe. When they finished, Alina asked: “So, who wants to be the first tango student? –We all looked at each other and Alejandro in silence. I took a deep breath and told Diana “¡Vamos!” We got up and learned our first tango steps while the rest of the class cheered us up.