A likely theory places the birth in African-Argentine dance venues attended by “compadritos,” young men, mostly native born and poor, who liked to dress in slouch hats, loosely tied neckerchiefs and high-heeled boots, with knives tucked casually into their belts.
The “compadritos” took the tango back to the slaughterhouse district of Buenos Aires and introduced it in various low life establishments where dancing took place: bars, dance halls and brothels. In tango, African rhythms met Argentina “milonga” (fast-paced polka) and eventually new steps were invented and took hold. It is believed that tango originated at the turn of the XXth century.
As previously mentioned, tango originated in society’s underbelly, in the brothels of turn-of-the century Argentina. It was the “acting out” of the relationship between prostitute and pimp. The titles of the first tangos referred to characters in the world of prostitution. Songs and dances had no lyrics, were often improvised, and generally were regarded as obscene. The early tangos not only represented a kind of sexual choreography, but often a duel, a man-to-man combat, between challengers for the favors of a woman, that usually ended in the symbolic death of the opponent. Sexual and evil forces were equally celebrated in this ritual. If someone danced with the same partner three times, rumor held, the two would be sharing a bed for the night. Tango became a forbidden dance and was actually banned by a Pope. The wailing melancholy of the “bandoneon” (an accordion-like instrument imported fromGermany in 1886) became a mainstay of tango music.
Tango must be simply danced, with immense feeling, with a sense of energy flowing between the dancers. The energy grows or decreases as the music ebbs and flows. Tango is a seduction, or a private conversation, something to be quietly shared, not publicly displayed. It is a connection, an empathy between two people who need to embrace and be in the arms of one another, to escape albeit for just a brief moment in time, and in that moment, to live a lifetime…..
Carlos Gardel, the most famous tango singer that ever lived, was born inFrance and became the “Songbird of Buenos Aires.” Gardel invented the “tango song” or another line in the tango orchestration for voice, essentially making the tango a performance for both a musical audience and a dance show. Although his life was cut short by a plane crash in Colombia, he managed to achieve immense fame throughout Latin America. In Argentina, five decades after his death, the memory of this handsome, charismatic performer, has reached hero worship status not unlike what Elvis Presley inspired in the USA.