Brief History of Tango

The popularity of todays tango is heavily influenced by the tango refinement and music from what is known as the Golden Age around the 1930’s.  The mixture of all classes, fashion, bigger orchestras, popularity across the globe, Hollywood, refinement, and many consider the contributions of Carlos Gardel to the rise of Tango at this time. This is at the height of what many people consider Argentine Tango, but with every part of a story, there is a beginning, which due to the age and development, is always a little fuzzy.

The Beginnings

The story and origins begin in the 19th century, around the late 1850’s, give or take. The exact time frame is impossible to narrow down due to the fact that Tango was developed by the lower/working class citizens and immigrants around Buenos Aires. A few pieces of the specifics behind the Tango has years associated with them, speculation on the exact beginning will always be a controversy. The first Tango song, “Tomá mate, che”, can be traced back to 1857, written by Santiago Ramos for the comedy “El gaucho de Buenos Aires.” The dancing at the time was much different than what you see now, the term Tango, when the term was developed and used is lost in history.


Tango is the third partner dance that has the man and woman facing each other using an embrace. The first two were the Viennese Waltz from the 1830’s, and the Polka in the 1840’s. Tango is heralded as the first partner dance to be entirely improvised, and outside of stage tango, social Tango is still so. Tango dancing started in what you may consider the slums, the docks, where the working people were. Tango is described as having an African influence before molding into it’s own. Around 1912 with additional international travel, the dance traveled to Europe, and shortly after to America. This lead to evolution of the walk, the posture, adding sequences, and the birth of new forms of ballroom Tango. This popularity also influenced Tangos rising to the elites of Argentina and brought it more into the nation. Social dancing through this time varied with styles, but most could be traced back to more prominent teachers.

The 1980s and 1990s, with new music, a re showcasing of the Tango in the 80s in Paris, re-sparked Tango internationally, leading to new exploration of the music, connection, movements, in what some would call nuevo or neo Tango. Tango now starts to have multiple meanings in the dance world depending on where you are. Around the mid 1990s, from the rise in popularity, the rise of Argentine Tango as a label to stand out with it’s set of rules bringing the roots and teachings from Argentina. If you dance Tango, it can mean any of the variations, but if you dance Argentine Tango, it has in grained in it the social and improvisational aspects which stands out on its own.

The Music

Tango Music started to blossom around 1903 and by 1910 was already growing more and more popular. 1910 also introduced the Bandoeon, which then came to be almost inseparable from Tango. 1912 Lead to the spread of Tango around the world with more international travel out of Argentina, and it caught on quickly in Europe and then migrated to the US. Around 1916 Firpo started a trend with sextets when it came to tango composition. 1917 Lead to one of the icons of Tango, Carlos Gardel, recording his first song, linking tango to tragic love. The music started to change more with Caro and Laurenz in the 1920s to be more elegant and slower. There are stories around these times and the 1930s of people stealing songs, compositions, and more in Tango, but really in the 1930’s through to the 1950’s, the music & artists kept growing and becoming what we call the Golden Age of Tango Music.

Tango Underground

Tango has long been tied to the social status of Argentina, when times were good, love and dancing prevailed, but when times were bad, and recessions happened, so did the Tango with it. After world War II, recession started to hit, especially after the coup of General Perón the repression of expression, arts, and music started. Curfews and more also continued to turn Tango to more of an underground activity. The rise of Rock & Roll was also encouraged after Perón, which led to Tango being underground until the 1980’s with little new development in Tango culture in South America.