Tango shows are on most visitors’ bucket lists for a visit to Argentina. And for a good reason, the slow, elegant, and sensual dance is fascinating to watch.
However, few visitors know the history behind Argentina’s famous tango.
Therefore, I have collected these 8 facts about tango that you should know before visiting Argentina. So you know show off a bit of knowledge, if you, like me, are hopeless on a dance floor!
Fascinating Facts About the History of Tango
Tango is both music and dance
Tango is used to refer to a special kind of music as well as a dance style. The dance is an intimate and highly sensual dance performed by couples, and the music that accompanies it tends to be low-key with elements of nostalgia, desperation, and sadness.
Tango represents individualism, sadness, and nocturnal
The huge breakthrough of tango as we know it today is said to have been in 1917 with the song “Mi noche triste” (e.g. my sad night) written by Pascual Contursi and sung by Carlos Gardel.
According to the guide of a tango tour that I once went on, this title includes the main themes of the tango which during the 1920s to 1940s became world famous: individualism (my sad night), sadness (my sad night), and nocturnal (my sad night). Hence, the focus is on the individual’s sadness and frustration and must take place in a nightly environment. I’m not an expert in either dance or music, so I will leave the technical explanations here.
If you want to improve your Spanish a bit before visiting Argentina, remember to check out these 10 Spanish phrases everyone should know before visiting Argentina.
Tango emerged in Argentina during the 1880s
There is still unclarity on how and when exactly tango emerged. However, most sources agree that the tango spread during the 1800s in the economically lower communities of Buenos Aires. These communities included both people of African and Caribbean heritage and indigenous Argentines.
Tango is a result of a melting pot of homesick immigrants
Towards the end of the 1880s, a huge wave of European immigrants was added to this cultural melting pot of lower-end Buenos Aires. These immigrants were mostly poor European men in the search for success in Argentina.
The tango is assumed to be the result of all these diverse cultural backgrounds intermixing their musical heritages with each other, and sharing their desperate and homesick lives of being immigrants. At first, it was not accepted in the higher classes of the Argentine society but as the success grew, tango became widely accepted.
Tango became world famous with Carlos Gardel
Through the 1920s and 1930s, tango became world famous with tango singers such as Carlos Gardel traveling the world to perform. Gardel himself had arrived in Buenos Aires as the child of a French immigrant.
He died under tragic circumstances in 1935 in an airplane crash in Colombia – only 44 years old. His career was at this height by when, and by many, he has ever since been considered for being the soul of tango.
Carlos Gardel has even a subway station named after him
The guide on BA tours clearly highlighted that Gardel’s success and memory are not just based on this tragic death – he was the biggest of the big stars! And apparently, he is so big that he has got a subway station and a street in Buenos Aires named after him!
The golden days of tango ended in 1955
The golden days of tango ended with a coup against Juan Perón in 1955. Tango got banned, and went underground until the 1980s when it was “rediscovered”. Read more on this dark age of tango here at History of Tango.
Buenos Aires today has a whole subway line with a tango theme
The subway system in Buenos Aires has a lot more to do with tango than you might think!
In 2003, the local government of Buenos Aires passed a law that indicated that the to-be-established new H-line in the subway system should be created as a “culturally tango tour of the subway”. As a result, every station on the H-lined ended up being decorated in memory of different tango personalities.
Today you can see the results if you jump on the subway, and navigate your way to the H-line. Each station is decorated with its own artwork referring to big Argentine tango personalities or their big hits. Read more about the different stations, personalities, and artworks here (link in Spanish).
So, did you learn something new about tango? Or do you maybe know something that is not on my list? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!