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The word “tango” was used to describe the dance in 1890. Originally, the tango was a solo dance performed only by women and developed into a couples dance when it was styled by the Gauchos in Argentina.
It was referred to as “baile con corte” or “dance with a stop”. Tango spread throughout Europe in the 1900’s with the first big craze hitting Paris in 1912 after being introduced in the musical comedy “The Sunshine Girl”. Shortly after, the dance debuted in New York toward the end of 1913. With tango propagating, silent film star Rudolph Valentino popularized the distinctive style in the 1921 film “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Due to economic depression, the desire for tango declined in the 1930’s and the 1950’s but has regained momentum in the 21st century with stage shows like Luis Bravo’s “Forever Tango” and Jason Gilkison’s “Burn the Floor”. In 2009, UNESCO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, declared tango part of the worlds “intangible cultural heritage”.
Tango has often been referred to as the “dancer’s dance” due to the fluidity of synchronized movements. Tango typically depicts a man pursuing a woman and her resistant response. Coupling graceful stalking movements with controlled staccato footwork, the tango is danced counter clockwise around the floor in a curving pattern. The passion is visible in the dance hold as the close embrace connects couples either at the chest or hip area. The style of tango is divided into three distinct disciplines: International Tango, American Tango and Argentine Tango. International Tango, also referred to as English Tango, is the globally recognized competitive version where the couples remain in closed dance position for duration of the dance. In 1922, the English developed a standardized version of tango in order to provide instruction in dance schools and give adjudicators a more objective means of picking champions. American Tango is viewed as the most simplified version but also the most ostentatious combining social steps with Argentine and Hollywood styles. American style demonstrates an open position so that dancers can execute underarm turns, alternate hand holds, dancing apart, and side-by-side choreography. Originating on the cobblestone streets in Buenos Aires, the Argentine Tango is seductive poetry in motion. This style is about the close embrace and the couple feeling the music and telling its story. The people of Argentina believe that tango is more than just a dance but a way of life.
Tango music is very repetitive and characterized by a unique rhythm and distinct phrases. Commonly, step patterns are constructed in counts of eight to simplify phrasing. Since a variety of tango timings are used the greatest challenge is to blend patterns in a way that phrases with the music. The time signature for tango is either 2/4 or 4/4 and usually written in 16 or 32 beats. Speeds for tango vary depending on the style but a general reference would be 30 to 33 measures per minute for American Tango, 32 to 34 measures per minute for International Tango and 28 to 32 measures per minute for Argentine Tango.