Depending on what you read, the Argentine Tango’s origin can be traced to Spanish roots, African or Portuguese immigrants. The word existed long before the dance and it’s many meanings included a Spanish word for a game played with a bone or rock, an African word meaning “closed space”, or a Portuguese/Afro word brought to the new continent meaning drum and dance.
Either way the Buenos Aires neighborhoods where the African population would meet in the 1800’s were called tangos. With immigrants living in close quarters from all over the world the dancing and singing in neighborhoods, brothels and clubs was a lively and sensual release for the working class.
Eventually the tango moved from the suburbs to the core of the city where it was already common to see male couples dancing in the streets. As the dance developed “portenos” (Buenos Aires residents) combined the choreography of milonga, the rhythm of candombe and the melody of habanera. Additional influences came from Italian, East European, Spanish and Jewish newcomers to the rough and tumble city and a fusion of movement, music and culture became known as tango.
Gradually the tango became acceptable in the richer neighborhoods and the dance was secured in history when in 1917 Carlos Gardel became tango’s first international superstar. Gardel was the first to use his talented singing voice to record tango music as the age of recording launched. Born of a French mother in Uruguay, he is still revered for bringing tango and the music to the masses. Because of his heritage the Uruguayans (and even the French) also claim tango as theirs. With Gardel’s rise to superstardom, a new era began and today the tango is one of the most important cultural influences of the beautiful and historic city of Buenos Aires and throughout much of Latin America.