Most people know what a waltz is.
Perhaps they danced a foxtrot or a two-step at some point in their lives or tried a few salsa steps while on a tropical vacation, but how many can say that they danced the romantic Argentine Tango?
To the onlooker, tango appears to be a very complex sequence of movements, but dancer and instructor, Heather Stranks, co-owner of City Dance in Vernon, says, to the dancer, tango is an emotional connection to both the music and their partner.
“They move in sync to the feel of the music,” Stranks explained.
“The dance itself is for the most part free formed in that the steps do not have a specific count or order. It is one of the few partnered dance styles that allows the couple to be truly creative in the interpretation of the music.”
Although Argentine Tango is now considered to be a very beautiful, sensual dance, Stranks said it had rather raunchy beginnings.
In the late 1800’s, millions of European immigrants, many who were were single young men looking to make their fortunes in America, arrived on the shores of South America. They brought their music and their dances and mixed them with Argentine folk music and dance, Cuban habanera and African candombe rhythms. With very few women around, many of these young men found themselves looking for excitement in the bordello districts of the port cities.
The tango dance arose in these seedy waterfront areas from this turbulent mix, becoming a “mating dance” between barmaids and their customers in shady nightclubs. Though shunned by the upper and middle classes in Argentina, it became a fixture of urban nightlife in Buenos Aires. Young men in neighbourhood gangs would practice the steps with each other in order to become skilled enough to win the attentions of a woman.
As Argentina became very wealthy around the turn of the century, the sons of rich families would look for adventure and excitement in the rougher parts of town, and learned the tango as part of their escapades. Some of these young men would show off the tango as a treat for their friends on their sojourns to Paris, then the cultural capital of the world.
The Parisians were excited by this sensuous dance which led to a “tango craze” that swept all of Europe, and reached America in the years just prior to World War I. While the original tango was disturbing to many, a heavily sanitized version of tango found its way into the European and American dance academies, where it remains a fixture in ballroom competitions today.
In Argentina, the popularity of tango in Paris led to an acceptance of the original tango in all classes of society. Tango musicians went from roughneck street performers to respected composers, and tango dance became the courtship ritual of the middle class.
The ’40’s were the “Golden Age” of tango and every night saw half a million people dancing until 3 or 4 in the morning. The best tango orchestras would be booked for more than a year in advance. After World War II, tango dancing slowly declined due to clampdowns on public gatherings. The culture of late-night dancing went underground, and nearly all the regular milongas closed their doors.
After the Falklands War of 1982-83, interest in learning to tango surfaced throughout Argentine society and a younger generation of dancers and teachers began reclaiming their tango heritage. In Paris, the debut of the stage production “Tango Argentino” brought the dance back to worldwide awareness. In theatrical reviews, Broadway, London, and Paris again became enraptured by the smouldering passion in this exotic dance and music, cultivated in far-off Buenos Aires. A new generation of Argentine tango dancers, tango teachers, and tango musicians was born. Today, major cities around the world have active tango communities.
Vernon, Stranks added, is one of them.
In addition to Ballroom, Latin, Swing and Country lessons, owners and instructors at her dance studio teach weekly tango lessons to a group whom she says, have embraced tango wholeheartedly.
Anyone who is considering giving Tango a try is encouraged to check out Milonga (tango dance) at City Dance studio on April 20. A 1.5-hour workshop will be held prior to the dance party. For more information contact Stranks at 250-307-4955.