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What makes tango unique?

posted Aug 14, 2014, 4:02 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Jun 20, 2017, 5:13 PM ]
You will find the answer in this excerpt from Christine Denniston's essay on the history of partner dancing. 

Christine is a UK based tango dancer, historian, and author of the popular book: 'The Meaning of Tango - The Story of the Argentinian Dance'

Couple Dancing and the Beginning of Tango 
by Christine Denniston

Although it seems now to be the only possible hold for couple dancing, Tango is only the third dance in history done with the man and woman facing each other, with the man holding the woman's right hand in his left, and with his right arm around her.

The first dance done in this hold was the Viennese Waltz, which was a craze across Europe in the 1830s. Couple dancing before the Viennese Waltz was formal, with couples performing choreographed steps, and generally with no more physical contact than holding hands - if that (although some Renaissance dances like la volta could involve surprising levels of intimacy).

Viennese Waltz: source: http://www.dancearchives.net

The second couple dance to use this hold was the Polka, which became the fashion in the 1840s.


The third dance, Tango, was radically different from anything that came before it because it introduced the concept of improvisation for the first time, and was a huge influence on all couple dancing in the Twentieth Century.
Argentine Tango - 1905

Immigrants into Argentina would have brought the fashionable new dances, with their shocking new hold. Exactly how and when the Tango began to evolve from these dances we can never now. The reason for this is that Tango was created by the kinds of people who generally leave no mark on history except by dying in wars - the poor, the underprivileged. Often we have to pick our way through comments made by people who were not part of their culture, who knew little or nothing about Tango. However, there are a few facts that we can rely on...

Click here to continue reading the full essay...

To conclude,  what makes tango unique as a dance form is its embrace and use of improvisation. I would also add as another essential element - the music used for the dance. It may be a truism but Argentine Tango is the only dance that is actually danced to Argentine Tango music. That in itself makes the dance unique. 

Granted, tango can be danced to non-tango music, but as explained in The Music that was Made for Tango Argentine tango music was specifically designed for dancing tango. The music's complex layers of melody and rhythm, are ideally suited to improvising in a lead-follow relationship. The music is another essential and unique element of  tango dancing.


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