The Ups and Downs of Tango in Buenos Aires

By Tracey Chandler

Has tango always been big in Buenos Aires? Is tango a tourist activity or a local affair? Where does the word “tango” come from… music or dance? Connecting Worlds, in interview with Nicolás Di Rago, national and international professional tango dancer, delves into the origins and the ups and downs of tango in Buenos Aires during the past 100 years.

Where does the term, “tango” come from?

The word “tango” owes its origins to the world of dance more than to the world of music, as surprising as this might sound. “Tango” was the word used to describe the “embrace” experienced between two tango dancers “with their legs intertwined.” The passion and intimacy generated from this particular “entanglement” is the essence of what it means to “tango.”

When tango used to be big…

The journey that tango has taken throughout the past 100 years has been one of enigmatic highs and saddening lows. The popularity of the tango music scene has always been at the mercy of the popularity of the milongas; when few people are dancing tango in Buenos Aires, job prospects for tango singers and other related artists come crashing down as a result too.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, tango was one of the most popular music genres in Argentina, played on a wide range of radio stations and many artists earned a living from working in the tango scene. Milongas were full to the brim every night and tango was kept alive and kicking thanks to the swishing sounds of entangled legs. Milongas were part of the locals’ scene and tango artists thrived.

The arrival of rock ‘n’ roll

By the end of the 1950s, however, the vibrant life that tango had once enjoyed began to die out slowly in Buenos Aires. The commercial side of the music industry turned its focus to rock ‘n’ roll and ensured that all the major radio stations in Argentina spent their time blasting out the new, big hits of national and international rock musicians, leaving tango by the wayside.

With younger generations listening to rock ‘n’ roll, and tango musicians finding the search for paid employment in the tango industry an impossible task, the milongas began to lose their appeal. Fewer people were seen dancing tango, fewer musicians had the time to invest in playing tango and Buenos Aires’ tradition for the “entangled embrace” began to fade into the distance.

The Tango Renaissance

The rebirth of the tango scene in Buenos Aires was, unsurprisingly, sparked off by a clever idea set in motion by Raúl Lavier (one of the popular tango singers from the earlier decades) and a number of his contemporaries at the end of the 1960s. Lavier, and fellow tango artists, formed what was known as Club del Clan. They began using the commercial side of the music industry which had worked against them at the end of the 50s to put tango to sleep to their advantage.

They developed a popular tango “show” to catch the attention of large audiences, mainly foreigners, to put tango back under the limelight. By the 1980s, other famous names in the tango world were working towards the same goal. “El Tango Argentino” was one of the shows to hit Broadway at the end of the 1980s and this help to send Buenos Aires and its tango face onto the global map.

Tango found its way back onto the cultural scene in Buenos Aires thanks to the “tangled embrace” of its dancers. Musicians began earning money as tango artists once again and within a few years the milongas of Buenos Aires were not only full, but growing in numbers at an incredible pace.


Tourism and Tango in Buenos Aires in 2013

Since then, tango has played a huge role in the tourism industry in Buenos Aires. Approximately 60% of the people dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires in 2013 are foreigners/tourists. Since 2011, however, fewer and fewer tourists have been arriving to Buenos Aires which is starting to have an effect on the industry and those who rely on foreign tango fanatics to earn a living.

The future of tango in Buenos Aires is not so clear, as of yet, but what is certain is that the best way of keeping tango alive is to slip into a pair of dancing shoes and hit the milongas head-on. For more information about tango in Buenos Aires or the tango school, Menesunda, in Mar Del Plata (which runs a tango festival every February called “Festival Menesunda de Tango Salón”) connect us directly at Connecting Worlds. We will be happy to help you find your tangled, tango stride.

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