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The Early Tango Rules

The dance of tango is a closely linked couple dance that emerged from the fusion of Afro-Rioplatense, gaucho, Latin American, and European dances and rhythms. It is a characteristic dance of the Río de la Plata region and its area of influence, the city of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, which spread throughout the world.

It is characterized by the close embrace of the couple, the tango walk, the cut and the ravine, and the improvisation. There is a general coincidence among scholars to point out that tango was first born as a dance style and then as a musical genre. It is the dance of tango that was promoted since the mid-nineteenth century, a progressive musical transformation that corresponded to dance, reaching the creation of tango as a musical genre in the last decade of the nineteenth century (Tesol Program, P. 297-309).

Hanisch (2010) traces the history of tango, which originated in Buenos Aires. Information is presented on the movement patterns in the tango. Tango as a dance began to emerge in the middle of the century in what was called the shores or suburbs of cities such as Buenos Aires and Montevideo, that is to say, the marginal zones inhabited by the popular sectors. In those suburbs, it was in the heart of the Afro-Rio de la Plata communities, in the final process of liberation from slavery, where the places of dance and popular entertainment were installed, called ” academies “, “milongas”, “piringundines” or “canguelas” in which tango would be invented. The protagonists were the Afro-Rio de la Plata communities themselves with their so-called “black,” “black,” “brown,” and “brown” social types, and the mestizo rural populations in the process of migrating to the cities called “chinas” and ” compadritos” this last outstanding protagonist of the origin of tango as a dance. In addition, the academies and milongas also received the growing presence of the wave of immigrants from the most diverse countries of Europe and the Middle East, mostly Italians.

José Gobello explains that after the fall of Juan Manuel de Rosas in 1852 in Buenos Aires, the Afro-Buenos Aires communities could not continue marching with their candombes in the street and were forced to do it in closed places. It is in these conditions that the dance is transformed, merging the cuts and broken characteristics of the candombe with the linked couple of the waltz and the mazurka. The waltz had become fashionable in Europe with the novelty of the couple dancing embraced in the first decades of the nineteenth century, unleashing strong questions in the conservative sectors for their alleged indecency and immorality, especially in England. 2 The mazurka, also linked, was the fashion dance in 1850. The fusion of styles gave rise to waltzes, and mazurkas danced with cut and broken, laying the choreographic foundations of tango: closely linked couple, walk, cut, and broken (Tesol Program, P. 297-309).

According to Balakrishnan et al. (2013), Tango provides developers with the abstraction of a replicated, in-memory data structure (such as a map or a tree) backed by a shared log. Those characteristics were already defined in the 1860s. In Buenos Aires, there are records of the detention of four men and two women for dancing with a court in 1862. In the following three decades, that type of dance was used in the Rio de la Plata to dance diverse styles: mazurkas, polkas, chaotic, habaneras, Andalusian tangos, and milongas, in search of a style that adapted to its cadence. At that time, everything that “the blacks” danced was called “tango.” In that process, a new musical genre was generated, perfectly adapted to that peculiar and sensual dance style. 4 Finally, this new genre appeared in the last years of the 19th century and was baptized with the same name as the dance: “tango” (Tesol Program, P. 297-309).

This initial way of dancing tango is known as “tango canyengue “, or tango orillero or tango arrabalero. The canyengue tango acquired the profile of a defined style, strongly marked by the cut and the broken, with a very close hug and the bodies in contact. It is a provocative and very sensual style. But as the tango was leaving the academies, milongas, and piringundines of the suburban night to begin to be danced in salons and public or family environments, a new style of dancing appeared, which sought to moderate its most provocative aspects, separating the bodies but without losing the embrace and attenuating or even eliminating the cuts and gorges, at least their most sensual figures. This style, developed mainly in the second decade of the twentieth century, received the name lounge tango or smooth tango. Tango de salón or tango smooth was based mostly on the tango walk. It was basically the style that was popularly danced between the 1920s and 1950s (Tesol Program, P. 297-309).

Almost simultaneously with the salon tango practiced as popular entertainment, a tango danced by professionals oriented to the show appeared, which was called the stage tango. The tango scenario uses more daring and free choreographies, often taken from other dances or physical disciplines, such as jumps and figures with loose dancers, which neither the lounge tango nor the tango canyengue accepts. The tango stopped dancing almost from the sixties in Buenos Aires. Some milongas survived. However, in the eighties, it received a new boost thanks to the success of the Argentinian Tango show by Claudio Segovia and Héctor Orezzoli, first in Paris and then on Broadway, generating a tangomanía all over the globe. Everywhere, tango academies flourished, and people from all over the world began to make a pilgrimage in search of places to dance, especially Buenos Aires, promoted as the Capital of Tango.

The tango dance is built on four basic components: the narrow embrace, the walk, the cut and the ravine, understood these last two classic terms as the axis of improvisation and the choreographic figures that adorn the dance and that are known under the name generic “firulete”. But above all things, tango must be danced as a body language through which personal emotions are transmitted to the couple. It is said that tango is danced “listening to the other’s body.” In the tango, the couple must make figures, pauses, and improvised movements, called “cuts, broken and formulates,” different for each of them, without letting go. It is the embrace that makes it difficult to combine the improvisations of both in a single choreography. One of the styles of tango, the Argentine tango, performs the miracle of inserting the figure in the link. This is the secret of its success; this is the main innovation that it offers to the world (Tesol Program, P. 297-309).

The choreography, designed from the couple’s embrace, is highly sensual and complex. The complexity of the steps does not make the expression or what you want to convey during the dance. It is about expressing a feeling full of sensuality and not of sexuality, where the main thing is not just the steps or the figures that dancers do with their feet. It is worth noting that a perfect technique or perfect timing is needed when the facial expression of the dancers does not convey feelings. Everything in the dance of the tango is united: the looks, the arms, the hands, each movement of the body accompanying the cadence of the tango and accompanying what they are living: a three-minute romance between two people that maybe only They know and probably do not have a love relationship in real life (Tesol Program, P. 297-309).

Kreutz (2008) depicts that cultural activities, including music, singing, and dance, have often been conceptualized as enhancing well-being as well as promoting mental and physical health. The tango transcends and reaches the heart of those who contemplate the dancers, thanks to the feelings they put into the dance and, obviously, the quality of their choreography. Each musical verse, each passage, each tango has different moments, you can not dance a complete tango following a pattern of identical behavior for the whole melody. There are sad, joyful, sensual, or euphoric cadences, silent or grandiose endings, in-crescendo music, or in-diminuendo music. It only expresses feelings, and these are what the dancers carry at their feet and throughout their bodies.


Tesol Program, Dancy on the Engle the Early Tango Rules Conyenque. P. 297-309

Hanisch, R. (2010). The Tango: Dynamic movement caught with the camera. PSA Journal, 76(12), 22–24. Retrieved from

Balakrishnan, M., Zuck, A., Malkhi, D., Wobber, T., Wu, M., Prabhakaran, V., … Zou, T. (2013). Tango. In Proceedings of the Twenty-Fourth ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles – SOSP ’13 (pp. 325–340).

Kreutz, G. (2008). Does partnered dance promote health? The case of tango Argentino. Journal of The Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, 128(2), 79–84.



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