International Tango Festival: The Rythm of the People

The Importance of the Tango to the Argentinean People

Figure 1: Political map of Argentina.  Source: 1998 National Geographic



The tango is a part of Argentina that is undeniably one of the most important aspects of life for the Argentine people. It is through the tango that Argentines can are able express their culture to others. The tango, although born in the brothels, has taken its popularity mainstream. The tango's erotic flair also provides a look at gender roles within the Argentinean society as the female has a chance to be dominant in the dance. The International Tango Festival in Argentina has in recent years popularized the tango and as a result generated a large amount of capital through tourism.



Figure 2:

Program cover for the 2004 International Tango Festival (Source: International Tango Festival Website)

Figure 3: Miguel Ángel Solá and Mía Maestro demonstrate the tango.  (Source: Sony Pictures)


The International Tango Festival is a means of intensifying the importance of the tango by attracting people from all around the world to come and participate. Argentina is the birthplace of the tango and this vibrant dance is an important part of life for all Argentineans. People of Argentina use the tango dance as a mode of expression and celebration. Each year thousands of people pour into Buenos Aires to celebrate this art form by participating in the International Tango Festival. Figure 2 shows a copy of the program of this festival. This week long celebration draws visitors from all over the world. During this week in Buenos Aires many workshops take place were people can learn the tango regardless of ability level. The International Tango Festival draws attention to the evolution of gender roles and also provides a financial boost for Argentina 's economy.


Context of [Argentina]


    Argentina is located in Southern South America bordering the Atlantic Ocean to the east. It is situated between the countries of Chile and Uruguay . Argentina is mostly temperate with some arid areas in the southeast while part of the southwest lies in the sub Antarctic. It is the second largest country in South America and it boasts the highest point in South American in the Cerro Aconcagua Mountain . (The CIA World Factbook 2004)

     Pre-Columbian Argentina was farmed by Indian groups such as the Diaguita and was occupied by nomads. Indian resistance inhibited Spanish invasion and discouraged Spanish settlement. Buenos Aires was not successfully established until 1580, and was fairly insignificant for 200 years. It had a declining Indian population which resulted in a decrease in the amount of available laborers. As a result, the creation of huge cattle ranches, known as haciendas arose. The creation of the gaucho became the source of great wealth for a lucky few that were able to prosper off of their land. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Argentina 's economy grew as wheat farms and cattle ranches spread our across flat, fertile grasslands. Rail roads lead into the booming port of Buenos Aires . By 1930, Argentina boasted the seventh largest economy in the world (Lewis 2001: 210).


Origins of Tango

The word tango has no clear etymology. However, it may be derived from the Spanish and Portuguese word ‘tocar' which means to play or touch. However, it is more commonly thought of from its Niger-Congo origin, where tamgu means ‘to dance'. The name has also been used in some types of African dance forms. All these possibilities lead up to what we now know the tango to be. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

  The origin of the tango is not completely understood. A popular belief is that the tango was born in the brothels. This would account for its risqué movements and suggestive titles such as "El choclo" (the corn-cob), "El fierrazo" (the iron rod). Ricardo Garcia Blaya, a contemporary writer on tango , claims that the brothel theory is "nothing is more absurd and incorrect." The tango, he insists, was born in the dance halls (Economist 2001: 37).



  The tango is known as a provocative dance with a style all its own. As we can see in Figure 4 the dance requires an intimate rhythm between the partners that appears almost erotic. However, the dancers know that it is an art form that requires exceptional coordination and balance. The orchestra in the background is almost essential to a traditional tango dance because it provides a carefully choreographed tempo for dancers to follow. The Argentine dance is a metaphor for the complexities of gender roles in a male dominated society (Women's International Network News 1990). In the dance, men lead and women follow, but women express themselves through numerous ornamentations, slowing down and speeding up movements, and can take the initiative for certain steps. When a separation of the two dancers occurs, the women are given an opportunity to be the leader of the dance. There are also female teachers (maestras) of the tango . This can sometimes provide uneasiness for men who are participating. In tango the contradictions of gendered power structures remain unresolved and are ultimately played out through the dance. The viewer sees equilibrium of leadership and control between the two partners (Schneider 1998: 16).



Jorge Nel and Marta

Figure 4. A picture from the Miami based Jorge Nel performing group. Source: Tango in Miami





Prognosis for [tango]

As of current day, the popularity of the Argentinean tango is on the rise. We are now seeing this already popular dance becoming more appealing to women. The majority of this popularity has to do with the broadcasting of tango music via radio. When the tango entered households via the radio, it attracted a new audience; women. In addition, the tango is cutting across class lines and is not just considered a lower class source of entertainment. It is a nationally enjoyed dance that has even entered the church. One pastor, Monsignor Gustavo Franceschi, saw this pervasive tango invasion as “an example of the general loosening of the moral fabric of Argentine society” (Castro 1999: 93). The dance is not associated with prostitution as it once was some time ago. Thanks to celebrations like the International Tango Festival and national support, the popularity of the Argentinean tango will continue to grow.



Each year, the country of Argentina holds its International Tango Festival attracting tourists from around the world in order to display how important the tango is to them. This celebration is enjoyed by people of various different cultures and it is a time to reunite in Argentina and celebrate a terrific dance. The Argentine people use this celebration as a means to communicate to the rest of the world just what they are passionate about in life. They are a people that are willing to share their talents with us in a very expressive dance form. After all that I have learned through researching the tango I hope one day to travel to Argentina to experience this celebration first hand! The International Tango Festival provides the Argentine economy with capital as well as providing its participants with a look at how gender roles in society have changed over the years


Internet References Cited


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • 1990   “ Constitutional Reform Proposed By National Women's Meeting.” Women's

    International Network News . 16 (1990). 19 Oct. 2004,ip,url,uid&db=aph&an=9611083543


    2001   “A Sense of Where You Are.” Economist. Dec. 2001: 37. 13 Oct. 2004


    Castro, Donald S.

    •  Massification of the Tango.” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 18(1):93. 10 Nov. 2004,ip,url,uid&db=aph&an=3843601


    Fernandez, Marcelo B.

    2002   “Tango Reissues To Reap Pesos?” Billboard 108(49):30. 13 Oct. 2004


    Guillermoprieto, Alma

    2003a   “And They Still Tango.” National Geographic. 204(36):34. 2 Oct. 2004


    Holston, Mark

    2003b   “The Home of Tango.” Americas . 55(3): 3-5. 3 Oct. 2004


    Schneider, Arnd

    1998   “Tales Of Terror and Tango.” Anthropology Today . 14(6):16.

    15 Oct. 2004



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