Tango Dancing in Bend, Oregon, Since 2003

Music Styles

Tango is a music genre originated in the city of Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century that has evolved continuously since those days. There are two distinct styles of tango music: music for listening and music for dancing; in both cases the music can be either instrumental or sung. Listening to the music and to the lyrics are by far the most popular forms of experiencing tango within Argentina, followed by watching tango dance shows. Social tango dancing is the least popular form of experiencing tango there. This fact is reflected in the number of recordings: while an estimated 100,000 tango songs have been recorded since the invention of recording equipment, only a small fraction of those songs (between 700 and 2000) is considered to be suitable for social dancing. Outside of the Spanish speaking world the situation is reversed; tango dancing is the only form of tango known to most non-Spanish speakers.

Tango dancing was very popular in Buenos Aires during the first half of the twentieth century, especially in the thirties and forties (a period known outside of Argentina as the Golden Age of Tango), when it was an important way of socializing among young people. In those days much, but not all, tango music was written and played for social dancing. Tango dancing lost popularity almost overnight in the 50s, and by the 60s it was almost extinct; the number of social tango dancers in the late sixties and seventies is estimated in just a few hundred. Consequently, music was neither written nor played for dancing anymore, and old songs were recorded with new arrangements suited for the listening audience. The lyrics became the main reason to play the sung songs, thus most bands were replaced by small assemblies accompanying the singers.

The dance regained popularity in Argentina in the mid-80s and it soon spread worldwide. A whitepaper issued by the City of Buenos Aires in 2007 reports 300 weekly milongas in 120 venues selling 35,000 admission tickets per week within the city of Buenos Aires. This renewed popularity of tango dancing prompted the formation of tango bands in Argentina and abroad, but those bands have recorded a relatively small number of songs and some of them do not sound as danceable as those of the Golden Age.

  • Only a small fraction of the tango music ever recorded is danceable as tango in the social setting.

  • Most music danceable as tango in the social setting was recorded in the first half of the 20th century.

  • Carlos Gardel (1890-1935), the most popular tango artist of all time and the only tango star honored by the US Post Office with a stamp, recorded 792 different songs in a total of 957 recordings. Only a handful, if any, of those songs are danceable as tango.

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In this website, unless otherwise indicated, we restrict the use of the word tango to name just the dance danced socially, in close embrace, and the music that dance is danced to. Also, we limit the use of references to materials by authors who dance social tango regularly.