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History of Tango – Part 2: The origins of Tango

How tango came to be is unknown. What we have is information about the history leading up to the rise of Argentina as a state. From these facts, all we can do is speculate about how tango came to be.

In 1805 and again in 1807, England tried to invade Buenos Aires, but was repealed successfully by the population, not by the Spanish army, which abandon the city. This paved the way for ideas of independence, which eventually led to the end of the Colonial system and, after a war against Spain and a civil war, the Argentine Republic unified during the decade of 1860. Most of the references related to tango point to this time to signify its origins.

Railroad networkThe first Argentinean Presidents promoted the immigration of the European workforce, defeated the indigenous people who had still claimed part of the Argentine territory, favored an economic model of production and export of agricultural goods, in accordance with British led ideas of international division of work, and invested in the technology and infrastructure that made possible such model. A modern port was constructed in the area of the Puerto Madero, and a railroad network that transported the whole production of the entire country to this port. Buenos Aires greatly benefitted from these changes and grew exponentially. Between 1871 and 1915, Argentina received 5 million immigrants, mostly Europeans. Almost all of them stayed in Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires, known at that time as “La Gran Aldea” (“The Great Village”), also received other immigrants from the countryside who had been displaced. The gauchos’ natural environment was the Pampas, which became private property of the new landowners. Also, the “chinas”, who were indigenous women whose men were killed in battle, defending their territory.

ImmigrantsAll these new arrivals to Buenos Aires had few resources and were very poor. They could only afford housing in the poorest neighborhoods, where the Afro-Argentineans, descendants of the African slaves, had been populating since 1813’s abolition of slavery. They were the locals. If any newcomer wanted to know something about Buenos Aires, they had to ask the Afro-Argentineans, who, before this massive immigration, constituted one-third of the population.

Juan Manuel de RosasBetween 1820 and 1850, before the Argentine Constitution was written and immigration was promoted, Argentina was under the administration of Juan Manuel de Rosas. During this time, the Afro-Argentineans enjoyed a period of greater participation and freedom of expression.
Rosas was a landowner in the province of Buenos Aires with a very good resume. When he was only thirteen, he fought heroically against the English invasions. Later on, he proved to be a very efficient administrator of cattle ranches and a successful businessman. Rosas created, financed and trained his own militia of gauchos, which would go on to be integrated into the state as an official regiment. They soon earned a reputation of being highly disciplined, and Rosas was able to establish order at the border with the indigenous populations. In 1819, Rosas put this militia at the service of the Governor of the province in order to quell an uprising against him. This is how Rosas became known as “El Restaurador de las Leyes” (”The Restorer of Law’).
Afroargentineans during RosasHe became the Governor of the province of Buenos Aires, and during 1835 and 1852 was the main leader of the Argentinean Confederation. This period of Argentina’s history is referred to as the “Era of Rosas.” He obtained the necessary support for his administration from the poorer sectors of the population of the City of Buenos Aires (integrated for a majority of Afro-Argentineans), and the gauchos of the countryside close to the City (many of whom were also Afro-Argentinean.) During his tenure, Rosas attended the “candombes” (celebrations) of the Afro-Argentineans as an honored guest. Also, it was during this period that the carnivals began in Buenos Aires.

“Abuelita Dominga era muy vieja
y vivía en el barrio de los candombes.
Del carnaval de Rosas no se olvidaba
al cantar esta copla roja de amores:

Rosa morena,
de la estrella federal,
yo se que tu alma está llena
de un pasión que es mortal.
Rosa morena,
todos la vieron pasar,
en su garganta morena
sangraba un rojo collar.

Abuelita Dominga siempre lloraba
al recordar la historia de amor y sangre.
Y me dio esta guitarra para que un día,
la cante como nunca la cantó nadie.

Rosa morena,
muerta en los cercos en flor
la vio una noche serena
todo el Barrio del Tambor.
Rosa perdida
aún dice el viejo cantar
que le quitaron la vida
porque quiso traicionar.”

“Rosa Morena (Abuelita Dominga)”, Héctor Blomberg and Enrique Maciel.

“Están de fiesta
en la calle Larga
los mazorqueros
de Monserrat.
Y entre las luces
de las antorchas,
bailan los negros
de La Piedad.
Se casa Pancho,
rey del candombe,
con la mulata
más federal,
que en los cuarteles
de la Recova,
soñó el mulato
sentimental.

Baila, mulata linda,
bajo la luna llena,
que al chi, qui, chi del chinesco,
canta el negro del tambor.
Baila, mulata linda,
de la divisa roja,
que están mirando los ojos
de nuestro Restaurador.

Ya esta servida
la mazamorra
y el chocolate
tradicional
y el favorito
plato de locro,
que ha preparado
un buen federal.
Y al son alegre
de tamboriles
los novios van
a la Concepción
y al paso brinda,
la mulateada,
por la más Santa
Federación.”

“La mulateada”, Julio Eduardo Del Puerto and Carlos Pesce.

Juan Manuel de Rosas’ regime affected all aspects of life in Buenos Aires and the culture. After his fall in 1852, local actors who were popular under his regime were dismissed, and the theaters of the City received foreign companies in their place. The Spanish theater companies from Andalusia were the most popular at that time, with the “sainete” being the main genre offered by these companies. This genre was comprised of shorter pieces, including elements of humor, songs and dance. Soon, the music and dance of tango could be seen on these stages.
Also, after Rosas was exiled, the candombes were prohibited in open spaces, so the Afro-Argentineans had to continue them inside. This change of venue forced them to dance closer to each other, shaping the choreographic elements of their dance which eventually fit the embrace of tango. During this period, the word “tango” referred to any dance performed by the Afro-Argentineans.

All the necessary elements for tango to appear were there: the Great City of Buenos Aires, the Afro-Argentine culture, the criollo and the gaucho, the native “chinas”, the massive immigration, the reconciliation with the Spanish heritage after the end of the War of Independence, and the open door to the rest of the world through the port.

In our modern society, dancing is viewed as a specialized activity, such as a profession or a hobby. For the people of the 1800s, dance was integrated into everyday life. A person was not special because they danced, but they stood out if they did not or could not dance.

The Renaissance was the beginning of dance as a modern social activity. Before the Renaissance, dance was a purely ritual activity, with the aim of maintaining a connection between the human realm and the Cosmos, which involved mythological and religious connotations and rationales.
Then with the development of the modern city and its lifestyle, and the consequent secularization of all aspects of life, dance assumed a role of facilitating social interaction.

Minuet 1738In the origins of social dances, we observe no physical contact between partners; then they take each other hands, developing the “minuet” during the 1600s; which led to dancing in each others arms, with the “waltz” in the 1700s. The direction of the evolution of social partner dancing becomes evident: a closing of the distance between the partners that culminates in the embrace of tango.

There are two explanations for why the embrace happened in tango, which are not contradictory. The first is the eclectic origins of the dance, which combined techniques of opposite tendencies, like the continuous movement in acceptance of the inertia, characteristic of waltz, and the “figures”, detention of the movement opposing the inertia, characteristic of the dances with separate partners or solo dancers, performed, among others, in the Afro-Argentinean and Andalusian dances. The greater communication made possible in the embrace produced a social partner dance that could have both, the partners united in each others arms, and the figures from the stops of the solo dancers. The other explanation is emotional: the consolation that the embrace gave to all these humans left alone by displacement, economic exile, destruction of their families, cultures and lifestyles.

Other characteristics of the new dance were that it was totally improvised, favoring the skill and creativity of the dancers, their spontaneity, in contrast with the repetition of choreographed formulas that the other dances demanded; and the innovation that the woman walks backwards, which contradicted all previous approaches to partner dancing. These elements are rooted in the body language of the criollos, men and women, who were trained in the art of short knife fencing. Due to a cultural demand and the historical realities of the time, it was considered necessary to know how to fight, just as today it is considered necessary to read and write. In a historical situation of rapid transformation of the government and institutions, there was no reliable protection provided to the people, their families or their property.
Before the British, who were commissioned by the Argentinean government to construct the railroad network, brought futbol (“football” in England, “soccer” in the United States) to Argentina (effectively making it the most popular sport), the criollos of Buenos Aires practiced “visteo.” Visteo is a variation of fencing using a wooden stick burned in one end, or the index finger painted with grease or ashes, with the purpose of marking the white shirt of the opponent. This is something which was inherited from the gauchos. The popularity of this practice prepared the Porteños of the 1800s with the necessary skills to create the dance of tango.

The characteristic elements of the dance of tango were referred as “cortes y quebradas” (cuts and breaks).

Tango regionThis dance technique soon became the characteristic dance of the poorest inhabitants of Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rosario, and the villages located south of Buenos Aires in an area known as “Barracas al sur”, Avellaneda and Sarandí.
These women and men received respectively the names of “chinas” and “compadritos.”

The massive immigration in Buenos Aires was intended to populate the countryside, but a failure in the implementation of the necessary policies, corruption and the “Panic of 1873” (the great financial crisis that triggered a worldwide economic depression), conspired to detain almost the entire human wave in “The Great Village.” The City was not prepared to receive this amount of people, and housing quickly became one of the most urgent problems to solve.

ConventilloThe Andalusian style houses of the Southern side of Buenos Aires, San Telmo and La Boca, were soon creatively transformed into rooms to rent.
This type of construction, typical of the Colonial time, constituted a string of rooms aligned one after the other, with doors that opened to a patio or corridor connecting them. Their owners simply made each room a separate apartment to rent.
The huge demand for rooms made them expensive, so sometimes more than one family would rent one room and further divide it to make it affordable. This created a very crowded living unit, which was called “conventillo.”

Yellow feverIn 1871, Buenos Aires suffered a yellow fever epidemic that killed 8% of its population, most of them living in these houses. The situation was so dire (with more than 13,000 people dying in 4 months) that it was necessary to open a new cemetery in the area of La Chacarita.

A great proportion of immigrants were male because they did not want to risk their families in the adventures of a “new world.” This created the conditions for the rise of prostitution as a very profitable business.
After the 1871 yellow fever epidemic, the authorities of Buenos Aires became more concerned with public health. Among many public health measures, prostitution was regulated. The unintended outcome of this was the differentiation between foreign women and the locals. Foreign women, who did not understand the language and the culture, were lured into being sex slaves by an international network of human traffickers, and had to accept these regulations, fees and taxation. The locals, Afro-Argentineans and native “chinas,” together with the Spanish and Italians, went into hiding. This also satisfied the demand of two different sectors of the market, in accordance with their purchase power, making the “loras” (“parrots”, due to the language barrier) the better off, and the “chinas” (Quechua word for “woman”) the less favored. The legal business, called “casas de tolerancia” (“houses of tolerance”) were located downtown, in the area of Corrientes Street, San Nicolas, Palermo, San Cristobal and Barracas. The clandestine ones were called “cuartos de chinas.”

“Milonga del tiempo guapo, milongón de rompe y raja,
la bulla del empedrado va marcando tu canción;
soy porteño del 80 y al compás de tu canyengue
desfilan por mi memoria los recuerdos en montón.

Te conocí en los fortines
que cuidaban la frontera
reclamando los amores
de una china cuartelera.
Animando las retretas
del Parque de Artillería
y en la barriada bravía
de las Barracas del Sur.

Milonga del tiempo guapo, milongón de los milicos,
de “kepises” requintados y bombachas de carmín;
con tu música sencilla fuiste ley de los porteños,
grito de los cuarteadores y alma del piringundín.

Te conocí en los corrales
de los viejos Mataderos,
hecha jerga en los quillangos
del recao de un forastero.
tu canto fue la corneta
del cochero del tranvía
y el Palermo de avería
tu escuela sentimental.”

“Del tiempo guapo”, Vicente Fiorentino and Marcelo De La Ferrere.

The demand was always greater than the supply, meaning customers had to wait. The owners of these houses soon realized that they needed to offer something to these customers while they waited, to keep them from leaving and to entertain them. They began to hire musicians as a form of entertainment. The most popular music at the time was polka, habanera, milonga and a new kind of rhythm called… tango. Sometimes the men who were waiting would dance, which led the owners to the realization that perhaps the dance in itself could generate business.

The first “academias” began to open during the 1870s. These were places where men could go and dance with a superb female dancer, improve their skills, and try some new moves, all for a fixed price per song. These women shared the customer’s pay with the owner of the hall. The better dancers were more in demand and would dance nonstop for several hours, song after song, man after man. They did not need to be pretty or possess any other quality outside of being great dancers. The academias were located mainly in the area of Constitución and San Cristobal, and were also very popular in the City of Rosario. The owners and managers of the academias were mostly Afro-Argentineans.

Outside the circuit of academias, in 1857, the Spanish musician Santiago Ramos provided a distinctive Andalusian contribution, which in turn recognized Afro-Cuban and African roots. He composed one of the first tango flavored songs known as “Tomá mate, che”, a proto-tango with “Rioplatense” lyrics and Andalusian style musical arrangements. It was part of the “sainete” “The Gaucho of Buenos Aires,” which premiered at the Teatro de la Victoria. Also from that time came the proto-tango “Bartolo tenia una flauta” or simply “Bartolo”, derived from a classical XV century Andalusian melody, and the Montevidean “candombe tangueado” “El chicoba”.

Lo de HansenThe first Andalusian tango to reach mass popularity was composed in Argentina in 1874. The title is “El queco” (slang for ‘brothel’, of Quechua origin), from the Andalusian pianist Heloise de Silva, which makes open reference to the “cuartos de chinas.” Also, a candombe called “tango” with the title “El merenguengué” became very successful at carnivals organized by the Afro-Argentinean population in Buenos Aires in February 1876. In 1877, the restaurant “Lo de Hansen”, located in Palermo, was the first in a series of restaurants, cabarets and pubs where the youth of high society would socialize and dance tango.

The year of 1880 is when some authors mark the transition between the gestation of the tango and “La Guardia Vieja” (“Old Guard”.) There are some others who prefer to wait for the further evolution of the genre and the appearance of the first scores. In this decade, the tango and milonga are confused with one another, and both began to impose their dominance over habanera. During this time is when tangos began to multiply, “Señora casera” (Anonymous, 1880), “Andate a la Recoleta” (Anonymous, 1880), “Tango # 1” (José Machado, 1883), “Dame la lata” (Juan Pérez, 1883), “Qué polvo con tanto viento” (Pedro M. Quijano, 1890.)

In 1884, the Afro-Argentinean Casimiro Alcorta composed the oldest famous tango, “Concha sucia”, with openly pornographic lyrics referencing life in the brothels. Three decades later, Francisco Canaro changed the lyrics and the title to “Cara sucia” (“Dirty Face”), definitely making it the inaugural tango. Casimiro also composed “La yapa” tango which was later recorded as “Entrada prohibida”, then signed by the Teisseire brothers as the composers.

Casimiro Alcorta was also a celebrated tango dancer, together with his companion “La Paulina”, of Italian origin.

Around the same time, another Afro-Argentinean, the “payador” Gabino Ezeiza, introduced the “contrapunto milongueado”, linking the milonga to candombe. He told another payador, Nemesio Trejo, that “contrapunto milongueado” is ‘pueblera’ (‘of the city’) and a daughter of African Candombe, and while hitting his fingers against the edge of the table began to hum “tunga … tatunga … tunga …” to demonstrate with an onomatopoeia the link between the milonga rhythm with the Candombe (In an interview to Nemesio Trejo, made by Jaime Olombrada, published in the newspaper “La Opinion” of Avellaneda -Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina- on April 15, 1916).

At this time, the most common tango ensemble was guitar, violin and flute. In the following years the guitar and the flute disappeared, and the piano and then the bandoneón were integrated, which shaped the “Orquesta Típica.”

OrganitoIn those years the “organito,” a portable player, had a major role in the initial spread of the tango. It was made of tubes or flutes and a keyboard which is operated by the cylinder, enabling the passage of air to produce the different notes. Air is generated by bellows which are activated simultaneously with the cylinder by rotating a handle. The “organito,” like the organ and the bandoneón, is a wind instrument. It is important to differentiate the “organito” from the “organillo,” which is more common in Spain and produced its sound from strings. The sound of the “organito” prepared the ears of the Porteños for a natural transition to the bandoneón in tango, when it finally arrived in 1880.

It is around these “organitos,” where men were seen dancing tango in the street, practicing “cortes y quebradas.”

“Las ruedas embarradas del último organito
vendrán desde la tarde buscando el arrabal,
con un caballo flaco y un rengo y un monito
y un coro de muchachas vestidas de percal.

Con pasos apagados elegirá la esquina
donde se mezclan luces de luna y almacén
para que bailen valses detrás de la hornacina
la pálida marquesa y el pálido marqués.

El último organito irá de puerta en puerta
hasta encontrar la casa de la vecina muerta,
de la vecina aquella que se cansó de amar;
y allí molerá tangos para que llore el ciego,
el ciego inconsolable del verso de Carriego,
que fuma, fuma y fuma sentado en el umbral.

Tendrá una caja blanca el último organito
y el asma del otoño sacudirá su son,
y adornarán sus tablas cabezas de angelitos
y el eco de su piano será como un adiós.

Saludarán su ausencia las novias encerradas
abriendo las persianas detrás de su canción,
y el último organito se perderá en la nada
y el alma del suburbio se quedará sin voz.”

“El último organito”, Homero and Acho Manzi.

Read also

Bibliography:

  • “Antología del tango rioplatense”, Jorge Novati, Irma Ruiz, Néstor Ceñal e Inés Cuello. Instituto Nacional de Musicología “Carlos Vega”, 1980.
  • “Crónica general del tango”, José Gobello, Editorial Fraterna, 1980.
  • “El tango”, Horacio Salas, Editorial Aguilar, 1996.
  • “Historia del tango – Sus orígenes”, Rubén Pesce, Oscar del Priore, Editorial Corregidor 1977.
  • “El tango, el gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro, Editorial Argenta, 2009.
  • http://www.todotango.com/english/

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History of Tango – Part 1: Women and men of the Colony

The dance of Tango originated in the second half of the XIX century, in the area designated Rio de la Plata, on the outskirts of port cities like Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Rosario.[1]

Historically, this area was an important part of the Spanish Colonial Empire, which gained its independence from Feudalist Catholic Monarchic Spain towards integration into a Western capitalist globalized economy. This economic revolution was led by the United Kingdom and the United States, in the beginning of the 1800s, as a direct consequence of the transformations that swept through Europe due to the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

The elite class that led this process of transformation, although not unified – as many internal conflicts arose after the final defeat of the Spanish Army – were inspired by the ideas of the French and American Revolutions, and saw the industrialized countries like the United Kingdom as beacons of civilization, superior to the models of a feudalist Spain, and Aboriginal Native nations of America.

Since the arrival of the first Spanish expedition to the Rio de la Plata under the command of Juan Diaz de Solís (1515), the changes that affected this territory were very slow for almost 300 years.

Monopoly routeDuring that time, Spain allowed its colonies to only trade with Spain and other Spanish colonies. To avoid ships being captured by enemy’s nations and pirates, Spain established a unique route for the transit of goods between the colonies and Spain. This route was not at all favorable to Buenos Aires, making goods too expensive and scarce to the inhabitants of Rio de la Plata. As a consequence, smuggling became the only profitable business for its population and the only way to acquire what they needed to survive.

The first Spanish colonists that arrived to what today is Argentina and Uruguay could see that the land was great for cattle. The animals prospered and reproduced rapidly, creating a source of leather. In an area that had no other natural resources like stones, metals or wood, this new resource became the main material to create the necessary tools for everyday life activities. Leather was also the only product available to exchange for the goods being smuggled in to the area. Since the cattle were wild, there was no reliable tracking system in place, which was ideal for those in the area looking to make the most of this resource. Cattle producers (“estancieros”) were one of the main forces behind the process to gain independence, with the goal of ending the monopoly imposed by Spain.

In 1776, this territory was given more autonomy, becoming the “Virreinato del Rio de La Plata,” with the capital in Buenos Aires, mainly because Spain wanted to end the growing smuggling business in the area and profit by regulating the trade.

The isolation of this territory geographically – due to the enormous distance from Spain – and politically and economically – due to the strict trade policies – shaped the characteristics of its population, and created an environment that allowed for the appearance of first, the “gaucho,” and then later, the tango.

The early expeditions that arrived in Rio de la Plata were comprised of men who did not integrate well into Spanish society. In addition, the men who commanded these expeditions sometimes behaved in very authoritarian way, which is understandable due to the harsh conditions and the riskiness of expeditions at the time. Historical records show that the first gauchos descended from Andalucians and Moors of North African background, who accepted Christianity only as a way to avoid persecution. Once these men reached America, many broke loose from the expeditions and went to live as nomads, living off the wild cattle that rapidly populated the lands and coexisting with the natives.[2]

In “Tierras de nadie” (No man’s land), the area that is today the border between Uruguay and Brazil, the first gauchos (1771) lived off the land and hunted wild cattle, which they sold to the population of what is known today as Rio Grande do Sur, Brazil.

Gaucho with boleadoras

To hunt the wild cattle, the gauchos used various techniques. One method, which they learned from the natives, was the use of “boleadoras”, an artefact made of three balls of hard wood, stone or metal, lined with leather and tied together with leather strings, which they skillfully launched at the rear legs of the animal in order to make it fall and capture it alive, and keeping it in good condition, thereby maximizing its profitability.
Jesuit's missionsAnother origin of gauchos came from the Jesuit Missions after they were dismantled, in the area which is now known as the border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, populated mainly by natives of the Guaraní nations. These missions were efficiently organized and very productive. For that reason, the missions attracted the attention of the powers of the time, who were suspicious of their prosperity.

The gauchos developed a new and truly local lifestyle and culture produced by the mix between the members of the expeditions and the American natives. They prized independence, self-reliance, honor, friendship, hospitality, loyalty, rejection of arbitrary authorities, courage, virility, resilience in the face of adversity, and appreciation for a life based on simplicity and in harmony with nature. These values are still the ones that guide the identity of Argentinians and Uruguayans. More specifically, these values permeate tango and are most evident in the lyrics, as illustrated in the song below.

“Tango que sos un encanto
De quien escucha tus sones,
Tango que atraes corazones,
Con tus dulces cantos
Y tus bandoneones.
Sos de cuna humilde,
Y has paseado el universo,
Sin más protocolo,
Que tu música y tus versos,
Para abrirte paso
Has tenido que ser brujo,
Por tus propios medios
Lograste tu triunfo.
Tango que sos un encanto,
Hoy vive tu canto,
En mi corazón.

¡Tango!, ¡Tango!
Tango bravo, tango lindo,
Tango noble, tango guapo
Tango hermano
De mis largas noches tristes,
Compañero de mi pobre corazón.
Tango bravo, fascinante,
¡Tango brujo!,
Tango bravo, combatido,
Tango bravo,
Tango gaucho
Que a pesar de tanta contra
Defendiste con altura,
Tu bravura de varón.”

“Tango brujo”, Francisco Canaro.[3]

The gauchos represented a continuity of the Middle Age Knights of Spain and Europe in general. They were skillful horseback riders, and were very proud of their ability in the fight. The gaucho’s weapon was the “facón”, a 16-inch knife – that could be seen as a shortened Knight sword. In general, the “facóns” were made from bayonets and used alone or in combination with the “rebenque” (a sort of whip) or the “poncho” (an outer garment designed to keep the body warm) rolled on the left arm and used as a shield.

Gauchos with facónThe “facón” was not only a weapon, but also an indispensable everyday tool, as well as the “rebenque” and the “poncho”.

The gauchos trained their fighting skills in a game called “visteo,” in which they used a wooden stick burned at one extreme, or the index finger colored with ashes or grease. They played inside of a small marked square called “cancha.” The main goal of the game is to force the opponent out of the square.

“Tome mi poncho… No se aflija…
¡Si hasta el cuchillo se lo presto!
Cite, que en la cancha que usté elija
he de dir y en fija
no pondré mal gesto.

Yo con el cabo ‘e mi rebenque
tengo ‘e sobra pa’ cobrarme…
Nunca he sido un maula, ¡se lo juro!
y en ningún apuro
me sabré achicar.”

“Mandria”, Juan Rodríguez, Francisco Brancatti and Juan Velich.[4]

The body language that came out of this physical training eventually gave shape to the dance of tango.

Gauchos and horsesThe gauchos were horseback riders by nature. In their childhoods, they learned to ride horses at the same time they learned how to walk. Similarly to the cattle that the Spanish brought, the horses brought over from Spain reproduced very quickly, providing the gauchos a plentiful pool of horses to use and trade. They use to call their horses “pingo”, and also “flete.”

“Pasó la tranquera y el pingo miraba,
tal vez extrañao de no verla más,
y el gaucho le dijo: ¡No mire, mi pingo,
que la patroncita ya no volverá!”

“Lonjazos”, Andrés Domenech and Jesús Fernández Blanco.[5]

During the 1800s, when the gaucho moved into the cities, he became the “compadre.” This move required him to give up his horse and shorten his knife. The “compadre” will show up again later in relation to tango.

Payador and guitarThe gaucho’s favorite musical instrument was the guitar (”guitarra criolla”), inherited from Spain (guitarra española.) The poetry of the gauchos accompanied by guitar is called “payada”, and the performer “payador.”

Gabino EzeizaThe “payada” evolved into “milonga” when Gabino Ezeiza (1858-1916), Afro-Argentine payador, introduced its rhythm derived from African Candombe[6].

Pampa's landscapeThe landscape of Argentina and Uruguay is said to have influenced the gauchos, deep into their character.

“Hay una hora de la tarde en que la llanura está por decir algo; nunca lo dice o tal vez lo dice infinitamente y no lo entendemos, o lo entendemos pero es intraducible como una música…”

“El fin”, Jorge Luis Borges.[7]

Courage, skillfulness, resilience and knowledge of the terrain made the gauchos vital elements of the Independence War, forming the core of the liberation armies. In honor of them, the Argentine writer Leopoldo Lugones coined the term “Guerra gaucha.”Los infernales de Guemes

Unfortunately, shortly after being praised as liberators of the new countries, they found themselves expelled from their habitat by the reorganization of the resources by the new leaders, dividing the precious productive land in plots suitable for large-scale agricultural production. Also, to foster the growth of the cities, in 1736 the new leaders prohibited hunting wild cattle without a license, which deprived the gauchos of their source of living. This prohibition forced the gauchos to choose between being excluded from society – as criminals – or being hired by the new owners of the land – as “estancieros” – or emigrating to the cities, where they would be partially integrated as “compadres.”

Manuela SáenzDuring the colonial time, the place of women in society was determined by racial and economic factors. The women of the elite class were subject to arranged marriages in order to create family alliances. The purpose of these alliances was to preserve Spanish traditions, promoting religion at home and consolidating the model of family life. Women had the responsibility of maintaining family honor, fulfilling the ideal of chastity. The most important moment of a woman’s life at the time was her wedding day, which she was prepared for since childhood. Women were expected to be docile, respect the authority of the husband and live within the confines of the home. To achieve success in this model, female education was entrusted to the Church, educating them in a domestic scheme of submission. The public role of a woman was to accompany her husband, attend charitable activities and Mass (a true female social center.) Women who were widowed took the reins of their husbands’ businesses and managed their assets; if they did so successfully, they entered the male world and were able to interact with civil institutions.

For the mestizo woman, life was not limited to the home as they had to engage in productive work or service outside the house: trade, domestic labor (maids, laundresses, seamstresses, etc.) and handicrafts (hand-spinners, candle makers, and cigar makers). They also worked in grocery stores, which meant they had more contact with the wider society.

Although marriage was an ideal in their lives, this did not have the degree of complexity as in the elite class because there was no obligation to continue the family lineage. This left more room for sentimental marriage. Although chastity and marriage remained an ideal for all women, the mestiza women were not held to the same standards and did not have to worry as much about maintaining their honor. They received instruction only through Catechism and the teachings of the Bible, as well as productive activities.

Initially, the mestizo in general and therefore the mestizo woman was frowned upon by both Hispanic-Creole and the Indians alike. But then, the whole society was crossbreeding, mixing, becoming a hybrid; after that the mestizo condition ceased to be defined accurately.

The role of indigenous people and the indigenous women varied depending on their position within their community; it was different to be an elite member of a native community than a regular native.

After the arrival of the Spaniards, native women were responsible for transmitting traditional traits of indigenous culture (housework, trade, clothing, etc.). With the imposition of monogamy, which opposed the polygamous structure of the indigenous society, many women were left alone. Also, the increased mortality of native men due to hard work left more women alone, which led them to look for work. They were employed mainly as housemaids, where they acquired great power and were essential, and were also active in trade. In this way, they learned to use the currency and learned the Spanish language even before the native men themselves.

With the reduction of indigenous peoples into personal service, slavery, etc., Spanish-Criollos imposed a new social structure, disintegrating the indigenous organization, resulting later in a total integration into the Spanish-Criollo society at the cost of the annihilation of the indigenous culture and social structure. Thus, the role of indigenous women in the colony was determined by the needs and ambitions of the Spanish-Criollos and the Spanish Crown.

Because of the indigenous population decline, black slaves were brought to America as labor force for agriculture, domestic service and work on farms. Urban slaves were mainly housemaids, bakers and laundresses. They were the property of married white women (becoming part of the homestead) and were considered objects, like property (living under worse conditions than indigenous or mestizo, although there were exceptions.)

During the Independence War, women had a prominent role, no less important than men.

The ideals of the women of tango, of the “milongueras”, were developed through these times. They value the nature of femininity, with its attributes of maternity, companionship with the male partner, independent minded, capable of successfully taking on the tasks traditionally attributed to men, when necessary.

Juana Azurduy de PadillaAn example of the ideals of women can be seen in the life of Juana Azurduy de Padilla (1780-1860).

Juana descended from a mixed family and was orphaned at an early age. She spent the first years of her life in a convent.

In 1802 she married Manuel Ascencio Padilla, and they went on to have five children. After the outbreak of the independence revolution on May 25, 1810, Juana and her husband joined the pro-independence militias of the area that today belong to Bolivia. In fact, Juana was one of many women who joined the fight.

Juana actively collaborated with her husband in organizing the squadron known as “Los Leales”, which joined the troops sent from Buenos Aires. During the first year of fighting, Juana was forced to abandon her children and was in combat on numerous occasions.

The government of Buenos Aires was impressed by her courage, and in recognition for her work, in August 1816, decided to provide Juana Azurduy the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. More recently, she was posthumously promoted to the rank of General by Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

“Yo soy la morocha,
la más agraciada,
la más renombrada
de esta población.
Soy la que al paisano
muy de madrugada
brinda un cimarrón.

Yo, con dulce acento,
junto a mi ranchito,
canto un estilito
con tierna pasión,
mientras que mi dueño
sale al trotecito
en su redomón.

Soy la morocha argentina,
la que no siente pesares
y alegre pasa la vida
con sus cantares.
Soy la gentil compañera
del noble gaucho porteño,
la que conserva el cariño
para su dueño.

Yo soy la morocha
de mirar ardiente,
la que en su alma siente
el fuego de amor.
Soy la que al criollito
más noble y valiente
ama con ardor.

En mi amado rancho,
bajo la enramada,
en noche plateada,
con dulce emoción,
le canto al pampero,
a mi patria amada
y a mi fiel amor.

Soy la morocha argentina,
la que no siente pesares
y alegre pasa la vida
con sus cantares.
Soy la gentil compañera
del noble gaucho porteño,
la que conserva el cariño
para su dueño.”

“La Morocha”, Ángel Villoldo.[8]

“¿Dónde están las mujeres aquéllas,
minas fieles, de gran corazón,
que en los bailes de Laura peleaban
cada cual defendiendo su amor?”

“Tiempos viejos”, Francisco Canaro, Manuel Romero.[9]

Read “History of Tango – Part 2: Origins of Tango”

Bibliography:

  • “El Tango, el Gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro. Argenta 2009.
  • “Crónica General del Tango”, José Gobello. Fraterna 1980.
  • “El Tango”, Horacio Salas, Planeta 1986.
  • “Historia del Tango”, Ernié, Del Priore, Sierra, Zucchi, and others. Corregidor 1977.
  • http://www.todotango.com/english/

[1] http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tango

[2] http://www.tangoargentinaclub.com/sp/folklore/origin_gaucho.php

[3] Tango you are an enchanter
Of those who listen your sounds,
Tango you attract hearts,
with your sweet songs
and your bandoneons.

You have humble origins
And traveled the universe
without more attributes
other than your music and your verses.
To open your path
you had to be a sorcerer
with your own resources
you achieved success.
Tango you are an enchantment,
today your song lives
in my heart.

Sorcerer Tango!
Brave Tango, Beautiful Tango!,
Noble tango, courageous Tango!
Brother Tango
Of my long sad nights,
mate of my barren heart.

Fascinating courageous Tango!
Sorcerer Tango!
Brave Tango, Opposed,
Brave Tango!
Gaucho Tango,
that despite the odds against you,
with loftiness you defend your manly bravery.

[4] Take my “poncho”… don’t be sorry…
I’ll even share with you my knife!
Name the place of your choice
I’ll be there, be assured
without regret

I, With the end of my whip,
more than enough to collect
I swear I’ve never been a coward
And in no situation
You’ll see me retreat.

[5] He passed the fence and the horse watched,
perhaps wondering for not seeing her,
and the gaucho told him: Don’t look, my horse,
that she won’t come back.

[6] http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabino_Ezeiza

[7] “There is an hour of the afternoon in which the plain is about to say something, it never says it or perhaps it says it infinitely and we do not understand  it, or we understand it but it is untranslatable as music …”

[8] I am the brunette,
the most graceful ,
the most renowned
of this population.
I’m the one to countryman
very early at dawn
provides a mate.
I , with sweet accent ,
next to my humble home,
sing
with tender passion ,
while my owner
goes at trot speed
in his horse.
I am the Argentine brunette,
I do not feel regrets
and happily live
with my songs .
I am the gentle companion
of the noble porteño gaucho
I keep my affection
for my owner.
I am the brunette,
Of ardent look

And in my soul feel
the fire of love.
I’m the one who to the Criollito
most noble and courageous
love with ardor.
In my beloved home,
under the arbor ,
in silvery night ,
With sweet emotion
I sing to the pampero wind,
To my beloved homeland
and to my faithful love.
I am the Argentine brunette,
I do not feel regrets
and happily lives
Singing

I am the gentle companion
Of the noble porteño gaucho
I keep my affection
to my owner.

[9] Where are those women,
faithful women, of generous heart,
that at Laura’s dances fought
each defending their love?

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class, dance, history, lesson, tango

Dance Argentine Tango with Marcelo Solis at Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires Dance Argentine Tango with Marcelo Solis at Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires

Walking, dancing, body and words

FeetHumans are the only known beings that walk upright. Our walk is as characteristic as our rational mind. They are related.

You can know about other people by looking at the way they walk. You can know yourself better if you can see yourself and see the way you walk. Others can know about you by paying attention at the way you walk.

You can improve yourself by improving the way you walk.

How is the life of an average American affected by the lack of walking that is becoming more and more a characteristic of the “American way of life”?

This is a very “American” problem, because the rest of the world walks, and a lot.

Tango has made an art of walking in company, with your partner, on the dance floor full of other couples.

Where else in real life would you walk as proud, happy, honestly and powerful, besides the dance floor of a true milonga?

Body and words:

Body and wordsHow to talk about something without knowing it? Do we really know our body? Perhaps the ignorance of our body produces the ignorance of the materiality of the world in general, of its reality.

Learning to dance is as important as learning to talk.

Is it possible to learn to speak without the participation of another human being in the process? Would it be possible one day in the future for a baby to learn how to talk from machines?

Speech is transmitted only with the participation of our body, and when our body teaches others how to talk, we dance.

Language is an aspect of dance. A word that is not danced – that does not have the support of a body – is destructive, evil, anguishing, a dead end, conducive to perish, not alive.

True dancers do not talk too much.

Resources:

http://www5.uva.es/agora/revista/2/agora2_12_mariacuesta.pdf

http://www.nyu.edu/classes/bkg/tourist/feet.pdf

http://youtu.be/1l_4OW_Ir7M

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVPLIuBy9CY

http://on.ted.com/babybrain

I am looking forward to seeing you and dancing with you soon,

Marcelo Solís

argentine, class, dance, learn, lesson, san francisco bay area, tango

Argentine Tango dance classes for beginners, intermediate and advanced level. Argentine Tango dance Private lessons. one to one Argentine dance lessons. Argentine Tango dance lessons for couples. Argentine Tango Milongas and workshops. San Francisco, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Orinda, Danville, San Jose, Cupertino, Campbell, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Milpitas. With Marcelo Solis at Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires. Argentine Tango dance classes for beginners, intermediate and advanced level. Argentine Tango dance Private lessons. one to one Argentine dance lessons. Argentine Tango dance lessons for couples. Argentine Tango Milongas and workshops. San Francisco, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Orinda, Danville, San Jose, Cupertino, Campbell, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Milpitas. With Marcelo Solis at Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires.

What can we do to contribute to the health and continued development of Bay Area Tango community?

Dear milongueros and milongueras,

Tango is fun. It makes us happy. But Tango is also RESPONSIBILITY.
What can we do to contribute to the health and continued development of Bay Area Tango community?

Here is my answer:

Milongueros and milongueras: 1- Dance better. 2- Behave better. 3- Dress better.

Milonga organizers:
1- Choose good DJs. 2- Give milongueros the necessary set up a milonga should have. 3- Pay attention to what actually happens on the dance floor. 4- Get to know, greet at the entrance, and say goodbye at the exit, to everyone coming to the milonga. 5- Introduce new people at the milonga to the regulars. 6- Travel to Buenos Aires and go to traditional milongas with high level of dancing to see how things are organized and run there.


DJs:
1- Go to Buenos Aires and visit milongas to learn how to do their job, not one time, but several times a year.

Teachers: 1- Stop trying to attract customers by showing them steps inappropriate to the milonga, and therefore, to Tango itself. 2- Go to the milongas, and show their students and the community that the way they teach is the way they dance at the milongas. 3- Go to Buenos Aires not one, but several times a year, study there with the milongueros, meaning: the ones that dance Tango. Prove themselves to have their place in the wide Tango community, and not to be mere local instructors without any connection to Buenos Aires, and therefore, to Tango.

To follow these guidelines, we will get together and put them in practice in all my classes and events through the Bay Area.
I am looking forward to seeing you and dancing with you.
Warm regards,

Marcelo Solis

 

argentine, Buenos Aires, class, dance, lesson, tango

Argentine Tango dance classes for beginners, intermediate and advanced level. Argentine Tango dance Private lessons. one to one Argentine dance lessons. Argentine Tango dance lessons for couples. Argentine Tango Milongas and workshops. San Francisco, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Orinda, Danville, San Jose, Cupertino, Campbell, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Milpitas. With Marcelo Solis at Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires. Argentine Tango dance classes for beginners, intermediate and advanced level. Argentine Tango dance Private lessons. one to one Argentine dance lessons. Argentine Tango dance lessons for couples. Argentine Tango Milongas and workshops. San Francisco, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Orinda, Danville, San Jose, Cupertino, Campbell, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Milpitas. With Marcelo Solis at Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires.

The Tango Journey

Dear students, friends, milongueros and milongueras:

How long since you have started your Tango journey?

A while ago I had a conversation with a student in my class (not one of my regular students). She complained about studying Tango (although not continuously) for three years, but not achieving very much of it. I asked her what milongas she had being going to, since I never saw her in any milonga. I realized from her answer that she was not a regular in the milongas. Well… if after three years of studying Tango you still do not go to milongas… something is not right. Another student (a regular one but returning from a month long break) was feeling a little sad because I gave her corrections about her posture: the basic “please lean forward a little bit, find a soft point of contact with your partner’s face…” which is often difficult to do for ballroom dancers. At the end of the class she said with a crying intonation that she felt her dancing was not improving. I reminded her that the correction about her posture was the same I gave her at her first class (a year ago?), that we had done many exercises in classes, that I gave her drills so she could practice by herself to incorporate these details in the posture, and that I gave her the same correction over and over again many times.

  1. Posture is essential. Why? When we dance Tango we engage in a multiple faceted experience. If you like a simple description, it is like a diamond, but furthermore, for me, it is like a “string” in the “string theory” of physics, with outside and inside dimensions. One of these facets is purely mechanical: a couple dancing Tango makes a mechanical system. Our posture is, in essence, the way we set up a fundamental piece of that mechanical system. If a part of your car is not well placed or not well shaped, your car won’t run.
  2. I can teach you, showing what is necessary. I can give you a set of different exercises to do. I can make you do these exercises at a class, but nobody can change your posture or make any other necessary changes but yourself, as well as nobody can do your dance but yourself.
  3. That takes us to an important realization you have to make in the very beginning of your Tango journey: you will need to make changes in yourself, many kind of changes, many self-explorations, many plain acceptances of corrections, many learning curves. All that will require a great deal of courage. Tango is not about satisfying your ego. It is about Tango itself. It is very important to take a minute, and think about what is our goal with Tango. Be aware that you are about to be part of a community. The natural habitat of that community is the milonga. It is not the class. The class is merely a school to prepare you to be at the milongas. It is not the festivals. They make only exceptional moments in the life of a milonguero. It is not the stage, where Tango is as real as a Hollywood movie or a Broadway production is real life. The life of a milonguero consists of everyday milongas. So, we have to make the milongas our wonderful experience if we want to be milongueros.

Many of you know how much I love to learn and practice martial arts. In a martial art class, when your teacher is giving you corrections, all the oxygen in your lungs and your brain is taken by the fact that you just tried to beat the other person , or avoiding to be knocked out by him or her. Nothing is left to talking back, giving excuses. So, you just listen. And that is great, fundamentally, because you always learn something when you listen. I understand, you have a life that sometimes gets in the way of your desire of dancing Tango. You have a day job; you are stressed out by many factors like the economy, your health, your children, etcetera, etcetera… What I propose, when you get corrected, is to just listen, consider, and try. Do not come back with excuses. There are way too many excuses not to dance well. Our learning process is not a continuum. I understand that you may be tired. Something might be going on in your life, and you cannot focus on your passion as much as you would like to. However, my job is to do what you pay me for: showing you how to dance Tango. I know that you know all that. I know that you know that I know it. I will be patient. After all, I do what Tango does, something older people in Tango always tell you: “Tango is waiting for you”.

argentine tango, Buenos Aires, dancing, lesson, milonguero, philosophy

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Contact us:

+54 11 4953 1212 Buenos Aires, Argentina.

+1 415 412-1866 San Francisco Bay Area, USA.

info@escuelatangoba.com