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Argentine Tango School

What is Tango?

What is Argentine Tango?

Marcelo Solis dancing Argentine Tango with Mimi

“Tango is Life”

What does this sentence mean?

It suggests that those who do not tango don’t know what life is.

Can such a radical thought make sense?

Ask anyone involved in Tango passionately, which is the only way to be involved in it, and that will be the answer.

This attitude in relation to Tango is rooted in the fact that Tango provides you with fulfillment, opening you up to the possibility of making your life a work of Art.

In America (North America), people think of Tango as a dance (always with the prejudice that dance means “performance”, conceived as something put on for a spectator,) perhaps also as a music genre. Still, the Spanish-speaking population knows that Tango is also words, lyrics, poetry, and “chamuyo” (for Argentineans).

These are words essential to knowing Tango in all its relevant aspects. Enrique Santos Discépolo, the author of many essential tangos, declared, “Tango is a sad thought that is danced”.

Every word in this phrase demands explanations that will never exhaust their meaning.

What kind of “sad thought,” then, is Tango?

It is looking at the past with the feelings of what went away and realizing how little we have left to leave us, too.

“Jamás retornarás”

“Cuando dijo adiós, quise llorar…
Luego sin su amor, quise gritar…
Todos los ensueños que albergó mi corazón
(toda mi ilusión),
cayeron a pedazos.
Pronto volveré, dijo al partir.
Loco la esperé… ¡Pobre de mí!
Y hoy, que tanto tiempo ha transcurrido sin volver,
siento que he perdido su querer.

Jamás retornarás…
lo dice el alma mía,
y en esta soledad
te nombro noche y día.
¿Por qué, por qué te fuiste de mi lado
y tan cruel has destrozado
mi corazón?
Jamás retornarás…
lo dice el alma mía
y, aunque muriendo está,
te espera sin cesar.

Cuánto le imploré: vuelve, mi amor…
Cuánto la besé, ¡con qué fervor!
Algo me decía que jamás iba a volver,
que el anochecer
en mi alma se anidaba.
Pronto volveré, dijo al partir.
Mucho la esperé… ¡Pobre de mí!
Y hoy, que al fin comprendo
la penosa y cruel verdad,
siento que la vida se me va.”



“You will never return”

When she said goodbye, I wanted to cry…
Then without her love, I wanted to scream…
All the daydreams dwelling in my heart
(all I dreamt of),
fell to pieces.
I’ll be back soon, she said as she left.
A fool, I waited for her… Poor me!
And today, that so much time has passed without her coming back,
I can feel that I have lost her love.

You will never return…
my soul says so,
and in this solitude
I call your name night and day.
Why, why did you leave my side
and so cruel, have you destroyed
my heart?
You will never return…
my soul says,
and, although it is dying,
it is waiting for you incessantly.

How much I begged her: come back, my love…
How much I kissed her, how fervently!
Something told me that she would never return,
as the nightfall
was nesting in my soul.
I’ll be back soon, she said as she left.
I waited for her so much… Poor me!
And today, that at last I understand
the painful and cruel truth,
I feel that life is leaving me.

Osmar Maderna portrait. Argentine Tango musician, composer and conductor.

The lyrics are about love, a broken heart, an unfulfilled promise, and unsatisfied hopes. But, it is also a view of life from the perspective of realizing that life, and everything in it, goes away: “Y hoy, que al fin comprendo / la penosa y cruel verdad, / siento que la vida se me va.” (And today, that at last I understand / the painful and cruel truth, / I feel that life is leaving me.)

Did Osmar Maderna, one of the authors, know that he was destined to die, suddenly, at age 32, in an accident?

His short life was feverishly productive: a piano virtuoso, a gifted composer, an in-demand arranger, a successful conductor, a great friend, a beloved husband, a passionate amateur aviator… So when he left his home in Pehuajó, a city located 230 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, to start his independent life as a musician in the capital, he asked his brother to tell everyone that he went to buy a bandoneon

Marcelo Solis Argentine Tango with Mimi

How can one not be passionate about Tango?

Tango gives you purpose:

to make the world beautiful, starting with yourself, since you are the most accessible, affordable, and appropriate canvas to be the experimental field for you to probe into your understanding of beauty before being accepted by others and daring yourself to go beyond yourself and do whatever you want with it in a world into which you exist, a world populated with meanings that tend to be shaped by prejudices and misinterpretations, by accumulation and overlapping of meanings, gifted, inherited, imposed by others, or developed by you to justify some of your beliefs, hide your hypocrisies and calm your anxieties.

You will need to probe your creation, your dance, your style, to be refreshing and more meaningful than what is already out there.

That is exactly what it is to be a “milonguera” (a woman who regularly dances tango) or “milonguero” (same for a man).

We, milongueros, decided to accept to live in a world that reproduces the kind of existence described above, where our life is possible not only by our participation in the economy of our societies, by having a job like everyone else, but beyond this primary satisfaction of our elementary needs, we EXIST in accordance with what is beautiful, with “compás y elegancia” (musicality and aesthetic energy efficiency), shaping every manifestation of our being-in-the-world-with-others according to proportions that are the same, that seem, from our human perception, to underlie the universe.

Pythagoras, music, proportions and cosmos.

Pythagoras (495 BC), after researching what notes sounded pleasant together, worked out the frequency ratios (or string length ratios with equal tension,) and found that they had a particular mathematical relationship. The octave was found to be a 1:2 ratio, and what we call today a fifth to be a 2:3 ratio.

Ratios produce all the notes of a musical scale.

Musical notes and ratios

Same as rhythm can be defined by ratios:

Rhythm defined by ratios

Including the rests -pauses-, essential to dancing Tango:

Pauses, rests, essential to dancing Tango

And the proportions of our bodies:

Vitruvian man Leonardo

Proportions are everywhere:

  • Proportions in clouds

  • Proportions in snails

The artist uses this awareness of proportions as a guide to creation.

Mona Lisa Leonardo

And now, combine all these proportions with another human, who, being of the same species, is also different from you.

  • One of these differences is that we are sexed.
    Being sexed is related to our mortality. We need this duality to preserve our species. And when the raw sensations of our sexuality fade away, only the human embrace -more than anything- still satisfies our need for consolation in the face of the abyss of the infinite void of death, always ahead.

    How fulfilling to learn about our bodies, our existence in the world, discipline, and train ourselves to extract beauty from the depths of our lives! How exciting to engage in such adventures in the company of that mysterious being that is so familiar and yet such a stranger! A being that calls us like the mermaids would, with a voice that draws out from our perception all other indicia, which will harmonize with that music, which, in its bold approach, recalls the tragic inevitability of a storm that will take away all our superficial possessions, and leave us only with ourselves, longing for an embrace.

    In Plato’s “The Symposium”, Aristophanes tells a legend that the human being was, in its origins, a double being, composed of two entities, of what is today a human body. These creatures offended the gods, so they cut them in half. The beings’ first reaction was to embrace each other.

Marcelo Solis dancing Argentine Tango with Mimi

We like to say in Argentina: “el Tango te espera”

(Tango is waiting for you)

This patient waiting is another manifestation of its call, not a call that awakens our curiosity, like the sounds of our cellphones, always buzzing with WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and text messages.

It is the call of a challenge that is not easy to respond to, that is not user-friendly, that makes you think, that scares you and pushes you away in the same measure of (if we could quantify it somehow) seduction and attractiveness with which it appears to you.

Do not worry. It’s great to have that feeling! That means you are alive!

Enrique Santos Discépolo
Urban dictionary
Osmar Maderna
Miguél Caló
Martin Heidegger
Roy Hornsby, “What Heidegger Means by Being-in-the-World”
Sigmund Freud
Gilles Deleuze
Michel Foucault
Michel Onfray
Jean Baudrillard
Friedrich Nietzsche
Plato’s “The Symposium”

This article continues…

Learn to dance Argentine Tango

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Mastering Argentine Tango: Practice, Learn, and Create Sequences for Improvement

Mastering Argentine Tango: Practice, Learn, and Create Sequences for Improvement

In the world of Argentine Tango, practice is key to improvement. We start with the fundamental move: walking. Understanding the parallel and cross systems is crucial for every dancer.

Do you know what parallel and crossed systems mean? Watch this video. Here, you will find a clear explanation of the meaning and differentiation of parallel and cross systems.

But here’s the twist: instead of choreographing your entire dance, we suggest crafting short sequences of 2 or 3 elements. These are perfect for navigating the tight spaces of milongas. You can adapt and reshape them as you flow on the dance floor.

This applies to followers, too! Experiment with embellishments for various elements in your repertoire.

Once you’ve created your sequences, explore how to reorganize segments to build new ones or use them as connectors between individual elements.

Ready to take your Tango to the next level? Dive into our guide for insights and inspiration.

We have lots of videos for you to learn, practice and improve!

Watch our video lessons

See more Argentine Tango lessons:

Anibal Troilo and his orchestra | Argentine Tango music to learn to dance

Argentine Tango music

Music to learn to dance

Listen and dance!

History of Tango – Part 5: The appearance of the bandoneon in Tango


During the 1870s arrives to Buenos Aires a very particular immigrant: the bandoneon.

Bandoneon reedsTango was in its infancy, as well as this new instrument, which was recently invented in 1846 in Germany by Heinrich Band, according to some versions, or Carl F. Zimmerman, according to others. None had patented it. The bandoneon is a musical instrument that resulted from the evolution on the concertina, invented in 1839, inspired in the accordion, and conceived as a portable version of the harmonium. It is of the hand-held bellows-driven free-reed category, sometimes called squeezeboxes. The sound is produced as air flows past the vibrating reeds mounted in a frame. 

ChengThe oldest known musical instrument that uses this method is the Cheng, a “mouth organ”, already used in China on 700 AC, made of several bamboo canes (13 to 36) which had inside the vibrating membranes and a gourd as resonance box. The air flow was produced by blowing on it, like a flute.

During the 1800s this principle of production of sound was known in Europe, from which derived many diverse instruments, some in use still today, like the harmonica, the harmonium, the accordions, and the concertinas, which is considered the immediate ancestor of the bandoneon.

Carl Friedrich Uhlig (1789-1874) created the concertina in 1839, inspired in the accordion of the Viennese Cyrill Demian (1772-1847), as an improvement of it.

The first concertina of Uhlig had 5 buttons on each side, for higher pitch notes destined to the melody on the right, and for lower pitch or basses on the left. This concertina produced 2 different notes per button, one opening, and a different one closing the instrument, obtaining in this way 20 different tones. This instrument already had the seeds of what would become one day the bandoneon of Tango. Concertina Uhlig The goal of Uhlig was to attain an instrument that, eliminating the difficulties of transportation of the harmonium, had a similar sonority that perfectly amalgamates with the string instruments, allowing its integration into the chamber music ensembles and not constraining it to the interpretation of popular music. That is why he continues improving it.

In 1854 Uhlig presented his creation at the Industrial Exposition of Munich, receiving a medal of Honor.

These instruments were highly popular, although they did not have the destiny desired Carl Friedrich Uhligby its creator, as they were mostly adopted by farmers and workers who began to execute it by ear or with a notation system using the small numbers written on each button. Later, other luthiers continued adding buttons, until it reached 62. In 1844, scientist and luthier Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875), patented the English concertina.

This instrument has hexagonal resonance boxes, while in the Uhlig invention, called also German concertina, they are squared. The bandoneon derives from the German concertina. According to some versions, Carl F. Zimmerman modified Uhlig’s concertina, adding buttons and rearranging its disposition, creating what became known as “Carlsfelder concertina” (derived from the German city Carlsfeld, where Zimmerman lived and created his concertina), in opposition to “Chemnitzer concertina” (derived from the German city Chemnitz, where Uhlig lived and created his concertina).

Zimmerman later emigrated to the USA, selling his factory to Ernst Louis Arnold, another instrument maker that will be connected to the origins of the bandoneon. In 1840, Heinrich Band, a musician from Carlsfeld, gets to know Uhlig’s concertina in a visit to Chemnitz.

He really likes the instrument but fell compelled to improve it. In 1843 he opens a musical instrument shop in Carlsfeld, and in 1846 starts selling his improved version of Uhlig’s concertina with 28 buttons that play two different tones each, and a different arrangement in the disposition of the buttons. This is the instrument that began to be referred to as bandoneon, although Heinrich Band considered it a concertina, and never patented it. He later yet improved it up to produce models of 65 buttons with two different sounds each.

He also contributed to the diffusion of the instrument with several transcriptions of piano works into bandoneon and composed waltzes and polkas to be played with bandoneon, although this information contradicts another version, which states that Heinrich Band conceived his instrument to play sacred music.

Heinrich Band dies 39. His widow, Johana Sieburg, partnered with Jaques Dupon in 1860 to continue the production of bandoneons.

Heinrich Band did not make the bandoneon himself. He designed it and ordered its production from Carl F. Zimmerman.

Alfred Band, the first son of Heinrich and Johana, wrote one of the first books related to the bandoneon, with all the major and minor scales. Ernst Louis Arnold, who bought Zimmerman’s factory, will become the most prominent bandoneon producer.

His son, Alfred Arnold, who worked in the factory from his childhood, will eventually devise a bandoneon of 71 buttons of two notes each. His version, called “AA”, will become the preferred one by the Argentine Tango musicians.

There are many different versions of the concertina and the bandoneon.

There are different button arrangements, as we saw with the Carlsfelder and Chemnitzer concertinas, and in some models each buttons plays only one note.

These could become confusing, so in 1921, Emil Schimild of Leipzig proposed the unification of all the buttons’ arrangements of concertinas and bandoneons in one instrument.

This proposition did not prosper, but in 1924, it was agreed to the unification for the button’s arrangement for the bandoneon, with a model of 72 buttons producing 2 notes each (144 tones), although the model adopted by Argentine Tango musicians is one of 71 buttons (142 notes), and Alfred Arnold continued its production exclusively for them. Alfred Arnold would take orders from Argentine Tango players that asked for the inclusion of more tones, and customize them.

After the Second World War, Alfred Arnold’s factory, which was located in what became Eastern Germany, was expropriated and ended the production of bandoneons to become a diesel engine’s parts factory. Arno Arnold, Alfred’s nephew, was able to escape from Eastern Germany and opened a bandoneon production factory in Western Germany in 1950, with the aid of Alfred’s former technician, Mr. Muller.

This factory closed after Arno’s death, in 1971. Klaus Gutjahr, a bandoneon player who graduated from the Bandoneon School of Berlin University, started to build handcraft bandoneons in 1970. At the end of the 1990s, he partnered with Paul Fischer in the Paul Fischer KG Company, a musical instrument manufacturer, set about reviving the manufacture of bandoneons in conjunction with the Eibenstock municipal authorities.  

The Paul Fischer KG Company, together with the Institute for the Manufacture of Musical Instruments of Zwota, developed a 142 tone bandoneon in 2001. The Bandonion and Concertina Factory Klingenthal is continuing the tradition of the legendary “AA”  instruments and thereby the construction of bandoneons at Carlfeld.  

The materials and construction used correspond to the legendary “AA” instruments.  Using historic instruments, experiments are being carried out to test the acoustic, material, and mechanical parameters in conjunction with the Institute for the Manufacture of Musical Instruments of Zwota.  

The manufacturing process has been set up using these parameters and this can be demonstrated by means of measurements.

Because the bandoneon was not patented, there is no information ever recorded about the material used for its construction, like the precise alloys of the metallic vibrating reeds, different for every note.

In Argentina, bandoneons were hand made by Humberto Bruñini, resident of Bahía Blanca. After he passed away, his daughter Olga continued with the tradition until she passed away in 2005.

The first bandoneon player ever mentioned in Buenos Aires was Tomas Moore, “el inglés” (the English man), although some said he was Irish, who brought this instrument to Argentina in 1870.

A Brazilian man called Bartolo is also mentioned as the first to bring this instrument to Buenos Aires. Ruperto “el Ciego” (the blind man) is mentioned as the first one to play tangos with his bandoneon.

He played in the proximity of the market on Moreno street for alms. Pedro Ávila and Domingo Santa Cruz (author of the famous tango “Unión Cívica”) played the concertina until Tomas Moore presented them his bandoneon.

José Santa Cruz, Domingo’s father, also switched from concertina to bandoneon. He is regarded as playing military calls with a bandoneon during Paraguay’s war, but it is most probable that at that time he played the concertina. Pablo Romero, “el pardo” o “el negro” is regarded as one of the first to play tangos with bandoneon, in the area of Palermo.

Contradictory versions mention him as either playing before or being a student of “el pardo” Sebastián Ramos Mejía.

These bandoneons were a primitive version of 32 tones. After 1880, when Tango began to develop its definitive form, the most recognized bandoneon players were: Antonio Francisco Chiappe

Antonio Francisco Chiappe, born in Montevideo in 1867.

His family moved to Buenos Aires in 1870 to the neighborhood of Barracas, where he later had a butcher shop. He also was a professional cart driver, who became the president of the Association of Professional Cart Drivers.

He was a magnificent bandoneon player, who would brag of his talent posting advertisements in the newspaper, challenging to whoever wanted to bet money to who played better Waldteufel’s waltzes, although he never made his living out of playing music.

He never played in other locations than family home parties. He played with “El Pardo” Sebastián Ramos Mejía a primitive tango, or “proto-tango”, “El Queco”, very popular in his time.

He also conducted several musical formations, from which it is important to highlight one that foretells the “orquesta típica criolla” of Vicente Greco. In this orchestra, he counted with bandoneon, violin, flute, clarinet, harmonium, two guitars and bass.

According to Enrique Cadícamo, in his poem “Poema al primer bandoneonista”, the first bandoneon player of Tango is “El Pardo” Sebastián Ramos Mejía, but today is agreed the affirmation of the historian of Tango Roberto Selles that it was Antonio Chiappe.

“Vientos de principios de siglo que hicieron girar las veletas y silbaron en los pararrayos de las residencias señoriales de San Telmo, Flores y Belgrano. Entonces el Pardo Sebastián Ramos Mejía era primer bandoneón ciudadano y cochero de tranvía de la Compañía Buenos Aires y Belgrano. El pardo Sebastián inauguró un siglo con su bandoneón cuando estaba en embrión la ciudad feérica y la calle Pueyrredón era Centro América. Primer fueye que encendió la luz del Tango, en las esquinas. A su influjo don Antonio Chiappe, también bandoneonista, se dió el lujo de desafiar por medio de los diarios al que mejor ejecutara los valses de Waldteufeld, extraordinarios… El Pardo Sebastián contagió su fervor a los hermanos Santa Cruz que actuaban en el cafe Atenas de Canning y Santa Fe donde se aplaudían los tangos de Villoldo -El choclo y Yunta brava- que tanto apasionaban a Aparicio, el caudillo, y al chino Andrés. Sebastián Ramos Mejía, decano de la facultad de bandoneón, inauguraste un siglo cuando estaba en embrión la ciudad feérica y la calle Pueyrredón era Centro América.” “Poema al primer bandoneonista”, Enrique Cadícamo.

“El Pardo” Sebastián Ramos Mejía was descendent of African slaves and was “mayoral” (driver) of the tramways puled by horses, on the line Buenos Aires-Belgrano.

He played in the Cafe Atenas of Ministro inglés (today Scalabrini Ortiz) and Santa Fe. His bandoneon had 53 tones.

He is regarded as giving some bandoneon lessons to Vicente Greco.

The bandoneon was not immediately accepted by Argentine Tango musicians and dancers.

The original formations of flute, violin, and guitar played a staccato, bright and fast rhythm. The bandoneon, with its “legato”, with its low keynotes, which were favorited by its players, who would constantly insist to its German producers to add more low keynotes, seemed not belonging to Tango. But in fact, it gave Tango what Tango was missing until the integration of bandoneon, and the bandoneon found the music it seemed to be created for.

The bandoneon, contrary to other instruments of Tango, like the violin, the flute, the guitar, the harp, or later, the piano, had no traditions to refer to.

It was a blank piece of paper in which anything could be written yet. Neither it was maestros nor methods for it. Everything had to be created from scratch. Perhaps the similarities between its sound and the sound of the organitos that disseminated Tango all over helped to its acceptance (see more at Part 2).

Juan Maglio PachoJuan Maglio “Pacho” was essential to the acceptance of the bandoneon as a musical instrument of Tango.

Born in 1881, he started to learn to play bandoneon by watching his father play it every day after work.

He would pay attention to the finger positions and then practice them secretly on his home’s roof.

He went to school until the age of 12, when he started to work, first in a mechanic workshop, then as a laborer in different activities, and then in a brickyard.

At the age of 18, he decided to fully head into his vocation: music.

During the years of hard work, he kept practicing, in order to stay in shape for when the opportunity knocks.

But still, he had technical issues to resolve, like developing greater independence between right and left hands, and he went in search of instruction to the more experienced Domingo Santa Cruz.

He improved notoriously, and from his bandoneon of 35 buttons, moved successively to instruments of 45, 52, 65, 71 and at last, a customized bandoneon of 75 buttons.

His father called him “pazzo” (the Italian word for crazy) in his childhood, due to his restless character.

His friends could not pronounce this word, and called him “Pacho”.

He loved to make jokes.

If you were in the area of Maldonado creek in 1918 and saw a ghost, it was Pacho, who wandered around every night with a white bed sheet to have fun scaring the people that passed by.

He dressed with sobriety and distinction, and he insisted to his musicians to do the same.

He started playing as a professional at the beginning of the 1900s, first in brothels and then in Cafés, until, due to his rising prestige, he was convened to play at the very famous Café La Paloma, in Palermo, in 1910.

It is important to clarify that the Palermo of that time was not the same upper-class neighborhood we know today.

In those years it was an area of “compadritos”. Lots of people came to listen to Pacho there. The special rhythm of Pacho’s interpretations of tangos brought many of the best dancers of the time, like El Cachafáz, to listen, because it was not place to dance. Cuarteto Maglio

One night, a group of the audience from the neighborhood of Once, more upper class than Palermo, took him in litters and carry him to Café Garibotto, in San Luis and Pueyrredón.

There he later presented a quartet of the bandoneon, flute, violin, and a 7 stringed guitar. Around those years Pacho started to present his compositions: “Armenonville”, “Un copetín” and “Quasi nada”.

He attracted so many people to his concerts, that the police began to suspect that it was not only music that the Café offered to its clientele, and one night they entered abruptly and arrested everybody, clients, waiters, musicians, the owner and the cat… But they found nothing.

In response, Pacho wrote his tango”Qué papelón!”.

In 1912 he started to record for Columbia. His success was so great that the word “Pacho” became a synonym of “recordings”.

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