Skip to main content

Argentine Tango School

Tag: class

History of Tango – Part 4: La Guardia Vieja – II: The first dancers


1903 Navas with Woman

In the case of the dancers, in addition to the ones already mentioned, who were also musicians and we remember mainly because of their musical legacy, like Casimiro Alcorta (and his partner La Paulina), Lola Candales, Enrique Saborido, Ángel Villoldo, Alfredo Eusebio and Flora Gobbi, Ernesto Ponzio, or like Laurentina Monserrat (Laura), María Rangolla (La Vasca) or Concepción Amaya (Mamita), who are known after the places they managed, a special mention is deserved by:

BailarinesEnrique Saborido, with the beautiful Lola Candales, Uruguayan as he and his muse, come tango dancers. In 1908, with the growing popularity of tango, he opens academia in Cerrito 1070, which they managed until 1912. In that year he decided to go to Paris with other tango personalities. There, he taught to dance tango to the European aristocracy and show off as a professional dancer at the Savoy and the Royal Theatre in London. He referred to other good dancers: Jorge Newbery (one of the first Latin American aircraft pilots. He was also an engineer, and is considered to be the architect and founder of the Argentine Air Force), his close friend Alberto J. Mascías, Alberto Lange, and Martin Edmund Hileret Anchorena.

Concepción Maya, known as “Mamita”. At her home, located in Lavalle 2177, Ernesto Ponzio composed his famous tango “Don Juan”. Domingo Greco, in his unpublished memoirs, quoted by Dr. Benarós, among other things, says: “In this house, the clientele was selected. Men from the upper class only. I met there the first professionals of tango:  Angel Villoldo and Sergio Mendizabal, Rosendo’s brother. He played the tango ‘más compadrón’, and was strongest in the accompaniment, more ‘tempista’. He was one of the best tangueros of his time. Played, preferably, in Concepcion Amaya’s house. When this woman emigrated from Buenos Aires, she settled with a brothel in the village of 9 de Julio and brought “El Negro” Sergio with her. I was then told that he died sitting in a bar, with the guitar on his lap. He played guitar and sang so well, improvising. Instead, Rosendo produced better tangos … ”
Luis TeisseireMamita, as Luis Teisseire told, “was tall, skinny, authoritarian. Of dark complexion, rather ‘achinada’, brave, black eyes. Always she wore a long, dark silk suit. She looked all covered with a high collar. At her house, among her women, she had la Ñata Rosaura, Herminia and Joaquina. After a glass door, it was a long courtyard with the rooms on the side and the classic dining room. ” There, played the piano Sergio Mendizabal, El Gordo Mauricio and Teisseire, our informant.

Other dancers from before 1910 whose names reached us are:

El Mulato Sinforoso, who played clarinet next to Casimiro Alcorta and a guitar player, forming a trio that according to Lino Galeano, in an article written in the newspaper “Crítica” in 1913, signing as “Viejo tanguero”, was the first tango band.

Carlos Kern ‘El Inglés’ was a man of “Maria La Vasca”. He mastered the ‘vals cruzado’. He was a strong man of clear eyes, always quiet, but effective in placing orders. He was recognized as a tough man, was heavy-handed and he alone was able to contain the aggressive ‘compadraje’. For a time he organized dances at Patria e Lavoro, in Chile 1567, a narrow hall, which was a difficult place to stop the excesses of pickpockets and rioters. According to César Viale, he finished serving as an ordinance in the law firm of Dr. Carlos Delcasse.

Bailarines 2Carmen Gomez has been born around 1830 and began dancing at the Academia de Pardos y Morenos, located on Calle del Parque (current Lavalle). Around the 1854s she opened what became known as the “Academia de la Parda Gomez”, in the vicinity of the Plaza Lorea (part of the current Plaza del Congreso). After selling it, in 1864, she opened another in Corrientes 437.
By the help of an Afro-Argentine sorcerer, surrounded the house of her adversary, la Morena Agustina, in an effort to provoke misfortune.
“The Afro-Argentines of the second half of the nineteenth century were the owners of the ‘academias’, as the ‘peringundines’ where the ‘compadraje orillero’ used to attend, were called… The police report of the time recounts numerous incidents occurred there, where soldiers, Afro-Argentines from different neighborhoods and cart drivers were regulars” (R. Rodriguez Molas: Free Black River Plate Magazine Humanities, Ministry of Education of the Province of Buenos Aires, l year, September 1961, p. 114.).

About la Morena Agustina, we know that also had academia near Plaza Lorea.

The dancer Clotilde Lemos began in the Academia de Pardos y Morenos, in the second half of the 1850s.

Alejandro Vilela, was employed at the Academia de la Parda Gomez, where he played the piano.

La Moreira Tita MerelloLuciana Acosta,”La Moreyra”, was a popular dancer of the neighborhood of San Cristobal. She was a source of inspiration in the literary field: Jose Sebastian Tallón portrayed her in his book “Tango in the stages of forbidden music” (Buenos Aires, 1959); and Juan Carlos Ghiano makes her protagonist of his play “La Moreyra,” released by the company Tita Merello in 1962. There is a film version starring the same actress.
She was the daughter of Andalusian gypsies, and lived with her man, “El Cívico”, Bautista Salvini, at the room number 15 of the “conventillo” El Sarandi, located at 1356 of the street of the same name, and where some rooms were occupied by the Greco family.
Dancer of great fame in the early tango scene, she danced at the café La Pichona, at Pavón, between Rincón and Pasco (then district of brothels), where, as described by Jose Sebastian Tallón, “she was the business partner of her husband, a pimp, and skilled dancer. She was at night a woman of tango. In her veins bubbled the gypsy bravery, and being so feminine in appearance, and so beautiful, she was of great courage as dagger shooter, hence her nickname … Her figure: not very tall, perfectly shaped, sensual voice, like her face, as her walk; olive skin tone, black eyes and hair, smallmouth, optimum bust. She wore a blue or red silk robe with white poke dots. Sometimes with colorful squares, or flowery dress with long sleeves and lace cuff. She closed her robe from the neck to the start of her breast, with a silken cord zigzagging the embroidered eyelets, finishing in a bun with tassels. Her waist was belted up to hurting by a corset. The skirt was pleated, gray or light green. Perfumed with Rosa de Francia, Agua Florida or Jour de Gloire. Hairstyle bun at the nape, with hairpins and combs of tortoiseshell, big gold hoop earrings, and a locket. Portrayed inside the locket was El Cívico.”

El Cívico, Bautista Salvini, descended from Southern Italians. was a pimp, a good dancer and a respected compadrito.

JoaquinaJoaquina Marán, “La China Joaquina”, a wonderful tango dancer, was the favorite at “lo de Mamita”, and later herself the manager of dance houses in the first decade of the 19th century. Tall, not pretty but very interesting and seductive brunette, of very pleasant conversation, Juan Bergamino dedicated to her his tango “Joaquina” (listen) (originally “La China Joaquina” (listen). She was involved in the death of a young dancer called “Ramayón” by Ñato Posse, as both loved Joaquina Maran, who besides being a lover of the two, had been of Mariano “Maco” Milani, another renowned dancer, and of Pablo Podesta, actor, circus performer, and singer.
Fernando Ramayón was a young man of the Buenos Aires’ upper class, a Law student and a good tango dancer, who was killed at age 22, on January 31, 1898, by Juan B. Passo, el Ñato Pose, in the famous “Cuartos de Adela”, coffee, inn and dance place, in Alvear y Acevedo, Palermo. Homero Manzi wrote a tango inspired in this story, with music by Cristobal Herreros:

“Resuenan en baldosas los golpes de tu taco.
Desfilan tus corridas por patios de arrabal.
Se envuelve tu figura con humo de tabaco
y baila en el recuerdo tu bota militar.
Refleja nuevamente tu pelo renegrido
en salas alumbradas con lámparas de gas.
Se pliegan tus quebradas y vuelven del olvido
las notas ligeritas de Arolas y Bazán.
Ramayón, ya no estás con tu noche
tras el blanco calor del pernó.
Ya no pasa trotando tu coche,
ya no brilla tu bota charol.
Y no está con su traje de raso
la que entonces por buena y por leal,
afirmada en tu inmóvil abrazo
fue también tu pareja final.
Aplauden tu elegancia las palmas de otro tiempo.
Las cuerdas empolvadas resuenan otra vez.
Y en el fugaz milagro de un breve encantamiento
reviven las cenizas de todo lo que fue.
Un plomo de venganza te busca de repente.
Se aflojan los resortes violentos del compás.
Se pinta en tu pañuelo la rosa de la muerte
y el tango del destino te marca su final.”

“Ramayón”, Homero Manzi, Cristobal Herreros, by Nelly Omar and guitars (listen).

Juan Bautista Passo, el Ñato Posse, had been imprisoned for his criminal adventures, but thanks to his contacts with a leader of the Conservative Party, who paid for his services, fast out of jail.

The movie “Historia de 900” (1949 -watch), written, directed, and performed by Hugo Del Carril, portrays the relationship between the upper class and the marginal “orilleros” of Buenos Aires in the framework of tango: they accepted the same ideals of virile manhood, courage, true to their words, and a vision that sees life and love as a game to be played with your whole self.

Mariano “Maco” Milani was another handsome and very elegant young man of the Argentine high society, of straight hair and very white skin. When he began drinking too much, lost his shape and got a red nose. Tall, impeccable, he lived a truly pompous life.

La Rubia MireyaMargarita Verdier, or Verdiet, whom some called “La Oriental “and “La Rubia Mireya”, resident of the neighborhood of Almagro, Castro Barros 433. Daughter of French parents born in Uruguay, had a reputation for “night owl”, given to the “dance of the compadritos”, as tango was stigmatized by then. She was immortalized by Manuel Romero and Francisco Canaro in the tango “Tiempos viejos” (listen). There a few movies in which she is portrayed:
“Los muchachos de antes no usaban gomina” (Manuel Romero 1937 – watch), “La Rubia Mireya” (Manuel Romero 1948 – watch), and “Los muchachos de antes no usaban gomina” (Enrique Carreras 1969 – watch).

Elias AlippiElías Alippi, tango dancer, actor, and theater and film director, playwright of comedies and sainetes (1883-1942). He debuted on the scene in 1904 dancing a tango with Anita Posed in “Justicia criolla”, zarzuela by Ezequiel Soria, music of Antonio Reynoso, who that season replied the company of Jerónimo Podestá. He was also one of the best dancers of the local “María la Vasca” and other nightspots of that time, as well as on stage. He danced for the last time in the film ”Así es la vida” (1939 – watch), with the actress and singer Sabina Olmos. As a playwright, he included tangos in many of his works. The troupe Muiño-Alippi played a decisive role in the advent of the tango-canción: on April 26, 1918, in the sainete of José González Castillo and Alberto T. Weisbach, “Los dientes del perro”, which premiered in Theatre Buenos Aires, appeared, in a cabaret scene, Manolita Poli accompanied by the orchestra of Roberto Firpo, singing the tango by Samuel Castriota and Pascual Contursi, “Mi noche triste” (listen).

La Parda Deolinda shined in the Academias de Montevideo, milonguera and owner of a dancing place. Pintín Castellanos tells us that she was “gifted with a gorgeous body and a hell of a character, and an extraordinary ability to dance with ‘cortes y quebradas’ (…) the men, despite their proven courage, did not risk much with her. “Between 1880 and 1886, Police Chief Apolinario Gayoso deported her because of the many squabbles in which was protagonist, to Buenos Aires. Here, he continued with her dancing and bravery … She died in a duelo criollo!”.

La Parda Loreto, also known for her willingness to get into fights, was born in 1860 and danced in the 80s, in the “peringundines” of Suipacha and El Temple (Viamonte), in the “Milonga de la Calle Chile” (actually called Patria e Lavoro, located in Chile 1567), in the Teatro Politeama (Corrientes 1490, demolished in 1950, today parking), and already older, in the Salón San Martin, popularly known as “Rodríguez Peña”. When her charms were dissipated, worked -always faithful to her environment- as manager of a brothel.

La Parda Refucilo danced in the early 80s in the academia located in Independencia and Combate de los Pozos, famous for “la gente de bronce” that frequented it and the prestige of the dancers, and was a partner in the milongas and in life, of a famous milonguero of that time nicknamed el Biundín.

Francisco DucasseFrancisco Ducasse, one of his dancing partners was named Mimí Pinsonette. He was married to the actress Angelina Pagano. He used to frequent «lo de Hansen». Francisco García Jiménez says that the very charming princess de Murat was intertwined with the tango skill of the fine handsome young man of Buenos Aires, on tour in Paris, in a tango competition organized by the journal Excelsior at the Fémina theater on the avenue of the Champs-Elysées. Obviously, they were awarded the first prize. He was born and died in Buenos Aires.

María La Tero: In the article about tango published in Crítica newspaper on September 22, 1913, “Viejo Tanguero” included her in a list of prestigious female dancers that went to the well-known dancehall on Independencia and Pozos. Julián Centeya, in his book “El misterio del tango”, describes her as tall and skinny.

La Parda FloraLa Parda Flora was very well known by 1880, so much that she is mentioned in “Milonga de Tancredi” (“The other night at Tancredi / I danced with Boladora / was the Brown and Flora; / what he saw me, he estriló”). She showed up her art in La Pandora of La Boca, in peringundines of Corrientes, and had its own academia in 25 de Mayo and Viamonte, to spend her final years in Flores. It is also remembered in the milonga “En lo de Laura” (listen), of Enrique Cadícamo and Antonio Polito:

“Milonga de aquel entonces
que trae un pasado envuelto…
De aquel 911
ya no te queda ni un vuelto…
Milonga que en lo de Laura
bailé con la parda Flora…
Milonga provocadora
que me dio cartel de taura…
Ah… milonga ‘e lo de Laura…
Milonga de mil recuerdos
milonga del tiempo viejo.
Qué triste cuando me acuerdo
si todo ha quedado lejos…
Milonga vieja y sentida
¿quién sabe qué se ha hecho de todo?
En la pista de la vida
ya estamos doblando el codo.
Ah… milonga ‘e lo de Laura…
Amigos de antes, cuando chiquilín,
fui bailarín compadrito…
Saco negro, trensillao, y bien afrancesao
el pantalón a cuadritos…
¡Que baile solo el Morocho! -me solía gritar
la barra ‘e los Balmaceda…
Viejos tangos que empezó a cantar
la Pepita Avellaneda…
¡Eso ya no vuelve más!”

“En lo de Laura”, Enrique Cadícamo and Antonio Polito, by Ángel D’Agostino and Ángel Vargas (listen).

There is a movie, made in 1952, “La Parda Flora” (see here).

Sisters Balbina (Rosa and Maria) acted in the Stella di Roma, in Corrientes and Uruguay, known as El baile de Pepin. It was the first dance house which was established in the center and the most famous due to the attraction exerted by the Balbina sisters. This house was one of those that adopted the system of covering the organito with a mattress so that the sound couldn’t be heard in the street and reach the ears of the police authority.

La Gaucha ManuelaLa Gaucha Manuela, referred by Roberto Firpo in an interview with Dr. Benarós: “I started playing the piano at the Velodrome, in 1907, with Bevilacqua. Then I was twenty years old and came from the Corrales, of Rioja and Caseros. The owner of The Velodrome was Pesce, I believe the father of who was later the owner of Luna Park. The place occupied an area of about four blocks. In the center was a mound of dirt. Inside, a track, used by cyclists. To get there you needed to go through a dirt road, which sometimes became mud. It was two blocks from Hansen. Drinks were served on tables placed under the trees. It had rooms, also. From The Velodrome, you could see when music was playing in lo de Hansen. The Gaucha Manuela was a regular there and was the kept woman of a rich young man called Del Carril, which I believe expended on her four or five million. She was brunette, very pretty, and very ‘criolla’ when speaking. She was a wonderful dancer, capable of grabbing a knife and start with the blows. I dedicated a tango “La Gaucha Manuela”(listen) to her. We were asked for these dedications, and sometimes the person asking for it paid us a hundred pesos. I dedicated the tango “To the distinguished Miss Manuela Lopez.” I earned one peso a day and some tips. There were no women. Each man had to bring his own.”

Union CivicaJuana Rebenque, referred by Juan Santa Cruz -brother of the author of “Unión Cívica” (listen) – (quote from Dr. Benarós): “She lived in small tin roof house, like all the houses at ‘El Pueblo de las Ranas’. You get inside you had to bend down. She did not even have a rate. She charged whatever you gave her. She never came downtown. She was tall, thin, with a big nose, and beautiful. She lived with a man called Fernandez. She was mentioned in some famous verses of the time: ‘Hará cosa ‘e una semana / que un canfinflero mistongo / me convidó pa’ un bailongo / en el Pueblo de las Ranas. / Las principales bacanas / de la ranil población / cayeron a la función / lindamente enfaroladas, / porque habían sido invitadas / con tarjetas de cartón.’”

El Flaco Saúl: A landowner who stands out among the first tango dancers. According to “Viejo Tanguero”: “he was able to interpret tango in two styles: the original, vivid, complex, full of figures and ‘quebradas’, of great agility, with strength and character, and the smooth tango, which developed at the time called the ‘Guardia Vieja’, as a necessity to adapt to female dancers who would not follow the primitive style, which later was defined as the characteristic style to dance the tango of the so-called ‘Guardia Nueva’, or ‘cabaret tango.'”

Bailarines de patioFiliberto, Juan “Mascarilla”, father musician and composer Juan de Dios Filiberto. Eminent tango dancer of the first period; natural and spontaneous creator. Owner or administrator “Bailetín El Palomar”, then the “Tancredi” (c. 1882), nearby recreational Suarez and Necochea, in the heart of La Boca. We quote from an interview by ‘La Canción Porteña’ (Buenos Aires, 1963) in which his son tells us: “‘My father was cheerful, a bit careless of all things, but simple and good, had an easy laugh and good sense of humor in his eyes and always good jokes escaping from his mouth. He sang in a nice tenor voice, which I liked to listen to. Dancer by nature, of the best tango dancers of La Boca; his reputation was well recognized. According to his character, he worked on the most different and contradictory jobs, from the owner of dance halls to sailor, wrestler, or construction worker. He was a friend and often also the bodyguard of Pepe Fernandez, strongman, and leader of La Boca, which was the first supporter of Mitre and then of General Roca. He possessed extraordinary power, often acting in the circus Rafetto wrestling and weight lifter.”

Mariano, mentioned by “Viejo Tanguero” (1913) as a regular of “Scudo de Italia”. He was one of those which popularity was earned thanks to the correctness of his dance. The tango lovers stopped dancing and made a circle to watch hind dancing, to admire and applaud the difficult execution of figures invented by him and that no one else could imitate. He owned a large commercial establishment that was located on the street Sarmiento and Carlos Pellegrini.

1903 - Caras y Caretas - el tango criollo Arturo De Nava, composer, singer pre-gradeliano. Was born apparently in Paysandú in 1876 and died in Buenos Aires, where he had settled since his youth, on October 22, 1932 …. Initially, a natural dancer with great style, he was the first one to earn fame on the stage, prior to Ain and Alippi, dancing tangos in plays since 1903 in the Podestá troupe. He was very handsome. Because of his appearance, unmistakable, his photographs appear illustrating several editions of the popular magazine Caras y Caretas of Buenos Aires, in 1903. ”

Pancho Panelo belongs to the category of rich dancers. Domingo Greco told that this man had so much serenity to dance, and did it with a glass of champagne in his head without spilling a single drop of liquid.

Domingo GrecoPedrín “La Vieja”. Domingo Greco says in his memoirs: “Then came a certain Pedrín, that was my classmate: we nicknamed him ‘La Vieja (The Old Lady)”. He used to live at Chile street, between Tacuarí and Piedras. He brought tango to its maximum refinement. Even before 1900, he was the best dancer known. He had a lot of initiative. He was elegant, very musical, and with an amazing speed in his legs. In a word, he was the best of all time. Benito Bianquet “El Cachafaz” emerged as his only imitator.”

1900s Men PosingI have been asking myself why dancers often have a reputation for being sexual, feisty, rebellious, irreverent, marginal, indifferent to what people say about them, but also elegant, tough, self-reliant, respectable, admired…?
On one hand, I believe that a real dancer is a person for whom life is a dance (“La vida es una milonga”). This approach is not as easy to take as we may suppose. It requires strength and discipline beyond the majority of people’s possibilities and/or willingness. If not, why would a skill not make you rich, an approach to life that is not of great value from a utilitarian perspective on life, would be embraced with the passion, perseverance, and stamina that to be a GOOD DANCER requires?
1900s Men PracticingOn the other hand, all negative qualifications attached to dancers come not from other GOOD DANCERS, but from those who are not. It is perhaps a form of revenge from the ones whose value resides in being useful to society -a laudable situation- against those whose major contribution is an uninterested and useless beauty that can’t be sold in the markets.
In my own experience, all the GREAT MILONGUEROS that I have met in my life, many of whom I had the fortune and the honor to have as my teachers, are (or were -in the case of those that have passed away-) GREAT PEOPLE, incredibly wise and have great sensitivity and common sense, reliable people, generous, respectable, and among many other wonderful qualities, the best at their day jobs and professions.
And the bottom line is that for me, everything that I have achieved in my dance has made me a better person.
And I still have room to improve.

Read also:


History of Tango – Part 3: La Guardia Vieja

Part 1

Buenos Aires 1900Between 1860 and 1915, Buenos Aires experienced exponential growth.

The “Gran Aldea” (Great Village) became a cosmopolitan city, which, despite its isolated geographic location, was one of the greatest cities in the world.

During this period of multiethnic and multicultural interaction, Tango developed its unique characteristics and became a cultural identity, philosophy of life, and lifestyle. Its name was not mentioned in well-mannered conversations. It was practiced, protected, and cared for by powerful people, the only ones who would not care about its bad reputation and defy the rejection by the comfortable, afraid, and obedient society. It needed to develop in places prohibited by a society that denied that an entirely new creature was coming to life. A creature not a child of a well-established family, in the portrait of religions and hypocritical political speeches. A being that was happily excited to deal with the chaos of unpredictability, with all that can’t be rationalized, accounted for, and fit in the big plan laid out by the ruling classes for the population of that corner of the world.

Even when Tango began to enter family homes and broadly accepted social events, the name Tango would not be used as the label to refer to it, nor would the musicians use this term to describe the orchestras.

The dance technique that today we associate with Tango and milonga, the “cortes and quebradas”, was in its origins a dance technique created by the “chinas” and “compadritos” and applied to all kinds of danceable music played in Rio de La Plata: “mazurka”, “polka”, “habanera”, “cuadrilla”, “lanceros”, waltz (called “vals cruzado” when danced in this way), “pasodoble”, “Spanish tango”, Tango and milonga.

Later this dancing technique remained in Argentine Tango (referred to as “tango criollo”), milonga, and vals criollo because these music styles were better suited to it.

On September 9, 1862, four men and two women were put in jail for dancing “tirando cortes y quebradas” at a conventillo of Paraguay 58 (today, in Puerto Madero).

The police report does not mention Tango or milonga.

It was on September 28, 1897, that for the first time we find that the “cortes and quebradas” are elements associated to the choreography of a particular music called Tango. It is at the play written by Ezequiel Soria “Justicia Criolla”:

“Era un domingo de carnaval
Y al “Pasatiempo” fuime a bailar.
Hablé a la Juana para un chats
Y a enamorarla me decidí.
En sus oídos me lamenté
Me puse tierno y tanto hablé,
Que la muchacha se conmovió
Con mil promesas de eterno amor.
Hablé a la mina de mi valor
Y que soy hombre de largo spor,
Cuando el estrilo quiera agarrar
Vos, mi Juanita, me has de calmar.
Y ella callaba y entonces yo
Hice prodigios de ilustración,
Luego, en un tango, che, me pasé
Y a puro corte la conquisté.”

And also:

“Qué cosa más rica…! Cuando bailando un tango con ella, me la afirmo en la cadera y me dejo ir al compás de la música y yo me hundo en sus ojos negros y ella dobla en mi pecho su cabeza y al dar vuelta, viene la quebradita… Ay! hermano se me vá, se me vá… el mal humor.”

Rosendo MendizabalThe following year, in 1898, “El entrerriano”, the first Argentine Tango registered by a known author, was published. This was the time before recordings when the music was commercialized by publishing it in music sheets. The author, Rosendo Mendizábal, was an Afro-Argentinean born in 1868 (and died in 1913). Coming from a wealthy family, he was able to study piano. Unfortunately, his lifestyle made him squander his fortune, and so he began to teach piano lessons and to play in all kinds of brothels and dancing houses, from the ones of the poorest clientele to those visited by the wealthiest people, like “Lo de Laura (Monserrat)” in Paraguay street 2512, where he premiered “El entrerriano”, and dedicated it to Ricardo Segovia, a landowner born in the Argentine province of Entre Rios, who gave Rosendo a $100 bill. This was a common practice among composers before the benefits of authors’ rights.

Before the publication of tangos, they became known only from the authors playing them over and over again in many places. When a tango was fortunate enough to be accepted by the audience, it was frequently requested, contributing to the recognition of the piece and its creator. Sometimes another musician would like a song and learn it by listening to it and incorporating it into his repertoire. But since the time that it began to be written, it was easier to propagate it. Eventually, musicians could play more and more varied songs, and city-sponsored orchestras, military and police bands, and club orchestras would be able to play them, contributing to a more excellent and more efficient divulgation of Tango. It was also how it could surreptitiously enter the family homes, hidden between piano methods and Chopin’s waltzes. And, it made possible the printed rolls for “organitos”, which played a significant role in the initial spread of Tango. Finally, it prepared the ears of those who initially liked Tango to accept a new instrument that became central to Tango and transformed it: the bandoneon.

El ChocloEnrique Santos Discépolo’s father, José Luis Roncallo (who was presumably the one that first suggested tango music for them), and Ángel Villoldo (who probably wrote “El Choclo” to be played through this media) were involved in the construction of the first locally made cylinders for organitos.

Related to this need for mobility that the primitive Tango required to spread itself and survive was the portability of the instruments of its origins. The guitar was the “criollo” (autochthonous) instrument par excellence, which the payadores chose to accompany their singing. It is, indeed, a privileged instrument to accompany the human voice. Still, the payadores that were already laureates and socially accepted, wouldn’t, in general, risk losing their contracts playing such dubious music. The violin was also a prevalent instrument. Wind instruments rose in popularity to the extent that they showed up increasingly in bands and theatre orchestras of the time. The harmonica also played a decisive role, especially in the hands of Ángel Villoldo.

These instruments that first played Tango made their music energetic, lively, and shaky because they were high-pitch and light instruments that could easily be played fast. Later, with the introduction of the “bordoneos” (melodies and bridges played in the lowest pitch range of the guitar strings), the incorporation of the concertina and the Italian accordion, it will start a process of slowing down that will reach its depth with the bandoneon and the lower pitch string instruments. During this period, the bandoneon became the most characteristic instrument of Tango.

In 1899, “El Pibe” Ernesto Ponzio (1885-1934) published “Don Juan”. “El Pibe” Ponzio played the violin “sacando chispas” (extracting sparks from it), according to the testimony left to us by Gabino Ezeiza. When his father (also a musician) died, he needed to help his family and went to play in canteens, at dance parties, and on the streetcars. Soon he was asked to play at the most famous places of the time, like “Lo de Hansen”, “Lo de Laura”, “Lo de María La Vasca” and “Lo de Mamita” Lavalle 2177, among many others. At this last one, it is said, he premiered “Don Juan”, dedicating it to Juan Cabello, a well-known “compadre del arrabal” porteño.  This tango was the first one recorded with bandoneon by Vicente Greco and his orchestra in 1910.

In 1924, when playing in Rosario, he shot and killed a man and was condemned to 20 years in prison. He had other previous violent incidents on his record, but he was pardoned in 1928 and returned to playing. According to his wife, he was not a violent person. He was handsome, kind, and always smiling, even when playing. Still, his talent, overwhelming energy, and charm as a musician, dancer, artist, and person provoked the envy and jealousy of those for whom beauty did not regard respect and tried to impose their mediocrity with sheer force. “El Pibe” Ernesto considered a lack of honesty with himself, with those he loved, and with his art, to retreat when insulted by disrespectful attitudes to people and what is beautiful in life. Nevertheless, he stood up for his thoughts and ideals in every moment, even difficult ones, and dealt with the consequences.

The only recording by “El Pibe” Ernesto Ponzio is in this scene from the first sound film made in Argentina, “Tango!” of 1933, playing his most celebrated composition:

In 1899 they closed the last “Academias” that remained in Montevideo, while the tango came to wider audiences entering the theater, tents, circuses, dance halls, and cabarets. Following this development, the original “tango canyengue” was transformed and made more “decent”, smoothing or eliminating the “cortes y quebradas” and the most straightforward sexual elements of its practice, giving birth to the tango “salon”, also known as tango “de pista” or ‘liso”.

Most of the precursors of tango music were also well recognized as great dancers.

Angel VilloldoÁngel Villoldo (1861-1919) is considered by many “El padre del Tango” (The father of Tango) and unanimously considered the most representative artist of the Guardia Vieja. Little is known about his childhood, and the information about his youth is often contradictory. From an interview made with him by the newspaper “La Razón” in 1917, we know that he was “cuarteador” [1] of “La Calle Larga” (The Long Street, today’s Montes de Oca) at the time that his interest in music appears, and that he sung and played guitar and harmonica.

Between 1879 and 1886, he was a typographer at the newspaper “La Nación” and Jacobo Peuser’s print, conductor of the carnival choir “Los Nenes de Mamá Viuda”, librettist for choir societies, a herdsman in two slaughterhouses of Buenos Aires, a clown at “Raffeto” circus.

Around 1900 he began to be known as a payador, composer, and singer in “Corrales Viejos” (Parque Patricios), Barracas, La Boca, Constitución, San Telmo, Palermo, and in Recoleta for the celebrations of the Virgen María in September. At these celebrations, big tents were erected for several days. They started to be frequented by “compadres” and “cuchilleros” [2], so their original character was replaced by another, less family-oriented, alcohol, dancing, and knife fighting. At these gatherings, in which the life of a man was of little value, everyone respected Ángel Villoldo, who performed there his first tangos.

Cochero de tranvía. History of Argentina at Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires.The tango was still developing and had not yet achieved a defining shape. Therefore, the first works of Villoldo were milongas of the payador style that described characters and current events of the places he frequented. These first songs are precious testimonies of these times and their people. Like this milonga that refers to the known rivalry between cart drivers (carreros) and streetcars drivers (cocheros):

“El Carrero y el Cochero”, listen…

Villoldo’s lyrics are “cheerful, wittily talkative, sometimes in jest, but never bawdy. The compadres of his stories are reliable criollos, as its creator, who recently left the horse on the outskirts of the city, men in whom the knife is not yet ostentatious bravado, but the defense of honor and cause” [3].

El porteñitoHis rise to fame came in 1903 when the singer Dorita Miramar sang “El Porteñito” in the varieté Parisiana of Esmeralda Street, obtaining great success. Pepita Avellaneda had already sung several of his compositions a year earlier on Avenida de Mayo. Soon other female singers included his songs in their repertoire. In the same year, 1903, José Luis Roncallo premiered “El Choclo” at the restaurant “El Americano”, labeling it as “danza criolla” since the category of the place did not admit including tangos in the playlist. After the truth was known, the audience demanded it is played every night. However, it was not published until 1905.

La MorochaOn Christmas day in 1905, Villoldo wakes up at 7 am by Enrique Saborido, who was up all night writing a song and needed a lyric. He knew that Villoldo was fast, that he could improvise verses as a payador. The night before, on Christmas Eve, Saborido was mocked by his friends for paying too much attention to the Uruguayan singer Lola Candles. So they challenged him to write a song for her. He took the challenge and promised to have the song ready to be sung by Lola the next day. At 10 am, they presented to Lola La Morocha”, which she premiered that night. This tango was of great success, not only in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Argentina, and Uruguay, but copies of the music sheet were taken to many port cities worldwide by the school ship Fragata Sarmiento.Fragata Sarmiento, in Puerto Madero

Villoldo finds humor in daily life events. In 1906 the Police Chief of Buenos Aires ordered a fine of 50 pesos to those who say “piropos” (compliments) to a woman in the street, and Villoldo composes, “Cuidao con los 50!”. He tries to get extra advertisement for his song, so he goes to the street and starts to “piropear” to every woman he sees, expecting to be denounced and fined, making his song a way of protest, but all he got was a sweet “viejo enamorado” reply from one lady.

Around those years, “El esquinazo”, another of his compositions, was prohibited from being played at “Lo de Hansen” because the crowd beat their glasses on their tables accompanying the song, breaking them, and making it too expensive for the business.

Alfredo Eusebio and Flora GobbiIn 1907 he was sent by the department store Gath y Chaves, the most successful in Buenos Aires then, to make some of the first tangos and Argentine music recordings to Paris with Alfredo Eusebio and Flora Gobbi (the parents of the great orchestra conductor Alfredo Gobbi). The recordings of Villoldo songs, already thriving, potentialize their success.

Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. Unfortunately, the sound quality on the phonograph was terrible, and each recording lasted for only one play. Alexander Graham Bell’s graphophone followed Edison’s phonograph. It could be played many times. However, each cylinder had to be recorded separately, making the same music’s mass reproduction impossible with the graphophone.

GramophoneOn November 8, 1887, Emile Berliner, a German immigrant working in Washington, D.C., patented a successful sound recording system. Berliner was the first inventor to stop recording on cylinders and start recording on flat disks. The first records were made of glass, zinc, and plastic. A spiral groove with the sound information was etched into the flat record. Next, the record was rotated on the gramophone. The “arm” of the gramophone held a needle that read the grooves in the record by vibration and transmitting the information to the gramophone speaker. Berliner’s disks (records) were the first sound recordings that could be mass-produced by creating master recordings from which molds were made.

These inventions were taking place when tango was becoming more and more popular and are vital to the history of Tango.

Being in Paris, Villoldo subscribed to the Authors and Composers Association of France, following which then created in Buenos Aires in 1908 “La Sociedad del Pequeño Derecho”, precursor of “SADAIC”, created by, among others, Francisco Canaro, Osvaldo Fresedo, Augusto Berto, Agustín Bardi, Enrique Santos Discépolo and Francisco García Jiménez. This institution and its precedent, “Círculo Argentino de Autores Compositores de Música” and “Asociación de Autores y Compositores de Música”, played an essential role in the history of tango and its existence since, thank them, the authors, composers, and musicians of tango were able to make a living.

Back in Buenos Aires, in 1908, we could find Villoldo playing in La Boca at the “Café Concert” of Suarez and Necochea streets, the center of tango of the moment, where, in different places, Canaro, Greco, Firpo, and others were playing. Villoldo performed a solo act, playing guitar, and harmonica (attached to his body in the manner of Bob Dylan), singing, storytelling, and standup comedy and dancing.

From that year is his milonga “Matufias, o el Arte de Vivir”, which is seen as a precursor of Discépolo’s “Cambalache”.

Villoldo was also a journalist and wrote plays.

In 1913 he wrote the lyrics for “El 13”. This will be his last significant hit. After that, Tango changes, and “La Guardia Vieja” gives place to “La Guardia Nueva” and the tangos that Carlos Gardel recorded with Contursi’s lyrics. In 1917 the duet Gardel-Razzano made their first recording with Villoldo’s song; “Cantar eterno”. It was the magic of Tango linking the two eras.

[1] Was a person driving a team of horses and pulled a vehicle stuck in the mud or needing help in a hill climbing.

[2] Quarrelers who use knives to fight.

[3] José Gobello “Historia del Tango”, “La Guardia Vieja”, Editorial Corregidor 1977, page 364.

Read also:


  • “Crónica general del tango”, José Gobello, Editorial Fraterna, 1980.
  • “El tango”, Horacio Salas, Editorial Aguilar, 1996.
  • “Historia del tango – La Guardia Vieja”, Rubén Pesce, Oscar del Priore, Silvestre Byron, Editorial Corregidor 1977.
  • “El tango, el gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro, Editorial Argenta, 2009.

What makes you a good dancer, and Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires

Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires. We offer you Argentine Tango classes with Marcelo Solis. san Francisco bay Area.
The Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires is an enterprise entirely dedicated to Tango.  It is through Tango that we understand culture. It is a way of life. It is a way to see our own lives in the context of realities such as society, individuality, beauty, responsibility.

These words seem abstract, but they manifest as real problems in our everyday life.

Tango lends the experience of past generations, gives us the perspective of how people in the past lived and danced, of the mistakes they made in the process. It offers us the opportunity to make better choices in the present, and through our sense of responsibility, personal strength and awareness, to make life more beautiful.

Tango shows us that our individual lives are meaningless without a connection to past generations and traditions that link us to others in the present and throughout history. Passion for life, which we can only achieve and sustain through our subjectivity, is necessary to give meaning to our lives and make valuable contributions to society.

Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires and Marcelo Solis. Argentine Tango classes San Francisco Bay AreaWhat I am describing can be found in the lyrics of many tango songs.

For example, below is a verse from “Canción de rango”:

“Que bailen los que vienen pa’ bailar,
que escuchen los que quieran escuchar.
Pa’ todos hay un tango acompasado,
pretencioso y retobado reinando en mi ciudad.”

This first verse talks about society, made up of uncountable individuals driven by their own passions: dancing, enjoying the music… there is something in tango for everyone. Tango is for all.

Another verse:

“Yo canto porque vivo la emoción
del tango cadencioso y compadrón.”

In these lyrics the individual presents his motives: passion, emotions. Still, these passions are related to something that transcends him as an isolated individual: Tango.

And finally:

“Yo canto cuando alguno pega el grito
que hay un tango compadrito
buscando un corazón.”

This verse demonstrates how he is moved by responsibility of responding to a call from Tango and others.

If you listen to any rendition of this song, you will be moved by the total commitment of the orchestra/singer into the composition. The authors, Suñé and Kaplún, really left the ball ready for a goal in this match. I enjoy all of them: Demare/Arrieta, Biagi/Acuna, Tanturi/Castillo, Caló/Rufino, Pugliese/Córdoba, Troilo/Goyeneche. I just discovered the last one:

I am not going to talk about the dance. You must do it, if you want to know anything about it. It is pure beauty.

The Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires is based in Buenos Aires, where it has a staff of regular and guest maestros such as Blas Catrenau, Myriam Pincen and Néstor Pellicciaro, who is also one of the co-directors.

The other co-director (and author of this article) is me, Marcelo Solis, working in San Francisco Bay Area.

Since tango is a globalized phenomenon that is rooted in Buenos Aires, we promote a strong connection to the roots of tango at each branch abroad. Teachers at every location organize classes and events keeping in mind that their goal is to see their students dancing in Buenos Aires’ milongas, helping them to integrate to the milonguero culture.

In order to make that possible, every year, the Escuela organizes several tours to the Tango capital. See more information about tours here…

I recently came back from Buenos Aires where I was guiding my tour.

Buenos Aires Tour. Travel with marcelo Solis. Argentine Tango classes in San Francisco bay Area

This experience is always very positive, and all of the participants became better dancers. That makes me feel deeply happy and proud.

And now the question is… what makes you a good dancer?

My answer in the framework of Tango:

1.    To be madly in love with the music. Tango originates as a dance first, and then a specific music was associated to it. The first milongueros would dance using the particular technique of dancing based on the embrace, to the rhythms in vogue at the second half of the 1800’s: waltz, polka, habanera, that came to the port of Buenos Aires from abroad, and a local rhythm called milonga.

Musicians were itinerant at the time. They played improvisations based on popular melodies, and received payment directly from the dancers. The musicians who paid attention to the dancers learned to play to their cadence, the natural inertia of a couple dancing embraced. That was greatly appreciated by the dancers and rewarded with a greater pay. That is how tango evolved as a musical genre.

This process went on, with a period where tango was partially disassociated from the dance; the tendency that today, in retrospect, we relate to Carlos Gardel, a singer, and Julio De Caro, a violin player, composer and director. It lasted until 1935, when Juan D’Arienzo initiated the Golden Era of Tango by reconnecting tango to its roots as a dance.

The music from that period (that continued strong for a decade, and faded out gradually after –although never completely disappearing) is played nowadays in the milongas in Buenos Aires.

That is why it is not possible to understand Tango without passionate love for its music. The music tells you how to dance, tells you what tango is. To read more about the history of Tango.

2.    To have the patience to achieve a great control of your movement, up to the “subtleties” level. Be never satisfied with what you are already able to do. However, do not allow the quest for improvement deprive you and your partner of the joy of dancing.

3.    To have the passion and the commitment to practice, to put aside other things and make time to practice. Nothing will change or improve in your dance without physically doing and repeating your exercises in order to build up the necessary good habits. I heard people saying that this is neurotic obsessive behavior, an addiction, and other similar things. My response to them is: when an activity makes you stronger, wiser, more aware and alert, healthier in general, it cannot be classified so negatively. Although, for some, it may be an escapism… But that is not Tango.

4.    To be generous, pay more attention to your possibilities and opportunities to give, rather than calculating how much you would receive. I tell you right away: it may be a long time before you can truly enjoy it. It is always going to be a work in progress that is never finished. It will ask you to be always in alert mode, to consider more what you can do and how much you can give, not how much good it is given to you. From the moment you go to your first class or your first milonga, the right attitude will be “I come to participate”, rather than “I come to receive”.

5.    To have the desire to share, pay attention to your partner’s joy, to dance “with” your partner. That is the same principle stated in 4, but on the partnership level. At the couple level, tango is made by two people. They have to act as accomplices, give support to each other, encourage their respective strengths, provide support and a friendly challenge in relation to their respective weaknesses.

6.    To respect the other people’s space. Tango is intimate, but should not be invasive. That is why, to give one example, “cabeceo” is so essential to tango: you ought to ask a partner from a distance if she or he would allow you to get so intimately closed. A milonguera or milonguero has to be aware of the following: a good dancer is clean, well mannered, respectful, strong, considerate and gentle.

7.    To be humble, even when you have a lot to be proud about. The greatest of the greatest dancers keep learning.

8.    To be aware that Tango is not only “your” Tango, to acknowledge that it has belonged to others before you, to respect what Tango is, so your love for Tango grows on the soil of what has already been done. That implies your acting in order to know tango better, its history, the people who made Tango their lives.

9.    To assume responsibility that others who come after you will get to know Tango from you.

I would like you to tell me what other elements, in your opinion, make a good dancer. Please write to me at

History of Tango – Part 2: The origins of Tango

How Tango came to be is unknown. We have information about the history leading up to the rise of Argentina as a state. From these facts, we can only 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 abandoned the city. This paved the way for ideas of independence, eventually leading to the Colonial system’s end. 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 following British-led ideas of the international division of work, and invested in the technology and infrastructure that made possible such model. A modern port was constructed in Puerto Madero, and a railroad network 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 the private property of the new landowners. Also, the “chinas” 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 perfect 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 militia of gauchos, which would go on to be integrated into the state as an official regiment. They soon earned a reputation for 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 province’s governor’s service 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, between 1835 and 1852, was the prominent leader of the Argentinean Confederation. This period of Argentina’s history is called 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, during this period, 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

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
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

“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 famous actors 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 then, with the “sainete” being the primary genre offered by these companies. This genre comprised shorter pieces, including humor, songs, and dance elements. 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, “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 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 particular 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, intending to maintain 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 the 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 other’s 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 other’s arms and the figures from the stops of the solo dancers. The other explanation is emotional: the consolation the embrace gave all these humans left alone by displacement, economic exile, and destruction of their families, cultures, and lifestyles.

Other characteristics of the new dance were that it was 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 backward, which contradicted all previous approaches to partner dancing. These elements are rooted in the body language of the criollos, men and women trained in short knife fencing. Due to a cultural demand and the historical realities of the time, knowing how to fight was necessary, just as today it is considered necessary to read and write. In a historical situation of the rapid transformation of the government and institutions, no reliable protection was provided to the people, their families, or their property.
Before the British, who the Argentinean government commissioned 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, to mark the white shirt of the opponent. This is something that 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 to as “cortes y quebradas” (cuts and breaks).

Tango regionThis 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 the names: “chinas” and “compadritos.”

The massive immigration in Buenos Aires was intended to populate the countryside. Still, 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 unprepared to receive this amount of people, and housing quickly became one of the most urgent problems.

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 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 called “conventillo.”

Yellow feverIn 1871, Buenos Aires suffered a yellow fever epidemic that killed 8% of its population, most 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.

Many 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 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, per 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 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 besides being great dancers. The academias were located mainly in Constitución and San Cristobal and 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, “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” titled “El merenguengué” became very successful at carnivals organized by the Afro-Argentinean population in Buenos Aires in February 1876. In 1877, the “Lo de Hansen” restaurant in Palermo was the first in a series of restaurants, cabarets, and pubs where high society youth would socialize and dance Tango.

The year 1880 is when some authors mark the transition between the gestation of the Tango and “La Guardia Vieja” (“Old Guard”.) Some others prefer to wait for the further evolution of the genre and the appearance of the first scores. In this decade, the tango and milonga were confused with one another, and both began to impose their dominance over the 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”, a tango that was later recorded as “Entrada prohibida”, then signed by the Teisseire brothers as the composers.

Casimiro Alcorta was also a celebrated Tango dancer; his companion “La Paulina” was 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 the guitar, violin, and flute. In the following years, the guitar and the flute disappeared, and the piano and then the bandoneón was integrated, shaping the “Orquesta Típica.”

OrganitoIn those years, the “organito,” a portable player, had a significant role in the initial spread of the Tango. It was made of tubes or flutes and a keyboard operated by the cylinder, enabling the passage of air to produce different notes. Bellows generate air activated simultaneously with the cylinder by rotating a handle. The “organito,” like the organ and the bandoneón, is a wind instrument. It is essential to differentiate the “organito” from the “organillo,” which is more common in Spain and produces 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


  • “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.



Walking, dancing, body and words

Dance Argentine Tango with Marcelo Solis at Escuela de Tango de Buenos AiresHumans 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:

How 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.