Like so many of history’s most popular and enduring dance styles, the Tango’s legacy stretches back from its current cachet as a sensuous, exotic ballroom dance to its origins in the immigrant African slums of Argentina. No one knows for certain where the Tango really came from, but it’s generally accepted that the word itself likely has African origins, and that it evolved from the free mixing of cultures and ethnicities in working class Buenos Aires in the mid-19th century. There, poor immigrants from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland, and Russia mixed and mingled with African slaves and shared their dance traditions. Cuban and African musical styles and instruments were introduced, and an early style of the Tango was born.
Later, wealthy members of the Argentinian elite who weren’t above slumming among society’s poor introduced the dance to their own circles and eventually brought the steps and music with them to Paris where many had moved for education and leisure travel. Unlike conservative Buenos Aires society, Parisians loved and embraced the coarse, sexual nature of the new dance. The Tango craze spread throughout Europe and soon landed in London and New York. Before long, even the most scandalized Argentinian matron couldn’t help but proudly claim the wildly popular Tango as a homegrown phenomenon.
Over the years several different styles of the Tango have evolved, including International, American, French, Gaucho, Ballroom, and others, though the original Argentine Tango remains a favorite. Although its popularity has waxed and waned over the generations, it’s become one of the most famous dance styles in the world.