It is hard to imagine a time when tango did not exist. It has been around all of our life and the lives of our parents and grand parents but not much more before that. From the early 1880’s it was a dance form and a musical expression practiced by both the upper class and the marginal element of Buenos Aires. After a while, because of a perceived danger of immigrants upsetting the political scales, the establishment treated it like the bastard offspring of an illicit liaison. Its existence was not recognized; it was hidden behind the sordid shacks of the slums. It did not make the social pages; society did not issue any valid documentation to assert its date of birth and family line.
Times have changed dramatically and today we tend to look at children born out of wedlock in a whole different way. If tango was to be born today, it would have much better odds to become accepted and go on to become a success than it had one hundred years ago. That is what is so remarkable about it.
Spawned from a mix of rhythms and melodies that arrived to the port city of Buenos Aires, it probably picked up some texture in Haiti and Cuba, and continued its leavening catharsis with the infusion of popular themes from Andalucia and the rural plight of the nomad inhabitants of the Argentine pampas. When the European immigrants completed the ingredients of the melting pot of an incipient popular society, the tango became a symbol of their identity and an expression of their pride and joy.
This fact did not go unnoticed by enterprising Europeans who found original ways to introduce the erotic choreography and the catchy music to sophisticated audiences in Paris, London and New York way before the outbreak of World War I. By the time Rudolph Valentino made tango “famous” in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the people of Buenos Aires had began to carve the foundations of the Argentine tango we love and so dearly care about today.
The illegitimate child of the poor, the slaves, the less-than-respectable members of a simmering socially challenged class, had grown into a respectable role model for a new generation of porteños who took pride in the interpretation of the music, the versification of its songs and the crafting of a fundamental choreography that is purely based on the expression of emotions and the ritual of the embrace. Every porteño claims it rightfully as their unique patrimony. No claim is made though about the conglomerate of emotions, feelings and other traits that conform the human race.
That is why we can embrace the tango as our own anywhere, anytime. It’s a spontaneous love affair that no logical reasoning can define. Total strangers connecting at the floor level in a mystical realization that there is something to be shared.
A kaleidoscopic array of emotions that includes pure passion, blind faith, admiration, respect, friendship, jealousy, envy and oddly occasional irrational demonstrations of hate. They all form part of the dynamics of every single tango hamlet around the world, and they all somehow find in the tango a redeeming reason to exist within the realm of the embrace because they are all expressions of the sorrow for our brief life stopover on our way to eternal solitude.