<< Back to Dance History

Comment, corrections >



Originally the Tango was (and still is) light spirited Flamenco dance from Spain. With the Spanish conquest of much of South America, this Tango together with other Spanish folk dances naturally emigrated with settlers from Spain, although its involvement in the formation of the Modern Tango is suspect. The Tangano, an African dance imported with the slaves, is a more likely precursor. Over the years one or both became merged with other dances in the New World. In particular, in Argentina in the slums of Buenos Aires in the late 19th Century, they became merged with the Habanera (a folk dance from Havana in Cuba). The resulting dance became known as the Milonga.

The private Milonga.

Although initially popular with the lower classes of Argentine society, by the turn of the 20th Century, it had gained acceptance with the upper classes there. It's importation into the upper classes of Western Europe was catalyzed by France's greatest music-hall star: Mistinguett who gave the first ever demonstration in Paris in 1910. Interest in the dance rapidly exploded as a "Tangomania", initially through Paris then London and New York. The first world war did nothing to cool this interest, with Rudolph Valentino popularizing the Tango further in his film "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"(1921). More recent film demonstrations have been given by Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar in "Scent of a Woman"(1992), and by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tia Carrere in the "True Lies"(1994).

Rudolph Valentino and Beatrice Dominguez Dancing the Tango
in the film "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1921).

The character of the Milonga is of a very soft private dance, with visual emphasis on the leg movements. This character was changed dramatically in Paris in the 1930's, where the dance was combined with the proud torso of the other ballroom dances, and given a staccato action. This moved the visual emphasis to the torso and head, a characteristic which remains to this day. The dance has been used as an example of Irrational Dancing.

By Don Herbison-Evans
Departmental Report TRS-96-008
Department of Mathematics and Computing,
Central Queensland University,
Bundaberg, Australia
(revised 21 January 2001)
References have been removed for easier reading.