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Sunday, 4 January, 1998, 17:27 GMT
Tango history: From brothels to Broadway
The tango evolved from the sorrowful dances of the Argentine barrio
The tango evolved from the sorrowful dances of the Argentine barrio
Although for many the tango epitomises the glamour and elegance of high society, the dance first sprang to life in the brothels of Buenos Aires.

As immigrants flowed from Europe and Africa to Buenos Aires, many gravitated towards the port city's houses of ill repute.

The tango craze swept the world in the 1920s
The tango craze swept the world in the 1920s
In these establishments, the portenos could drown their troubles in a few drinks and - to put it delicately - find some companionship. Most were homesick and poor, looking for a distraction.

From this heady and diverse cultural brew emerged the music which became the tango.

Though musical historians argue as to its exact origins, most accept that the tango borrowed from many nations.

The music combines the relentless rhythms that African slaves - the candombe - beat on their drums (known as tan-go) and the popular music of the Argentinean pampas (flatlands) known as the milonga, which combined Indian rhythms with the music of early Spanish colonists. Some even say the word tango comes from the Latin word tangere (to touch).

Originally, the dance was an "acting out" of the relationship between the prostitute and her pimp. (The first tango titles refer to characters in the world of prostitution.) Sensuous and sexually suggestive, these tango songs and dances were generally regarded as obscene.

As the new immigrants were absorbed into mainstream society, the dance became less abrasive. In the early 20th century, the international tango craze began.

Interest in tango has been rekindled thanks to films like
Films like "Evita" have re-kindled interest in tango (Courtesy: Cinergi Entertainment)
First, the tango took Paris by storm. By the 1920s, it reigned supreme in the cabarets and theatres frequented by the rich.

Even the Americans were doing it. According to one history though, many American women wore "bumpers" to protect themselves from rubbing too closely against their male partners.

The dance all but disappeared in the 1950s, replaced by Be Bop and Rock and Roll. Ten years ago, older dancers feared the tango would die out completely.

But it hasn't. Hollywood's recent embrace of the tango, supported by a set of innovative new dancers has re-kindled worldwide interest. And the number of dancers is rising.

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