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Your Brief Guide to Argentine Tango

Katharina Joite

The Origin
Ever since its inception in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Argentine tango is one of the most popular tango genres known to depict the undertones of nostalgia, melancholy, and yearning for lost love. If legends are to be believed, the dance form dates back to the late 19th century. Back then Argentina was undergoing massive immigration. This resulted in a melting pot of cultures which highly influenced the locals. Argentine tango was then practiced by a host of musicians and immigrant laborers in parts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

The Basics
Argentine tango is based on four pillars – walking, turning, stopping, and improvising. Adhering to the basic moves, the tangueras have the liberty to experiment with their styles and frills. These are the 8 basic figures of Argentine tango.

  1. Caminada: This is a form of a tango walk which usually ranges from 4 to 6 steps and a turn to take to the corner.
  2. Baldosa: This is a six-step walking box figure which is commonly practiced in a milonga.
  3. Basico con cruzada: This is an eight-step cross dancing form complemented with torso position.
  4. Ocho adelante: This is a front Ocho style which is also known as forward ocho, ocho de frente and ocho adelante. This is generally practiced by a turn and forward step that goes in a single direction.
  5. Ocho cortado: Also known as cut Ocho, this is also a basic step with variations and additions.
  6. Ocho atras: Known to be one of the oldest Argentine tango figures, this has an interesting background. It is believed that the steps were traced from trails left by the women who used to dance while cleaning the floor.   
  7. El sanguchito: Also known as the sandwich, this figure involves improvisation mostly in ganchos and back ochos.
  8. Media Luna: Media Luna or half moon is all about improvising on backward and forward ochos. It involves major pivot moves and strategic turns.

The Impact
Although Argentine tango owes its genesis to Argentina and Uruguay, its impact is profound across the world. It is popularly practiced in Europe, North America, and Asia and thus many very good tango dancers nowadays come from these continents. Every year, dancers from from all over the world actively participate in the World Tango Championship held in Buenos Aires. Argentine tango has, therefore, experienced several improvisations and maneuvers which is actually adopted from foreign dancers.

We often come across tango dancing in modern popular culture because of its somber and melodious tunes. How can we forget those famous tango scenes in famous movies like Scent of a Woman, Moulin Rouge!, Shall we Dance, Tango, Upside Down, and many others.  

Watch out for this space for interesting facts on Argentine tango.