Vail dance: Tango’s storied beginnings |

Vail dance: Tango’s storied beginnings

Brenda Himelfarb
Daily correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – The tango, as we know it, is seen as an intimate conversation between dancers that is nothing less than mesmerizing. But, not always, it seems.

There are many stories about the beginnings of this intense, sensual dance. Some historians say the tango originated in Spain or Morocco; others maintain that it’s a mixture of dances from Haiti, Cuba and Argentina where it was first danced in the ghetto of Buenos Aires, eventually spreading throughout Europe in the early 1900s, and then to New York in 1911.

However, most believe that it was in Argentina, in the courtyards of tenement blocks where the poor lived, that tango was born. Someone might play a guitar, another a flute and other people from the building would dance. It was the only time they would be able to relax from a hard day at work. The music had a common language that united people of many cultures.

A more colorful anecdote is about the “gauchos.” Supposedly the men would go to local nightclubs to dance and relax after a rough day of horseback riding. Since the gauchos hadn’t showered, a woman would dance in the crook of a man’s right arm, holding her head back, so as not to be too close. At the same time, her right hand was held low on his left hip, close to his pocket where she hoped to find a payment for dancing. Because the clubs were so crowded with round tables and the dance floor so small, the men danced in a curving fashion around and between the tables.

Still, another tale about tango’s origins is that men began dancing to musicians who were playing on the street corners in Buenos Aires. They practiced dancing together hoping to perfect their steps before actually dancing with a woman.

Needless to say, the tango has certainly evolved. These days, the dance, is not only personalized, but technically demanding, as well. The shape drawn by the dancers tends to be long, straight lines, punctuated with a sudden, very complicated movement.

And phrasing is a very important part of the dance with most tango music phrased to 15 or 31 beats. It’s much like a story that contains paragraphs – major phrases, which are sentences, minor phrases, and the period at the end of the sentence is the tango’s close.

In 2009, UNESCO declared tango as part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage.” So, it’s no surprise, that Damian Woetzel, artistic director of the Vail International Dance Festival, would choose tango as the featured dance in Sunday night’s performance of Ballroom 2010 with Natalia Hills and Gabriel Misse.

“A lot of people who normally wouldn’t watch dance are quite entranced seeing more of it on television. Tango is a logical extension of what they see. It’s a very recognizable musical form for everybody.”

Tango dancers must have a strong connection to the music, the dance and, of course, the audience. Therefore, the audience must connect with the performers. They, too, must feel the passion of the dance.

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