- Richard Powers
An Argentine couple dance that gained popularity in Western Europe and the United States in the early 20th century and later evolved into a wide variety of forms around the world. Its origins and etymology are uncertain. Various scholars have proposed African, Spanish, Gypsy, Argentine gaucho, and Cuban roots of the tango without reaching accord. The Parisian dance master M. Markowski’s “Tango: a South American Dance” was described by the American Charles Durang in 1856, but bore little resemblance to the 20th-century Argentine tango.
The tango arose in the lower-class barrios surrounding Buenos Aires and neighboring Montevideo, primarily among disenfranchised immigrants, and thus was shunned at first by residents of the inner city. Tango lore focuses on the brothel as the principal setting of the tango; however, this is just one of many myths that have been adopted uncritically and passed on from author to author. The musician Arturo Penon credits the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges as the principal defender of this theory, based more on his impression of the lascivious nature of the dance than on thorough investigation. In fact, many scholars believe that the tango arose from the honest poor of the barrios....