[Marxism] The true social origins of early tango

Nestor Gorojovsky nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar
Mon Feb 16 10:23:23 MST 2004

On the "Totango" website, one can find what follows:

"It was... around 1850 when the Opera of Paris going through bad 
economical times it's director had the audacious idea of including 
Vienese Waltz in some of the performances on a trial basis. It was a 
great success, the curious public filled the theater again. Paris 
being the center of arts and ref
inement slowly made this dancing in 'Close hold' acceptable to the 
rest of the world.

It is then in this historical context that we have to judge the 
situation of tango at its beginnings and during the period 1880-1910 
and the reason men had to dance with each other.

Viennese Waltz was the first social dance that used a "close hold" . 
This is the way we dance today...we think of it as the most logical 
hold for a couple to dance... but at the beginning ...during the 
second part of the 19th.century this proximity of the bodies in 
public was considered to be scand
alous. It took many years for people slowly accepting it.

We arrive now at the period in which tango originated before or 
around 1880. The periphery of Buenos Aires, bars, gambling houses, 
brothels... lonely men spend time socializing, drinking, gambling, 
looking for some 'romance' in the company of women of ill repute, 
trying the steps of the new dance..
.the milonga and the tango. We can imagine that in those places, 
under those circumstances every experimentation as to dancing steps 
was possible irrelevant of good, bad taste, lewdness or even 


Decent families and women of good reputation did not want any part of 

How was it, one can wonder, that Buenos Aires "decent family ladies", 
who were certainly  very used to (and fond of) waltz, did not like 
tango because of the "close hold"?  This question has been answered, 
and fully, by a recent book, that can be purchased at the "Todo 
Tango" website.  What we have
 above is the canonic (and erroneous) version sanctified by the Bates 
brothers, the first historians of tango.  These brothers simply 
assumed that tango must have begun in the brothels.

The truth is more interesting, indeed.

[For details, please refer to the book that can be purchased at 
http://www.todotango.com/tienda/spanish/info_libros_BOOKTS01.htm  "El 
tango en la sociedad porteña (1880-1920)"]

Recent research has shown, among others, that at least a sizable 
fraction of the ruling classes (both males and females) also danced 
tango in public events by the early 1880s.  What the whole canonic 
version of tango misses is that by those times, on this as on almost 
every other issue, the ruling 
classes in Argentina were split in two.  

The generation of young military officers and intellectuals -mostly 
of Inland origin- which took charge in 1880 against the Mitrista 
aristocracy of Buenos Aires had a much deeper national complexion 
than that of the Mitristas, and loved popular dance as much as they 
loved Tacitus and the French nov

The whole "official" history of tango has overlooked this fact. The 
version of Argentinean history that the immigrants swallowed line and 
hooker was the Mitrista, fully oligarchic version.  And this happened 
with the history of tango too. 

What in fact happened in the early 1880s was that the Generation of 
the 80s brought to the high circles of society a taste for popular 
and plebeian entertainment: and the old Buenos Aires oligarchy 
answered by splitting many of its institutions (thus, in Buenos 
Aires, you still have, for example, t
he "Yatch Club Argentino" of the new generation of 1880 as against 
the  "Buenos Aires Yatch Club"  of the Mitristas). 

With time, the young generation of the 80s blended with the old 
oligarchy, and all of this was lost.  Their offspring were already 
undistinguishable from the Buenos Aires oligarchy they had been 
warrying against for decades.  But the social climate where tango was 
born was NOT a climate of hate by 
the high society as a whole against tango. Not at all. The Mitristas 
and the clericals (who were allied against this secularizing, 
national-minded young generation of Roca and his followers) hated it, 
but not all of the ruling classes. The problem is that in the end it 
was they who won the cultural
 battle, but this belongs to a later moment in our history.

It was only during the 1890s and early 1900s that tango was 
considered a leftover for the lower ranks of society. And even in 
those times, the young members (particularly young male members) of 
the ruling class still mixed with tango.  It should be noted that 
this did not happen with the other musi
cal expressions of Argentina...

This made it possible for tango to jump to Paris in a way no other 
musical expression of my country ever did.

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 
"Sí, una sola debe ser la patria de los sudamericanos".
Simón Bolívar al gobierno secesionista y disgregador de 
Buenos Aires, 1822
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

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