“¡Ay que peligroso!” (“Wooow, it’s dangerous!”), people will exclaim when you tell them you wanna visit La Boca (the Mouth) – one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires in Argentina. The tiny barrio (neighbourhood) has always had a bad reputation, especially when visited from dusk till dawn, but at the same time it is a very popular tourist stop in the capital of the country. Why is it so attractive?
Well, La Boca is located near the Old Port and it attracts thousands of tourists annually with La Bombonera (or Estadio Alberto J. Armando – one of the primary stadiums) and Diego Maradona, with its multi-coloured houses as well as with the bunch of bohemian vibes. The golden days in Boca looked like a never-ending party. Just imagine street performers, dancers and musicians, fat ladies, dwarfs, ladies experiencing the oldest profession and circus people (by the way, the neighbourhood is thought to be the home of the circus in Buenos Aires). They have still been occupying this area but mainly on the neighborhood’s traditional murals.
Actually, most who have visited la Boca, say that taking a stroll down la Caminito is an absolute must-do when you are in the barrio. This is a very small alley where you stumble upon street performers who entertain visitors with their music and of course, with live Tango lessons. And all this is free of charge.
Hmmm … Finally, I have come to the topic of this post …. El Tango … this highly complex and seductive, distinct and sensual dance of the immigrants in South America, which was “born” somewhere there between Argentina and Uruguay and which conquered the whole world with its sensuality, passion, rhythm and energy in the 20th century.
The early form of Tango is thought to have been formed in Spain in the middle of the 19th century. Andalusia tango was performed as a solo dance by pairs of women and it was considered a very dangerous and sexy blend of tango and flamenco and the general public always regarded it as immoral and too flirty.
That form of dance was transferred to the New World and it developed along the River Plate (the natural border between Argentina and Uruguay) in the middle of the 1800s. In that period of time the two countries underwent a massive immigration wave from Africa and Europe (from countries such as Spain, Italy, England, Russia, Poland, in particular). Poor immigrants belonged to the impoverished working class and they lived in neighbourhoods like la Boca. Despite of their hard life, they organized their own gatherings called “tango” and “tambo” around the River Plate. Their street musical and dance performances included various sounds from Africa and Europe as well as minuet dances, polkas, flamenco etc. Thus all these multi-national, -traditional and -cultural songs and dances performed in the streets and in brothels “got united” into new traditions and a new way of life, a fusion of European, African and gaucho styles, rhythms and instruments. That way it became the “music of immigrants” and of lower-class districts just like jazz was born.
Argentine Tango, in particular, is a very elegant, too passionate and sexy partner dance that requires skills, much strength and an extremely close connection with the other partner. Or in other words said, this creative and very intimate and close dance makes both partners establish closeness and communicate with one another through the language of their bodies. And there is one explanation for all this, i.e. why a close contact between the two partners is so important when dancing a Tango.
Soooo …. Tango became popular as a dance as a result of the shortage of women in the New World. A great part of the immigrants who arrived in Buenos Aires, in particular, were breadwinners, men, led by economic reasons. They needed to earn money which they would send or take back to their families on the Old Continent or in Africa. Being without a woman for a long time, men visited brothels or danced with women in the streets so that they could get close to a representative from the opposite gender. But there were some conditions as far as such dances were concerned. Firstly, men had to be good at dancing. Secondly, both partners had to create that close connection between one another. As a result of this, Tango has always been thought to be a dance of passion, desperate desire and sexual innuendo. Or said in another way, Tango is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.
The “birth” of Tango was in brothels and in the street which were one of the places of interaction between lower- and upper-classes. Porteños (or wealthy people) were against it like the Spaniards in Spain who ignored the mixture of Tango and flamenco. The rich ignored and looked down on the dance considering it scandalous and extremely lowly because of all the sexual undertones and its “place of birth”. But everything changed when the dance started its journey around the world. It first arrived in Paris in 1912 and then in other European capitals like London, Berlin and so on accepted Tango. As a matter of fact, the latter conquered North America as well, New York in particular, in 1913. The spread-out of the dance led to a true revolution to ballrooms and it became the very first couple dance on the Old Continent that contained improvisation. When Porteños heard about the huge popularity and fame tango gained in Europe, they revised their attitude towards it and of course, they wanted to avail of it by “re-importing” it for themselves.