Tango: the Music and the Dance


Tango originated in Buenos Aires in the late 19th century (about 1870). It is a dance—and also the music for the dance—resulting from the convergence of various musical styles brought to Argentina by African slaves and European immigrants. The word “tango,” some say, is derived from the Latin word “tangere,” which means “to touch.”

In its infancy, tango was the cultural expression of lonely immigrants and societal outcasts in slums and the bordellos of Buenos Aires, but by the turn of the new century, tango became a staple of the city’s larger society—moving to the barrios or middle-class neighborhoods, and then to the Argentine upper class. From 1900-1920, tango took Paris by storm. And in no time, the dance—and the music—developed a worldwide following.

Today, in the Twin Cities alone, tango is danced somewhere nearly every night of the week.


If you are fluent in Spanish, but still find it difficult to decipher some lyrics in tango—especially tango from the early days—the reason could be “Lunfardo.” Lunfardo is a slang dialect that originated in the late 19th century in prison populations and the lower classes of Montevideo and Buenos Aires. By the 20th century, it had disseminated to the larger, Spanish-speaking social strata of the region. Given the origins of the tango, it’s not surprising to find Lunfardo frequently peppering tango lyrics, coloring the saga with double-entendres and nuance. Word-play is a characteristic of Lunfardo. For example, reversing the syllables in the word “tango” results in “gotán.” “Café con leche” becomes “feca con chele.”


The bandoneon is the most emblematic instrument of the Argentine tango. It was invented in Germany by Heinrich Band and arrived in Buenos Aires in 1865. Before the arrival of the bandoneon, tango was played with a guitar, harp, flute, and sometimes accordion. The bandoneon looks like an accordion, but instead of piano-like keys, the bandoneon has buttons resembling those on an old typewriter. The sound from a bandoneon is produced as air flows past a vibrating reed in a frame.


Argentine Tango: A Brief History by Susan August Brown


Latin Roots: The Trajectory Of Tango


  1. It’s good for you!
  2. We’re a friendly bunch.
  3. Our shoes are cool—and you’ll soon be wanting your own. (Yes, we’re talking about women’s AND men’s shoes!)

If you’ve read this far, well then, you’re ready to jump in.

Join us every second Saturday. The TSoM monthly milonga, or tango dance party, runs from 8:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. (free lesson 8:30 – 9:30).