Tango, the dance with the stop “Baille Con Carte”, is one of the most fascinating of all dances. Originating in Spain or Morocco, the Tango was introduced to the New World by the Spanish settlers, eventually coming back to Spain with Black and Creole influences. In the early 19th Century, the Tango was a solo dance performed by the woman. The Andalusian Tango was later done by one or two couples walking together using castanets. The dance was soon considered immoral with its flirting music!
In 1936 to get into the movie business a young dancer named Dean Collins brought with him ‘his version’ of the “Savoy Style Lindy.” Collins, after dancing in Hollywood for a couple years and swing dancing in many night clubs began dancing and competing in dance contests. He would get to know some of the other local dancers, which were said to have “not seen that style of swing before, but they liked it very much. It was much different than what they were doing at the time … they called it “The Whip” (NOTE: different than the later “Houston Whip” which is a Descendant of WCS … to make a slightly long story short,) “Sophisticated Swing” and/or sometimes the “New Yorker”.
When Collins started winning contests everyone wanted to learn his style. Dean’s first partner was Bertha Lee in contests and film, but later Collins joined up with Jewel McGowen who was to become the hottest female swing dancer who had ever “Switched” (swivel’d back and forth) with Dean. Jewell and Dean made many movies apart as well as together. When Dean would be asked what style of swing he was doing he would say “there is no style, there is only Swing.” He never said there is only Lindy Hop or West Coast or Jitterbug, etc., NEVER!, there is only swing. And being a true master of swing realized that “Swing is Swing”… period!
Collins started teaching “his version” to L.A. and soon everyone on the West Coast was doing it. Dean finally got his break and started doing more Hollywood Movies in the 1940s and 1950s. During this time, the movies billed WCS dance as “Jitterbug or Rock and Roll.” Many soldiers danced this version of swing in W.W. II. The soldiers and U.S.O. took “West Coast Swing” AND OTHER FORMS OF SWING all over the world … disguised as the newer term of Jitterbug or Rock and Roll.
Ballroom Tango originated in the lower class of Buenos Aires, especially in the “Bario de las Ranas”. Clothing was dictated by full skirts for the woman and gauchos with high boots and spurs for the man. The story of Tango as told is that it started with the gauchos of Argentina. They wore chaps that had hardened from the foam and sweat of the horses body. Hence to gauchos walked with knees flexed. They would go to the crowded night clubs and ask
the local girls to dance. Since the gaucho hadn’t showered, the lady would dance in the crook of the man’s right arm, holding her head back. Her right hand was held low on his left hip, close to his pocket, looking for a payment for dancing with him.
The man danced in a curving fashion because the floor was small with round tables, so he danced around and between them. The dance spread throughout Europe in the 1900’s. Originally popularized in New York in the winter of 1910 – 1911, Rudolph Valentino then made the Tango a hit in 1921.
As time elapsed and the music became more subdued, the dance was finally
considered respectable even in Argentina. Styles vary in Tango: Argentine, French, Gaucho and International. Still, Tango has become one of our american ‘Standards’ regardless of its origin. The Americanized version is a combination of the best parts of each. The principals involved are the same for any good dancing. First, the dance must fit the music. Second, it must contain the basic characteristic that sets it apart from other dances. Third, it must be comfortable and pleasing to do.
Phrasing is an important part of Tango. Most Tango music phrased to 16 or 32 beats of music. Tango music is like a story. It contains paragraphs (Major phrases); sentences (Minor phrases); and the period at the end of the sentence is the Tango close.
For exhibition dancing, a Tango dancer must develop a strong connection with the music, the dance and the audience. The audience can only feel this Connection if the performer feels and projects this feeling. So it is when dancing for your own pleasure — and your partner’s!
“The Tango is the easiest dance. If you make a mistake and get tangled up, you just Tango on.” (Al Pacino in “The Scent of a Woman.”)
Movies that featured Tango dancing include “The Scent of a Woman”, Madonna’s “Evita” and “True Lies” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis.
June 25, 2019