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Milonga & Tango

The ever romantic affair between song and movement of tango is best appreciated in Argentina, specifically in the port zone of Rio de la Plata. Tracing its roots to the South American milonga, traditional African rhythms, and European folkloric dances, tango is both a social dance and music genre that originated 19th century Buenos Aires and Montevideo among lower-class neighborhoods. The unmistakable beat could soon be heard everywhere from brothels to opera houses. Today, tango is more than a mere dance or musical genre—it represents Argentine passion, energy, and history.

Tango music is usually played by an orchestra consisting of a violin, piano, guitar, flute, and most important, a bandoneon (an accordion-like instrument). To dance tango is essentially to walk to music, and dancers keep their feet and knees very close together as they promenade. Argentine tango is an endlessly interesting dance in that is all about improvisation, and no dance is ever the same. Although this fact can be frustrating for beginners, it also leaves plenty of room for experimentation and fun. Each tango dancer will create different combinations of the basic movements of walking, turning, and stopping, with added expressive embellishments of the feet and legs.

It’s important to recognize that Argentine social dance is actually made up of three different but related dances: the tango (based on the basic slow, four-count beat), milonga (a simpler dance step to faster-paced music similar to polka), and the vals (based on the classic 1-2-3 rhythm of waltz with continual turns in both directions). What gets really confusing is that the word milonga, while used to refer to the dance and the music, is also the name for a tango dance party. Another baffling fact about Argentine tango: it is not the same as ballroom tango, and should be learned as a totally new dance.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Argentina: Literature, Biblioteca Nacional, Studying tango and visiting milongas, Convento San Bernado, Museo de Deuda Externa, The Aónikenk, Argentine Culture, Formosa’s Fantastic Beings, Cerro de la Virgen and Tikunaco.

By Karen Nagy
Karen Nagy is a staff editor/writer at V!VA. She studied travel writing and learned the joys of Mediterranean island-hopping in Greece, and went on...
03 Mar 2009

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