“Fortunately it (tango) has experienced a notable recovery, to the point where it is no longer difficult, as was the case until quite recently, to see the Tango danced in Buenos Aires”.
This was the comment in the ‘Footprint Handbook’ travel guide to Argentina published in 2000.
From 1955, the end of the Golden Age until 1983 tango gradually slipped away. In 1983 general Galtieri the military president of Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands (Malvinas for our Argentinian friends). When the war was over the dictatorship fell and positive things happened in Argentina: democracy was restored and tango could have a chance to survive.
By the end of the 1970s tango was almost finished. The military government banned meetings of groups which limited the milongas to local and hidden venues. They also promoted rock ‘n’ roll (probably because the Peron regime promoted Tango so heavily) and young people saw rock as the thing – tango was for their parents. Globally couples’ dances became unfashionable until the renaissance of tango, which coincided with a boom in Salsa and then Strictly.
The tango renaissance was begun in 1983 with the fall of the last Argentinian dictatorship. From then the milongas began again – a new generation of young people started to dance. In 1986 the show ‘Tango Argentino’ started to tour the world and this hugely successful show spread the dance across the world. ‘Tango Argentino’ cast members were asked to teach wherever the show was performed. This created small groups of tango dancers in many parts of the world. The show dancers and others back home in Argentina realised that they could get work by travelling to teach these small groups. Obviously as the groups grew, local teachers established schools and the scene expanded with bigger local milongas and then a big increase in tango festivals with workshops, performances and milongas. Tango dancers realised that they could travel to dance as big scenes began in New York, San Fransisco, Berlin, London, Paris and numerous other places. It has also created a mini Argentinian diaspora as Argentinian teachers have moved abroad.
Paris has a special place in the history of tango because the initial worldwide tango craze began in Paris in 1911 (but that’s another story) and in 1986 the Tango Argentino show was sold out and lauded by the Parisians. In 1998 The Sally Potter film ‘The Tango Lesson’ was set mainly in Paris. This film helped to propel tango to another level. At the same time as the Tango Lesson another film was being produced i.e. Carlos Saura’s film ‘Tango’ . From 1999 onwards these 2 films contributed to the growth of the dance.
Whilst it is true that neither film will make a top 10 favourites list nevertheless for us as tango dancers they were very welcome – remember at that time there was no youtube (youtube started in 2005). A little later these 2 tango films were followed up by Robert Duvall’s Assassination Tango. Yes the film is an excuse for Mr Duvall to indulge his passion but who cares it was another chance to see some tango on film.
In the early 1990s electronic tango emerged also called ‘Neo Tango’. Gotan Project, Bajofondo and others created a new music genre by adding drums (electronic & acoustic) and other elements of electronic music to the traditional tango. There already existed a genre called ‘nuevo tango’ created by Astor Piazzola. This used tango as a base and then added jazz and classical elements to create a new modern sound – mainly for listening not dancing. Neo/Electro tango took nuevo tango into new musical territory and this movement added to the tango impetus. It drew in young dancers excited by Mariano Frúmboli (Chicho ) whose stylish videos made tango accessible to a modern audience.
So the result of all this is that tango came back from oblivion. If the military rule had continued for another few years I doubt most of us would be dancing tango – it would be an historical cultural phenomenon. The Tango recovered, grew and now thrives. It provides pleasure and employment for so many in Argentina and around the world. After covid there will be another mini-renaissance. We will come back to the dance floor and we will appreciate the things we can do together in a fresh way. Eventually the dawn will come and we will not take it for granted.