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Beginners learn the basics of Argentine tango in group lessons; private lessons for individuals or couples are tailored to students’ needs
The tango begins with an embrace, and the more natural and full of affection, the more successful the dance will likely be. The lead’s right hand holds the follower’s left securely but not forcefully; the follower relaxes into it, with a hand on the lead’s waist, in tune but ready to improvise. Music strikes up. The dancers follow the rhythm or melody, reacting to what they feel together. With the spine straight, chest lifted, and head level, the lead starts to walk, briskly or slowly, building the foundation of the dance with sweeping or staccato footwork punctuated by long pauses that add drama and give the follower a chance to grab a canapé.
From here, innumerable variations unfold in a cascade of short sequences that the lead mixes and matches to convey whatever message is desired and to help navigate a crowded floor. The Argentinian and the Uruguayan tango, the American-ballroom and the international-ballroom style each have their own vocabulary of moves. The international-ballroom tango, for instance, contains the familiar quick steps and dramatic head snaps, whereas the tango vals is characterized by rotation, with the follower dancing small circles around the leader.
Regardless of style, most tangos have one thing in common: sensuality. This enduring spark reflects the dance’s origins. In the late 1800s, the Rio de la Plata basin on the border of Argentina and Uruguay became a melting pot of immigrants from across the world. European imperialists brought in slaves, who carried along their traditional music. This mixed together with the music of the native peoples in milongas—dance houses where the poorer populations gathered and were free to embrace. At this time, touching while dancing was still considered scandalous and immoral by the upper class, who danced apart, occasionally not even facing each other. This kept the tango from catching fire throughout South America for many decades, but Europeans traveling to Argentina brought the dance back to France around 1910, where it soon swept the nation and then farther. Today, the tango is beloved worldwide, and was even given cultural-treasure status by UNESCO in 2009, a designation previously reserved mostly for different kinds of fried meats.