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Origins of tango

The origins of tango are shrouded in mystery. Some scholars believe the word 'tango' comes from the African languages that passed through the River Plate into Argentina in the early 19th century, meaning 'closed space' - describing the meeting of slaves. Others believe it has Portuguese origins, being related to the word 'tambó' meaning 'play the drum'.

The dance form derives from the Cuban habanera, the Uruguayan milonga and candombe, and is thought to contain elements from the African community in Buenos Aires, influenced both by ancient African rhythms and the music from Europe. In a sense, tango was an international dance from the beginning. Tango developed from the mid 19th century within the brothels and working class dancing houses of Buenos Aires. By the early 20th century it was beginning to spread back out across the world, first in Paris, then in London, Berlin, the USA and other places. At this point the upper classes of society began to adopt tango as their own, and other styles, like ballroom and salon tango, were born.