Argentine Tango

By Vernice Shostal

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Argentine tango, a social dance and a unique genre of music born in the late 1800s in the booming cities of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay, was the result of two groups of displaced persons coming together in those cities. In that era, thousands of European immigrants blended with a host of Argentine peasants, who had been uprooted from the immense grasslands where they had lived freely for centuries to give rise to a culture that expressed the solitude of the lonely immigrant.

Tango was not accepted by the upper classes in Argentina until after it had been adopted in Europe in the early 1900s. It reached its golden age in the 1940s, went underground in the 1950s and ‘60s and made a comeback in the mid 1980s after the stage show, *Tango Argentino* opened in Paris.

Tango is accepted as a culture within several branches of the arts: dance, poetry in the lyrics, tango choreography, vocal, orchestral and musical interpretations, theatre or visual arts, all of which share the theme of longing for things gone or lost. Similar to the Blues or Flamenco, the artist tells his or her story as if it were a personal message.

Originally from Chile, Argentine Dance tango teachers, René Alfaro, and his wife, Hilda, came to Canada to attend graduate school at SFU while they worked as sessional lecturers. René received his master’s and PhD degrees in forestry, and Hilda got her master’s in linguistics, followed by a bachelor’s degree in French at UVic. The Alfaros have been immersed in tango since childhood.

“Tango music was always on at our respective houses and our parents and other relatives danced the tango at family gatherings,” says René. “In those gatherings, the older family members danced with us kids.”

Later in life, the Alfaros took formal training with many Argentinean teachers mostly in Buenos Aires, but their formal teaching didn’t start until six years ago when their children grew up and did not need them at home as much. Now, every year, René and Hilda return to Buenos Aires to dance and take lessons.

René says that Tango is an immense source of joy in their lives.

“The physical activity tones our muscles and gives us flexibility and balance.” They feel that perhaps the largest benefit of the dance is the psychological well-being that comes with it. “More than any other dance, tango consists of deeply embracing a partner. This could be your life partner or a friend. This intimate embrace has a very human quality, which gives us a feeling of being comforted, accepted and valued. Canadian society is more reserved than the Latin-American society in terms of person-to-person contact, which may be a source of feelings of loneliness and isolation. Tango, through its powerful embrace, helps us to break these feelings of isolation.”

René and Hilda believe that this need for human-to-human contact is universal. Last year in Japan, a society in which the citizens are well-known for keeping distance between each other, Hilda and René witnessed that the Japanese also enjoyed the deep embrace that tango provides. “Japanese are a very formal society, but when it comes to embracing each other in tango, they go all out,” says René.

“I use tango as my therapy,” says Liliana Hanson, a high school teacher who grew up in Buenos Aires, lived in Paris and came to Victoria in 1991. “Tango helps me relax and forget about everything else. At the end of an evening of tango dancing, I feel like a new person,” she says.

Liliana became involved in Argentine tango in 2002, and began teaching two years ago. Her other interests include attending cultural events, concerts, opera, theatre, ballet, movies, gardening and working out at the gym; she enjoys the company of others and listening to tango music. She has always loved the music and was intrigued by the complexity of the dance.

Industrial audiometric engineer Jorge Sueldo, who became involved in Argentine tango in 1992 and started teaching in 1996, says Argentine tango “Brings people who share this passion for the music and the dance together.”

Born in Buenos Aires, Jorge moved to Miami in 1979, Toronto in 1981, then to Vancouver and finally settled in Victoria in 1988.

A golfer as well as a dancer, Jorge says he has always appreciated tango music, but did not dance until, as a more mature person, he saw the show *Forever Tango*. What struck Jorge about the show was his warm feeling towards this music created by the collaboration of the early immigrants to Argentina and the expression of that music through dance and friendship.

Although it takes two to tango, you do not need a partner to start learning a tango dance. There are often a variety of people taking classes and it’s unusual for everyone to come with a partner. Argentine tango dances are held in Nanaimo, Saltspring, the Cowichan and Comox Valleys and several places in Victoria.

To find the nearest Argentine tango venue, visit and click on “venues.”



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