In the beginning, There Was Tango…

When you say TANGO, most people think of the dance we see on TV, dancing with the stars, or in the movies, with intricate steps, and acrobatics. However, tango has a very interesting history in its beginnings. During the mid 1800’s Africans from West and Central Africa were forced to come to Argentina and Uruguay. They brought their music and dance with them.

A Brief History of the Black Roots of Argentine Tango

Their dance was called CANDOMBE, and the music was drummed. The Argentines added some other steps to it and called it MILONGA. Then in the early 1900’s it was further developed into the Argentine Tango, which is the most well-known dance all over the world.

Candombe Carnival

In Uruguay, CANDOMBE is still danced today and in January and February every year there is the CANDOMBE CARNIVAL. A high energy day of dancing and singing in the streets of Montevideo, and vibrant costume dancers lasting 40 days.

What is Candombe?

Candombe is an African derived rhythm that has been an important part of Uruguayan culture for over 200 years. The history & impact of Candombe are inseparable from the evolving history of Uruguay & demonstrate the lasting and positive impact of a culture on a nation.

Candombe Dance, Music and Instrumentation that Uruguay now calls its own, reflects things to do with African people. The music, dance and the places where people express their joy, and the drums used to make the music, are candombe.


The tambores de candombe or tamboriles are drums used in the playing of Candombe music of Uruguay. They are single skin headed and there are three sizes: piano (bass) repique (tenor range), and the chico (alto range). The drums are made of wood and have a curved barrel shape with its base very narrow.

La Mama Vieja, is Irma Barboza, a Uruguayan Living in Toronto

Irma is Toronto’s most renowned heir to a unique Afro-Latino cultural tradition: Candombe music. For 40 years, she has taught this dance style to hundreds of Torontonians and danced at some of the city’s biggest cultural events. But things are changing. Her son is organizing the city’s first Candombe Day celebrations.

Milonga Came after Candombe

Candombe, the Uruguayan Candombe that was practiced in Argentina is due to immigration from Uruguay and to the seductiveness of the rhythm that captivated the Argentines. Candombe is the strongest of the African roots of Afro Argentina. The Argentines learn the music, dance and characters and recreate something similar. This is called Milonga, and is the modern version of Candombe.

Canyengue was the next version of Milonga

Canyengue (sometimes called Orillero) was originally used around the early 1900s to denote a lower class or ‘street’ tango. Canyengue from the African word means to melt with the music. The first dance recognized as tango from central and West Africa.

Milonga is a precursor to Tango

Those who dance Milonga are called ‘Milongueros’. One of the famous and well known Milonguero, was Carlos Gavito, who was a performer and teacher. Carlos Gavito is dancing Milonga, a dance which incorporates the same basic elements as Tango but permits a greater relaxation of legs and body. Movement is normally faster, and pauses are less common. It is usually a kind of rhythmic walking without complicated figures, with a more humorous and rustic style in contrast with the serious and dramatic.


The soul of Buenos Aires is expressed through TANGO. The tango reflects its people’s way of being and its folklore. … tango music became the world’s symbol for Argentina, and Argentina’s symbol for Buenos Aires. Tango does not have percussion in its music, the principal instrument is the Bandoneon a type of concertina instrument.

It’s the world’s best-known dance and has many nuances and style. To watch it performed by professionals is a sight to behold. Danced by one of the world’s leading tango dancers Roberto Herrera and his partner Sylvana Capra:

This is a couple dancing in the streets of Buenos Aires, the music is by Armik “Tropical Breeze”

Tango in the Movies

1921: A video with Rudolph Valentino from the movie “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, 1921. A very different tango is danced today. Here he is dancing to La Cumparsita:

1945: This version is from the movie “Anchors Aweigh” La Cumparsita danced by Gene Kelly in 1945 a solo dance. Sensational dancing.

1997: Danced with Pablo Veron

1992: The great actor Al Pacino in a tango scene from “Scent of a Woman”

2002: Robert Duvall Dancing Tango in the movie “Assassination Tango” Carlos Copello was the choreographer for this movie

This is Duvall at a tango session with his wife

2006: Tango from the movie “Take the Lead” starring Antonio Banderas, this is ‘theatrical’ tango

2015: Our Last Tango

2017: These are some of the top 10 tango Dance scenes in Movies, great dancing, see them all here