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Afrocentrism and the Tango

The claim that black people invented Tango dancing is just as absurd as the claim that “black people invented the refrigerator and the cell phone.” However, while invention claims are easily debunked with patent dates, debunking a claim about a cultural phenomenon is a little more complicated. For whatever reason, fewer people are challenging the Tango claim, and this myth is becoming very widespread.

I should point out that historically the word Tango has been used to denote other dances originating in Latin America. Here we are just talking about the Argentine Tango, what most people today know of as the Tango.

Tango is a free-form couples dance. A man and a woman dance together and the man leads. Aside from theatrical scripted routines, the woman  doesn’t know what’s coming next. The man directs the woman with his posture and form.

Tango is done with the man and woman facing each other, with the man holding the woman’s right hand in his left, and with his right arm around her. This concept was still very new. The first  known dance to ever use this hold was the Vienna Waltz in 1830. Then came the Polka in 1840.

The first thing that makes this Afro-myth so ridiculous is that free-form couples dancing does not exist in sub-Saharan Africa prior to white colonialism. It is a strictly European custom and particularly popular in countries like Spain and Italy.

The myth becomes even more ludicrous when you look at where Tango came from. Buenos Aries, Argentina during the 1880’s and 1890’s.

At this time Buenos Aries was about 3-4% blacks. The black population mostly lived in shanty towns on the outskirts of the city. The two largest groups were Spaniards and Italians, settlers from two countries where free-form couples dancing was thriving.

So to believe this myth, we have to believe that a tiny minority whose culture never included couples dancing, “invented the Tango” and taught it to the white people.

Another myth about Tango is that it evolved in the brothels. This hardly makes any sense. The myth goes that women danced the tango with the men while they waited for a prostitute to become available. An absurd concept considering that brothels are in business to sell sex not dance partners. Why would a brothel hire dancers instead of more prostitutes? Before Tango dancing, there was music in Buenos Aries called Tango. So Tango music may have been played in the brothels.

The first piece of music written and published in Argentina describing itself as a tango appeared in 1857. It was called “Toma maté, ché”. The word Tango at that time probably referred to what is now known as Tango Andaluz, Andalucian Tango, a style of music from the area of Spain which is also the home of Flamenco, which was one of the most popular kinds of music in Buenos Aires in the middle of the Nineteenth Century. – From

The theory that Tango dancing was born in the “courtyards of the tenement blocks” is much more logical. The tenement blocks were jammed full of immigrants from all over Southern Europe. The various styles of music and dance blended together. Negroes however, were segregated and did not live in the same tenements.

Actual “Traditional African Dancing” consists of group dancing to percussion instruments. Complex instruments and music theory did not exist in Sub-Saharan Africa prior to white colonialism.

Few African slaves were ever taken to Argentina. A few thousand in the 1700’s. In 1856 slavery was abolished, however male slaves were required to serve in Argentina army to gain citizenship. The percentage of Argentinians who are black shrank rapidly during the 1800’s because of a European only immigration policy. The constitution of Argentina calls for “European Immigration” in Article 25.

Article 25: The Federal Government will encourage European immigration; and will not restrict, limit, nor tax the entry of any foreigner into the territory of Argentina who comes with the goal of working the land, bettering industry, or introducing or teaching sciences or the arts.

Negroes only make up about 1% of Argentina today. However, there are large numbers of illegal aliens in Argentina. Still, Argentina remains one of the whitest countries in the Western Hemisphere.