By Isidro Aguirre
Where was tango danced?
In this period tango dance had already created its own identity, with its sensual couple choreography, using cortes and quebradas.
Its genesis begun in the lower class neighborhoods (popular social classes) of Buenos Aires, but it is not true -lack of evidence- that it begun in the cabarets, that it was only danced by men nor forbidden for decent women.
The affirmation that tango was only a men thing lacks sustainability, as is the fact that women were not allowed to dance it. There is still no proof for this.
Tango could have been, and still can be, danced among both men and women. This is not the only dance that throughout history, is performed by same sex couples. Historical sources show that in Europe and in the United States, this was also performed, without moral judgment.
There is no proof either that tango was prohibited, by a legal regulation, for decent or any other type of women.
The first legal regulation for dancing, according to prestigious tango4 investigators was a police edict from 1881, that defined public dances as: “…those gatherings that take place periodically in a establishment or a house in which dances occur with a financial aid, this might be due to ticket selling, due to the consumption of commerce articles which might take place by paying a dance piece, by subscriptions between individual or by any other form of licit gain”
These public dances were only allowed to take place on Sundays, from 8pm to 12pm, where alcohol beverages were prohibited and where no pubs or other could be present, among other requirements.
On the other hand, the owner or director of the meeting had to have agents or guardians of their own, in the correct amount and which number could be increased if the police decided so.
Among these public dances, legally authorized, we can find academies, paid dances, summer cafes, theatres, romerias and tents.
The non profit dances that took place (family dances or private social gatherings) that were a primary source for learning this art, didn´t need any authorization.
Another place of significance were “the corners”.
It is said that around the year 1900, in certain neighborhoods, groups of people would gather around the street corners, where they would sing the favorite tangos and they would dance or rehearse tango to the sound of little organs.
This is how the dancer Casimiro Aín initiated his tango dancing at the age of 10 in 1887, listening to al habaneras, mazurcas, polcas, chotis and valses. This was the repertoire at the time for dancing with corte and quebrada, with the organillos5 (little organs) from those days.
1 The brothels activity was prostitution, not other social recreational activities, which were performed in cafes, recreational centers, etc.
2 The existence of 6000 brothels in 1887 in Buenos Aires is not true. It is based on the number of prostitutes present at that time, 629, 159 were Argentinian and the others were foreigners. It is absurd to think that this number is a significant incidence for tangos´development, since the population at the time was 433.375 people (56% men and 44% women). The proportion women:men does not justify that those brothels were a place for tango´s development or difusion among men.
3 These places were small and pupil students lived in them. This was due to high cost per square metre that elevated because of high immigration levels. Between the years 1887 and 1909 Buenos Aires population tripled in size.
4 In reference to Hugo Lamas and Enrique Binda in their book “El tango en la sociedad porteña 1880-1920” Héctor L. Lucci Editorial, Buenos Aires (1998).
5 This denomination was used to refer to different types of pianos/organs that were played according to the place.