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Virginia Kelly
Invitation to the Dance - Reflections
Argentine Tangos
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

The Argentine Folklore influence in Tango

by Virginia Kelly
February 13, 2003
New York, NY

The Argentine Folklore influence in Tango

By Virginia Kelly
February 13, 2003

As an argentine dancer, I was already familiar with the Argentine Folklore influence in Tango. Unfortunately, this dance, so wide and full of rhythms, is not known enough to be appreciated around the world. Unless some "for export" Folklore, not often shown in performances and some few Chacareras (one out many folkloric rhythms) played eventually in Milongas for people to dance, there is not much activity of this cultural expression out of Argentina. This is one reason why I decided to start teaching it. When I gave my first lesson, I started with the easest dance within folklore, which is Chamame, a grounded close embrace dance with the arms down and the man pulling the lady's hand towards his waist, like the Canyengue (earliest Milonga), to show the tango students the relation between two dances from the same country with the main difference of the countryside dance (Folklore), contrasting the city dance (Tango). But a Polish student said to me: "I came from Poland and you are teaching me a polka!" So I showed her, some Russian taps also found in our Folklore male fancy tap dance, which later on, I could relate with Flamenco as well.

Virginia Kelly
Photo by Roberta Zlokower

Argentine folk dance, as is Tango, is a blend of immigrants' dances, most of it Spanish, and local natives' elements. This is because at mid XIX century, in Argentine territory, the first dances were Vals, Polka, Mazurka, Paso Doble and Habanera, among others. While the elements in folkore, then used also in tango, like facones (traditional knives) and ponchos (Indian coat), shows a local background. We can find this element in the music too, like the Bombo (Argentine Indian drum) also used in rhythmical male dancing like the Boleadoras (Indian weapon for hunting) that consist in a leader string with a stone in the end, then used for the Gaucho, (Argentine Cowboy), but in the dancing, was replaced with a rope and a boll in the extreme, for the Folklore. In the music, we find the Tamboril (Small African drum) used in Candombe, (Black rhythm within the our Milonga).

When I started getting into Flamenco dance, I discover more elements in common. More with the Folklore: like the Castanuelas (Flamenco dance instrument for rhythm played while dancing with the hands), similar to the Castanear (making sound with the fingers), the playing with the skirt for the ladies, the fancy tough tap for the men, the shapes made with the Chal (big triangular scarf), like with the poncho mentioned before, and so on. But in Tango, too: The lines of the body like the Cortaid, very typical from the tango pose in "Cortes y quebradas" (Cuts and Breaks) or the disassociation in the waist like the bull fighter position, also common when the man leads the woman to do ochos (eight's).

Later on, snaking into Middle Eastern dances, I found a close relationship with the Flamenco dance, influences brought through the centuries by the gypsies from the Middle East to Spain. The Cymbals, (a kind of bells played by the ladies with the hands while dancing) similar to de Castanuelas, some movements of the veil were reproduced in Flamenco with the Chal, the long skirts and some motion of the hip, the waves of the arms like birds or snakes, and I could even recognize some of the taps, in the Argentine Folklore basic.

Another Argentine Tango dancer: Viviana Parra, also an African dancer, introduced me to the concepts of this discipline. Middle Eastern dances, are not so far from African dances, which both have a religious background and share the idea of the ritual as well as some Belly movements.

Ending the cycle, African influences travel to America spreading in a wide range of rhythms, some derived from the Habanera, found in Cuban dances for example, as well as some other dances along the continent. In Argentine history, when the farmer had to emigrate to the city after the division of the land, most of them had to work in the port, being exposed to more cultural influences, and in contact with the black people, trying to imitate their Comparsas, (a kind of dancing march also danced in Carnivals) very common in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentinean Littoral, subject of "La cumparsita" (A typical tango from Uruguay), was born our Candombe, also a black dance, that developed in different ways in our territory: Candombe Uruguayo in Uruguay and Tango Candombero in Argentina. An example of this is the lyrics of one of our Milongas: "Siga el baile, siga el baile, al compas del tamboril, la comparsa de los negros, al compas del tamboril…" (Keep on with the dancing, keep on with the dancing, at the compass of the drum, the march of the black people, at the compass of the drum…)

Virginia Kelly is a dance teacher in New York City. For more on Virginia Kelly, see the interview and a report on her art show. Virginia can be contacted at mvkelly2000@yahoo.com for lessons, performances and her sculpture.

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