What has been said in America about Tango in 1914

That is me Igor Polk. I am dancing Argentine Tango in San Francisco. Read what they said about tango in 1914. Sounds modern, eh?

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Would you like to see the dress tango was danced in at that time and around that time? Here: Tango dress of 1900, 1910, 1915, 1925. The picture is large. It is a little bit more complicated than a regular picture, so a Java applet will be downloaded first before you could see a picture. ( And tell me, please, if it did not work for you :) ). If you get more interested, clicking inside the picture you can continue a virtual tour around Lacis museum in Berkeley.

Other articles you might be interested in:

Corte and Quebrada;

Tango Liso;

Orillero Tango;


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My comments are like this: [Igor's comments]

Caroline Walker, "Complete instructions for the tango", 1914

The Argentine Tango, a folk dance from the Argentine Republic, differs widely from the North American Tango, or One Step. It is a slow, stately dance, with lots of the Spanish snap and swing to it, and is becoming increasingly popular for ball-room performance. It is an exquisite dance, and very complicated to one unused to dancing. It has been said that it contains more than a hundred different figures, but there are scarcely more than half a dozen important ones which one need master. When you have learned these you should be able to dance the Tango with anyone you might happen to meet.

[This is how she explained a step:]

...Four steps backward by the man and forward by the lady; one step to each count of the music. The man starts with the weight of his body on the ball of the right foot, the first step being taken with the left foot in this manner: Slightly bending the right knee place the toe of the left foot directly behind the right heel. As you straighten the right knee throw the weight onto the left foot and repeat the step with the right foot, bending the left knee. Once more with the left foot and again with the right, completing the four introductory steps.


Maurice, "The tango and the new dances for ballroom and home", Chicago, Laird & Lee, inc., c1914

The Tango is the national dance of the Argentine. To my mind it is one of the most beautiful dances ever devised. As it is danced in its native land and as I have tried to reproduce it, it is as different from the so-called Tango usually seen on the stage and in public and private ball-rooms as night is from day.

When it was first introduced into this country the Tango aroused a storm of protest. It was said that it was the most suggestive and immoral dance ever presented in public, and in the way it was danced it probably was. [This should have a lot of close embrace, Orillero drive :) ] Properly danced, however, the Tango is no more suggestive nor immoral from any viewpoint than the most dainty old fashioned waltz.

Indeed, if the dancer wished to dance in a suggestive manner, the old fashioned waltz presents just as available a medium as the modern tango. To condemn the dance for the fault of the dancer is manifestly unfair, and yet that is precisely what has been done in the case of the Tango.

Through its own beauty, however, the tango is destined to survive all the unjust criticism which has been leveled against it, and when it comes to be properly understood, as I hope it soon will be, it will, I venture to predict, be as much respected as the waltz, which our grandmothers used to dance with so much grace.

No dance offers a wider scope to the dancer than the Tango; there are at least twenty authentic figures which may properly find a place in the dance although there are but eight generally used in its native land. These eight figures, which I shall describe in detail, give all the opportunity for variety which the most energetic dancer might demand, and it is just as well to confine one's attention to them instead of trying to master the almost endless variety of steps which have been grafted into the dance.

With these basic eight figures at one's command one could dance the tango all right providing one's endurance lasted without the slightest idea of monotony, for there is no established order in which the figures follow each other. It is this freedom of arrangement, added to the liberal number of figures which go to make up the dance, that accounts principally for its fascination and popularity. Eight different couples might dance to the same music and each of them be doing a different figure at any given moment. Of what other dance might this be said? ...

In the first place. It is neither proper nor pleasing to play the tango as fast as it is commonly played by orchestras in public or private bald rooms. As it is commonly danced I can hardly blame the orchestra or the dancers themselves for that matter for wanting to get it over as quickly as possible, for the tango cannot be danced properly to the galloping music usually heard.

Then again the suggestive action of Tango dancers which have aroused so much discussion would be quite out of the question if Tango dancers would remember that in no figure of the dance is it necessary for the gentleman to get into closer proximity to his partner than three or four inches. Hugging may be a perfectly permissible undertaking, but it forms no part of the tango when danced properly.

...Both the gentleman's arm and the lady's arm should be bent at the elbow, the lady's more so than her partner's. The gentleman's arm is bent horizontally and the lady's perpendicularly. That is to say, the lady's right forearm is practically upright.

[Here is how he explains a step called "Corte":]

...This is the principal step of the tango. Starting with his right foot, the gentleman brings it slowly back of his left, then brings the left foot even with the right and then brings it back to its original position. Then, bringing the left foot back of the right, he bends the right knee slowly. This bending of the knee constitutes the fifth step of the figure. At the end of the figure the lady should continue the forward movement which she started when her partner executed the fourth step. The couple repeat this figure five times slowly with the music, and then with the left foot the gentleman leads his partner into the next step.

["properly understood", and "soon will be" is, I guess, an attempt to clean-up the dance to some standards, which eventually led to creation of "ballroom tango". ]

[Author knows a lot about tango, loves tango, but he accepts only salon style which was very slow and that time and danced on a distance. He totally refused fast style, which can and was danced to rags. He calls it "galloping" and, in another place, "the same like one-step". He totally refused close-embrace style which he called "hugging". But people did it! And continue to do 100 years later.]

The complete texts of these and other books can be found here . To find these particular books, search in "dance manuals" section.


Irene and Vernon Castle "Modern Dancing", 1914

[ I am sure you know who they are. Here are the exempts from the THE TANGO ARGENTINE—THE CORTEZ—THE PROMENADE —THE MEDIA LUNA—THE SCISSORS chapter. Vernon writes about Salon style. I mean Old Salon style. The book in full can be read here or here]

THE Tango is not, as commonly believed, of South American origin. It is an old gipsy dance which came to Argentina by the way of Spain...

After Paris had taken the dance up a few years ago, its too sensuous character was gradually toned down, and from a rather obscene exhibition , which is still indulged in by certain cabaret performers, it bloomed forth a polished and extremely fascinating dance, which has not had its equal in rhythmical allurement since the days of the Menuet . Beyond doubt, the Tango correctly practised is the essence of the modern soul of dancing , the autocrat of the up-to-date “ soirée dansant .” For it is not only a dance, it is a style; to master the Tango one must first master its style , absorb its atmosphere.

...The only drawback in America to this lovely dance lies in the fact that nearly all teachers teach it differently . A variety of steps which do not belong to the dance at all—nor to the ball-room, for that matter—have been taught and practised by inefficient teachers...

The Argentine Tango is unquestionably the most difficult of the new dances. Perhaps that is why some people still maintain that they “do not like it.” Others, never having seen it, declare it “ shocking .” On broad general principles it is human to disapprove of that which is beyond our understanding or ability. We like best the games we play best. And so for a long time society looked askance upon the Tango. Here and there in the corners of ball-rooms one saw a few hardy couples tripping a tentative measure . But usually as soon as the music slides into the wailing, seductive notes of the South American dance everybody developed a sudden interest in supper ! Moreover, it was rumored that the Argentine Tango was composed of one hundred and sixty different steps. Enough to terrify the most inveterate dancer!

There may be one hundred and sixty different Tango steps, but I doubt it. I have never seen so many , and Mrs. Castle and I do not dance anything like that number. For the average ballroom Tango a knowledge of six fundamental steps is quite enough. One may work out variations of these. But you will find that when you once have mastered the Cortez , the Media Luna , the Scissors , the Promenade , and the Eight Step you can dance with any exponent of the Tango you are apt to meet.

Nor is the Tango as difficult as it was at first supposed. More difficult than the old-fashioned Two Step, yes. Certainly more difficult than the One Step. But once you get into the swing and rhythm of music more alluring than a Viennese Waltz —well, you are lost . You have become a Tango enthusiast...

I would like to add a word of warning to those who take lessons in the Tango, and that is: Take your lessons, if possible, from some one who has danced professionally in Paris, because there are so many good dancers there that anybody who can dance the Tango (and get paid for it) in Paris must really be a good dancer. American teachers go abroad for a few weeks, take a few lessons in the Abaye or some of the other places which live on the American tourist, come back home, and, having forgotten all they learned coming over, start in teaching. There are others who go to one of our seaside towns, such as Narragansett, and read of a new dance and begin teaching it. There is, unfortunately, no way of stopping these people. You can only pay your twenty-five dollars an hour. If you don't learn the dance, you get a little exercise and a lot of experience.

The most important thing about the Tango is its tempo. You must, before you can dance at all, understand and appreciate the music, and the best way to learn this is to walk (with or without a partner) in time to it. By doing this you impress upon yourself that it is a slow dance, and that it should be simple, and not full of jerky and complicated steps. This walking to Tango time is not as easy as it may seem; it should be practised frequently, so as to make it smooth . The shoulders must not go up and down, the body must glide along all the time without any stops. It is correct either to walk on your heel and toe or just on the ball of the foot; but the Argentines nearly all seem to walk flat-foot, or else they step out on their heel first. I advise dancers to do what is the easiest for them, for when one is walking comfortably it is easier to do the steps naturally. The first step to master, and one of the most difficult, is the Cortez.

THE CORTEZ ( modern Corte, Cortes )

Let us suppose that the gentleman is walking backward and the lady forward... Now when you are ready to do the Cortez you pause for two counts on the left foot, which should be in the position shown here. Now the right foot passes back of the left for one count. The left shifts to the side a few inches for one count, and the right does the same thing for one count (keeping behind the left). Thus five counts have been occupied, and the feet should have shifted to the music in this way, provided, of course, that the music is very simple.

The lady's part of this step is, of course, just the opposite. She pauses for two counts on her right foot, going forward, her feet following the gentleman's as closely as possible without treading on him.

You must not be discouraged over this step. It is very difficult to do smoothly, and you will not get it without a great deal of patience and trouble. Indeed, many good dancers have never mastered it at all, and probably never will. But that is because they do not appreciate its difficulty or are unwilling to give the necessary time to the step. It can be done, and done well, by any one who has patience enough to learn it. To get it perfect you should do several steps of the Cortez and then walk, and then go back again into the Cortez. If you can do this you have practically mastered the Tango Argentine.


The position is the same as in the figure eight of the One Step. The man, who should be walking forward, turns the lady so that she is facing in the same direction as himself. They then walk forward, the man with his left and the lady with her right, one, two— and three. On the “and” the man steps forward on his left heel, and on the third count the right foot shifts forward to the back of the left hee, taking the weight, so you see there are really four steps to three counts like this—one, two, and three; left foot, right, left-right. This step can be repeated as many times as desired.

MEDIA LUNA ( Medialuna )

This step is practically a double Cortez. The man steps forward with his right foot, holding it two counts. The left slides forward one count, and the right takes the weight for one count; thus four counts have been occupied. The man then steps back with his left, holding it two counts; the right slides back one count, and the left takes the weight for one count. The complete step itself occupies eight counts, but to get the effect the dancers must keep in mind that it must be done smoothly and easily. The position is the same as in the Cortez. The lady's step is, of course, just the opposite. She steps back left, holding it two counts, and then slides the right back one count; the left takes the weight for one count, repeating the step forward with the right.


The dancers promenade once, and instead of continuing forward with the outside foot they do a half-turn inward —that is, the man crosses the left in front of the right; now they do the Promenade Step, the man with the right turning inward, crossing the right in front of the left. This can be done as often as desired and can be finished with the Cortez or by continuing the Promenade. It is rather difficult to explain, but the photographs should convey the meaning.


This step is begun with a Cortez. The man turns the lady so that she walks backward three straight steps, the man going forward three straight steps at the right side of the lady. Keeping this position, the man walks backward three straight steps, the lady going forward, the man goes forward, etc., as many times as desired, turning to the left as much as possible. They finish the step by the man leading the lady into the Cortez step.


This is a very pretty step in the Tango. The best way to go into it is from the Promenade. The gentleman stands still and crosses the right foot over the left, having the weight of the body equally distributed on both feet. The lady does a Single Step (just like the Single Step in the Maxixe ) right around the gentleman. This will, of course, turn the man around, and in doing so uncross his feet; when this is done the lady puts her right foot slowly forward and the man his left foot slowly back, and they go into the Cortez. By practising this step well you will find it quite possible for the lady to make a complete ring around the gentleman, but it depends greatly on his balance, and if he finds his feet getting wound up again all he has to do is to lift the left foot up and place it at the back for the Cortez. Care should be taken to go into and out of this step very slowly, easily, and deliberately.


This is simply an ordinary Waltz step done very slowly in time to the music, one step to each count - left, right, left, and right, left, right; it is a very important and useful step, and should be used to fill in between the more difficult steps.


The Eight Step has already been explained in the chapter on the One Step. In the Tango it is exactly the same except that instead of the dancers looking over their elbows, as in the One Step, they remain as much as possible facing each other , and the knees are a trifle more bent, which gives a slight up-and-down motion to the walk very similar to a very modified Cake Walk. This is important, because it is only done when the dancers are doing plain walking steps, and so when the lady feels her partner doing this slight “Cake Walk” she knows, or should know, that he is going to do plain steps, and not Corte or fancy steps. In this, as in all Tango steps, the knees must be kept as close together as possible; don't try to take big strides; the charm of the Argentine Tango lies in its apparent simplicity.


The much-talked-of Innovation is nothing more or less than the Tango danced without touching your partner. This is naturally very difficult, and can only be done by good dancers. However, a word of advice may help those who would include it in their repertoire. First of all, the man must learn to lead with his whole body; by this I mean he must convey his steps and direction to his partner by means of head, eyes, and feet. The steps should be broader and more deliberate, and the dancers should travel at the same pace all the time. If by any chance the lady does not follow, and goes into the wrong step, don't stop dancing, but get as closely together as possible, and the man must do a plain walk backward. When both are ready the man must try to convey the step in a better way. If, when mistakes happen, you keep on dancing, in nine cases out of ten no one will know about it but yourself. On the other hand, no one can miss your mistake if you get confused and stop The lady should not look at a man's feet in this Innovation, but rather try to get a general view of her partner, so that she may see what he is doing without actually scrutinizing the steps. The hands may be either kept behind your back , on your hips , or in your pockets; look at yourself in a mirror and decide which position suits you best.



My name is Igor Polk. I dance argentine tango in San Francisco. My favorite style is close embrace or Apilado style of dancing.
Argentin Tango, Argentinian Tango, Tango Argentino, Milonguero style.

Copyright©2003 Igor Polk
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