In the late 19th century, Argentina needed manpower to utilize its vast natural resources. Thus, the door for immigration was open wide, and Buenos Aires became the gateway of new immigrants. While Argentina obtained much needed workforce, there was one problem for the new immigrants – almost all of them were men. They came to Buenos Aires hoping to earn money and return to their home country. However, seldom could they achieve that dream, and most of them were left in Buenos Aires poor and single. Tango was born in this context, where men of the working class desperately needed feminine contact. For many men in Buenos Aires, tango was the gateway to getting a date, meeting women, or at least having some contact with a feminine being.
Men in Buenos Aires practiced tango among themselves during the week nights, learning from their seniors in the neighborhood, and went to milongas (where tango was danced socially) together on Saturday nights after a whole day of preparation. At milongas, men respected each other on the floor, because disrespect could lead to an actual fight.
There is no such context these days. There are usually more women than men in any dancing event, and there are numerous other venues for socializing. However, because of how tango was developed, tango still carries the marks of the past era.
Below is a video clip of a milonga in Buenos Aires.
When you enter a milonga, the contract for a dance is ideally done by making an eye contact. Three to four songs are grouped into one set called “tanda”. The end of a tanda is announced by a non-tango song called “cortina”. Saying “thank you” on the floor means “bye”. Dancing couples move counter-clockwise on the floor following an imaginary line of dance. There can be several concentric lines of dance on one dance floor. Keeping the line of dance and navigating well, thus maintaining the ronda (the collective counter-clockwise motion of people on the floor), is a job of the men on the floor. Such are called “codes” in milongas and there are more.