Blog: The Heritage of Tango

Tango – Not just a dance

The Tango, who hasn’t heard of it? It’s a famous dance all around the world.
But it’s not just a dance – it’s passion and sensuality, it’s a mixture of world-wide cultural influences.

And it is UNESCO listed Heritage!

In 2009, the Tango was added to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This means that the dance is significant to the cultural identity of Argentinians and the music, dance and poetry of tango both embodies and encourages diversity and cultural dialogue.

In 2013, the UNESCO Chair of Cultural Tourism, Buenos Aires, bought together members of the UNESCO/UNITWIN network of Culture and Tourism for a workshop to analyse and study the articulation between intangible cultural heritage and sustainable tourism, focusing the attention on the tango inscription on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Heritage. The results of this study can be found via the link below:

English: Intangible Cultural Heritage, Identity, and Tourism. Tango as a rioplatense expression

Espanol: Patrimonio inmaterial, identidad y turismo: el tango como expresión rioplatense


Photo by Hannah Stretton

The Spirit of Tango
The Tango owes its existence to the immigrants who came to Argentina in the 19th and 20th centuries, when thousands of people from Europe journeyed to South America in search of wealth and happiness.  For many, however, the dream of starting a new and better life did not come without its struggles. The wave of immigration and lack of affordable housing gave rise to large immigrant neighbourhoods, where families of all cultures would live together in tenement housing, which were once the large homes of more affluent Argentinians. Neighbourhoods such as San Telmo, in the South East of Buenos Aires, were home to Argentinians, European immigrants and descendants of African slaves. Life was hard in these neighbourhoods; working days were long, wages were low, and the risk of disease was high. It is here, however, where a small spark of joy turned out to be the beginning of something big.

To forget the daily pain and misery, people started to dance and make music. These dances were very intimate and sensual, with bodies pressed tightly together. The moves were a blend of African, South American, and European influences – such as the Polka and the Waltz – which provided the sparks of inspiration that could only have occurred at a time and a place where so many cultures were thrown together. And so, the Tango was created in the dance halls of Buenos Aires.

Photo by Michaël Catanzariti

Let’s Dance
As the dance became more popular and significant to the Argentinean culture, it moved back across the Atlantic and arrived in Europe in the early 1900s. Many people in France loved it and copied the dance but many other Europeans thought it too vulgar and inappropriate. Later, when the dance was interpreted in new ways, perhaps less sensual ways, it was accepted by a wider audience.

Nowadays you’ll find many versions of the Tango, the tango salón, the stage tango, ballroom tango or what about the ‘Schwarzenegger tango’ (not officially recognised!).

The famous Argentinian tango dancer, Carlos Gavito, once said: “I think those who say that you can’t tango if you are not Argentine are mistaken. Tango was an immigrant music…so it does not have a nationality. Its only passport is feeling.”

For a video of tango dancing, watch here.

Photo credits:
Featured Image – By Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires from Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina – Mundial de Tango, CC BY 2.0,

Photo 2- By Michaël CATANZARITI – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


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