"2 Tango Loves" Argentine Tango

Argentine Tango
Country/People:  Argentina

Dance: Tango

Border: Fileteado ,  Corners: Gauchos

Dry point etching


            Buenos días / Hello, Good Day


Tango:  Originated in the 1880s as a social dance played at bars and brothels along the Ria de la Plata between Argentina and Uruguay.  Tango combines elements of African Candombe (discussed in a different blog), Spanish/Cuban Habanera and Argentinian Milonga. One explanation of the name Tango is that it comes from the Spanish Tambo, which referred to a musical gathering of slaves.  Although such gatherings were banned at times, the music and dance remained popular. Eventually, with immigration, it spread throughout the country and beyond, but was often considered too sexual and shocking by many conservative audiences.  By the early 20th century, however, Paris and other European cities were captivated by this new dance introduced by performers and orchestras from Buenos Aires.  By 1913, the dance instructors who had introduced the tango in Paris were banned from teaching, as it was again perceived as too sexual.  Still it was charming New York City and Finland, who had modified the moves and music to create “North American Tango” and “FinTango.”  (More about FINTango in another blog).  As an acceptable dance, it has gone in and out of favor, but under Argentine ruler, Juan Perón, it became a symbol of national pride in Argentina.  The dance is traditionally accompanied by a type of concertina, called a bandoneon. The bandoneon, originated in Germany and continued to be  produced there for Argentine markets. In 1930 alone, 25,000 instruments were sent to Argentina.


Tango is recognized by both Argentina and Uruguay on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list. 


Border: The style of decoration, with cured filigree lines and stylized flowers and vines, that decorates the sides of this etching is known as Fileteado Porteno and has been found throughout Buenos Aires, Argentina since the beginning of the 20th century, when it was used to paint wagons. (People from the port city of Buenos Aires call themselves Portenos.) The Filetes (“thread” lines in fileteado style) often surround or interweave with poetic phrases or sayings (sometimes irreverent).  Characteristically, fileteado contains flourishes, scrolls, and lines to create shadows and bright colors.  It adorns everything from shop signs and taxis to busses and restaurant menus.  This traditional sign art is created by a technique in which wax paper is perforated in the desired shape of the design and then “traced” through the tiny holes to transfer the pattern to the surface for the application of enamel paint


Fileteado Porteno has been added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. See link below. 


Corners: The Gaucho is another national symbol of Argentina, but it is also associated with Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil.  Similar to the folk hero status of the North American western cowboy, the skilled horsemen of the South American Pampas (grasslands), popular in the mid 18th to 19th centuries, are subjects of folk legends, songs and literature. Mostly Mestizos (a blend of European and Indian heritage), they were considered brave, unruly, irreverent and resourceful.  In the early 19th century, Gauchos fought in the Rio de la Plata region to help Argentina break away from Spanish colonial control.  The images shown in the corners of this dry point represent some of their most recognizable attributes (clockwise from upper left): maté, poncho, bola, and bolero.


Maté: This national drink of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay and consumed throughout South American, originated with the Guarani indigenous peoples of the area. Made from soaking the yerba maté herb and special holly leaves in hot water to make a caffeine-rich “tea” with healthy benefits, maté is drunk through a metal straw (bombilla) from a hollowed gourd cup, The cup is also called a maté because it is used for this drink.


Poncho: This blanket-like garment has been around since ancient times, but the name poncho comes from the Quechuan word puchu. From Peru, it was acquired by the gauchos as an all- purpose “accessory” used for warmth, as a saddle blanket and for sleeping.


Boleadoras (bola): The bola is a throwing weapon made from three connected leather cords with stone balls attached to the ends. It is thrown to capture an animal by tangling around its legs. Evidence of bolas have been found in pre-Columbian settlements in Patagonia, where they were used by indigenous people (especially the Teheulche).


Bolero: The bolero is a typical hat often worn by gauchos (and Spanish dancers). Its stiff, flat brim protected their eyes from sun on the open Pampas (grasslands). Some gauchos also wore beret, reflecting their connection to the Basque people of northern Spain and Southern France around the Bay of Biscay.  (See another blog about Basque dancers.)

References and Links:

( Note: I do not endorse or mean to promote any of these sites. I list them here as sources of information. ) 

  • Knowles, Mark. The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances
  • Jemio, Diego. The musical key to keeping Argentina dancing the tango. BBC News 4/11/14.            https://www.bbc.com/news/business-29896409
  • Sterns, Gaby Herrera. The Craftsmanship Initiative. Fileteado Porteño: Preserving the iconic street art of Buenos Aires 19/6/2019. https://craftsmanship.net/blog/fileteado-porteno-preserving-the-iconic-street-art-of-buenos-aires/
  • UNESCO Filete porteño in Buenos Aires, a traditional painting technique https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/filete-porteno-in-buenos-aires-a-traditional-painting-technique-01069
  • UNESCO  Tango https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/tango-00258



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The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin