American Tango is originally based on Argentine Tango although it has evolved into a different dance altogether. Much of that can be attributed to Rudolph Valentino, the Italian actor and sex symbol of the 1920s who danced a stylish and flashy form of the Argentine Tango in the movie, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. This was America’s first introduction to the Tango where several other popular social dances moves added to create what is known as the American Tango. While Valentino may have got everyone in America to tango it was Arthur Murray, a ballroom dance instructor in the U.S. that brought in a looser social style that is referred to as American Tango.
A tamer version of the Argentine Tango
Blame it on the prudish social and moral attitudes in the 1920s and 1930s, the Argentine Tango was considered too intimate, scandalous and lascivious due to too much body contact. In addition, the Argentines improvised a lot which made it too difficult to build a standardized teaching structure around it. This is what prompted Arthur Murray to sanitize and anglicize the dance form. However, it must not be forgotten that the Tango was born in the West Indies and stylized by the gauchos of Argentina. From the brothels of Buenos Aires to the elegant salons of Paris, Tango fever spread all over. Thanks to Al Pacino in DanceSport and his sensuous rendition of a blind dance in ‘Scent of a Woman’, American Tango is now extremely popular.
The birth of ballroom tango
Broadway too has been a proponent of American Tango for decades. It is not as intensely intimate as the Argentine version with less cheek to cheek and intricate leg intertwining. That’s what is made it a smooth ballroom dance. It’s a more structured version that does not need too much of a dancer’s interpretation of music as does the original Tango. When the American Tango crossed over the Atlantic to England, the English systematized a few steps and movements to standardize judging for competitions. It came to be known as the International Tango or Ballroom Tango.
Open holds vs closed holds
International or ballroom tango and the American version are identical in technique. However, American Tango permits open holds that allow for broken hold moves such as underarm turn while International Tango is strictly performed in closed hold where dancers aren’t permitted to break contact of the hips, left arms, and right arms. At a competitive level, this will result in the judges deducting points. Today, the American Tango is an elegant, less passionate version of Argentine Tango so your grandparents aren’t likely to be shocked if you hit the dance floor at a family occasion.