Supported in part by

National Endowment For The Arts

  Dances by Year
Performer Biographies

(all Years)
World Dance Encylopedia

(all years)

2019 Dance Styles:

2019 Other Disciplines:

Related Topics


Latin America


Argentina is in the southern tip of South America, bordered by Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, and Chile. It is the eighth largest country in the world and encompasses a diversity of land, climate, and culture. While Argentina is renown for its natural beauty, some of the word’s tallest mountains, expansive deserts, and dramatic waterfalls can be found there, its cities are also very impressive and home to 90% of the country’s population.

The principal indigenous peoples are the Quechua of the northwest and the Mapuche in Patagonia. Other minority groups include the Matacos and Tobas in the Chaco and other northeastern cities.  Argentina’s culture is also greatly influenced by its prominent immigrant population. There are large Jewish and Anglo-Argentine communities throughout the country; small communities of Japanese, Chileans, and Bolivians; and enclaves of Paraguayan and Uruguayan residents. From these assorted traditions emerged many unique (and widely celebrated) folkloric and popular Argentine dance forms.


Performances in
World Arts West Programs
Malambos con Boleadoras
Malambos and Chacarera
Pampa Cortés

The town of Santiago del Estero is known as the birthplace of many famous folkloric dancers and musicians. The dances from this region spring mainly from Europe and the culture of the gaucho, or South American "cowboy."

The word "gaucho" comes from an indigenous Quechua word "huachu" meaning orphan or vagabond. The Spanish colonizers transformed the term into two words: "guacho" (WA-cho) still means orphan, often endearingly, and the term "gaucho" (GOW-cho) means vagabond and refers to the men of indigenous roots mixed with African and/ or European ancestry, who took up the work of tending cattle in what is now Argentina, Southern Brazil, and Uruguay. Fiercely independent, they lived in a very difficult world of work and solitude. They benefited greatly from contact with the indigenous peoples, who were ultimately exterminated by European contact and by the Argentine government. Gauchos still exist and work, on ranches and in rural areas.

The style of dance that gauchos typically enjoyed was called malambos, and began around 1600. Incorporating zapateo, the art of percussive footwork rooted in Spanish Flamenco, malambos were traditionally performed by men. The dance movements include the cepillada (brushing - to graze the floor with the sole of the foot), the repique (striking the floor with heel and spur), and floreos (decorative movements of the feet). This dance form was often used as a form of competition between two or more men. One man starts with an escobillado (softly brushing the floor with his foot), and then he proposes a "figure" or footwork passage to his competitor, and ends with a salute. The other man copies the proposed figure, adding one that is more difficult, and then performs the salute. When one is unable to copy the other, the competition is finished, with the more proficient dancer the winner. The music features guitar and/or bombo, the drum.

The boleadoras were originally a weapon used by the indigenous people and adopted by the gauchos, to entrap fleeing animals. The weapon was basically a lasso, with three balls (originally rocks and later wood) bound and suspended from rawhide strips and swung three at a time in a whirling motion to entrap the neck or feet of a fleeing animal (or enemy). It is said that in the early 1950's, Santiago Ayala began incorporating footwork (zapateo) with weapons, establishing the malambos with cuchillos (knives), lanzas (lances), làtigos (whips), bombos (drums), and finally the famous boleadoras. The dancer uses two wooden balls as boleadoras, making rhythms against the floor, and whirling them in a rotational motion. Increasing the complexity of movements increased the rhythmic possibilities, becoming an exciting dance both physically and musically.

While based on typical and traditional gaucho dance, folkloric interpretations of these dances incorporate stylizations of stage performance, transforming them into artistic works for the stage. The dances of the gauchos are a popular part of Argentine folkloric dance, and are becoming increasingly infused with "fantasía" - incredible feats of skill for exhibition and show.

The "botas de potro" were made from the skin of the horse's leg, similar to a boot but with the toes exposed. Of course, modern folkloric dancers use boots that are appropriate for dancing on a stage, and that have heels and toes that are studded with nail heads to act as taps.

The gaucho also wears a chiripà, which is woven of wool keeping him warm and providing protection for the legs while mounted on horseback. The large pants are called "bombachas" and the "rastra" is a large leather belt decorated with coins and links of chain, which acts a place to store necessary tools of the trade, including a cuchillo (knife), and the boleadoras.


Performances in
World Arts West Programs
Marcelo Solís and Romina Hahn

Tango developed in the 1880’s in the poor urban neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and became the characteristic expression of the lower classes, many of who were recent immigrants from Europe. Tango is a dance of passion, elegance, grace, speed and intricate steps. Born in the bars, cafes, and brothels, it moved to dancing houses, then finally inside the middle and upper class Argentinean homes. Some say the word "tango" comes from the Latin word tangere (to touch) - the embrace is central to this dance form as partners dance very close to each other. The entire range of human feelings is expressed in tango.

Argentina developed very fast between 1880 and 1930 becoming one of the ten richest nations in the world. During that period of fast development the very rich often traveled to Europe at least once a year. It was they who introduced Argentine tango to the Parisian nobility. Tango became the craze of the time right away – from Paris, the dance and music rapidly migrated to the other big capitals, London, Rome, Berlin, and finally New York.

Tango evolved as it moved both through the societal levels within Argentina and as it mixed with other world dance cultures. The antique Argentine tango was influenced by the tango Habanera, a dance and music style that reached its peak in 1883 but died towards the end of the century. The tango Habanera evolved from the milonga (with influences from the guajira flamenca) and the tango Andaluz or tango flamenco. The milonga was danced and played by rural populations in Argentina and combined indigenous rhythms with the music of early Spanish colonists. Some aspect of the dance are also attributed to a dance called Candombe, which was danced by Africans and their descendents living in Buenos Aires and nearby Uruguay. The male Candombe dancers danced with their knees flexed, to show their dance skills with walking steps (corridas) and turns.

Tango reached its pinnacle of popularity in the 1940's, the “Golden Age of Tango,” during which it evolved into the form we know today. Now it is considered an integral part of Argentine culture, both in its salon (social) and exhibition (theatrical) forms. Internationally it is equally popular amongst Hispanic and crossover audiences, with a very large following in many parts of the United States, Europe, Japan, Mexico and Latin America. Styles vary in Tango: Argentine, French, Gaucho and International, and is considered one of the American 'Standards' regardless of its origin.


| People Like Me | Viewer's Guide Home | Dance Style Locator | Program | Activity Pages | KidsArt | Evaluations | Site Map | Printable Pages | Resources |