The word “tango” may be forthrightly African in origin, meaning “closed place” or “reserved ground.” It may also derive from Portuguese (the Latin verb tanguere means ‘to touch’) and was picked up by Africans on the slave ships. It is not clear where the Tango first began (Argentina, Brazil, Spain, and Mexico could all be points of origin), but the generally accepted theory is that in the mid-1800s, the African slaves who had been brought to Argentina (or their descendants) began to influence the local culture.
During the latter part of the 1800s and early 1900s, Argentina was undergoing mass immigration. In 1869, Buenos Aires was inhabited by only 180,000 people. By the year 1914, the population had increased to 1.5 million. The intermixing of African, Spanish, Italian, British, Polish, Russian and native-born Argentines resulted in a melting pot of cultures, and each borrowed dance and music from one another. Traditional polkas, waltzes and mazurkas were mixed with the popular Habanera from Cuba and the Candombe rhythms from Africa. Consequently, the Tango has elements of the Cuban Habanera and ancient African Rhythms.
The worldwide spread of the tango began in the early 1900s when wealthy sons of Argentine society families made their way to Paris and introduced the tango into a society yearning for modernization and intrigued by the risqué nature of the dance or dancing with young, wealthy Latin men. It quickly grew on the public, for its innovative and sophisticated patterns. By 1913, the tango had become an international phenomenon in Paris, London and New York, and has maintained its popularity as one of the most exciting dances in modern culture today.