Melbourne Celebrates 100 Years of Tango

Dancing tango in BA in 1913 - notice the same sex couples!!

Tango historian Christine Denniston has described 1913 as the year that tango took the world by storm.  The photo on left was taken in Buenos Aires in that year.
Around the world there have been celebrations of 100 years of tango so on Saturday 17 August, Melbourne’s tango schools presented Milonga100.
Fitzroy Town Hall

Things haven't change a great deal ... here  is a report of the evening based on the article from Melbourne’s Argus newspaper of 22 December 1913 when the Palais de Danse in Fitzroy was first opened. This magnificent dance palace was built by two American brothers, named Phillips in 1913, one year after Luna Park. It only lasted until after the First World War.

Dancing was the chief attraction at Fitzroy on Saturday night. The heritage Italianate blue stone town hall was once again turned into a dance palace to celebrate 100 years of Argentine tango in Melbourne. Many came to dance tango - which in December 1913 was described as the ‘the new tango’. If there were any among the large crowd who had been attracted by the possibility of seeing something beyond the bounds of decorum they must have gone away disappointed. As a fact, everyone, dancers and spectators, seemed well satisfied with the evening’s entertainment.

The hall 102 ft long and 48 feet wide was truly elegant though only half the size of the original Palais de Dance in St Kilda. The patrons arrived in small numbers at first and only about a dozen couples took to the floor when the Tangalo band struck up an enticing tango, but before the end of the evening the floor was well filled and it was difficult to move in the gangways around the dancing area. The dancers presented amusing contrasts. Figures seen in some of our best milongas swept along beside couples who had learned to dance - and learned very well - in the less aristocratic suburbs. A grey-bearded man danced with a young woman, another, in middle-age, paid tribute by tripping it without collar or tie.

Mr David Backler, one of the promoters, explained that 8 tango schools had joined to present the event, and representatives of each of the schools performed for the crowd.

The 1913 tango skirt

Though this was not the first time tango had been danced in Melbourne it was one of the most reported on... It continues
“The conclusion forced upon one after watching Miss Elsie Langley and Mr. Austen execute the
tango... was that if they were giving it in its simplest form, England, to have gone mad over it, must be a nation of expert dancers of have an unlimited amount of spare time to acquire proficiency. They gave the stage and the ballroom tango both with the same characteristics - a series of reverse movements and posings, requiring lightness of foot and suppleness of leg and body. They had an eccentric grace without the least trace of anything suggestive or offensive - even the “dip” step was eliminated from the ballroom version - but in the average dancing crowd the variety of steps would probably lead to collisions. Cards were distributed to the audience to express their opinion... there were only 40 votes of disapproval out of the 1,000 people present”.


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