Tango Canyengue

Tango Canyengue is an archaic style of tango that originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the early 20th century. Known for its rhythmic pattern and distinctive postures, Tango Canyengue is an integral part of Argentina’s rich cultural heritage. This dance style, embedded in the history and tradition of its native land, offers an enchanting blend of rhythm, passion, and connection.

The History of Tango Canyengue

Tango Canyengue traces its roots back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the lower-class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. The term ‘canyengue’ is believed to be derived from Kikongo, also known as Kumbundu, a language from the Bantú language family spoken by certain African slaves and their descendants in Argentina. The words candome and yongo merged to form canyongo which then turned into canyengue, and the term can be roughly translated as ‘melting of bodies’. This encapsulates the essence of Tango Canyengue – a close embrace dance with a melting of bodies, in sync with the rhythm. The black community would traditionally pronounce the name as “ caniengue” while non-black speakers, at least from the 1900s and onward, were more likely to pronounce it “canyengue” with the “ye” that is caracteristic of Río de la Plata.

In the times of its origin, Tango Canyengue was more than just a dance, it was a form of self-expression, and often associated with the working-class communities and neighborhoods known as arrabales. Canyengue tango was a dance that flurished in struggling working-class neighborhoods, it was danced by prostitutes and cabaret dances, and it did not have a good reputation in middle-class Argentina. It was (and still is, by many) dismissed for being overly sexual and provocative.

Over time, the Canyengue tango evolved, with new styles and forms emerging, yet, Tango Canyengue retained its distinctive character and charm.

Characteristics of Tango Canyengue

Tango Canyengue is characterized by a close embrace, with the dancers leaning slightly towards each other. Their bodies are closer at the hip level and slightly apart at the chest level. The dancers move rhythmically to the music, with bent knees and a grounded walk, often incorporating compact, syncopated footwork. 

In Tango Canyengue, the dancers share a close connection, expressed through the intimate embrace and synchronized movements. The dance does not emphasize complex figures or high-flying lifts. Instead, it focuses on the connection between the dancers, the rhythm of the music, and the raw emotion of the dance. bIn many ways, Tango Canyengue contrasts sharply against the more widely known and accepted ballroom tango.

In Argentina, “caminar canyengue” (walking canyengue) is said to denote the walk of a campadrito, with rhythmic hip movements. It is also known as “caminar arrabalero”, a reference to the poor neighborhoods of old Buenos Aires. Arrabal is a Spanish word for an inhabited area on the outskirts of a city, especially if it is marked by severe poverty and sprung up spontaneously and without proper planning and permits. Tango canyengue originated and flurished in exactly those neighborhoods; the slums of the big city Buenos Aires.

Tango Canyengue in Today’s World

Despite the evolution of many modern tango styles, Tango Canyengue retains a special place in the world of dance. Today, it is enjoyed by dance enthusiasts worldwide for its authenticity and unique style. Tango festivals and workshops across the globe feature Tango Canyengue, passing on the traditional dance’s techniques to new generations of dancers.

Tango Canyengue is not just a dance; it is a cultural treasure that carries the spirit of a bygone era. It represents a rich cultural history, a deep mutual connection, and a celebration of music and movement. As we lose ourselves in the rhythm of Tango Canyengue, we are drawn into a world of passion, connection, and shared rhythm, reminding us of the timeless allure of this enchanting dance. 

Note: In the 21st century, the related word chanchengue has been used by various Argentine writers to denote certain dances that are widely danced in Argentina today, including cumbia villera and reggaeton.

Learning Tango Canyengue

For those intrigued by the dance’s rich history and expressive movements, numerous dance schools and instructors worldwide offer Tango Canyengue lessons. Whether you are a novice stepping into the world of dance or a seasoned dancer looking to explore new styles, Tango Canyengue offers a rewarding and enriching dance experience. 

As we continue to explore and celebrate diverse cultures and their unique art forms, Tango Canyengue stands as a fascinating testament to Argentina’s cultural heritage, a dance that continues to captivate audiences and dancers alike with its timeless charm and passionate rhythm.

This article was last updated on: June 6, 2024