History of Queer Tango


With seven men to every one woman, Argentine Tango began in the streets of Buenos Aires in the late 1800s, with men dancing together. Historians have documented that men were “Practicing” for women, but that’s their opinion!

Like a lot of LGBTQIA+ history, the history of the Argentine Tango has been rewritten throughout the years. 

The tango was danced by male couples from the beginning1. Despite a mythology that links the tango with brothels, historical research shows that the tango began informally in the tenements as the men’s fantasy dance. “The risqué thing that made the tango different from other dances is you put your leg in between the space between the follower’s legs,” says Daniel Trenner, a tango teacher who lectures on the subject at Mt. Holyoke College and Smith College in Massachusetts. “The tango was their fantasy dance of what they’d like to do with the girls but didn’t get to.”1

Men were not “practicing” for women; they danced together as dance partners. Gay, Straight, or something else, it did not matter seeing same-sex partners dancing.

Men dancing the tango are the earliest photos recorded of men dancing together. In 1903, the first photo of a tango was published in the magazine Caras y Caretas. The dancers were both men.

Not until after World War Two did society look down on same-sex public dancing. Before that, seeing same-sex couples dancing was considered “having fun” with your friends.

By the ’40s and 50s, the moral compass was exploding across the West, and same-sex public dancing was considered an illegal homosexual act.

Today, Buenos Aires is home to multi-queer milongas where men, women, gay, and straight can dance without prejudice.


In the early years of tango, society aristocrats looked down on tango dancing—bodies locked together in what could be considered seductive. Oh, sign me up! 

Some felt it was vulgar and inappropriate for public viewing, but that didn’t stop the gay and lesbian community. The LGBTQIA+ community had no social status and was free to dance with whomever they wanted. 

By 1913, the Argentine Tango had caught on in Paris.

Introduced by Argentine aristocrats, it was in the Lesbian nightclubs and gathering places that dominated the tango initially. Yes, again, historians have erased this piece of LGBTQIA+ history. 

Driven by fashion, “Paris loved women with the slit-up the skirts; it was sexy, confirmed Madame Coletta @tangoliberated, 2003 US Tango Champion. 

Once straight couples began dominating the popular nightclubs to tango, Lesbian women would wear a monocle to signal for a female dance partner. Gay men had their colored hankies, and lesbians had their monocles. 

Le Monocle was a lesbian bar in Paris open during the 1930s. The bar was called Le Monocle because some lesbians wore a monocle, along with their tuxedo and short hairstyle, at the time. Women wearing monocles at Le Monocle became a symbol of lesbianism.

The queer tango movement is a relatively recent movement that revives the origins of tango as a same-sex couple dance. It was founded in Hamburg, Germany where in 2001 the first gay-lesbian milonga was organized. In the same year, the First International Queer Tango Argentina Festival was brought to life.

These two simultaneous events marked the beginning of the Queer Tango movement—a distinct style deliberately tossing gendered movements aside in favor of giving into each other’s impulses.

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