The Charisma of Tango in Australia

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Musicological Society of Australia


Faculty of Education and Arts


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications




Rusak, H. K. (2014). The Charisma of Tango in Australia. Proceedings of Joint conference of the Musicological Society of Australia and the New Zealand Musicological Society. (pp. 105). Melbourne, VIC. Musicological Society of Australia. Available here


As with much of Europe, Poland shared a passion for this partner dance that originated in the 1890s along the Rio de la Plata and soon spread to the rest of the world. Post WWII Polish refugees in Australia ravaged by two world wars performed and danced the tango at community events. The migration experience of maintaining culture and community helped to alleviate post-traumatic stress and the challenges of resettlement. Tango arrived in Poland just before the outbreak of World War I and by the mid-1930s had become an expression of Polish melancholy that had had little in common with its Argentinian prototype. The dominant characteristics of nostalgia and yearning in the Polish tango were exemplified in the compositions of Jerzy Peterburski (1895-1879), such as To ostatnia niedziela (which gained the nickname Suicide Tango), Już nigdy and Tango milonga. The Suicide Tango took on a new way of being in the soundtrack of international movies of a later generation including Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colours: White (1994), Steven Spielberg’s Schindler's List (1993), Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt by the Sun (1994). This paper will investigate the unique musical characteristics of the Polish tango. It is positioned within my research into Polish traditions in Australia, my past as a performer of Tango music and addresses the significance of the contribution of migrant communities to Australian musical life.

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