origin of ‘it takes two to tango’


takes two to tango - Los Angeles Times - 24 November 1952

TAKES TWO TO TANGO—Tony Dexter re-creates the dance he performed in “Valentino” on Art Baker’s You Asked for It show, KECA (7) at 8 tonight. Since it takes two, Actress Lilian Molieri will also be around.

from the television programme
Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) – 24th November 1952



The phrase it takes two to tango means both parties involved in a situation or argument are equally responsible for it.

It is from Takes Two to Tango (1952), by the American songwriters Al Hoffman (1902-60) and Dick Manning (1912-91), first interpreted by the American singer and actress Pearl Bailey (1918-90). This is the beginning of the song:

Takes two to tango, two to tango
Two to really get the feeling of romance
Let’s do the tango, do the tango
Do the dance of love

You can sail on a ship by yourself
Take a nap or a nip by yourself
You can get into debt on your own
There’s a lot of things that you can do alone

But it
Takes two to tango, two to tango
Two to really get the feeling of romance
Let’s do the tango, do the tango
Do the dance of love

The earliest mentions of this song that I have found date from 5th September 1952; for instance, the following advertisement for Decca Records was published in the Nanaimo Free Press (Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada) of that day:

Takes Two to Tango (song) - Nanaimo Free Press - 5 September 1952

‘Once in a While’ – ‘Confessin’                           —Louis Armstrong
Takes Two to Tango’ – ‘Let There Be Love’ —Pearl Baily [sic]

One of the earliest figurative uses of it takes two to tango that I have found is from an article titled Ez Charles Beats Bivins In ‘Tango’, about a boxing match between Jimmy Bivins (1919-2012) and Ezzard Charles (1921-75), published in the Tallahassee Democrat (Tallahassee, Florida) of 27th November 1952:

Boos frequently echoed through vast Chicago Stadium from the 2,799 fans who contributed to a gate of $7,371. At times, someone out there among the customers shouted: “Takes two to tango!”
Charles […] slugged Bivins with a right to the jaw at the outset of the first round. It was the only big thrill rationed out to a national TV audience during the dull 10-round bout.
The 33 year old [sic] Cleveland Negro went down to one knee in the corner. Charles hammered at him a couple of times while he was kneeling before being sent to the other side of the ring. Bivins blinked his eyes and took a mandatory eight count before arising to start a back-pedaling, defensive retreat that lasted throughout.
Charles was not too happy about it all.
“Bivins kept out of my reach,” he said. “He ran away. I need a guy who will fight back.”

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