In November 1913, Pope Pius X declared tango as immoral and off-limits to Catholics.
According to this article in the Milwaukee Journal in 1914, when tango proved to be too popular for his ban to have any effect, Pope Pius allegedly took a different tact; mocking the tango and trying to renew people’s interest in the “Furiana” (sic: correctly spelled Furlana), a 16th century dance that had gone out of fashion by 1750. The article claims that after witnessing a demonstration of the dance the Pope annulled the ban on tango, commenting, “It’s one of the dullest things imaginable.” This story was repeated in newspapers around the world. However, the Vatican denied that the ban was annulled, or that the Pope had witnessed any such demonstration.
Dancing Tango was still a sin in the 20th century.
The “Furiana” (sic) is noted in the article as being similar to Brazilian Maxixe (Ma-She-She or Ma-She-Shay), which is not true either. Maxixe was sometimes referred to as the “Brazilian Tango” because of some similarities in the way the two dances were executed, although maxixe music was quite different from tango. On the other hand, La Furlana was a 16th century courtship dance that looked nothing like Tango or Maxixe.
Spelling errors, incorrect comparisons between two dances separated by over 100 years, and a denial of the annulment by the Vatican — it is probably safe to conclude that there isn’t much reliable information in this news report.
The Pope wasn’t the only one trying to put an end to tango. While 1913 had become the “year of the tango” with it’s popularity spreading through the world, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, England’s Queen Mary, U.S. Vice President Thomas Marshall, cardinals, ministers, priests, rabbis, town mayors and more all denounced or banned the tango. You can read more about this on the New England Historical Society’s web site.
Here is another newspaper clipping from the New York Times, publish on January 16, 1914. This time Cardinal Basillo Pompili writing on behalf of Pope Pius X, likens tango to a threatening new form of Paganism.