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Tango Musing


When is Tango not Tango?

Posted: 14:10, Monday 19 March 2007 by Megan Jones

Updated: 17:04, Wednesday 21 March 2007 by Megan Jones

Some recent musings on the tango-l discussion list wandered into a familiar topic – at what point does what people are dancing become something other than Argentine Tango? Each of the paragraphs were written by different people.

When I hear the term…“Alternative Music” what goes through my mind is a series of songs that you wouldn’t ordinarily dance tango, vals or milonga to…but you can, if you stretch your mind a bit…and hear the beat, the rhythm, the opportunities… Take for instance Sade’s – No Ordinary Love. Amazing song to dance tango to by the way…. Or James Taylor’s – The Water is Wide, or the ubiquitous, Norah Jones’s – The Nearness of You…. All amazing songs that are so danceable and perfect for Tango. So am I wrong in thinking that this is ‘alternative’ music or is there perhaps another meaning? One that springs to mind is ‘alternate’ songs by other orchestras doing classic or golden age tunes….??? Or another is something to Gotan Project, or NarcoTango or, BalaTango….? Can anyone enlighten?

I have no problem with people dancing tango moves to whatever music they want. I do have a problem when they call it “Argentine Tango” because there is nothing Argentine about it. One major difference between foreign and Argentine tango dancers is that for Argentines, tango is about the music and for foreigners it is about the movement. This is the reason WHY dancing with Argentine men is so very special. Putting movements to whatever music might be a nice intellectual exercise, but it is not tango and no Argentine dancer, including social and professional dancers will ever call it that.

What makes tango music special and unique is its formation – many intertwined voices of instruments and many overlapping rhythms. It is music that makes tango tango, not the movements. Many foreign dancers do not understand that the dance, in this case, follows the music and perceive Argentine tango being about the moves, and that is where the confusion arrives.

Yes, ‘nuevo; and ‘alternative’ music represent evolutionary trends, cultural adaptations to foreign tastes to a large degree, but in trying to make some part of tango relevant for foreigners by adapting it to their cultural perspective – thus electronic music and exhibitionistic displays – distances this evolved form from its cultural roots – social tango dancing in Buenos Aires. This evolved dance is legitimate in its own right, just as American and international ballroom dances called ‘tango’ are legimitate art forms, but all these derived forms have acquired their own cultural life and they lose the character of social tango – a dance danced between a man and a woman, where communication is inward towards the partner, not outward towards the audience.

I quit the dance five years ago because I was tired of “dance doctrine” being thrown in my face. It has often struck me that many tango purists are trying to time-travel and live in another place and time. When we consider the origins and evolution of tango (or frankly, any other organically developed street dance) the hypocrisy is doubly laughable. Popular dance (street dance) cannot help but evolve. It reverberates with the cultural memes, body movements, clothing, images and beats from the popular culture surrounding it. If it ain’t movin’, it’s dead. To fix a dance in a style, a syllabus, a choreography chart, a set of pre-ordained and pre-approved musical tracks, is to fossilize it like an insect in amber. Vintage dance is a valid art form, but it is a historical, traditionally accurate art form. It is not innovative.


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At 17:13 on Wednesday, 21 March 2007 Mike L said: