Contradictions and frustrations   Leave a comment

Contradictions and frustrations

By Alberto Paz
August 1998

Many things about tango and the underlying contradictions of the porteños are paradoxical and they can lead to frustration if we approach them with the bias of not accepting possibly complex codes of a culture that they themselves are still trying to understand. It is the educated guess of people who have taken an interest in trying to demystify the dense layers that surround the history of the tango, that the dance evolved over a long period of time. Primarily, people from the lower social strata, more precisely males with plenty of idle time on their hands, found cheap thrills dancing in a different, mocking way, the dances that were typically danced in the society halls and upper class residences of Buenos Aires.

Looking at this vignette could lead to thinking that those who mock the Argentine tango dance by introducing “dialogs, conversations” and the juxtaposition of calisthenics against any kind of music, may be the avant garde leaders of the new Tango of the ‘90s. Ha!

The guys who danced among each other in times so early that no accurate historical fact can be found, were rogues, scoundrels, rascals, low life who danced with each other to show skill, deftness, dexterity, prowess, who used the primitive forms of the tango as a renewed game of “mine is bigger than yours”. Dancing among men on the street corners of tough Buenos Aires neighborhoods was tantamount to the display of dare and bravado that goes on between gang members in large cities across the United States today. As the city population began to sprawl and the newer generations of immigrants began to send their children to school, the incipient concept of law and order being good for business forced the authorities to ban those street dances because of their rowdiness and the bad element that they attracted.

Dancing moved into the houses of ill repute as it continued its development as a show of virility and a form of entertainment that marked the beginning of a form of tango that has defied the pass of time and the changing times in which we live. Men and women embraced to meditate about their individual solitude and metaphysics to the sounds of their city arranged in a beat of 2×4 first and 4×4 much later.

For a while, most men gathered to show each other their skills and pass along the growing knowledge in a quest to always be the best, to be admired, to be wanted, to be considered beyond suspicion as a winner. Those who had a steady job, an education, a functional family, learned to dance with older uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters.

Men have not danced together or practiced in seedy bars for over half a century. As the progress changed the cobblestone streets of the barrios into multiple lanes avenues, equality for men and women became an issue, a militancy, a welcome reality that recognizes the values and virtues of human beings regardless of their gender. Today, both men and women have equal access to practice and classes. They both assume a shared responsibility for the quality of the dance. Trying to spin doctor one hundred year old fairy tales to justify the cult of mockery is to take away from meeting the challenge.

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