Tango: The Forgotten Argentine Passion

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Our guest post today is written by Alex Vidal, an Argentine tango enthusiast who, despite the short time he has been involved in the tango scene, has already begun to make a huge impact, having his own shows – both singing AND dancing.  Here, he gives us an insider’s view of what tango means to some, what it should mean to many, and most especially, the place it should have in Argentine, and probably world, culture.  I’m sure he’ll be delighted to respond where you can see him sing or dance, if you leave a comment!

When trying to figure out where to begin talking about this, I endlessly perused many articles describing the origins of tango, it’s peculiarities, musical form, dance history, how it become a huge success during the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s in Argentina thanks to the advent of radio and such, and finally decided  not to summarize the history of tango in a nutshell but rather tell you about it from a different perspective.

Tango is a passionate form of art: it expresses emotion, sorrow, and evokes deep feelings. When sung, the music, the beautiful poetry in the lyrics, and the singer’s expression can have a huge impact on the listener, either because of the sheer beauty of the piece by itself or the reminiscence of evoked past experiences.

Dancing a tango is also a unique experience: there is no dance in the world that can connect two people the way tango does. It is an extremely sensual dance, an implicit wooing that demands both giving in to your dance partner and, at the same time, showing your worth to him or her as a dancer.

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A great video of Carlos Gavito, one of many Tango dance legends, can be seen here.

 

Having enjoyed its golden age a bit over sixty years ago, tango nowadays struggles to stay alive. There is very little air time for tango on radios or television, and the politicians only devote themselves to Tango when it serves the proper tourism-related purpose. This is the main reason behind non-thriving Tango artists and lack of interest from the Argentinean population itself. The art still survives though, mainly in the form of milongas, a type of social gathering where Tango-lovers assist to dance to the music of treasured recordings, listen to good music, have a good meal or just hang out with friends. The milongas, once the most popular social event in Buenos Aires, date from the time when Tango was the undisputed king and many tango bands (usually called “orquesta tipica”) played live music to the delight of everyone present. The recordings played nowadays in a typical milonga are almost entirely those left by those popular Tango orchestras of yore. However, every once in a while, a live tango orchestra performs in a milonga, stirring up memories from the ‘good old days’.

Contemporary Tango artists mainly survive thanks to the tango-for-export concept: carefully produced and choreographed tango shows that tour all over the world, usually performing with live orchestras and professional dancers and singers. Consecrated Tango dance masters also tour, teaching seminars and exhibiting their talents in world milongas. For a very long time this has been the best way to earn a living as a Tango artist. And, for all we know, it will continue to be so until Argentinean authorities decide to assign Tango the place it deserves in the country’s cultural agenda.

But Tango is not all about the music. It is a proven fact that tango is beneficial for your health: It increases testosterone levels, concentration, coordination and stability. It has also proven to be very effective as a complementary treatment for patients with mild or severe dysfunctions of the nervous system.

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It all comes down to your own taste, but let me assure you that once tango enters your life you become addicted to it. It took me almost thirty-four years to truly discover what Tango can give you, so it’s never too late to start. I’ve been dancing tango for almost four years now, and also been singing for a year, so I can say I’ve truly become a Tango junkie.

Tango was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2009 so it might strike you as odd that Argentina is still paying so little attention to its own child. Tango is admired and respected worldwide. Maybe it’s time the folks at home did the same.

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12 comments

      1. The difference here would be that Jazz is very much alive and influential on the american population today (almost all popular american rhythms are jazz-based). Tango has not evolved, mainly because of the lack of support and interest.

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  1. I’m old enough to (just barely) remember the mid-20th-century tango craze. The tango was considered wildly exotic, shockingly erotic, and delightfully romantic, all at the same time. For some reason, the “dip” (female partner falling back as if swooning, supported by the male partner’s arm under her back) was the defining step in what I now know is a very complicated dance. I agree with you that Argentina ought to give more recognition to its native art form!

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      1. To a six-year-old _norteamericana_ watching tango dancers on the Ed Sullivan TV show, it seemed that the “dip” was what the tango was all about. At any rate, the audience would applaud and whistle and stomp their feet every time the dancers performed the move. I suppose it was part of the American perception of the tango as a scandalously sexy dance performed by “hot-blooded Latin lovers”

        I looked up Tango on Wikipedia, and I’m surprised, but pleased, to learn that some of its moves appear to have originated in the ritual dances of Candomblé.

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