[Marxism] Joanna Bujes on Tango (from pen-l)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Feb 15 11:17:31 MST 2004

As a dedicated tango dancer -- of some five years -- I can't resist
adding to this. As the waltz characterized the 19th century, the tango
will surely get the honors for the 20th.

Born in the slums of Buenos Aires (and made "respectable" in Paris in
the 1920's), tango is danced all over the world. I think part of its
continued appeal must have to do with the continual migration and
feeling of  "homelessness" that characterizes modern life. The tango is
stereotyped as a music of romantic passion; but I think the
circumstances of its birth reveal its mood more accurately. Ttango was
invented by exiles: exiles from the Argentine pampas, exiles from
Africa, from Germany, Italy, Turkey....who found themselves thrown
together in Buenos Aires at the end of the nineteenth century. The
longing of the music reflects the longing of these people for their lost
homes, lovers, language, culture...and that longing continues to be felt
today, which accounts for its continued emotional relevance and
popularity. But the music can embrace many moods: anger, joy, nostalgia,
cynicism. Modern tango embraces three forms: the classical tango (the
most familiar), but includes a lovely waltz style, as well as the
"milonga," a fast mazurka-like dance, the "grandmother" of tango, which
is still danced.

One of the greatest composers and performers of tango, Osvaldo Pugliese,
was a communist. As he was often arrested, the story has it, he would
wear pyjamas under his tux, so that he could be more comfortable in
jail. While, he was in prison, the members of his orchestra would put a
red carnation on the piano (his instrument).

Tango is not actually classified as a ballroom dance, but as an ethnic
dance. It is not an easy dance to learn; it takes about a year to feel
comfortable with it, but the possibilities are endless and you basically
keep learning it forever. (As an aside, I'd add that Tango is one of the
few things in life, where the reality (dancing it and what that feels
like) is actually better than the fantasy (what you think it's going to
feel like.))

There are three "Tango" movies that are available on video if you want
to have a look-see:

"Tango," "Tango Bar," and "The Tango Lesson."

As Louis mentions, the tango has been adopted and interpreted by many
different countries and this has resulted in a variety of flavors, chief
among which are the French (wistful/playful), Russian (gorgeous),
Turkish...and always, Argentine. Some of Piazzola's tangos are eminently
danceableand very beautiful; some are not. Gotan's Projects's "La
Revancha del Tango" is a pretty good example of the way it's being
modernized and fused with other musical forms.

As for gender relations. As my tango teacher put it: "In the home, the
woman rules; but on the dance floor, it's the man." When dancing tango,
the man leads and the woman follows, though it is possible to play with
this. By and large though, the man leads, while the woman must attain a
state of zen-like presence, attuned to the most subtle of clues, to
figure out what's happening next. The possibilities are infinite.
Basically, the man's responsibility is four-fold: to choreograph the
dance, to lead, to dance, and to "drive" around the dance floor so as to
not bump into anyone.  Tango has convinced me that men can do more than
one thing at once;  and some do it exceptionally well.

And that's probably more than you've ever wanted to know.


Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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