argentine tango

50 Shades of Tango

“Wherever the Russian barbies are going,” he says to the guy sitting on the other side of me who is looking to plan his next milonga destination. The current milonga only goes till 1am and there is still 5 hours of darkness to dance away before the sun starts coming up. The “Russian barbies” they are talking about are sitting across the room. Like a sexy version of matryoshka dolls, the four of them lined up side by side against the wall, all spawned from some common gorgeous ancestor and enhanced by the skills of a talented plastic surgeon. They practically glow in the dark. 

“Are they any good?” My companion on the left asks? A valid question for anyone who pursues tango as an art form, looking to experience the perfection of well crafted geometry, mastery of the physics of bodies in perfect balance with each other. An infinite, exponentially detailed pursuit, this shade of tango both excites and intimidates. For some, this is a heaven from which their life has meaning. And so it is for my friend on my left who wants nothing more than to be good at tango, to master it, to understand it as thoroughly as possible. This is his reason for dancing. 

“Does it matter?” my friend on my right says betraying perhaps the darkest, and sometimes most controversial shade of tango. Yes tango is important to him - he is a dedicated milonguero in his forties who grew up with tango, he dances six to seven nights a week, he knows every word to every song. But what he might love more than tango is the women, the foreigners who come in droves during the high season. Tall Eastern Europeans is his ultimate weakness, sending him into a romantic trance in the middle of the dance floor, eyes closed standing still in a hypnotic embrace, their passion a bit too obvious, making you overt your eyes, “get a room, for our sakes.” And frequently they do, slinking away together, taking their tango off the dance floor. The clubbing and hook-up shade of tango in Buenos Aires is something I was warned about before coming here. And so it is for the milonguero on my right, for whom tango revolves around his romantic and/or sexual pursuits. 

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For a moment I am stunned by the exchange. Like David Attenborough who is granted a glimpse into an animal’s behavior in its natural habitat, I feel I am allowed a glimpse into the inner workings of the two mens’ minds. I watch the beauties across from me wondering what they would think about this conversation. I have been seeing them several nights a week at different venues, always gorgeous, always dancing with the most desired leads. Even the professionals who typically reside away from the commoners leave their private parties in the corners to dance with them despite their very modest technical level. 

From my vantage point, setting aside my possible judgement and jealousy (“I’m obviously a better dancer and he is gonna pick them?!”), I have to conclude that most likely they absolutely love everything about their situation. They love the attention that their looks are commanding, they love the onslaught of men fighting for their embrace, they love the romance. Judging by the bliss written on their faces they wouldn’t have it any other way.

My own experience of the various shades of tango has gone through multiple phases of evolution. I have my own Achille’s heel in the form of young athletic types with muscular arms. The hurdles I have jumped in pursuit of a hot stud would put my milonguero friend to shame. Forget following someone to another milonga, I have jumped countries in pursuit of a hot body.  And when it comes to the shade on the other side, the perfection of the form, I have hundreds of hours of technique drills and classes under my belt. At some point I too wanted to figure out the perfect angle of my every move.

Now I feel myself occupying the various other shades on the spectrum between the two extremes, my tango gradually changing me from the inside, carving new possibilities for experiencing this dance, adding more subtle shades to the mix. Sometimes it is a cerebral experience like a chess game, other times it is an emotional healing that has me quietly crying into the chest of my partner as we dance. The variety of experiences I have had through tango over the years is astonishing and it really seems like ultimately, there are as many shades of tango as there are people. Tango is just that vast. 

Why We Are SOTANGO About It, Part 4/4: Let's Make Art

Tango comes into existence every time each individual dancer steps onto the dance floor and takes the embrace. Tango is a result of a collective act of dancing together. Tango is perpetuated into evolution by the pure joy experienced by each dancer. The more joy a dancer experiences, the more they want to dance, the more tango is created, forever, into eternity. The external form of tango will alter over time as each dancer individually undergoes personal and physical evolution. New trends, new music, new inspiration will surely influence how people dance social tango in a century or so. But in the end, it is not about how tango evolves, it is about how we can use tango to evolve ourselves. How creative, beautiful, empowered, confident can we become through tango?

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Social tango is a collective art. It is an urban phenomenon that arose among people who were desperate for connection. Everything within tango - the figures, the etiquette, the music - developed over time as a collective expression, a conversation among dancers, musicians, poets, writers, artists… The result is a form of creative social practice that has successfully spread throughout communities around the world.

When considering why social tango has been so successful, I believe it is because it answers to a deep longing within ourselves to connect, to express, to belong, and to create. It fulfills an essential human need for healthy physical touch and intimacy. It integrates communities, bridging the gaps between ages, cultures, and belief systems. It provides continuity that fosters building of supportive relationships. In essence, social tango functions in our culture the way dancing around a fire functions in tribal cultures - it is a social glue. As such, it is capable of tremendous personal and collective transformation that we so need at this time.

To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.
— Agnes de Mille