Regarding the survival of tango

Story | Opinion | Mark Word | 17 Apr 2014 | 0 comments

R.I.P. Tango: 1983 – 2033

The Body Tango is us. I’ll call her, Senorita Tango, but she is us. The Body Tango says to itself, “I’ll live forever!”

Denial of mortality is rather normal, I suppose. But let me guess, perhaps by the year 2033 Señorita Tango will succumb to a slow death. Could it be that soon?

She has had a long life, as far as dances go. The “swim” died after a few moments of glorious life on the dance floor. See anyone doing the twist? Even tango died, or nearly died, but then was “resuscitated” in 1983 after the fall of Argentina’s military junta. Social tango was forbidden, and Argentina celebrated its freedom from repression by dancing.

When social tango no longer is danced, it will die with little chance of resuscitation. It came back to life because it was forbidden, and it was resurrected from the dead. There’s nothing like prohibition and banning a dance to make it popular later. Tango is likely not to be forbidden or repressed this time around. The people who love her will poison her.

Jazz’s social dancers had their Golden Era too, and Jazz’s great era came to end an very much like tango’s: People stopped dancing and started sitting down and listening to it as the music became more “sophisticated.” Jazz lovers poisoned the one they loved.

What would kill social tango by 2033? Knowing her doom holds the solution to constantly rejuvenating her, but few of those who adore her seem to know it. Her doom is performance tango, her life is social tango.

I believe when performance tango and competition tango grow, social tango will proportionally begin to have health problems and premature aging. Performance/competitive tango will also dwindle — allowing a zombie-like tango to live on in a long, listless coma. Toxic levels of performance and competition grow every year. Even “social tango” is taught in an antisocial, snobby way at times, so I am not talking about a style so much as the community of dancers. Are they at the milonga to show off or to be social?

I know already that many will disagree because many love (as I do) watching performances. But performance jazz, salsa, rock, tango, etcetera have been the coffin for all of types of dance music. I felt this, but did not understand this concept until I saw a documentary on tango long before I ever danced it. I remember in that documentary an older bandonión player asking a younger player what he imagined when he composed his tangos. The younger man said, “I imagine myself playing in a small, smoke-filled room with people listening intently to my music.” I didn’t expect the older musician’s reaction. “You will kill tango! When tango is not danced anymore, it will die!” Within a week, I heard the same words come out of Tito Puente’s mouth. The salsa master (better known as the Mambo King) knew what kept salsa alive: The dancers.

The ballroom and dance-sport scene keeps the cadaver looking well preserved by alluring people into competing. Dance studios are often a business first, and showing off is the only plausible way to keep people coming back for lessons. (If your social tango does this, then probably it is not social. It is a group of “friends” who get better and better at dancing at semi-private events that are on their way to being old-folks homes.)

Competition dancing is cold and calculated, stale and artificial. Show dancing is a fake love affair full of smiles or passion that is painted on the dancers’ faces. And through competition, the need to impress morphs the dance to be gymnastics. Already tango performances get the biggest applause when the most-unlike-tango move comes along.

I dare you to watch for this to happen at the next show that interrupts your dancing at a milonga. In Austin Texas, I learned to leave the room and not watch the performance. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone got up and left? Put it on YouTube and I will watch it! I came here to dance not to watch you dance. And I DO love performances at times, but never during a milonga, especially a so-called close embrace mini-festivals, called encuentros, which are popular here in Europe. But even at encuentros one has to see the advertisement-dance of the teachers here in Europe.

Perhaps there is no way to stop the coming-and-going of all things on this earth. Señorita Tango is not a goddess, immortal. But I would like tango to have a long and noble life rather than a sick and crippled life, a tango in so much pain that its death would come as a relief. All too often love comes and goes in this world–both for people and for things we love. Today you love tango, but unbelievably for the present aficcionados of tango, many will love and leave tango. Probably the thing that will kill tango for you or me is a toxic, anti-social environment. What happened to the melting, heartfelt embraces? Then a new avocation is sure to come along, or a partner who doesn’t want to dance, or just being tired of show-offs running into you, or hurting you and your partner. Tango dies for people with the social element dies. When you leave tango it will likely be the day that antisocial elements drive you away.

Tango is more fragile than many believe. It really never fully recovered to a new Golden Age because half of the body is zombie-like. We now have living dancers and mostly dead musicians. That is not a new Golden Age. The modern musicians we have are at times great musicians, but the majority of their repertoire is performance tango, such as Astor Piazzolla’s compositions, the very composer who disparaged the dancer.

I am happy that we honor the great musicians of the Golden Era, but we are not in that era. I probably esteem tango’s message to the world because it is more than just a dance for me, so I do not want to be Dr. Doom. Nor do I want to be Dr. Delusional. If you really doubt that performance-focused tango musicians or performance-focused dancers will keep tango alive, you are tragically wrong, happily serving toxins to la Señorita.

Señorita Tango, The Body Tango, thinks she is 30 years old, and will live forever–beautiful and pretty damn smart. “She” was born in 1983. In 2001 she was still a teenager. Now she just turned 31, and tells everyone, “I feel like I’m still 18!” You are, my dear! That is, you are getting older but not wiser. You still think you will always be young, beautiful, and pretty damn smart. On the course you are on, my guess is that by 2033 you will be a physical wreck from all the toxins of your younger days. Maybe you will live on … but in a vegetative state until 2053 in ballroom competitions everywhere.

But your youth was social tradition and your wonderful maturity was innovation as a social dance. That all died in 2033. Rest in peace.

“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” Winston Churchill


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Published: 17 Apr 2014 @ 06:25


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