We’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
From the end of 1950, rock ‘n’ roll and then dictatorship regime in Argentina marked the decline of Tango, both internationally and in Argentina.
While rock’n’roll was encouraged under the repressive regime, tango was suppressed. For young people, the way to meet a partner was not to learn the tango anymore; it was to go to a rock’n’roll evening. Between 1955 and 1983, almost no one learned the tango. Despite this, it remained part of the cultural identity of the Golden Age generations and some proudly kept the tango alive in the underground. In 1983 “Tango Argentino”, a show choreographed by Juan Carlos Copes, brought tango back to the world in Europe and soon became an international success. Premiered in Paris, the production toured the world for 15 years after. 1983 also marked the end of the military regime in Argentina. Tango was no more illegal and could revive.
The music also took a big turn in the 1960s on account of Astor Piazzola. He introduced elements of other music genres, including rock and jazz, instruments such as the saxophone and electric guitar, and new forms of harmonic and melodic structure into the traditional tango. His “new tango”, Tango Nuevo, was a musical revolution for the genre, both in Europe and Argentina.
This period was with no doubt the most critical one for tango. Beyond the suppression of freedom, it was an attack to one of the most important elements of the cultural identity of Argentinians. Teaching tango in the underground was not only coming from a will to preserve the dance, it was certainly also an act of rebellion against an oppressive regime.
The modern times – Art and social movements
Tango Nuevo style MOVEMENT
A few years later, in the 1990s, a group of young tango teachers and dancers driven by the power of creativity and curiosity started “The Investigation group”. They implemented the principles of dance kinesiology from modern dance to analyze the physics of movement in Tango Argentino. Taking what they learned from this analysis, they began to expand the possibilities of the dance. The Tango Nuevo movement started, referring to a shift from teaching what to dance toward teaching how to dance. Tango Nuevo is considered by many as a new style of tango dance. However, Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne the initiators, refute this affirmation and explain that this focus shift has nothing to do with creating a new style. They see it as a natural evolution of the dance, taking place in a new context, an evolved culture, and new knowledge, while the essence of the dance remains the same.
The dance evolved from being danced mostly in close embrace to a more open and more “elastic” embrace, opening for more complex and spectacular movements. Those creative moves, attracted a lot of young people to the dance, in Buenos Aires, and in the rest of the world. Tango marathons and festivals started to flourish everywhere, so that dancers from different corners of the world could meet, explore, and dance a lot.
The (r)evolution of tango as an art form that came at the end of the 20th century is a cultural and artistic statement and the beginning of many debates between progressists and traditionalists.
Let us break free into Neotango
Neotango music refers to tango music with a modern sound. Composed or orchestrated in the 21st century, it is often a fusion of traditional tango structure and electronic and acoustic sounds. Neotango is also a movement. This time motivated by a reaction against the traditional codes of tango, and the desire to create new alternative tango experiences by including:
– different forms of movement – for example, fusion between contact improvisation and tango),
– alternative tango music – choosing songs that are not traditional tango songs but can offer a pleasant dance experience,
– a different social atmosphere, breaking the rules and traditional codes of tango and using immersive visual projections.
Neotango event with immersive image in France “les Tangofolies de Lausanne”.
Picture: Sasha V.
Neotango is driven by a social openness to give less importance to some traditions and to look for new possible evolution ways to enhance the experience of tango.
The tango rainbow
The latest movement to appear on the tango scene also follows a societal evolution, questioning the norm of men-women romantic relationships. The Queer tango movement started in 2001 in Hamburg with the organization of the first gay-lesbian milonga. Usually, queer is synonymous with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community.
Queer tango festival in Berlin
Photo: Ksusha Ivanova
In tango, it emphasizes gender-neutral dancing, where everyone can lead and follow, and same-gender dancing is normalized. Therefore, there is no need to be queer to be part of the queer tango community. As a matter of fact, many women but also some men have experienced rejections and entire evenings sitting without getting a chance to dance. Breaking free from the elitism of traditional tango marathons and festivals, they find in the queer tango community a more inclusive and welcoming environment.
Nowadays, the gender balance in the social environment is reversed compared with the early and golden ages of tango. The interest in social dancing is often higher for women than for men, and it creates high competition at the milonga. The queer tango is also a reaction to the traditional tango environment sometimes experienced as too competitive, too proud, and leaving little room for authentic vulnerability, community support and respect for individual learning curves and capacities.
The therapeutical powers of tango
Since 2000, with Rodolfo and Gloria Dunzel as initiators for the investigating work of the therapeutical powers of tango, research studies have observed and demonstrated the therapeutical effects of the dance for people with mild Parkinson’s disease in early rehabilitation of multiple sclerosis, to help restore balance for cancer patients.
Those studies showed the positive effect of tango as an element of therapy, and some practitioners now use it in physiotherapy, neurology and psychotherapy.
And you, why do you dance tango?
Tango dance and music are still evolving from the meeting between cultures, generations, social movements, and movement techniques. How we teach, dance, develop and experience the community depends on our background and expectations. The local culture and the personal preferences of the local teachers and organizers are all strong influencers, and therefore carry a heavy responsibility. In my opinion, a tango community is at its best when offering a delicate balance of friendliness, healthy competition to support individual and mutual development, a diversity of dance experiences, and willingness to meet each other as we are.
I started to dance the tango with a group of people from all the world’s continents. Europeans, Americans, Africans, and Asians embraced each other and discovered this dance together. To me, tango and this cultural blend are indissociable.
What pushed me to develop in the dance was, at first, a crush on a more experienced dancer. I wanted to become good enough so that he would enjoy dancing with me. The crush didn’t last but I rapidly fell in love with my local community and the physical and emotional consciousness I could develop through tango. The way we dance and how we react to the social environment can be a powerful mirror for self-exploration.
Rapidly, the curiosity to discover the international tango crowd at marathons and festivals pushed me to strive to develop my technique and musicality. I am also lucky to have been guided by amazing persons, dancers, and teachers since the start of my tango journey. They inspire me to keep on exploring, and to share the results of my discoveries. Today, I found a place in my tango community. I feel seen and recognized and I enjoy giving this feeling to others too. Dancing, teaching, being part of this beautiful community make me feel fully alive, body mind and soul.
And you, why do you dance tango?
Author: Elodie Labonne Nilsson