Tango and the gender question

Someone has said that tango is condensed life. Today, the quintessential element of Argentinian culture opens up to diversity and inclusion and welcomes the LGBT community. Español

Yessika Gonzalez
26 December 2016

Pedro Figari - El tango. Public Domain.

With the internationalization of tango, its slum origins were forgotten and a strictly codified dance was exported with clearly defined roles between man and woman. In the traditional milongas—the venues where people in Argentina go to tango—women generally sit on one side of the dance floor to show their potential dance partners that they are available. The man invites the woman to dance with a head motion and the women either accepts or rejects the proposal. So begins a dance in which the man leads and the woman follows the marked steps, embellishing the dance with several adornments.

In recent years, however, people have begun to champion the so-called Queer Tango - queer meaning “strange”, “different”, or even “eccentric”. But since the word was traditionally used pejoratively against people on particular gender and sexual grounds, it was eventually appropriated by the LGBTQ community. The Queer Tango therefore does not aim only to create spaces for the gay community to express itself through tango, but it allows all people, regardless of their sexuality, to explore themselves and go beyond social gender norms. As the Buenos Aires Queer Tango blog explains:

“Queer Tango is a space for tango open to everyone. A space for meeting, socializing, learning, and practicing that seeks to explore different forms of communication between those who dance. The queer tango does not presuppose the sexual orientation of its dancers, nor their taste for occupying one role or another when dancing.”

[El Tango Queer] es un espacio de tango abierto a todas las personas. Un lugar de encuentro, sociabilización, aprendizaje y práctica en el que se busca explorar distintas formas de comunicación entre quienes bailan. El tango queer no presupone la orientación sexual de los bailarines ni su gusto por ocupar un rol u otro a la hora de bailar.

Although, at its inception, only men danced the tango, in the traditional milongas of today, same-sex partners have been victims of discrimination and have even been thrown out of the dance floor. In fact, the birth of many “queer” milongas came as a response to these attacks.

In the video below, shared on YouTube by Edgardo Tucu, you can watch two men interchanging the traditional roles at the 2015 Buenos Aires International Queer Tango Festival:

For many, the tango is a macho dance that relegates women to a passive role. Nevertheless, in recent years with the emergence of this new style of tango, the role of women has become more participatory. In fact, many women enjoy the role of leading the dance. In Queer Tango, women can lead or be led when dancing with a man or another woman.

In the video below, shared on YouTube by Tango Queer, one woman leads while another follows the outlined steps:

Mariana Docampo, one of the pioneers of Queer Tango in Buenos Aires, explains on her blog that the main point of the movement is not exactly the subversion of roles, since ultimately this is part of the tango's structure. The problem lies in its “fixation and identity with the sex of the dancers” which can crystallize the deepest social stereotypes:

“The tango is a popular dance and, just like any other dance, it functions as a mirror of the society from which it springs and in which it develops. In this case, it is the Buenos Aires society. But the tango is also a dance with a strong sensuous connotation. And so, this “mirror” reflects in more than one way how our society views eroticism among its members: first, man-woman. Then, we could say, active-passive.”

El tango es una danza popular, y como cualquier otra, funciona como espejo de la sociedad de la cual surge y en la cual se desarrolla. En este caso, la sociedad porteña. Pero el tango también es una danza de fuerte connotación sensual. Y de ahí que lo que este “espejo” refleja no es sino la forma en que nuestra sociedad concibe el erotismo entre sus integrantes: en primer lugar, hombre-mujer. Luego, podríamos decir, activo-pasiva.

She goes on to say:

“This pairing notably simplifies the complex erotic web that exists between individuals. And while it represents quite accurately an identifiable majority in society, it also institutes an “admitted” way of feeling, thus conditioning and censoring different ways. It is set as a model. And everyone whose feeling is different remains outside this model.”

Este binomio simplifica notablemente la compleja red erótica que existe entre los individuos. Y que si bien representa a una mayoría identificable en la sociedad, instituye una forma de sentir “admitida”, condiciona y censura formas de sentir diferentes. Se fija como modelo. Y afuera de este modelo quedan tod@s aquell@s cuyo sentir es distinto.

Queer Tango has had to find its own niche outside the traditional milongas. In the specific case of Buenos Aires, there are different “queer” or “gay” milongas where the LGBTQ community can dance without being discriminated. Queer Tango spaces are inclusive and open to everyone. In the video below, shared by Narkotango, we can see a couple exploring and changing their roles throughout the dance in one of the queer milongas in the Argentine capital city:

This article was previously published by Global Voices.

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