August 29, 2009
I like everything about Argentine tango: its music, passion, beauty, its artistic, sportive, social and recreational functions, and its culture (milonguero legends, milonga code, cabeceo, and even machismo, etc.). All of these, however, would not mean so much if tango were not danced between a man and a woman. As Susana Miller said, “If you like tango, then you like women.” Let’s face it, at bottom it is women that attract men to tango, and vice versa. Although to some degree that is true with all partner dances, tango is different. It is much more intimate, physical, and sensual.
One BBC commentator remarked, “Tango contains a secret about the yearning between men and women.” That is right on. The yearning, however, is not necessarily a sexual one. I believe tango fulfills a human need for intimacy between opposite sexes in a nonsexual way. Our society is so sex oriented that this innocent yearning between men and women has been deprived. Any intimacy between opposite sexes is deemed sexual and, therefore, is repressed either voluntarily or involuntarily. Men and women cannot be intimate unless they want to have sex. In other words, our culture does not approve innocent intimacy between the two sexes.
But Argentine tango represents a different view, or a culture, that recognizes and sanctions nonsexual intimacy. Tango is a product of that culture. In this context tango is not just a dance. It is a way by which that innocent human desire can be met with stylized sophistication and elegance under a set of rules designed to maintain the dignity and decency of the participants. (That is why milonga code is such an important part of tango.) The influence of tango to the world, I believe, is by far more cultural than artistic. Tango is now becoming a worldwide phenomenon for a reason. It meets a fundamental human need—fulfilling that secret yearning between men and women.
But that aspect of tango is still new to Americans, as evidenced by the way we embrace tango. We dance tango as but another ballroom dance. We are not intimately engaged to each other in the dance. Many of us still shy away from close embrace and prefer to use open embrace instead, which, although rarely seen in Buenos Aires, is the dominant style in American tango scene. Cabeceo and milonga codes are not taught and practiced at most milongas in the U.S. The general culture and atmosphere in our tango community is still more individualistic, competitive and even hostile than intimate, cooperative and friendly. Those who have been in Buenos Aires know what I compare with.
Posted by Paul Yang