Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of connection, love, unity, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

December 18, 2011

Highbrowism and Populism in Tango

Popular arts are arts suited to the tastes, needs, educational levels etc. of the ordinary people. Highbrow arts are those considered to be of highly cultivated tastes and skills superior to that of the common people. A highbrow song finds few singers, because its range and technique are beyond the reach of most people. A pop song, on the other hand, is less in range and technique; therefore, everyone can sing it.

The notion that complicated arts are superior to simple arts, however, is misleading. A photograph can be more tasteful than an oil painting. A simple movement can be more beautiful than an intricate figure. A pop song can be more appealing than an opera song, though it is easier to sing. Very often things are better when they are simpler and easier, because simplicity and easiness reflect elegance. Empty space brings design to a painting. Pause creates a mood in the dance. Silence can express more. Too much could be worse than not enough. A master performs his art with great ease. Simple doesn't mean artistically inferior. Easy doesn't mean less skillful. On the contrary, it takes great sophistication to achieve simplicity and easiness. Those who can make arts simple and easy often are better artists than those who can't. (See Simple Is Beautiful.)

This is so also because arts, especially popular arts, are for common people. What’s the value of a pop song if it is beyond the reach of most people? What’s the value of a social dance if only few can dance it? Argentine tango is a social dance. It was created by gouchos, sailors, immigrant workers and street women. It is still a grassroots dance in Argentina today. Most people who dance tango are ordinary people. They love tango because tango is a simple and easy dance that meets their need for connection and affinity with others. Those who regard themselves above the crowd try to make tango increasingly complicated and difficult. I don’t think that effort serves tango well. Tango will not cease to improve, of course, but changing it to a highbrow dance like ballet is heading the wrong direction, in my opinion. The vitality of tango is in its sociability and popularity without which tango will become a castle in the air.

Schopenhauer's famous words "Man is either vulgar or lonely" contains different connotations. You may read it as to be yourself and not follow the crowd. You may read it as not to be so aloof as to become a loner. You may read it as to suit both refined and popular tastes and avoid extremism. As far as tango is concerned, I believe the last take is the most wise because, as a Chinese saying goes, "Water too clear has no fish, man too high standard has no follower." If you are too elitist, there will be few partners for you. Schopenhauer's words, therefore, can be read as a warning.


  1. I am sorry, however I must respectfully disagree with your analysis. Yes, tango is a social dance, however it does have basic rules and technique that is aimed at human physiology, so as to enable competent dancing and use of steps. You are right that one may spend more or less time on technique, however tango, and all other dancing as well, social or not, comes down to body awareness and body conditioning. The technique that exists is not for show or arbitrary; it is there by necessity, to enable clean movement and to reduce risks of injury.

    As a social dancer myself, I can attest to the fact that one does not need to spend countless hours to improve one's dancing; a few hours of hard work and attention on the body a week, plus some youtube videos as guides, have done much for my dancing.

    The problem is a matter of the ecosystem; teachers need to get paid, and teaching steps instead of technique is the general way to do this. Add to the fact that most dancers are simply unaware of how tango works holistically and conceptually, since of course its a new environment for them, and this is a recipe for disaster as far as social dancing is concerned.

    I agree that tango should not be hijacked and made an inherent property of caste, as opera and much of classical music has become unfortunately, however it strikes me that you are going to the other extreme and excusing deficiencies in dancing as reflecting the popular will, rather than it being a failure of the tango ecosystem.

    P.S By all means correct any misconceptions I have with your OP.

    1. Thank you for your wonderful complement. I totally agree with you.