The reason we dance tango has something to do with the gloomy side of life. Some people say they dance tango because they like the music—but they can listen to the music at home. Some say they like the movements—but they can move their body in acrobats as well. Some say they like the unrestrained form of tango—but martial arts may give them the same satisfaction. Some say tango is artistically challenging—but ballet raises that standard even higher. If these were the reason people dance tango, then there would not be tango, because the alternatives are many.
Tango triumphs for a unique reason. While most dances are created to celebrate life, tango serves a different purpose. It is created by the less fortunate to shelter their sorrows. They do not come to the milonga to play peacocks, but to expose their vulnerability and seek comfort, to dance the loneliness, homesickness, nostalgia, and grief in them, to find a shoulder to rely on, to take refuge for their wounds, to quench their thirst for love, and to touch and be touched by another human being. These are the ordinary people, poor people, immigrants, construction workers, waiters, waitresses, shop assistants, maids, and taxi drivers. They may not be splendid in their appearance, but you feel it when you dance with them—their embrace is worm and affectionate, their heart is sensitive and sympathetic, their feeling is deep and sincere, their movement is raw and infectious, and their dance is passionate and sentimental. Tango is their refuge. The intimate, soulful, sensual and comforting nature of tango reflects and serves their deep, inward, human needs. This is the tango still danced in the milongas of less affluent societies, such as Argentina and Uruguay.
Not all people share these needs, of course. Rich people, successful people, arrogant people, and shallow people, for instance, like the beauty of tango but don’t embrace its purpose. Instead, they use tango to celebrate their life, to glorify their success, to show off their style, to display their ego, and to boast their superiority. The traditional tango is too modest for them, so they make changes—opening up the embrace, inventing fancy steps, adding ostentatious tricks, using exotic music, etc. As a result, they created a peacocky version of tango. It looks flashy and feels empty. This kind of tango now is the fashion in affluent societies such as ours.
Tango has survived many challenges in the past. It will survive this one as well, I believe, because needs, desires, yearnings, love, mutual dependency, loneliness, tenderness, sentimentalism and romanticism are an intrinsic part of human nature even among the toughest. The less fortunate people are particularly vulnerable, which is why they created tango. This may also explain why milongas are more crowded in bad times than in good times, why more women dance tango than men, and why the revival of tango happens now when there are more travelers and immigrants in the world than ever before. Tango will always be the dance of the lonely, homesick, nostalgic, needy, vulnerable, sentimental and romantic. The fortunate people need tango, too, if they are not blind by their success and arrogance. After all, we are human, and tango is for all who search inward for their humanity.