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.

November 3, 2012

Tango and Gender Equality

There are people who actually think that the traditional tango of Argentina is politically incorrect, and the open-embrace tango of Europe and North America is the distilled and sanitized version of tango that meets the requirements of the modern age. A book I read recently expressed the following opinion: 

“In Europe, the idea seems to be that harmony in dance is arrived at by mutual consent and that men and women are equal partners. I get the distinct impression, however, that even today, in Buenos Aires, the idea is that the man is in complete control; every action has its lead and the progress of the dance is a series of well-established consequences… A recent article from a tango web site in Argentina touched on the relationship between the man and the woman. It used the phrase ‘The woman’s attitude of surrender’… I am not at all sure this notion would find much acceptability with the women I dance with. I can see how it might be interesting to look at the undoubtedly macho flavour in history of tango and perhaps derive some ideas from it for our dance-play today. I am less happy to accept this idea as the essential feeling of tango in the modern world. I am more attracted to the idea that tango evolved out of a lucky fusion of multiple cultures, mostly European in origin. It seems that it received a transfusion of refinement in Paris in the 1920s, and it looks to me as if it is benefiting today from another shot in the arm all over Europe. Tango is growing apace here and is being distilled to meet the requirements of today’s relationships. I believe it may be losing its narrow, even parochial feel and is becoming truly international in the hands of a new and more cohesive European people. We are not frustrated, homesick, stressed Europeans, seeking love miles from home with too few women to share. We are a new breed in a new world. Though the passions we bring as individuals to the dance will be the same basic feelings all men and women have shared since the beginning of time, the intensity must be different, and the balance between the sexes has altered most of all. It may also be the case that our societies in Europe are evolving at a different pace from that of Latin America, though not, I suspect, in a different direction. In the Europe today women have immense power, status and influence and they express their needs very clearly. The modern European woman is unlikely to respond too positively to macho posturing… It seems women like their men to be positive but they also want finesse and thoughtfulness. Women hate to be bullied. They prefer to be invited and to feel that they are in full control to accept, or decline, as they feel. Accepting an invitation is not ‘surrender'... When you think about tango being danced way back at the beginning of the 20th century by earthy men in bordellos, hungry for a woman’s touch, closeness between a man and a woman was the business they were in. It was in the ‘sanitising’ of tango for the more genteel public and the wider world audience that the open embrace evolved.”

The author’s attitude of superiority toward something he apparently has little understanding is absurd. The traditional tango is not bullying. Neither is the open embrace tango all genteel. To suggest that people who dance in close embrace are somewhat dirty and less civilized than those who dance in open embrace is ridiculous and hypocritical.

What concerns me most, however, is his view on gender equality. I am afraid it could indeed reflect the prejudice against the traditional tango and the attempt to change tango to a gender-neutral dance in Europe and North America. We fight for the rights of those who are uneasy with their sex orientations, and we should, because they are human beings, too. But most of us do not have problems with our own gender. Most men that I know are happy with their manhood and masculinity, and they behave, function and dance like men. Most women that I know are happy with their womanhood and femininity, and they behave, function and dance like women. Men and women are equal and attractive to each other because of who they are. They need, support, appreciate, complement and complete each other. Women bear and nurse offspring. Men protect and provide for them. They play different roles in life and dance, which nobody, certainly not modern men and women, should feel ashamed of. True modern people do not think that women must act like men in order to be equal with men. They can be women, and still equal with men. True modern people believe that the relationship between men and women is love-based and not power-based. They do not regard decent intimacy between the opposite sexes as filthy, and they are not chauvinistic, especially toward a people whose art they are deeply indebted to, and whose culture they may not yet fully comprehend.

As I said in another post, “The idea of tango is to welcome another person into your personal space, to accept that person, to surrender, to let go your ego, to listen to the inner voice and feelings of that person, to be considerate, cooperative, yielding and accommodating, to enjoy the intimacy, to be one with that person, and to give comfort, pleasure and contentment to him/her. It is a different idea from what our culture stands for, that is, individualism, independence, self-interests and aggression.” (See The Art of Love.) Contrary to what the author thinks, the surrender in tango is mutual. It is in surrender that we stop to compete and start to adapt. Tango becomes popular in the modern world because it has the power to sublimate people. It completes us by allowing us to be one with each other in an intimate relationship void of judgmental criticisms of the last century. Tango is the opposite of hypocrisy. In tango we become better, healthier, more natural, authentic, caring, cooperative and accommodating men and women. Those who prefer political correctness to decent humanity, gender neutralization to gender expression, power struggle to love, segregation to integration, distance to intimacy, egoism to humility and individuality to partnership live in the shadow of the past. They are evolving at a different pace from that of Latin America, and not in the same direction as the author thought. They certainly do not represent the future of tango.


  1. Intimacy is scary to many people. Tango puts them in that situation, so they avoid it by dancing separated. That's not tango.

    We need to connect and stop worrying about being in control. I prefer a love-based, not a power-based, relationship.

    What is the book and author that you quoted?

  2. Thanks, Janis!

    Many people do not see tango as a culture. To truly appreciate tango, one needs to appreciate its culture. That appreciation is often missing here.

    A Passion for Tango, by David Turner.

  3. David Turner read many fairy tales that used to be part of a tango that nobody knows what it was, when it was, who were doing it.
    As an author he ignores the overwhelming evidence that exists today, based on solid research and profusely documented, that shoots down every single fairy tale he uses as the basis of his superior attitude to invent something that really lives in his mind.

    The tango everybody dances today has its roots in the late 1930's when a new generation of dancers took to the dance floors inspired by the rhythm of Juan D'Arienzo, followed and emulated by every orchestra that succeeded during the golden years.

    The structured of the dance was based in the full participation of the woman from the incorporation of giros, and the concept of the women dancing around the man and the man dancing around the floor.

    The resulting cultural and economic impact favored the onset of the golden years of tango. Radio stations competed fiercely to attract audiences by featuring the best tango orchestras. Large social clubs contributed to the tango euphoria by opening their huge dance floors to tango dancers. Thousands of couples demanded more and better music for dancing, and scores of orches- tras obliged at cabarets, nightclubs, cafes, sports clubs, and recording studios and on the airwaves all over the country.

    In the 1940s World War II distracted the U.S. entertainment industry from promoting their music abroad. In that vacuum, as Argentina remained neutral, the 1940s unleashed a period of glory for the tango and its music. These golden years were the pivotal time in history when the tango dance, the music, and the poetry reached every corner of the city of Buenos Aires, traveled across the interior of Argentina, and crossed the borders into most of Latin America. There was very little influence from the rest of the world, which was preoccupied with the war. As a result, the art form was kept in a rare state of purity and authenticity. The dramatic changes in the music, the dance, and the poetry of the tango once again matched the structural and social changes of the city of Buenos Aires.

    The urban demographic of the 1900s, with five men to each woman, had long disappeared. A new generation of poets of the tango displayed in their lyrics an entirely new body of work that acutely reflected the trans- formations in ethics, anguishes, and hopes prevalent not just in Argentina but also worldwide.

    In remarkable contrast to the generation of immigrants that descended from the planks of ocean-crossing vessels in the 1870s, the young generation that ruled the tango in the 1940s came from nearby provinces such as Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Santa Fé. They immigrated to the capital city of Buenos Aires, bringing along a meticulous musical education.

    Thank for bringing up the topic for discussion.

  4. The perspective of World War II and its impact on tango in Argentina as well as on a global scale is an important one, which explains why tango "was kept in a rare state of purity and authenticity" that was uniquely Argentine without much outside influence in the 1940s. Thank you for shearing!