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.

June 17, 2010

The Alienation of Tango

There is no other dance that is as self-destructive as tango. Unlike other dances, tango music allows free interpretations so dancers may treat it at their will. Also unlike other dances, the steps of tango do not have fixed configurations so dancers are free to improvise and create. This rather untrammeled nature of tango induces dramatic changes to the dance at times like this when free-spirited foreigners pour in, bringing in too many foreign influences to the dance.

Whatever things people do, there are always some who tend to cross the line. Tango is without exception. We humans seek freedom, yet unrestrained freedom defeats itself. Our forefathers understood the danger of this human tendency, which is why they created a political system of checks and balance and the rule of law. Tango outside of Argentina, however, is still an uncharted water where people can do whatever they please at their free will. They replace tango embrace with an open dance hold, supersede tango music with alternative tunes, reassign gender roles, and bring in non-tango elements such as underarm turns, high kicks and body lifts into the dance. Now you go to the milongas in the US, you often hear exotic music of foreign lands and see rogues of all kinds dancing wildly. It is still called tango, but the essence of the dance has been changed. There is nothing resemble the tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

Tango is a free dance, but it is not a "you can do whatever you want" dance. It has its characteristics. For example, it is a close-embrace dance, breaking the embrace and drifting the partner apart is not tango. (See The Fourteenth Pitfall of a Tanguera.) Tango is an intimate dance. It lies in the feelings stirred by the music. In fact, tango is more about feelings than steps. No matter how many new steps people try to create, without feelings it is not tango. (See Tango Is a Feeling.) Tango is a macho dance. It is danced by the opposite sexes to allow both masculinity and femininity to glitter in each other's company. (See The Gender Expression in Tango.) The man is the leader who plots the dance and shines the woman. The woman is the follower who surrenders to the man, synchronizes her movements to his and beautifies the dance. Refusing to surrender, switching gender roles and forming same-sex partnership are against tango. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) Tango is danced to the music specifically created for the dance. Foreigners often don't know that the magic of tango lies in its music, which connects the dancers, lifts their spirit, stirs up their emotions, synchronizes their movements and inspires their creativity. Changing tango music to non-tango tunes, the dance ceases to be tango. (See The Signature of Tango.)

No one can stop the reform of a dance that invites free expression, I suppose. Only time can tell which reforms will last. Tango has gone through the same trial for one hundred and fifty years. Whatever changes people attempt to bring in today must have been tried by others before. Most of those changes did not stay. The current form of tango, including its music, embrace, steps and protocols as being practiced in Buenos Aires, is the survivor of the fitness among zillions of attempts to alter the dance along its history. Tango will continue to evolve, of course, but its evolution will be in the same direction that makes it tango. Any attempt to change tango to a non-tango dance or hybrid will fail. If not so, tango would have stopped being the tango danced in Buenos Aires today long ago.


  1. Very well said! I couldn't agree more.
    Hear, hear!!!

  2. What an incredibly written post!! Thank you for this.

  3. Thanks for the voice!!!

  4. Very interesting post. Though I can't agree with your statement:Foreigners often do not know that the magic of tango is in its music, which connects the dancers, stirs up their emotions, synchronizes their movements, and inspires their creativities. I'm Foreign on many levels and it was the music that drew me to Tango. And don't forget the many foreigners who live in Argentina, a country of immigrants. There are some foreigners that do feel the music and dance accordingly. I don't necessarily think it is the foreign element that is changing Tango. I think it is the younger dancers and teachers, many coming from Buenos Aires and taking their nuevo ideas abroad.

    We have to be careful though that Tango doesn't become regulated. That's how ballroom dancing evolved!

  5. tango dancing first started between men, but other than the same sex dancing being unacceptable, I agree entirely with the post!

  6. I have enjoyed reading your other thoughts so much, that I am very sad to read about your view of gender roles in tango. In my view, tango, as with any art, is a subjective and living thing. The ability to reassign roles to me is a progression. It affirms that the art can and does live and breathe in our contemporary world, which, for most of us anyway, rejects misogyny, rejects homophobia, and encourages empathy. The art will continue to be shaped by those who choose it and I agree completely that there is so much that can only be considered bastardization. But the exchanging of gender roles, the influence of LGBT, this represents the beauty of the art, not at all some kind of a decay. It shows that it lives in our time of changing gender roles and progress in human rights and understanding. And, in wonderful irony, reflects tango revisiting its roots.

  7. Dear Anonymous, I appreciate your thoughtfulness and believe that your comment deserves a serious response. Please go to http://yangningyuan.blogspot.com/2013/11/tango-and-relationship-between-opposite.html to read my answer.