Thursday, 30 August 2012

Tango (A Journey into.. part 1)


It is a fact rarely recognised but frequently mentioned that I think I can do the tango. I took some lessons a few years ago, and learnt the basic moves. My critics will argue that I also used to take ballet classes and, after a few drinks, will demonstrate the basic five positions: if that doesn't make me a ballet dancer, why do I think that knowing the outline of a simple tango makes me capable of taking to the milonga? They add that there was a special football made for the 1978 World Cup, probably the one that Gemmill used to score that goal. It's called tango, but it doesn't pretend that it has a bunch of slick, Argentinian style moves.

Apart from the health benefits - some research has suggested that it staves off Parkinson's Disease - I was fascinated by the tango's gender politics. It appears pretty old school, and I had all sorts of problems, being a feminist man, with leading the female. But it also has a history of being danced by two men, and there has been queer tango movements. These mix up the roles, and have men following, women leading, same sex couples, the lot. Add to that that the male dancer is given permission to look cool and imperious, while knocking out the odd flash solo.

I can't do it, but I like the idea it conjures when I claim it.

Tango also seems to have emerged from the confluence of African and European dance: it has been a street dance of dubious reputation, and a foundation for ballet choreography. There was even a time, in Argentina under the dictatorship, that it became a symbol of revolution. Apparently, the all male practice sessions were banned because they countered as an illegal gathering. So, it's a bit like raving then. And I used to do that, too.

Of course, I grew up when Come Dancing featured a great deal of tango. No disrespect to the couples on the show, but I hate that ballroom nonsense. I am Argentinian tango all the way. I like the heritage, I like the cool associations, I like the underground scene that exists in Glasgow, Edinburgh, on-line and around the world.


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