Tango and the gender question

Pedro Figari – El tango. Public Domain.

With the internationalization of tango, its slum
origins were forgotten and a strictly codified dance was exported with
clearly defined roles between man and woman. In the traditional milongas—the
venues where people in Argentina go to tango—women generally sit on
one side of the dance floor to show their potential dance partners that
they are available. The man invites the woman to dance with a head motion and
the women either accepts or rejects the proposal. So begins a dance in
which the man leads and the woman follows the marked steps, embellishing the
dance with several adornments.

In recent years, however, people have begun to
champion the so-called Queer Tangoqueer meaning “strange”, “different”, or even
“eccentric”. But since the word was traditionally used pejoratively against
people on particular gender and sexual grounds, it was eventually appropriated by the LGBTQ community. The Queer Tango therefore does not aim only to create spaces for the gay
community to express itself through tango, but it allows all people,
regardless of their sexuality, to explore themselves and go beyond social
gender norms. As the Buenos Aires Queer Tango blog explains:

“Queer Tango is a space for tango open to
everyone. A space for meeting, socializing, learning, and practicing that seeks
to explore different forms of communication between those who dance. The queer
tango does not presuppose the sexual orientation of its dancers, nor their
taste for occupying one role or another when dancing.”

[El Tango Queer] es un espacio de tango abierto a todas las personas. Un
lugar de encuentro, sociabilización, aprendizaje y práctica en el que se busca
explorar distintas formas de comunicación entre quienes bailan. El tango queer
no presupone la orientación sexual de los bailarines ni su gusto por ocupar un
rol u otro a la hora de bailar.

Although, at its inception, only men danced the tango, in the traditional milongas of today, same-sex partners have been victims of discrimination and have even been thrown out of the dance floor. In fact, the birth of
many “queer” milongas came as a response to these attacks.

In the video below, shared on YouTube by Edgardo
Tucu, you can watch two men interchanging the traditional roles at the 2015
Buenos Aires International Queer Tango Festival:

For many, the tango is a macho dance that
relegates women to a passive role. Nevertheless, in recent years with the
emergence of this new style of tango, the role of women has become more
participatory. In fact, many women enjoy the role of leading the dance. In
Queer Tango, women can lead or be led when dancing with a man or another woman.

In the video below, shared on YouTube by Tango
Queer, one woman leads while another follows the outlined steps:

Mariana Docampo, one of the pioneers of Queer
Tango in Buenos Aires, explains on her blog that
the main point of the movement is not exactly the subversion of roles, since
ultimately this is part of the tango's structure. The problem lies in its “fixation
and identity with the sex of the dancers” which can crystallize the deepest
social stereotypes:

“The tango is a popular dance and, just like any
other dance, it functions as a mirror of the society from which it
springs and in which it develops. In this case, it is the Buenos
Aires society. But the tango is also a dance with a strong sensuous
connotation. And so, this “mirror” reflects in more than one way how our
society views eroticism among its members: first, man-woman. Then, we could
say, active-passive.”

El tango es una danza popular, y como cualquier otra, funciona como espejo
de la sociedad de la cual surge y en la cual se desarrolla. En este caso, la
sociedad porteña. Pero el tango también es una danza de fuerte connotación
sensual. Y de ahí que lo que este “espejo” refleja no es sino la forma en que
nuestra sociedad concibe el erotismo entre sus integrantes: en primer lugar,
hombre-mujer. Luego, podríamos decir, activo-pasiva.

She goes on to say:

“This pairing notably simplifies the complex erotic
web that exists between individuals. And while it represents quite accurately an
identifiable majority in society, it also institutes an “admitted” way of
feeling, thus conditioning and censoring different ways. It is set as a model.
And everyone whose feeling is different remains outside this model.”

Este binomio simplifica notablemente la compleja red erótica que existe
entre los individuos. Y que si bien representa a una mayoría identificable en
la sociedad, instituye una forma de sentir “admitida”, condiciona y censura
formas de sentir diferentes. Se fija como modelo. Y afuera de este modelo
quedan tod@s aquell@s cuyo sentir es distinto.

Queer Tango has had to find its own niche
outside the traditional milongas. In the specific case of Buenos Aires,
there are different “queer” or “gay” milongas where the LGBTQ community
can dance without being discriminated. Queer Tango spaces are inclusive and
open to everyone. In the video below, shared by Narkotango, we can see a couple
exploring and changing their roles throughout the dance in one of the queer milongas
in the Argentine capital city:

This article was previously published by Global Voices.

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