Same Sex Tango

Check out this very intriguing insight into Tango cultural shifts in Buenos Aires, published in the New York Times. And then explore my reflections following.

BUENOS AIRES DISPATCH/ New York Times/ October 5, 2019

‘A Caricature of the Patriarchy’: Argentine Feminists Remake Tango, By Ernesto Londoño

A group of activists is trying to make tango less dogmatic about traditional gender roles, and more assertive about rooting out sexual harassment and assault.

Feminism Comes to Tango.

Fabulous! It is happening. Gender equality is erupting even on the dance floor.

Men are being invited (forced?) to abandon sexist behaviours and share the power. This has never been an issue in most partner dances, as women are often required to drag their partner onto the dance floor in a sort of public humiliation ritual. Let’s face it. In the land of the Frozen North, dance is not a natural venue for men to display their masculinity. Sports, now that works. Dance?? (There are reasons for this aversion of course, which I have referenced in recent blogs.)

Traditional Male/ Female Roles

The exception has always been the Tango, where traditionally, men lead and women follow. Because of the Tango’s complex, asymmetrical dance structure, the roles of lead and follow are very distinctive: it takes a lot of skill and training to master either and certainly more so both. Men and women typically get plugged into their traditional spots from the get-go and stay put. 

The Numbers Game

This can restrict dance opportunities as there can be an unequal number of men to women on any given night, leaving some (usually women) to sit on the sidelines.  I remember the pathetic sight of elegantly adorned women strung out along the marbled walls of the Confiteria Ideal (no longer a public dance venue, unfortunately), with legs crossed, seductively demure, waiting for an inviting glance (cabeceo) from an available man across the dance floor. There were certainly many women who sat out the entire milonga without ever dancing! How would that have felt at the end of the day? (*Nonetheless the practice of cabeceo continues to be justified - even celebrated, as a necessary defense for the fragile male ego. *Insert gag reflex here.)

Same Sex Milongas

As the above New York Times article references, all of these practices are being challenged. In same sex milongas women have the opportunity to lead and men to follow. By teaching either role to both sexes, the numbers imbalance on the dance floor is instantly resolved. But even more importantly, both men and women are given the opportunity to learn the relational dynamics ensconced within the divergent roles.  Men, as follows, are permitted to sink into a supportive embrace and required to listen to and respond intuitively to their partner’s lead, of either sex.  Where else does a man get that opportunity? 

Women, on the other hand, get the privilege to direct the dance and provide support and structure to their partner. This is definitely a shift in the power dynamic. How special is that?

A New Vision

All of this de-sex-itizing of traditional roles and the learning of alternate patterns for relating offers to society as well as the individual, a unique and powerful experience of intimacy and connection. Tango traditionally has cultivated or at least tolerated, sexist attitudes and power imbalances (all favouring men of course). A re-envisioned Tango can present a window to a more balanced and creative expression of same-sex and hetero-sexual relating. 

Remember: Please like, share and or comment. (I get lonely otherwise).

Thanks to Anne Bisonnette, a Tango Cafe regular, for bringing this article to my attention.

Photo credit: web upload. I typically will use my own photos, often from our Monday Tango Cafe. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any photos applicable to this theme. Ummm.