BUENOS AIRES DISPATCH/ New York Times/ October 2019
‘A Caricature of the Patriarchy’: Argentine Feminists Remake Tango
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.
Is it important and progressive to allow, even encourage, non-gender-differentiated tango?
Certainly people should have the freedom to choose how they dance and with whom. Presumably, the lead does not need to belong to the male; tango can also be danced perfectly well same sex.
Or can it?
The fact that this warrants discussion underscores some of the distinctive challenges that role-reversal represents for Tango which are not issues in most other partner dances.
The source for this strong genderalization of the lead and follow roles can be found in Tango’s cultural roots. The Tango is a tradition-rich dance that germinated in a very unique social environment where, in some barridas, (e.g., La Boca the port area of Buenos Aires), men outnumbered women 10:1 (we all know the story). This social deficit was a core impetus in the evolution of the dance, in which the very structure of the embrace and steps encapsulated this social, sexual tension.
The role of lead and follow was conceptualized in the classical models of male and female socialization: The man as lead is responsible for initiating the step, defining limits or boundaries and providing structure and support throughout. The qualities of decision, strength, grounding are paramount. The woman as follow is responsive to her partner’s lead and intuits rather than anticipates or initiates, the sequence. When time and space allow, she is afforded the opportunity to embellish or add adornments which add to the beauty, delicacy and sensuality of the step.
But times have changed.
We are no longer in the early 20 Century in Buenos Aires. Women can take leadership and men can be artistic and sensual. Is there any value in continuing to keep the steps and roles genderalized?
Although the #Metoo headlines have receded from the front pages of our fickle media culture nonetheless, the issues of sexual abuse and power imbalance continue to destabilize our society. There remains a huge learning deficit for men in relating to the opposite sex in a respectful, supportive and sensitive manner.
My personal experience is that Tango continues to present an exquisite practice of healing the rifts between masculine and feminine. My memoir, From Trauma to Tango: dancing through the shadows, relates my personal journey of healing which continues to bring me back onto the dance floor. Look it up on amazon.com.
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