The Authentic Tanguero/a

Nearly every tango forum, blog and listserv seems to have a percentage of posts that read something like this:

- no one but Argentines can really dance tango the way it's supposed to be danced,
- Argentines are natural tango dancers/have natural musicality/naturally better posture etc etc and don't need classes.

Then there are the constant references to what the portenos/as do that we can never hope to understand...

Am I the only one who doesn't really care about not dancing like a portena? I don't want to be misundestood here - the way that tango is danced socially in the milongas of BsAs and Montevideo (why does no one seem to mention that this heritage is shared by Uruguay?) is the ideal I hold in my head. And I very much want to go to Buenos Aires (and Montevideo) and experience tango where it was born and where it flourishes still. But there are two fundamental ideals that are the core of tango heritage and experience that I think are getting lost with posts like those above:

1. "You dance who you are." (Nito Garcia). I will never be a portena. I will always be just who I am. Within that, I want to be the most capable follower I can be, but I will always be dancing like me, and not like a portena. The point of tango, I truly believe, is to dance your heart. Trying to constantly prove myself against an external ideal isn't what tango is about for me. You dance who you are, and that's the point. "Authentic tango" isn't dancing like an Argentine if you aren't Argentine - it's dancing your authentic self. (Which in no way means making up your own style of dance, claiming *that's* your authentic tango, and inflicting it on other people - but that's another post.)

2. "Tango is a feeling that is danced." (Cacho Dante) There are more than a few people that claim no one can truly "feel" authentic tango if they are not from Argentina (again, few people ever seem to mention Uruguay in those kinds of statements.) But tango songs speak to the human condition, of coping with isolation, loneliness, loss, grief, rejection, homesickness, heartache - the specific references and stories are about Argentina and Uruguay - but the emotions are basic human feelings.

Another helpful bit of information I've gotten from friends who live and dance in Buenos Aires, is that there are plenty of Portenos/as who have bad posture, poor musicality, lack of manners, and insist on step collecting and showing off. Of course the percentage is far smaller than in the US - but they do exist. Just like truly amazing, connected, musical dancers exist here that have never been to Buenos Aires or Montevideo.

I've also noticed that people who are most adamant about the "Authentic Argentine Tango Experience"(tm) - aren't Argentine themselves. *shrug* Seems to make it all the more silly to hold to that ideal.

Learn tango however you need to learn it. If you have a community filled with well attended milongas and practicas, and superior dancers willing to dance with less experienced dancers - then you might be able to go quite a long way without any/many classes. If you have few milongas, fewer practicas, few advanced dancers - or dancers willing to invest time and effort dancing with the less experienced ones - the classes may have to be the route to go. But no one should ever give the impression to someone willing to start this journey, that they won't ever be good enough if they:

- aren't Argentine,
- need to take classes,
- don't go to Buenos Aires and dance in the milongas (without the help of taxi dancers of course) to somehow prove themselves.

To be accepted as an adequate dancer in the milongas is one thing - it requires a minimum level of skill (depending on the milonga), and understanding of milonga culture and manners, etc etc. But I believe that the heart of tango, in its history and music, finds you where you are. It speaks to you in the voice you need at the moment, in whatever place you are in your life. Tango is the dance of the people - of all the people who hear the music.

The only people I have to please, whose expectations I care deeply about meeting - is the leader in front of me, and myself.

"I think those who say that you can’t tango if you are not Argentine are mistaken. Tango was an immigrant music... so it does not have a nationality. It’s only passport is feeling..” Carlos Gavito


Elizabeth Brinton said...

I agree Mari. Immigrants from all over created tango, and it has deep roots before/beyond Argentina. It is a place in the heart.
People who think that just haven't been paying attention.
That said, I learned things in Buenos Aires that I could absolutly don't believe I could have learned anywhere else. But they aren't things I could describe really. They don't make me a better dancer than some great dancers who have never been there.

Tango Therapist said...

Bravo. Well said. I would add one thing: Without Paris, tango, as a dance and music may have died out like the danzón has. Without New York, mambo (renamed "salsa") would never have become a world phenomenon either. Surely "authentic" tango was and is disputed from one barrio to another in Uruguay (oh, yeah, in Buenos Aires too). I use the "A" word too. But to me "authentic" belongs to the embrace, listening to the music, dancing only for one person (your partner). But that is not really truly "authentic" -- authentic tango would be going to a gas lamp brothel and dancing with a prostituta while a harmonica and guitar play in the background. That is what I am saving my money for, not two weeks with Marin County tango tourists in BsAs. (Only kidding about the gas lamp.)

Keno said...

I have been snubbed by Americans that spent time in Buenos Aires thinking they have danced Authentic Tango, and I have danced with follows that grew up in the milonga's and understand the dance and music better than anyone. Authentic Tango only happens when you become one with the music and the person you are dancing with. You feel the tango between two hearts, yours and the person you are dancing with. So to those Americans that snub me, you are still OK to believe what you want, I know when I dance Authentic Tango only you will know when you dance it too. Thanks Mari for a wonderful post.

Margo Romero said...

You know, this is a great post... it is an on-going debate I have with a friend... =)


Game Cat said...

Very nice post. Very good points.

What you said about the music:

"It speaks to you in the voice you need at the moment, in whatever place you are in your life." exactly how it found me. I first heard tango, played live, almost two decades ago. I can't remember the dancers on stage, but I can never forget the white-haired 60+ year old men pumping their instruments. Suddenly they were 20 year olds.

I didn't start dancing tango till 3 years ago, when I felt the music calling me again, when I needed it, from across the years, on the other side of the world. Something had awakened inside.

AmpsterTango said...

A lot of people have asked me where I learned to dance tango, and when (how long) I went to Bs. As. I told them that I learned to dance tango in Seattle, never have been, and don't have a desire to go to Bs. As. They look at me with astonishment.

My point being, there is no correlation between being there (Bs. As.) and being a competent tango dancer. IMHO, One can learn to tango well from a locally produced competent source/sources of education-- which, IMHO, can be the bigger challenge.