Universal Tango

23rd November 2009

"My idea, and that of Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas as well, was always that the tango needed to be popular in the world. Obviously it is born from one country and has its origins, but it needs to be universal. It cannot belong only to Buenos Aires. There is no way to prevent this expansion from happening, as every day more and more people are dancing tango in every part of the world." ~ Mariano "Chicho" Frumboli


What does "Universal Tango" mean?

There are some purists who will insist that "Argentine Tango" is pretty much exclusively the dance as danced in Buenos Aires, to traditional tango music, and with the full set of codigos (Tango codes) that accompany that scene.

To these people, anything done elsewhere, anything done to a different style, or anything where the codes are different, is not "Argentine Tango".

They may be right - at least, from a certain point of view. Does it matter?

An aside: "Argentine comfort blanket"

Personally, I think one reason we in the UK say "Argentine Tango" rather than "Tango" is to distinguish it from "Ballroom Tango". Ballroom Tango, unfortunately, has a stereotyped and unappealing image - think "roses in the teeth", and you get the picture.

So we say "No, it's Argentine Tango" as a defense mechanism against the Roses Image. "Argentine" gives it a feel of authenticity; it's our comfort blanket.

I think it's reasonable to say that the Argentine Tango scene in the UK has evolved and grown in the past 10 years or so, and that the profile of AT has risen helped by appearances on Strictly Come Dancing, and exponents such as Vincent and Flavia.

Even in the short few years I've been doing it, I've seen new venues open, and I've seen a willingness to participate and a greater curiosity from people involved in the general dance scene. So it's possible that, at some point, we can drop our comfort blanket of "Argentine" and simply go for "Tango".

But, anyway....

All tango is local

From reading various discussion forums, articles and blogs, it's clear that there are wildly different approaches to "tango" throughout the world.

Firstly, there are actual "proper" tango variations - for example, "Finnish Tango" (sometimes described as "Tango to slit your throat to").

But more commonly, there are different ways to interpret what is still called "Argentine Tango". There are certain points of view, that vary between countries. For example, I think it's reasonable to say that in the UK, the cabaceo is not universally used, nor is it a Mortal Sin to verbally ask a woman to dance.

As another example, from what I've seen of Dutch / German teachers, there's more of a "consensus" approach to teaching than in the UK; pupils are encouraged to think, to interact, and to workshop on their own.

(Yes, I am pidgeon-holing whole groups of foreigners into simplistic stereotyped models. But what do you expect - I'm British!)

Clearly national culture has an influence on how Tango is both taught and danced.

For that matter, Tango varies a lot between teachers and venues also, even in the same country, even in the same city. For example, go to Carablanca in Central London on a Friday night, then walk 5 minutes to Negracha's - the vibe is totally different between the two venues.

What's in a name?

So does it matter? If we want to call what we dance something like "EuroTango", why not?

Well, let's look at another global partner dance: salsa.

Salsa styles vary enormously in regions and in nations; L.A., New York, Columbian, Cuban style and so on. There are also clear cultural and dance differences between salsa venues.

But despite these differences, few people claim that you have to be in (say) Cuba, or dance (say) cross-body, to dance Real Salsa. Maybe that's because salsa itself is an artificial dance, without a clearly-defined "home land" to give weight to such claims. But however it happens, the salsa world seems to accept that these different styles all fit under the grand salsa umbrella.

So it's quite possible for a dance to have variants, yet still be accepted as the same dance.

It's all tango

To me, there are so many points of overlap between tango, that the differences fade into triviality in comparison.

We all agree how to lead and follow a step. We all agree that we should respect our dance partners. We all agree that we should respect the other couples on the floor. We all agree on the line of dance. We all agree that the bandoneon is a Thing Of Evil... OK, maybe that last one's just me...

But in the end, if you're dancing to Di Sarli in close embrace and moving in harmony with your partner, the music, and the floor, then you're dancing Argentine Tango.

What else could you be doing?

- David Bailey, 23rd November 2009

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