Naming. Renaming. Breaking the Fairy Tale.

I had a wonderful conversation this weekend with some students about Tango, of course! The conversation zigzagged in and out and around  etiquette, milongas, teachers, community. But one topic seemed to have struck a chord with me this week. At one point there was a comparison of tango and its milonga (the social dancing space) to a fairy tale within a video game.Cinderella

I love the idea of a fairy tale as I know many of my dreams growing up were invaded with prince charming  and wondered if I would ever live one! But I also reflected on the many aspects of tango as being like a fairy tale. Our shoe fetishes always remind me of Cinderella and her Prince Charming. Some tango couples I think help promote this idea of falling in love and dancing off into the sunset, happily. But it seemed that this particular student saw the fairy tale similarly but with another layer to it: the rules of a video game!

I am not a gamer so I have had very little experience with this aspect of our culture but this idea that in order for the fairy tale to come alive a set of rules need to be applied was appealing to me. I don’t plan to set out on a true analysis of tango and video games in this blog, I’ll leave that to one of my ASU student’s final project, but I want to comment on the idea of the structure of the dance that is what helps to make it magical.

Certain things need to happen or need to be in place for the fairy tale to come life.
For the follower: dressing up, wearing beautiful shoes, smelling good, hair, nails, makeup – or whatever it is that makes a follower feel feminine.
For the leader, and not being one, I can only imagine it is very similar (minus the makeup) but also includes whatever makes the leader feel confident and “masculine”, if you will.
The milonga is set up as an environment to envelop these beautifully dressed people. But without the structure of the music and the etiquette it could just be a bunch of beautiful people hanging out, maybe like in a bar in NYC. So we add the music; organized in tandas, with cortinas, playing romantic, playful music of the Golden Age of Argentine Tango, we add the infamous cabaceo, and get those beautifully clad dancers moving in a line of dance, doing movement that we associate with Argentine tango and we start to have a milonga.

I do know that in a video game you have to play by the rules otherwise, well, you die, or you don’t amass points to get to your next level.

The rules and the structure in Tango help to keep the culture alive and I think it’s the Tango culture that is so appealing to people. We are Milonga en Buenos Airesstill attracted to beauty, to connection, to the possibility of falling in love forever or for 3 minutes. We are attracted to being held and to hold someone close. And yet some people who see the dance and experience it are drawn to change it or perhaps to make it “more fun” or to make it work for them in some way. I hear students often complain that it’s “too slow”.

This is often what happens to dances over time. A dance form leaves its place of origin, is acquired by a new place, a new culture and often is highly influenced by that new culture that chooses to dance it. And this is also what happens within communities: you have divisions based on “traditionalists” and those who choose to do something else or to change “the rules”.

I like to believe that when this happens it is a sign of growth within a community. More people are being exposed and more people want to try it regardless of their understanding of a dance’s “origins”. Education becomes important. I was recently amazed or maybe it was more like shocked that in 1 of my university classes on dance and culture a student claimed that belly dancing originated in Colombia. (Thanks to media and videos today, Shakira has helped out dance and culture. Sarcasm intended.) I digress – Back to tango…..

Argentine Tango as a social dance is just that and it does come with a set of rules that help to keep the fairy tale of tango magic alive. Maybe it’s time for renaming or maybe it’s long overdue that if you are not going to have the rules than change the name of the event. We have heard for many years now, probably since I started tango, the terms alternative tossed about or mixtures of milonga and practica: practilonga. But I think the minute we use the word milonga we are expecting a certain setting, a certain milieu, a particular ambience with certain codes. So if you get rid of the rules, the etiquette, and you dance tango what is it called?

Sounds like a riddle….

And lastly, I know that people in a community start to feel like they have to choose where they go or what event they are seen at as that might influence how they are perceived or labeled. I know for me, as a tango teaching artist, that I often too feel torn because I know that I want people to dance and yet, I am truly invested in the traditions and the magic that draws people to the Argentine Tango.