16 mar 2008

Late Shift last night. Was pleasantly surprised to find that a bunch of my tango colleagues had come together to play a few songs for us. It's great to see that so many of my friends have talents beyond the dance. I'm so impressed with the people I know and meet in tango. There is something about the dance and the culture that seems to attract people who are highly intelligent, well-educated, and unusually creative and artistically inclined. I think I mentioned in a previous post how I noted that so many dancers have degrees and/or jobs in demanding fields (engineering, law, medicine, etc.) Now I'm seeing that plenty of them have also devoted a lot of energy in the humanities as well. I find it pretty humbling.

The performances were good; a little rough around the edges, perhaps a bit cautious, and there were some sound problems (notably with the keyboard) but overall with a good balance and togetherness and a solid rhythmic structure for dancing. On a few of the tunes they had the guest vocalist Nico from Córdoba (who also was a part of the Trio Garufa celebration last week) who is a *fantastic* singer but will be going back home shortly :(

The venue was a lot livelier than last week and I managed to get a few very nice dances in, although not enough for me to get completely warmed up. Felt stiff and my posture was a bit off, just slightly too forward with my legs than I'd like, but it wasn't too much of a hindrance. Missed dancing with a few people I would have like to have shared a tanda with, I suppose that's one of the risks of showing up later (I arrived a little before 1). But also, for various reasons I just have an aversion to dancing to live music, and since a significant portion of the evening was devoted to that it meant a lot of time away from the floor for me.


Going along with the subject of highly educated and well-trained people in tango, I am once again struck by the cultural differences in tango regarding Argentina and the rest of the world. Not to say that only uneducated people dance in Argentina, or that only white collar folks dance outside of it. But I feel that for those of us who are from the US, or Europe, or other "First World" nations who come to tango, it is really a privilege. First off, tango is not cheap. Lessons, milongas, shoes, music, the cost of travel--these things cost money. But perhaps more telling, we come to tango because we have gained access to it from one way or another, generally from an avenue afforded to a particular subset of cognoscenti. I can't speak for other countries, but here in the states there is virtually no value or emphasis given to any culture beyond pop culture, and especially regarding foreign culture. Only those who have been given a window to other cultures and have had a means and encouragement to nurture that interest develop a taste for it at all. And for anyone who has been fortunate enough to live in this kind of environment, it usually means they have disposable income and time. People who have been given the standard public school education, who are struggling to make ends meet, who work menial jobs--possibly several--with no spare time, who have never traveled or had much ambition or encouragement to travel, to try new things... these are generally not people you would find in tango here, or even who would know what it is. (El Pulpo once told me of a guy he met at a bar in the Midwest who, upon hearing what he did for a living, replied, "Tango? What's that?")

In contrast, for Argentines tango is such a big part of the national identity that it's not something that needs to be sought out. Everybody knows about it. And as such, almost anybody can pursue it. Also, from what I'm told, in Argentina there is a lot of charity in the community for the locals. Some places have different covers for locals and tourists, and I've heard at least one organizer who said he would routinely allow about half of the people who showed up at his milonga free entrance because they couldn't pay that week.

I had one experience that I feel really opened my eyes to this dichotomy. It was my second trip to BsAs which was with a relatively large tour group, somewhere in the number of 30 to 40 people. Many, if not most, of these people were tango newbies, folks who had been dancing for a year or less. One of the first items on the itinerary was to go shoe shopping. We inundated Flabella's and raided their inventory. They brought out their flashiest designs and we gobbled them up. It was almost like we were competing with one another as to who could buy the most and the fanciest pairs. Later on, we went to a milonga. It was then that I noticed that we were almost the only ones wearing new shoes. The locals had shoes that were well worn and beaten, oftentimes not even shoes specifically designed for tango. Yet they were the ones who were dancing with elegance, patience and emotion, following la ronda and respecting the floor, while some among our group stood out with their awkwardness, their ignorance of etiquette and general cluelessness. I really felt ashamed then, felt bad about flaunting these fancy shoes and having bought several pairs when the locals couldn't even afford one pair despite having obviously been a part of tango for a long time. I remember thinking, shoes mean nothing--they don't make you a better dancer or make you a tanguero just because they are on your feet.

And who was a part of that tour? Doctors, lawyers... Anybody who flipped burgers or mopped floors? Of course not. (Although to be honest, I'm probably not that far removed from that).

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