Dancing Tango

Dancing Tango: Passionate Encounters in a Globalizing World

Kathy Davis
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1287j7t
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  • Book Info
    Dancing Tango
    Book Description:

    Argentinean tango is a global phenomenon. Since its origin among immigrants from the slums of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, it has crossed and re-crossed many borders.Yet, never before has tango been danced by so many people and in so many different places as today. Argentinean tango is more than a specific music and style of dancing. It is also a cultural imaginary which embodies intense passion, hyper-heterosexuality, and dangerous exoticism. In the wake of its latest revival, tango has become both a cultural symbol of Argentinean national identity and a transnational cultural space in which a modest, yet growing number of dancers from different parts of the globe meet on the dance floor.

    Through interviews and ethnographical research in Amsterdam and Buenos Aires, Kathy Davis shows why a dance from another era and another place appeals to men and women from different parts of the world and what happens to them as they become caught up in the tango salon culture. She shows how they negotiate the ambivalences, contradictions, and hierarchies of gender, sexuality, and global relations of power between North and South in which Argentinean tango is - and has always been - embroiled.

    Davis also explores her uneasiness about her own passion for a dance which - when seen through the lens of contemporary critical feminist and postcolonial theories - seems, at best, odd, and, at worst, disreputable and even a bit shameful. She uses the disjuncture between the incorrect pleasures and complicated politics of dancing tango as a resource for exploring the workings of passion as experience, as performance, and as cultural discourse. She concludes that dancing tango should be viewed less as a love/hate embrace with colonial overtones than a passionate encounter across many different borders between dancers who share a desire for difference and a taste of the 'elsewhere.'Dancing Tangois a vivid, intriguing account of an important global cultural phenomenon.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6291-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Dancing Argentinean tango¹ is a global phenomenon. Since its origin among immigrant workers living in the slums of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, it has crossed and re-crossed many borders. However, never before has tango been danced by so many people and in so many different places as it has today. In the wake of its latest revival, tango has become both a cultural symbol of Argentinean national identity and a transnational cultural space in which a modest yet growing number of dancers from different parts of the globe participate.

    Dancing tango enables a passionate encounter, in which two individuals join...

  5. 1 Salon Cultures
    (pp. 19-47)

    Dancing tango is both a social and a cultural phenomenon. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the tango salon—the place where people meet in order to dance tango. My first encounter with the culture and social practices of the tango salon took place in a well-known tango academy in Amsterdam. I had roped my initially hesitant husband into learning tango by giving him ten tango lessons as a Christmas present, and this was our first lesson. The instructor explained to a motley group of would-be dancers that we would not be learning the tango that we probably all...

  6. 2 Tango Passion
    (pp. 48-73)

    Probably the most famous tango scene in the history of film appeared inThe Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse(1921) when silent movie heart-throb Rudolph Valentino danced with darkly beautiful Beatrice Domínguez. The setting is a smoke-filled cabaret in the Boca quarter of Buenos Aires, full of leering, drunken men. He is dressed as agaucho,¹ thereby representing rough, macho masculinity, while she is exotically attired in an embroidered Spanish shawl with a carnation in her hair. The dance is highly stylized and overtly sexual, with lots of glides, entangled legs, and passionate bending and swaying. Valentino has “stolen” Domínguez...

  7. 3 Tango Trajectories
    (pp. 74-99)

    For anyone who wants to understand how dramatically tango can affect someone’s life, the 1996 Japanese filmShall We Dansu?is a perfect place to begin.¹ The film shows a successful but unhappy accountant, Mr. Sugiyama, who has a family and a house in the suburbs, looking out the window of a Tokyo commuter train one night as he is returning home from work and seeing a beautiful woman with a melancholy expression looking out the window of a dance studio. After much hesitation and many more times of watching the dancers through the lighted window as they move across...

  8. 4 Performing Femininity, Performing Masculinity
    (pp. 100-126)

    In 1992, Martin Brest’s Oscar-winning filmScent of a Womanwas released. In the film, a blind and cynical veteran (played by Al Pacino), who is planning to commit suicide after having one last fling in New York City, invites a beautiful young woman (played by Gabrielle Anwar), who is sitting alone in a posh restaurant, to dance tango. And what a tango it is: replete with passionate looks and flourishes, ending with her leg slithering seductively around his, and danced to an original Argentinean tango song played by anorchestra típica.¹ Erotic tension abounds, with Pacino seducing a reluctant...

  9. 5 Queering Tango
    (pp. 127-154)

    It was 2002 or 2003—I can’t remember exactly—and I was sitting in Plaza Bohemia, one of my favoritemilongasin Buenos Aires. The DJ was playing classical tango music from the Golden Age. The elderlymilonguerossat together at tables drinking beer while the single women were seated on the other side of the room, waiting to be invited. Gloria, the motherly hostess of the salon, warmly welcomed the guests, bringing them to their tables and making sure they felt at home. It was all very standard and business-as-usual, until suddenly two beautiful young men, Augusto Balizano and...

  10. 6 Transnational Encounters
    (pp. 155-182)

    In 1997, the British filmmaker Sally Potter’sThe Tango Lessonwas released.¹ In the film, Potter plays herself, showing how she becomes enamored of Argentinean tango. As an antidote to a crisis in her work (writer’s block with her latest film script), she sets off for Buenos Aires, where she becomes immersed in the tango scene, taking lessons and visiting salons. There she meets and falls in love with her dance instructor, played by the famous Argentinean tango dancer Pablo Verón. While the film is organized as a series of tango lessons, its primary focus is Potter’s tumultuous love affair...

  11. Epilogue: Should a Feminist Dance Tango?
    (pp. 183-192)

    This book is the result of a personal and intellectual journey of many years into the transnational cultural space in which the recent revival of Argentinean tango has emerged. Armed with my own experiences as a tango dancer, I spoke with otheraficionado/aswho were equally and sometimes even more obsessed with dancing tango than I was. I have used my observations of the tango scene and my interviews with dancers to help me figure out what it is about tango that makes it so compelling for so many people across the globe and why they are willing to pursue...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 193-208)
  13. REFERENCES
    (pp. 209-218)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 219-224)
  15. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. 225-225)