As a kid, my tango knowledge was limited to one hazy recollection of the Aristocats scene when George and Madame flirtatiously danced to an old record player. This unfortunate mental association might explain why I always assumed tango was enjoyed solely by senior citizens.
Oh, was I wrong. Nowadays, young Scots dance genderless tango to dubstep in Nike trainers (true story). The genderless part here is the interesting bit, but first, let’s rewind a few hundred years.
Emerging from the poor neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and danced to African rhythms, played on instruments brought by the many European migrant communities which peopled the areas, the tango as we know it today began to take shape in the mid-nineteenth century. By the beginning of the twentieth century it would be hijacked by the Argentinian middle and upper classes. No longer the preserve of the poor, the dance would be exported,
before long becoming fashionable in Paris.
In an attempt to understand what tango really is about, let’s turn to the source of all worldly knowledge: Wikipedia.
"Tango. The word conjures images of dancers with smoldering eyes and simmering sensuality gliding to the melancholy sound of Astor Piazzola’s accordion-like bandoneon. The men are manly and the women are, well, wrapping their legs quite conspicuously around them."
- Dina O'Meara, It Takes Two to Tango
"The tango is a duel for dominance. Partner against partner, man against woman, machismo leading female, using weapons and lures of sexuality."
- Gretchen Elizabeth Smith, The History of the Tango
Further than that, tango has been defined as a “three-minute love affair”, potentially because it often involves chests pressed against one another, and a copious amount of leg-contact.
Clearly there is heavy sexist baggage which accompanies tango. After all, this love affair, where the male is the lead, whilst the woman is at the mercy of her partner’s whims and potential incompetence, would not be in line with modern gender-equality ideals. However, that does not mean tango should be discarded as a creepy pastime which perpetuates antiquated values. On the contrary, it can be the vehicle for a respectful and liberating approach to your own body, and the bodies of others.
The assumption that the role you take whilst dancing should be determined by the shape of your genitals is rather ridiculous.
As too is limiting the number of your potential dance partners by half for the same reason. Ambidancers chose to both lead and follow, and dance with anyone regardless of their ability to grow facial hair. Of course it is also possible to choose one role, but according to your own preference, rather than the expectations of my eighty-year-old great-uncle.
The point though, is not so much to make tango more LGBT+ friendly, but rather to strip it from any sexual connotation whatsoever. When anyone can lead or follow, and dance with whomever happens to be in the vicinity, tango becomes little more than a corporal collaboration between two individuals. It demystifies the taboo surrounding close contact between bodies, and de-sexualises it. It also contributes to deconstruct outdated gender attitudes which proclaim the man to be in charge, or that two women enjoying physical contact must necessarily be lesbians. That said, the surprised frown you get from some older men when you ask them if they’d like to follow is absolutely priceless.
Have you tried ambidancing? Let us know!