After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tango Gringo Part II -- Cultural Style

Just like Russian ballet, Cuban salsa, Egyptian belly dance, Viennese waltz, and Argentine tango, there’s an American way to dance --not better or worse, just different.

The American style denotes more formal classroom study, more athleticism, less sensuality. It’s the way we do things in the United States. We don’t grow up with music and dance, unless we happen to have an ethnic family like Mexican or Armenian whose weddings are dance marathons. There’s little dance education in the schools, theater tickets are expensive, and dance on television is dry and distant.

When the dance bug bites us as adults, we sign up for classes and conferences maybe at the Y or the local community college, and often get the dance virus. More classes, maybe competitions, it’s usually too late to turn professional even if we wanted to. But we learn to turn faster, jump higher, master more and more complicated, heart-stopping steps. If we perform ballroom, ballet, belly dance, we try to be technically superior to all other contenders—-Americans are competitive. Ballroom tango especially appeals to the combative, as the purpose in learning and training is to win trophies and be “Gold Medalists.” Even in formalized ballroom dancing there are two tango styles: International and American.

Americans on the dance floor worry little about artistic interpretation and sensuality, and few observers would notice anyway. Besides, in our Puritan culture, sensuality in public is akin to “exotic” dancing—and “nasty.” Even salsa dancers in brief and sexy costumes performing the most suggestive of erotic moves are usually just doing the steps, not conveying connection with their partners. It’s “Watch me!”, not “I’m expressing the music with my body, my relationship to my partner, and the person I am,”—the point of Argentine tango. Because Argentine tango has no proscribed right and wrong way to dance, no syllabus, there’s only good and bad dancing.

Americans dance big and expansive and are reserved with the opposite sex unless there is another agenda, a sexual one. We take big steps and turn fast and sometimes have a hard time with the subtleties. Men aren’t used to taking command of a woman in our politically correct world, and so are hesitant to use their male energy to lead strongly. Women are accustomed to going after what they want and so run around the dance halls yanking men onto the floor, afraid to use their female energy to wait and follow. In the strict Argentine Code of Tango, a woman never invites a man to dance other than with her eyes from across the room.

When I go to U.S. milongas, I may make the same kind of dramatic entrance as I do in Argentina, but potential partners are too busy reacting to or fending off other women’s advances to notice my theatrics. From my table with my girlfriends in Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, New York, I see women chasing men to the snack bar and even to the bathroom; they often never even sit down. One man I know admits that many men hide in the bathroom when they don’t want to dance.


Caroline said...

"One man I know admits that many men hide in the bathroom when they don’t want to dance."

That was way too funny.

True about women chasing after them. There'd been occasions when a man was walking to my table to invite me only to be intercepted by some woman who jumped up and grabbed him. Hmph!

El Marpla said...

just a quick note to say that argentinos are "american" too. And most of us dislike the kidnapping of the word "American" by people from the United States.

Apart from that, i love your blog :D

Cherie said...

Hola Marpia,

Thanks for stopping by my blog.

I did think about your point when I was writing. After all, Mexicans and Canadians are Americans and also norteamericanos, if you want to be literal.

But "Estadounidenses" is too awkward, and it's Spanish and I'm writing in English. (Although I did use the word "gringo" in the titles of the posts.)

Do you have any suggestions for a replacement word for American that won't offend anybody? Yuma? Yanqui?



El Marpla said...

it´s difficult, because it´s a word so commonly used by people from United States, but rubs every other american the wrong way. I know that saying yanquis may not be perfect either.
Estadounidenses is the perfect word, but as you say, it´s spanish. English speakers should find a word that suits "estadounidenses". Maybe staters or something like that. Or u.s.ers, but that´s kind of funny.

Anonymous said...

Para Marpla,

Vos escribis 'american' con minusculas y Cherie lo escribe con mayusculas.

La designation oficial del pais del Norte es Estados Unidos de America, y en corto America.

Por lo tanto los ciudadanos de America el pais, son Americanos.

Vos sabes que hace cincuenta años la fobia anti yanqui tenia un color mas agradable y olia mejor.

Hoy en dia, solo los tarados continuan con el tema de que los Argentinos son tambien americanos.

Si fuera asi, por que no se llaman como tales, Argentinos de America, Ameritinos, o en algunos casos Argentinos de m*****.

Anquises said...

En inglés, pero no en español, los gentilicios se escriben con mayúscula. "American" se traduce al español "estadounidense" o también "americano". Según el diccionario de la Real Academia Española, una de las acepciones de "americano" es "estadounidense".
El texto de Cherie es absolutamente correcto y no supone ofensa alguna, ni es necesario buscar palabras nuevas. (El uso de la palabra "yanqui" da lugar a muy divertidas perplejidades, véase el delicioso encabezamiento del Blog de Yanqui Mike)