An expat Californian building a new life via the tango in Buenos Aires since 2003, including information on learning the tango and where to dance it in Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Travel Writing That Makes Me Sad

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner writes in The Daily Reckoning Australia: (bold print mine)

We are coming to the end of our lonely exile in South America. Last night we went with friends to a Tango Club.

“The trouble with tango,” an Argentine friend explained, “is that it is really not very popular with young people in Argentina. So, when people from North America come down here they always want to go to tango clubs. And they always say they want to go to ‘contemporary’ clubs…where the locals go. But the locals don’t go to tango clubs. The tango clubs are for tourists. It is like in your New Orleans. They have jazz clubs there. But I think that only tourists go to them. They are like museums.”

Our friend, Maria, took us to the best of the museums…a small place in a dicey neighborhood known as San Telmo...

Your editor is fond of tango music…and tango dancing too. As to the former, he doesn’t know much about it, but he likes to listen. As to the latter, he took lessons in Paris for several months…then, he gave up. “You northern Europeans may not be cut out for tango,” his teacher had told him, with a look of pity in her eye.

After the band had warmed up, a man with a toupee got up on stage. “Where are you from?” he asked each group of guests...

The musicians were all middle aged. Still, they had some life left in them. There were a couple of singers too – a man and a woman. They seemed to be from the Barbara Streisand school of musical expression. The woman, in particular, tried to get as much out of each song as possible…extruding each note as if it were a piece of wire…and then wrapping it around her neck until she practically choked. We couldn’t pick out the words, but we sensed that something awful had happened. She was carrying a torch as big as a California forest fire and she wasn’t about to let go of it.

After the singers had worn themselves out, the exhibition dancers appeared. The man had spiky hair, in the modern fashion, and a pin striped suit, in the tango fashion. The woman was very pretty, with a dancer’s outfit, a tight top and a skirt split up to the waist, decorated with sequins and sparklers. The music began. The couple held each other tightly…looked into each other eyes…and it was as if someone had fired the starting gun of a race. They were off! Legs flew…backs arched…shoulders and hips swivelled and swirled so violently, we were afraid body parts might fly off. It was very impressive.

When the exhibition was over, the music continued. Both dancers went around the room and asked customers if they’d like to try it.

How could we resist? We clutched the young woman in our best tango-school pose…we looked her in the eye. Her bare left leg flexed…and rose as if to stroke our right flank. So far, so good.

All we can say is that we showed her some moves that she had never seen before.

OK, maybe it's just a question of semantic ignorance ("tango clubs.")

Argentines think tango in Buenos Aires only exists in the "museums" of stage shows in San Telmo? And "lonely exile?" Excuse me?

I feel so bad reading travel articles like this which perpetuate the myth of Argentine tango as only flashy and suggestive moves by girls in slit skirts. You know, the whole "vertical sex" thing. Tango is so easily made fun of, and is so clichéd in the media.

This topic is something that I happen to know a little about. Are the articles I read about unfamiliar topics equally inaccurate? That's scary.

Tango is not a religion, but then, why did I write a book called, The Church of Tango?

Stepping down from my soap box now--but probably not for long.
What do you think? Should I care so much?


Johanna said...

Cherie, it's because you care so much that this sort of stuff is so ultra-annoying. Besides, Tango is dramatic and emotional, and as such, very open to ribbing by those who don't know it.

I wonder how many things we laugh about in our complete ignorance, while those who love "it" cringe?

Caroline said...

cherie, you care simply because you care.
I was laughing while reading that article, for it was so foreign to me, an insider to the tango scene. sometimes outsiders' perspective of tango makes me wonder if we actually visited the same place or even live on the same planet at times. What´s reassuring though is that we who do dance tango know better and that those who don´t actually cannot do much damage, as ignorant as their portrayals may be. When you really think about it, has such ignorance ever stopped you from enjoying yourself at a milonga, or living your life as you pleased? (Well, asides from the usual offending tango tourists and their chronic boleo disease). So, go ahead and care but don´t let such views get in the way of your enjoyment of tango as you and I and others enjoy it. Good thing that at least tango shows are kept separate from milongas, can you imagine if both were mixed in together? Drunken tourists getting up to dance with cliched performers amongst the usual milonga attendees? Actually, let´s not imagine that at all. ;)

Tina said...

Oh Cherie, I'm feeling what you're feeling.
I really am.
articles like that make me laugh and cry at the same time.

Thanks for posting it.:-)

Anne said...

nice blog!

Just say hello,

Regards from Norway

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh out loud at what Caroline wrote, because it so much reminded me of our local milongas. But what's to be expected, afterall? The local tango impresarios bring in the traveling tango hustlers (and get their cut of the action) to teach workshops and privates of... what? Ah yes, show moves, exciting nuevo stuff, big new things.... :)


tangocherie said...

Thanks to everyone for commenting.

I guess I just hate that the stereotype keeps perpetuating itself, even in Buenos Aires.

But there's nothing we can do about it.
Can you see a demonstration in Plaza Congreso of social tango dancers with placards--"Down with boleos!!"?

tangobaby said...

Hi Cherie,

I think everyone here is right. The touristy shows can't impact us that much. How many dancers who go to BA take the time to go to shows? We all want milongas. The tourist crowd is expecting that sort of production anyway. It's like two separate worlds.

The article reminded me of something the young man at the desk said to me in the hotel where I was staying last year. I was just getting ready to leave for a milonga and he was calling a remise for us. I asked him what milongas he likes to go to and he gave me such a funny, bemused smile. He blurted out, "Oh, I don't do tango! That's for tourists and OLD people!" Then he stopped himself and blushed at his little outburst. I said, "I'm not THAT old!" And we both laughed.

But he did share with me that he and all of his friends dance, but they don't know tango. It makes me wonder what the face of the future of tango is in BA, if the young people are not attracted to it?