Sunday, October 15, 2006

Dancing Beyond Boundaries ?

Unfinished thoughts on social conduct codes

Tango's underlying image

How did tango arouse the public mind ? How did its popularity spread? Does it express the secret fantasies of society as it is. Something erotic, passionate, a vertigo... These fantasies are a drive behind entertainment in nightclubs, Hollywood movies, tourists acts, dance costume making, radio, television and other media, enlarging the sex appeal of the event and making the spectacle more teasing and thrilling. Is time changing behavioral codes ? Or do we see the codes differently ? Or are we still adoring inappropriate social conduct. Like a smash hit. A Zinedine Zidane ?

Especially today, some teasing seems to be needed. Today, as in Weimar, we live in a Culture of Distance, solitude. In it, social contact is impossible. Some provocation seems to be wanted to have contact with someone. There is nothing more "tango" than seamed fishnets. Sexy seams lengthen the leg and the adoration. The longing. In tangoshows, the seduction of the Forties comes back in seamed pantyhose with naughty details. The traditional show themes play on old stereotypes, featuring male dancers dressed in 1940s gangster garb and women in their fetish fashion, outfits like the symbolic fishnet stockings, very highheels and skirts with long side slit sheer to the waist. These outdated xxx-clichés are more complexe than they seem. These costumes alter an appearance, the clothed body refers to conscious and unconscious uses of disguise. It is an act of re-imaging an entity, masking the so-called original, masquerading till a new authentic identity is acting. Meanwhile, the mirror takes over.

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Dance too involves taking on a role, revealing a character and playing a play, like enacting the power of the prostitute metaphor which is in stark contrast to the ideal of marriage. The prostitute metaphor is first applied in the Hebrew Testament. The marriage and prostitute metaphors continue in the New Testament. The prostitute was seen as having magical powers. She seduced men and lured them with her wiles – through the clothing she wore, through her physical and social charms, and through her cosmetics and perfumes. The dance of sexual interplay between man and prostitute was also marked by tolerance of violence toward the prostitute. The sexuality of the prostitute embodies the evil nature of female sexuality, and a woman's potential to hold a disturbing power over a man in the sexual realm. The prostitute was viewed as a temptress, who lured men through their carnal desires. It seems that in it, some aggression is concealed.

Erotic fantasies and sexual imaginations

The bible tells it all. The English word whore, referring to (female) prostitutes, is taken from the Old English word hora (from the Indo-European root ka meaning "to like, desire") but usage of that word is widely considered pejorative and prostitute is a less value-laden term. It could also come from the Islamic term houri, the name for an attentive female virgin in the afterlife, but this derivation is unlikely given the presence of cognates of the Old English word in other Germanic languages. On the other hand, in Germany most prostitutes' organizations deliberately use the word Hure (whore) since they feel that prostitute is an unnecessary euphemism for something not in need of euphemisms. The term sex worker is becoming the label of choice in Australia. Prostitutes may also be called hookers.

In Hebrew the meaning of the word fornication is "broader" than adultery. To fornicate or to play the whore, becomes virtually synonymous with engagement in idolatry, the worship of idols, images that are not God. No metaphor, especially as it symbolizes the practice of idolatry, is more powerful than the woman as whore, in all of the captivating sexual imagery it symbolized. But the dancing is in this not the crucial thing, it is the attractive, young woman.
more on this topic of religious constructions

Gay tango has changed the typical tango scenery. Since gay couples were granted marriage-like status, Buenos Aires has suddenly become the gay mecca of South America, rivalling Rio de Janeiro as the traditional destination for gay tourists from the United States and Europe. Neighbourhoods like fashionable Palermo and Recoleta, are known for being safe and accepting places for gays and lesbians. Gay men and women can dance without drawing uncomfortable stares.
more here

One can say that Gay tango has changed the typical macho image of tango. Yet, the image of the male dancer has always carried machismo stereotyping. And, in tango men often dance together. Men invented the tango dance technique, including the female part. In fact, a tanguero has to know the follower's movements from inside out to be capable to guide tanguera - o. A reference is Antonio Todaro. He had a special fondness for dancing as follower and as an innovator, he had fun expanding the follower's part. He is also famous for his skilled Tango Doble Frente / double front (tango al reves - inversed/reversed) in which the woman has her back to the man and the man embraces her around the waist, so both dancers face the front/public, it is a very historical style of tango invented by the popular milongueros of the 1940s. All steps that one dances in the regular, or "derecho" position, can be danced al reves. Men created ballet too, yet dancing is now seen as a female art in which masculine dancers assist the women. Men's contemporary role seems to be more directed into guiding the woman.

Contemporary Stories

These days, del mundillo tanguero is the main export for cultural consumption of Buenos Aires. Many foreigners visit the tango festivals, so getting a public of 170.000 people.

Dance houses or milongas are very respectable, having strict rules called etiquette, ment to create an artificial mis-en-scene. Mise en scène means literally "putting into the scene" or "setting in scene." In the boliches de tango, single men are sitting on one side, single women on the other and couples in the back. You make eye contact with a partner and get up as the music starts. It is the beginning of a tanda, a set of 4 or 5 similar tangos, milongas or valses. During the first number, streams of people fill the dancefloor. Guiding means moving and keeping the woman at the outside of the dancefloor, to the tables, as near as possible to the sitting public. So she has some space to move and gets no feet kicks. An unaware dancer gets driven in the center, gets stuck. When the first number of the tanda stops, one is supposed to stand still and talk in a relaxed way till the next song is nearly halfway. Social dance is a danceform where sociability and socializing are the primary focuses of the dancing. On the dance floor, peculiarly the conversation piece is important. To avoid sweatting, suspicious behaviour or claustrophobia, social talking makes 1/3 of the dancing ritual. At the end of a tanda, the sound of the cortina comes like a bel. Now, the floor must be empty to make new eye contact possible.

Europeans who go to Buenos Aires to dance a passionate tango in the milongas, may find the formal codes and behavior rules, such as the strict separation between men, women and couples, a bit outdated. Others will find it nostalgic, as if concealing mystic darkness, as in the old days of Catholicism. A history of social dance is a history of morality and as 83% of the Argentinians are Catholics, the setting reflects some Catholic morality. A Catholic morality with its restrictions and rebellions, such as between the Catholic Church and the Liberation Theology.

For a single Catholic woman it isn’t always easy to make the step to tango dancing, tango with it's, nearly sacramental, intimacy and passion. But, quite true, dance portrays the beauty of the person as made in the image of God.
Regarding Tango and the Theology of the Body, click here: Katrina J. Zeno

Tango's Erotic Origins

In the begining, tango was danced between men, in the corners of any red-light district of Buenos Aires, in the patios of the old conventillos or in the old slaughter houses (mataderos) at the Patricios Park. At that time, the tango with women was only danced in the brothels or in the houses with "easy life" girls known as las casas de las chicas de vida ligera. Argentineans say that respectable women could not dance tango because it was a prohibited, it was a prostibularia dance, una danza prohibida. For them the tango did not exist. Since Argentine tango was originally an erotic dance that could only be danced in a bordello and only prostitutes were involved, the role of women in tango was spontaneously related to the brothel.

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