Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Dark Age of Tango

by Christine Denniston
Christine Denniston is author of Dancing Tango - Unlocking the Mysteries and Secrets of the Tango - 1914

The coup in 1955 that ousted General Perón had profound consequences for Argentina as a whole, and for the Tango in particular, launching the country into a kind of modern Dark Age. The new military government was made up of members of the upper classes, for whom the culture of the mass of the population was alien and dangerous. They did not understand the Tango. They did not dance it.

Also they had a knee-jerk reaction that anything Perón had said was good must be bad. Perón was a nationalist and a populist, and Tango was both national and popular. Perón had used Tango and Tango artists for his political purposes, and many famous Tango artists were involved with the Peronist movement. As a consequence many artists were either imprisoned or blacklisted by the new regime.

And large numbers of men meeting every night in the social halls of community or political associations in order to dance together? That would have seemed very suspicious, and an obvious cover for political agitation.

It would have been difficult to ban the Tango itself, although specific songs were banned, and some had to have their titles changed. Some of the measures natural to a repressive regime took their toll on the dance. At various times there were curfews, making things difficult for a night-time activity like Tango. At other times there were bans on meetings of more than three people, making a social dance illegal.

But one very subtle and clever attack was made specifically against the Tango. This story was told to me by someone who ran a number of Tango dances in the mid-1950s. There were laws banning the presence of minors in nightclubs. These laws were rigidly enforced for Tango clubs, but were not enforced at all for clubs that only played Rock and Roll music. So where before the coup the best way for a young man to meet a young woman was in a milonga, suddenly it was much easier to meet a girl by dancing Rock and Roll. Overnight, young men stopped learning how to dance the Tango. There was no reason to spend three years learning how to dance Tango, when the girl you liked was in a Rock and Roll club instead. The generation that were 18 years old in 1955 learned to dance the Tango well and with confidence. The generation that were 13 didn't learn it at all.

It seems extraordinary that a repressive right-wing regime would encourage Rock and Roll at a time when conservatives all over the world were trying to stop young people dancing to the wild new music. But it served the purposes of the regime, and it served them well.

Between the coup in 1955 and the fall of the military junta in 1983 after the Falklands War, practically no one learned how to dance the Tango. The Tango did not disappear. It was still possible to go out dancing, and many people did. But the Tango was pushed underground, and naturally people became very suspicious of strangers. Some professional dancers of other kinds of dance found that they could make a living doing choreographies that looked like Tango in shows, particularly shows aimed at the overseas market. In fact it was in the 1950s that the concept of the Tango choreography for stage seems first to have appeared. Before that professional dancers seem to have improvised.

The Tango is Re-Born!

© 2003 Christine Denniston

Christine Dennniston is author of Dancing Tango - Unlocking the Mysteries

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