Sunday, October 15, 2006

Some Stories about Censorship and Tango - Too sexy

by Autumn Madrano

The tango is not strictly Argentine. The dance as we know it today is a mix of several different nationalities—Italian, Cuban, French, Spanish, and African, to name a few. The milonga, the most direct ancestor of the tango, evolved on the streets of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century. The milonga began with a group of Argentine men who dressed in loosely-tied kerchiefs and high-heeled boots. Because men outnumbered women in Buenos Aires at the time, the dance was often practiced just between men. The Color women included in the milonga were prostitutes. Fast, flashy, and dramatic, the milonga echoed the vibrancy of Buenos Aires at the time. More than four million immigrants settled in Buenos Aires between 1840 and 1940, and the dance mirrors some of these immigrants’ dance styles. The milonga reflects a bit of the European waltz, some French and Italian country dances, the Cuban habanera, and the polka.

The African-Argentine community developed its own dance of the time as well. A wild, frenetic dance heavy on improvisation evolved within the slave community of Buenos Aires. This dance was called the tango. The milonga dancers copied some of the steps from the tango into their own dance, and some say that milongueros adopted the term "tango" as a mockery of the slave community. Eventually, tango came to mean the dance that incorporated the milonga and African dances of the time.

Argentinians didn’t embrace the dance as proper—to this day, some members of older generations see tango as slightly dirty. But not everyone saw it this way. When a playboy from Argentina introduced the tango to Parisian dance floors, it quickly became the rage. Socialites held "tango teas" in lieu of literary salons. Women’s shoes were elongated to exaggerate the drama of the tango steps. With its sensuous moves, the tango was still a considered a slightly scandalous dance by Europeans, but because they hadn’t witnessed the evolution of street tango, the dance wasn’t seen as "dirty." Argentinians looked up to Parisians as models of high society, so when Europe embraced the tango as a legitimate dance, Argentina did the same. The tango grew in popularity from the 1930s to the mid-1940s. Even when the worldwide depression struck Argentina in the 1930s, tango served the same purpose that Hollywood cinema served in America—escape. But the tango was also a reminder of the sorrow of the times. Tango music contained lyrics such as "I am just a passage in your life, nothing more," and "the world is and always was a mess."

Because of some of the politically loaded lyrics, Argentina’s military regime censored tango lyrics in 1943. When Juan Domingo Péron came into office, he seized the chance to gain popularity and lifted censorship in 1949. But when the Péron family left office, military rule fell over the country again and the tango’s popularity ended. The country’s national pastime was outlawed, and despite some tango music developments in the 1950s, tango virtually disappeared in Argentina until the late 1970s.

But when the milongueros of the 1930s and 1940s started reaching their golden years, they realized that the dance could possibly go extinct if they did not pass it on. Places to dance the tango started reemerging, with dancers from the previous generation, as well as their protegés, building upon the steps of their forerunners. When a stage tango show, Tango Argentino, opened in Paris in 1983, the dance returned to the city that made it a mark of elegance. The craze resurged, and today tango is danced fervently everywhere from Paris to Portland, Oregon, to New York City, to New Zealand. And if the success of the 1998 Broadway hit "Forever Tango" says anything, it’s not going to disappear anytime soon.

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