Snobbery in Tango

Published November 11th 2016
Author: Chris

This blog is about the rambling thoughts that went through my head while watching Strictly Come Dancing over the weekend. For those who haven’t seen it, it was the first time in the 2016 series that the Argentine Tango appeared. It was danced by Louise Redknapp and Kevin Clifton and scored 39 out of 40. Anyway, as I watched it I concluded that there are a lot of people who participate in Argentine Tango who are snobs.

I know there are those out there who say the Argentine Tango danced on Strictly is not Argentine Tango. There could be many reasons for this, however, the main reason seems to be that the routines are choreographed. This got me thinking about Latin and Ballroom dancers’ attitudes towards the routines seen on Strictly. The general opinion is that the dances preformed, such as Waltz, Jive, Salsa, etc, are those dances although they may lack content and technique so are not great versions of those dances. This is true, although I tend to point out that a large part of the show is about entertainment to get viewer votes, therefore, the messing around in place of content is important.

This idea of entertainment got me thinking further: is show dancing as important as any other form of a dance. As soon as a dance is invented there is always going to a show version of that dance. The show version may be choreographed or improvised but will have obviously elements of the dance. It will also have new moves designed to “show-off”. These “show-off” moves will be seen by the audience and they will find a way of leading those steps and incorporating them in the social or improvised version of the dance. Hence the dance will develop. My point is that the “show” and “improvised/social” versions of tango have had a huge influence on each other and are just as old as each other. Therefore dismissing “show” dances is massively limiting.

Watching the Strictly Argentine tango, there were parts that could have been sharper and more polished, but the elements of Argentine tango were there. There were some back ochos, leg wraps, ganchos and a volcada. All Argentine Tango steps, and all can be improvised and danced in a Milonga. So I struggle to see why people say that this isn’t Argentine Tango or is inferior just because it is not led. Both social and show versions of a dance have their place and both have their good and bad points and it is blatant snobbery to dismiss one. One thing that I feel people forget is that tango needs to grow and people watching Strictly and may be inspired to try dancing. Therefore to tell them what they have seen is not Argentine Tango is not particularly helpful.

I also think this snobbish attitude is then projected onto other forms of Argentine tango. There are those out there who think the ultimate tango is only danced in the “close embrace” as they believe this is the only way to get “connection” therefore anything else is inferior and styles of tango that are more open are not worth considering. There is no denying that dancing in the “close embrace” can require a great amount of skill and control, however you do not dance socially to show off skill (otherwise you perform a show dance) you dance socially to enjoy yourself. There is also the problem that some Argentine Tango moves cannot be danced in the “close embrace” such as soltadas which require the embrace to be broken. (On an aside, If a tango teacher ever tells you that embrace in tango should never be broken, it is always fun to watch them squirm by asking them to show you how to do a soltada)

I have come across two other forms of snobbery in Argentine Tango. I’ve covered in earlier blogs about people’s attitudes to music so I won’t go into further details here. However, the final form I have seen is a truly awful position to take. This attitude is that “I’m too good to dance with beginners” and “I don’t need to attend classes because I know it all”. Firstly those beginners could one day be, or already are, very good dancers. So we should encourage them and help them progress by giving them the opportunity to dance. Secondly if you don’t attend classes, those classes will stop and events will not run, therefore, you will not have any chance to dance tango. So attend the classes, help those new to tango to come through and enjoy dancing.

So to conclude, show dance tango is a perfectly valid form of tango that is not inferior to social tango. Use it to help bring new people into the dance. They are many forms of tango, learn all of them and allow others to learn all of them and enjoy them and do not try to enclose them in a limited box. Go to dance classes and welcome others to classes even if their view differs from your own.

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