Argentine Tango - Then and Now

ImageOne of my pet peeves in trying to recreate the dances of the Jazz Age is our tendency to extrapolate how we dance today into the past: to say "I know the Foxtrot, so this must be how it was done in 1930" or to say "The Tango is eternal and never changing".

I want to be clear that I am not condemning current dance styles. They are a reflection of our current interests and sensibilities - just as the dances of the Jazz Age reflected that era's very different interests and sensibilities. Societies evolve and dances evolve with them, and all that I ask is that we try not to superimpose our current view of things on the past.

I am using the Argentine Tango as an illustration of my point, but the same evolution has occurred with the other current ballroom dances: the Foxtrot, Waltz and Quickstep.

One of the biggest differences between then and now is our current blending of theatrical "exhibition dancing" and social dancing - current social dancing tends to be an almost apologetically watered down version of the exhibition style, but containing as many fancy moves as one can muster.

Back in the day, social dancing was a simpler affair, with a focus on partner interaction and very little on outward display, and exhibition dancing was a distinctly different style with a completely different purpose.

Which is why I find the first clip so interesting. Carlos Gardel (the King of the Tango) is dancing and everyone stops dancing to watch - not because Carlos and his partner are so flashy and spectacular, but because their dance has a level of focus and precision that the audience understands and appreciates. Note the total lack of kicks.

This is followed by current Argentine Tango as danced on the streets of Buenos Aires - admittedly theatrical since they are putting on a show, but still very much what most people today expect to see when they see a Tango - and feel like they're not quite getting it right if they don't dance it this way.

This is then followed by "The Argentine Tango": a 1930s exhibition Tango such as you would see in a night club.

It's probably not necessary to watch each of the clips all the way through to get the gist of what I'm talking about.

Here's the first, from the Argentine film "Questo Abajo"

And here are dancers showing off for the tourists.

And here are exhibition dancers from 1930. I find it interesting that they are theatrical in a completely different way than current exhibition dancers are theatrical - they have a very different sensibility, smoother and more romantic and without the violent, sudden motions that are now the norm.