Sunday, June 3, 2012

The End of Tango

One day "tango" may be just be a car or
a sushi bar not a dance or muisc

The End of Tango

An old English proverb says that all good things must come to an end. Tango is good. Will it come to an end?

The proverb is depressingly negative and at least in part incorrect. Many good things have been around just as long as anything. Like love. Like kindness. What about movement to music? They have been around for a long time. They seem to live on and on.

However, even in your lifetime many very good things have come to an end, right? Will tango be one of them? Perhaps if tango doesn’t last very long in your life or in history itself, my guess is that tango’s demise would be caused be two major things:

(1) Tango would become so complex that people new to it would be awed by it but not become tango dancers, and
(2) that dancers with bad manners (“snotty dancers”) would become so common place that beginners would almost immediately give up and even veteran dancers would tire of the tango scene.

This scenario of a dying tango community is already here in certain communities. Just one night of bad manners for the most avid dancers makes us wonder if it is worth it. Surely you know of some community which started and has already died. We could really learn from history of how to delay a good thing from coming to an end!

Although most tango teachers fancy themselves as promoting tango, I would wager that the majority of teachers are actually promoting the demise of tango – unwittingly of course! Again, it is because too many teachers promote the two things that will destroy tango: Rarely mentioning the “manners” of tango and making it far too complex.

It doesn’t make sense that teachers would destroy their own livelihood, but that is exactly what they too often do. First, there is a tendency to sell the idea that there is much more to learn. Then they want you to have fun! So let’s not mentions etiquette or rules. Rules and manners take away instant gratification (fun) in all things. My son says that the computer game, “Grand Thief Auto” is fun because one can break all the rules. So it is with tango. If you start dancing with rules, you may destroy your own perusal of instant gratification. It takes space to accomplish that new, high-speed thing you learned in the 8-week course you took on volcadas/colgadas with an enrosque-cherry-on-top. Teachers want to bring fun to tango and engage people to return. Talking about rules and manners, then, is the low on the list for many teachers.

In my last version of tango etiquette, I realized something that had never occurred to me before: Manners are for everyone else. Our instant gratification is subdued for the gratification of others and thereby our own delayed-but-enhanced gratification. This is a great philosophical and theological truism made true by the simple practice of traditional tango: Whether it is tango, driving a car or sexual ethics, rules and laws get in the way of what we might like for immediate gratification. But in the long run, ethics and rules allow a greater good and the more wonderful pleasure in all things.

All good things DO Not come to an end. Good things may transform, yes, but they do not come to an end. The good of tango is that human beings love to move to music and the beautiful synchronicity of tango’s music and dance may be replaced by some other music but the close embrace and the nuance of movement to music will always remain. Let the open embrace and showmanship of tango, the snobbishness of a tango click ruin it in your community, but tango will live on in some form and perhaps with a different name.

All good things live forever. Like love. Like kindness. Like movement to music. Tango will live forever, just with a different name. If you want to live with the name tango longer, then be nice, be kind, dance close as close to your partner as you can and as close to the music as you can. Tango may never die if you do that.

Photo Credit:  Tango sushi.


  1. Didn't you know? Tango Died in 1930 and they wrote this about it

    El baile "Rodríguez Peña"
    el Mocho y el Cachafaz
    de la milonga porteña
    que nunca más volverá

  2. Hi Mark! I identify with what you are describing in your article. I feel it not in my home tango community of Dallas, but in another one in a US east coast city that will remain unnamed. Here,where I am residing for a couple of months, I am feeling the death of the tango spirit within me as this community is rather closed, unreceptive to outsiders and generally focused on being competitive (your mayor point #2). Even with a huge and open dance floor, dancers manage to get kicked and bumped!Courtesy is indeed perceived as being for others to practice!

    As much as my heart and soul loves tango, if I were to remain in this geographic location, my dedication to tango would wane. It already has. Imagine, I have even returned to the salsa scene as warm compensation for the coldness of this tango community. I have not danced salsa in over 3 years, so this is a significant move. In my 6 years of tango, and wondering here and there, never has my tango soul felt so withered! How can we dance in communion and deeply connected when the community that the dancers create is cold and distant? Impossible.

    Thus, the dying out of tango that you are addressing is significantly different than the one addressed by Tanguero Rubio. Yours is discussing the perils of tango outside of its cultural cradle where it requires a particular type of feeding, as it where, artificial nurturing, away from its mother culture. The commentary is addressing what was perceived to be a historically passing fad, which obviously proved to be wrong.

    Here is hoping that more communities survive these immature growing pains and that tango communities outside of Buenos Aires offer all who come to it an open heart and a warm embrace!

    Un abrazo milonguero,


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  4. Teresa, for those who live in large cities with a vibrant tango scene, it is hard for them to realize how fragile tango is to each individual and to smaller communities. The city you mention has many examples, often led by a person who has bad manners too. Tango really is not so vibrant anywhere when one thinks about the number of non-dancers to dancers ratio. Many people in BsAs think of tango as a thing that tourists do but have never even tried to dance tango. Tango is remarkably more fragile than "believers" seem to know. Golden Eras come to an end because of a lack of foresight and because of the feeling that 'it will always be this way.' On the other hand, I know that my simplification doesn't explain the fragility of tango or other dance/music forms perfectly, but historically speaking I think I am not too far off. This same concept was the focus of an earlier series of articles about musicians destroying tango (which can be searched in the search engine at the top left corner of this blog). -- Ciáo, Mark P.S. The Golden Era of Tango "nunca volverá." The Zeitgeist will not return but I like to pretend at every milonga, during every tanda and even in between I pretend with la cultura de tango. I leave my jeans at home and muster the best "caballero" facade that I can.


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