Friday, October 2, 2015

The Tango Wench & her Pirate

The Tango Pirate needs a Wench
Tradition of a mistranslation
I am sure that some would find "beauty and deep meaning" if the terms "pirate" and "wench" had these terms been the English words we had chosen for Argentine Tango roles.  But instead the English-speaking tango community has settled on the traditional ballroom terms, "leader" and "follower," which are perhaps equally inappropriate terms as much as "pirate" and "wench."   "Leader and follower" are appropriate for ballroom, but they just are detrimental for improvisational, magical nature of Argentine tango.

I have read eloquent explanations of why "follower" is a perfectly good description of the magic of the Rol Femenino, and without exceptions these poetic adorations of "yielding" (entregando) are written by women.  I am impressed at the attempts, but what a terrible mistake to align with a ballroom term.  I have spoken to enough women to know that they want a man who follows the music. Well, men want the same in their partners.  That' a consensus then!  We both WANT followers, and la música is that leader. 

More recently, a woman asked me in an Internet discussion group, "Who uses "follower" anymore?  That is so old!  No one around me uses this worn out term anymore."  Later, I started watching her posts, and what were they about?  "Leaders" and "followers." It's as if the tango community senses that these terms are counterproductive to understanding the magic of these roles, but then we, as a community, are paralyzed to make any changes.

Why not have a contest for the most inappropriate terms we can come up with?  I vote for "leader and follower" being the most inappropriate, but here is the bigger list:

Pirate / Wench
King / Pawn
Leader / Follower

Which do you choose as the worst?

They are all inappropriate descriptions of the roles. So what is the solution?  If we can use so many Spanish terms in tango, what is so hard about the terms Rol Femenino and Rol Masculino?  Mujer and Hombre?  We use terms like volcadas, miradas, cabeceos, barridas, ochos and other terms--not even trying to translate them.  Why is "leader and follower" so necessary? 

The "Inclusive Language" Argument
I have been an advocate for inclusive language for 30 years now.  The inclusive language argument in tango is a ploy.  English is not a superior language because it so easily hides gender.  Terms that hide gender are also not superior to those which do not.   Exclusive language presents the danger of limiting children's perception of the world.  Tango terms do not create these problems, nor do they exclude men, women or transexuals who wish to learn both roles.  Neutering the roles is nothing more than missing what this particular game is all about. And tango is a game.  Would you suggest neutering the roles in other games, like chess, as well?  Shall we protect the Queen instead of the King, and make the King the most powerful piece on the board rather than the Queen?  Tango is indeed a game with terms to go with each role. Once you change the nomenclature of a particular game and it's rules, it is no longer the same game.  So it is with neutered tango.

New Terms
Please do not throw out the terms "leader and follower"!

Since the music is the leader, that needs to be said. Actually, it needs to be drilled into every tango curriculum.  Listening to each other is secondary to listening to the music, but both roles must do that for dancing to occur. If a woman is not listening to the music she stops me from dancing as surely as I stop her from dancing when I am not listening.  Did you ever watch what happens when the music starts?  Is there anyone "leading" when the music isn't?   When the music stops, does any "leading" continue? Following?  No, because the leader (the music) stopped.  The Rol Masculino, showing an intention in only 5 basic directions, cannot be called leading.  Sure, it is a role of intention, but it is not leading.  In Spanish the tango roles are often described as "the man proposes something but the woman carries it out."  This is NOT leading! (The phrase more concise in Spanish as:  "El hombre propone y la mujer dispone.")

So, what would we like as a new translation of Rol Femenino and Masculino, the translation of tango's Yin and Yang?  If it must be English, I like Guide (because of floorcraft as it is in French) and "Ambassador" because the "mujer" too often has to listen and moderate the argument guides have with La Música, defects in the floor and many other distractions and dangers, requiring an embajadora to help with the warring elements . 

If a teacher tells me to be the la mujer, I do not feel anything less than honored to dance this role.  I am not neutered by being in this role, but if I insist on neutering the role, then perhaps now I am playing as if I am neutered?  Hmmm.  I will dance in the role of la mujer any day over being a neutered follower.  In fact, for the next tanda I will be la mujer and you can be el hombre.  Or let me be the ambassador and you be the guide, but whatever you call me, please don't call me your follower, your slave, pawn or your Jane, Tarzan!

As for "wench" . . . I guess "wench" is still okay . . . as long as you have someone who wants to play the game of the Naughty Pirate with you. We will have to see how that plays out. Keep an eye out for a future blog post on that subject.  ;-)

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