June 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

community (noun): a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals (New Oxford American Dictionary).

Understood in the above sense, tango dancers the world over, however they might be described—tangueros and tangueras, milongueras and milongueros, aficianados, practitioners—are part of a community. They satisfy all of the characteristics given above in terms of shared attitudes, interests, and goals. Go to a milonga anywhere in the world and you are likely to find the same features: a danceable floor of sufficient size, preferably polished wood, a DJ, prerecorded music from the Golden Age of tango, the organization of the music into tandas of three or four songs followed by a cortina to mark the break, some sort of seating arrangement, hopefully one that provides good sightlines, use of the cabeceo for invitations. These formal elements help to contextualize the dance and provide a recognizable structure. Of course, milongas vary in their details: choice of music, use (often non-use) of the cabeceo, floorcraft, live or recorded music, size of the venue, the availability of food or drink, degree of formality, manner of dress, and so on. They run the gamut from informal open-air milongas to semi-formal indoor events with staged performances. The beauty of such a structure means that, if you dance tango, you can go anywhere in the world and feel at home at a milonga, because the formal elements are identical, or nearly so. Home sweet home!

A community such as this is a form of what Blanchot refers to as an “elective community,” one we choose to belong to rather than one we are born into. It exists by virtue of our decision to become a part of it.

This is one of the beauties of tango, an element of its social actuality that allows us to enjoy its benefits wherever there is music, a danceable surface, and a partner. Outdoor milongas have been in existence since the earliest days of tango but, recently, and especially with the growth of cell phones, text messaging, and online communication generally (Twitter, Facebook, email), more immediate forms of encounter have come into existence: flash mobs (although their moment has passed) and spontaneous gatherings at airports orchestrated through Facebook. Events such as these break with social traditions and extend the possibility of community to nearly random encounters in spaces not intended for dancing. They inject a ludic element into a space marked for commerce or business or control.


The downside of an elective community such as this is that it can fall apart as easily as it comes together since there is nothing to bind it other than the desire of its members. Once the desire of belonging lapses, the community dissolves. Moreover, the dictionary definition given above seems to beg the question of what exactly is shared. Are the “attitudes, interests, and goals” found in tango all that common among its practitioners? Are the attitudes found in Buenos Aires, for example, the same as those found in Paris, Istanbul, or New York? Are the goals of tango dancers identical or even similar? To say that we come together to dance is merely to say that we share a space in which we engage with one another on a certain level, but it wouldn’t be too much of a gamble to claim that there are as many attitudes, interests, and goals in that space as there are dancers.

People come to tango for a variety of reasons: as an excuse for socializing, as a dating pool, for exercise, relaxation, physical therapy, to alleviate boredom or depression, as an extension of their cultural heritage. I’m sure many other personal goals could be added to this short list. In many cases the dancing is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

We see this most clearly in the multitude of labored discussions about the differences and distinctions between “traditional” tango de salon and the various flavors of “tango nuevo.” Though practiced in the same space, sometimes to the same music, their styles and underlying attitudes are quite different. Here, we already have a clear divergence not just in styles of dance but in musical styles as well. Again, on the face of it, though both camps fall within the domain of tango, they seem to have little in common aside from some basic technique and forms of movement. And if there is an age gap in tango, it is here, where nuevo attracts mostly younger dancers eager to experiment with musical forms that are remote from the Golden Age classics. This includes not only electrified approaches to tango rhythms and melodies, typified by ensembles like Gotan Group or Bajofondo, but the use of music that originates far from the tradition of tango (Tom Waits, for example). The commonality of our “common attitudes, interests, and goals” appears to have frayed around the ages.

In the long run, however, none of this may matter very much. Whatever groups and subgroups there are in tango will tend to self-identify anyway, forming and reforming as the spirit moves them. Obviously, if the styles of dance are radically different (as tango nuevo is), there will be little room for compatibility on the dance floor (navigational problems, floorcraft). But tango is a big tent and presumably has room for lots of different kinds of “common” inside.

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