What is Fundamentalist Tango?
By 2014, the global hegemonic viewpoint about tango calls itself “social dancing”. These posts document my evolving awareness of fundamentalist tango. I first observed its emergence in the form of the El Yeite milonga in Buenos Aires in 2010/2011 (I attended some of the first episodes of this milonga in its first location on Sarmiento, and later as it became seriously patrimonial on Av. Córdoba. In New Zealand this attitude of dancing was called “milonguero”, under the influence of Susannah Miller’s aggressive marketing campaign (c. 2005- see Merritt). In Sydney it was called “salon style”. In Berlin it is called “social dancing”. I was surprised to find this attitude in the hip youthful European “marathon scene” which also lays claim to “high level” – without seeking virtuosity, at least not in the form of aggressive improvisation and personal expression which was the norm c.2008 in Buenos Aires. At first I called it ‘neo-Victorianism’, then ‘smug tango’, and now I call it ‘Fundamentalism’.
Like most other kinds of fundamentalism, tango fundamentalist lays claim to “tradition”, “popularity“, and “inclusivity”. The inclusivity turns out to be mostly within friendship cliques and age segments. It can be very hard for visitors to dance with these people. Such segmentation already puts “traditionalism” in question. The method for “popularizing” tango is to eviscerate virtuosity and ambition, reducing the vocabulary and physical demands.
- music: Traditional tango music (composed and recorded before 1950) is “better” than other music for tango dancing, because of its musical complexity and richness. Fast and rhythmic music is preferred because it’s easier to achieve some semblance of musicality while dancing with untrained Revels who are not able to take slow steps for dramatic music. (See “Expectations“.)
- leading: A good mark constructs a physical frame and uses a simple vocabulary to enable even an inexperienced woman to have a nice time on the dance floor with him.
- who to dance with: Men should dance with the beginners, and might as well choose the ones showing the maximum amount of sexy legs. It’s ok for Revels to reverse-cabeceo because the Marks’ priority is social, not artistic.
- pleasure: Marks’ maximum pleasure comes from experiencing the smooth flow of all the dancers around the room, being desired, enjoying a nice embrace, and appreciating the music. Revels’ pleasure comes from being tenderly dominated, with musicality.
- safety: To assure the safety of other dancers, large steps should be avoided and the Revel’s leg should not use the airspace.
- pride: Marks’ pride comes from propriety to the ronda, mastery, smoothness, and elegance, so he only does things that he is sure he can do in these ways. Revels’ pride comes from obedience.
Also typical of any kind of Fundamentalism, Fundamentalist tango demonizes all others. Any other kind of dancing (regardless of its historical accuracy) is derided as “not really tango”, disconnected, ugly, and dangerous. In fact most of what Fundamentalists deride in their bigotry is a matter of level, not of “style”. Fundamentalist milongas are just as full of the problems of disconnection, bad traffic, lack of musicality as any other – which is ok, because that means there are beginners there!
Disturbingly, Fundamentalists eschew tango’s gifts, abandoning the richness of possibilities for an emaciated “elegance“, a superficial mastery, and an abridged and routinized vocabulary, which damages the global community of dancers.