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To evolve or not?

Self-identified Tango “traditionalists” have decided that nothing good has happened to tango since the end of the 1940s, and they do their best to stick with the etiquette and dancing imagined to have accompanied the Golden Era decade of music, although they do allow themselves contemporary shoes and underwear.

Tango modernists enjoy dancing on a wider range of music, and may even learn both roles or dance with people of the same gender. Some try to mix tango with other dances, or even go so far as to reject tango’s system for managing the very contemporary issue of consent, the cabeceo.

In the era of Fundamentalism, modernism is in decline. Whereas 10 years ago there were a variety of modern milongas, today even the gay ones look in every other way traditional.

Although we can ill-afford it, the modernists are now drawing battle-lines. This is to be expected in any sub-culture where organizers tussle for acclaim,  the financial security it promises, or just respect for their labor. Furthermore, fear of “change” is a predictable dimension of both sub-cultures and human nature. Of course it’s not determinative. Avant-garde organizers, new technologies, market niches, and mid-life crises precipitate evolutionary changes that make our cultures and lives more resilient and rich.

What is interesting about this particular struggle is the attempt to draw a sharp moralistic division between music that has tango “bloodlines” and music that does not: an exact replication of the Fundamentalists’ bigotry against modernism and an uncomfortable echo of Argentine dancers’ claims to predetermined superiority.




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