From time to time you’ll read articles here on topics that appeal to me. This one has been burning a hole in my brain for a few years, ever since I accidentally stumbled on the smoldering, sensual dance called “queer tango.” This is a kind of reblog of one I’ve published on my site Man in Romance, with a few added images.
The expression “queer tango” is relatively new, but the smoldering dance performed between two members of the same sex (or opposite sexes performing role reversal) is probably more than a hundred years old. The subtext is irresistible… Dom/sub and sub/dom. Let me step back to the beginning.
The origins of the tango itself—no doubt one of the most “machismo” of traditional dance forms—is Argentina. There it evolved among the teeming immigrants during the late 1800s in crowded dance halls and even bordellos.
“They brought their music: the sweet sounds of the violin, the driving flamenco guitar, the strange mournful wail of the bandoneon—and their dances: the waltz, the mazurka, the polka—and mixed them with the Argentine folk music and dance, with the Cuban habanera, with the African candombe rhythms from the freed slaves’ street parties.” (Deb Sclar, “Dance of the Heart”)
The tango was born.
In her blog article cited below, Sarah Langdon comments on that male-dominated Argentine dance performed in milongas, or dance halls:
“The masculine role is to make the woman feel comfortable in the embrace and the movement…. This is a reflection of the masculine role in Argentine society. In the traditional society (and in Latin America in general), machismo is very important for the identity of a man. In order to be macho, he must be sure of himself; and it is his job to look after the welfare, security and happiness of his woman.
“This male-female relationship is reflected on the dance floor.”
The history is fascinating, but this article is focused on the queer tango. So let me not digress…
The tango is perhaps the most blatantly sensual of art forms. How did it evolve from a male-dominated heterosexual dance to the form we know today as “Queer Tango”?
Sometime during the waning years of the nineteenth century, Paris and Budapest both became hot spots for same-sex dancing. There is no written history of the phenomenon, and no well-documented photos to lend credence to this fact. We do have ephemera such as postcards, and a few faded photos with no date or explanation. But pre-WWI France and Germany saw the beginnings of a liberated form of tango: same sex pairings, and/or reversal of male-as-leader role.
Some researchers (like Walter Nelson, cited below) argue that same-sex dance pairings came about not because the participants were gay, but because there was a tarnished image of the low dance-halls, even the Argentine milongas, where the dances were held—and where the partners were held, sometimes all too tight. So women practiced separately with women; and men, practicing for their later social joining with women, danced with men.
Only partly true. I’m convinced that the gay culture was thriving right under the noses of those who write a prudish history of the same-sex tango. (See my article on the “underground gay language” on the blogsite “M/Mysteries”: https://caitlinfire.wordpress.com/the-underground-gay-language/ ).
Skip ahead to our own century, where at least we have a clear history. Only recently has the phenomenon called “queer tango” taken on a form and personality—out of the shadows and into the mainstream—and it began in Budapest, Hungary, in 2001.
The first gay-lesbian milonga (dance hall) was organized in Budapest as the twenty-first century dawned. In 2001, that city organized the First International Queer Tango Argentina Festival. Since that time, festivals and clubs have sprung up all over the globe: in Stockholm, London, Edinburgh—and yes, in Buenos Aires, where the old machismo ways are beginning to fade.
The dance was taken even to Russia. Watch this vid, for an intimate and artistic look at what happened when the Queer Tango went to St. Petersburg a few years ago… http://queertangorussia.com …when gay film director Aleksandr M. Vinogradov made a documentary film about it. Wowza!
It’s important to distinguish queer tango from gay tango:
“Queer Tango consists of two movements – Gay Tango and Gender Neutral Tango. Gay tango is dancing between two homosexuals of the same sex. Gender Neutral Tango is when the dancers chose principal and secondary roles without considering the sex or the sexual orientation of the members of the pair.” (From Same-Sex Tango in history, International Queer Tango Argentino Festival in Hamburg website.)
I mentioned that Queer Tango festivals have begun to appear worldwide. Here are a few posters I found that I especially like:
I know the queer tango is a wonderful tradition between women as well as men. But—disclaimer—my blog is skewed more than a little to the male side. Here’s a delightful print from 1917 by Suzanne Meunier.
In the mood to see and hear a Queer Tango? Feast your eyes and ears on this:
Tango Queer)// A Don Agustín Bardi – Francisco y Lucrecio
Let me be sneaky now, and direct you to a specific fictional gay tango. The concept, written before I ever heard about Queer Tango, is from my gay retro mystery MASTERS OF CANE. In the passage, Michael is thinking about the elusive dance of love between himself and his business partner Simon:
The novel MASTERS OF CANE is here: http://amzn.to/2CZsBxm
My blog article “The Eternal Tango” is here: https://bit.ly/2sARsny
Sources not cited above:
Blog “Mass Historia” by Walter Nelson, http://walternelson.com/dr/same-sex-dance
Studio Valencia, source of the topmost photo, http://www.rodneyj.net/ali/body.cfm?ID=39
Sarah M. Langdon blog Sept. 11, 2011 https://sarahmlangdon.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/queer-tango-in-argentina/
Deb Sclar, “Dance of the Heart,”
Tango Fribourg, http://tangofribourg.ch/en/