A critical response to TangoVoice’s “A Framework for Analyzing the Evolution of Tango Social Dancing”

Link to the article: http://shorturl.at/dCY79

This is putatively a framework for analysing the evolution of social tango dancing. Let’s consider what would be expected from a framework such as this. We would expect discussion of tango dancing, including a definition of tango dancing as opposed to other sorts of dancing, and as opposed to such things as tango attire, tango facebook pages, etc. We want to discuss specifically tango dancing. Furthermore, we want to discuss the “evolution” of tango dancing.

Dancing in the prototypical case is usually understood as movement to music which interprets this music. There is movement which is not dancing, eg., movement to music that does not really interpret that music in any systematic way (eg., 5 Rhythms), movement without music, etc. Moreover, tango is a social dance which normally requires two partners dancing together in concert, usually one partner, the male, initiating or leading.

Evolution is some sort of a gradual change which is typically progressive or an an adaptive improvement, as distinct to “devolution” which would imply some sort of degradation and negative adaptation which makes things worse. Therefore, it implies some standard of “better” or “worse” than was the case previously. So we would expect from this article some sort of an account of how tango social partner dancing to tango music has changed in some sort of progressive or adaptive manner.

Rather than discussing the evolution of tango music or tango movement TangoVoice’s article instead takes what appears to be an anthropological approach in discussing tango “culture” and “communities” and the evolution of that. Generally speaking, anthropology speaks of cultural systems, comprised of groups of people defined in some specific way. Anthropology as a discipline emerged by discussing primitive groups which were in some way isolated. It has recently been concerned with modern society, but the concepts of anthropology originate with cultures (habits and practices) of primitive people. It has never been well-established to my knowledge that this can provide any real understanding. What is a “community” or “culture” (macro or micro) in a large cosmopolitan modern city other than when discussing so-called “sub-cultures” like hipsters, ethnic groups, or age groups as in “teen culture” or “Indian community”.

Anthropology as it was practiced in its early stages (eg., by Bronislaw Malinowski) was a method of trying to understand certain human universals rather than trying to describe particular groups per se. It was what radically different groups have in common that was of interest, eg., a patriarchal family structure (contrary to the claims of later anthropologists who had a political agenda in promoting matriarchy as the universal system). The evolution of culture was understood not merely as random change, but rather as the movement from primitive, esp. pre-literate culture, towards complex civilisation. It is only later, politically motivated, anthropologists who moved against the idea that modern society is in any way an advancement over preliterate, nomad, tribal, etc. society.

So how would it make sense to talk about the cultural evolution of tango? Tango dancing is dancing to orchestral music. The music is typically written down in musical notation and performed on complex musical instruments, and the dancing requires a period of more or less systematic instruction. Tango dancing and music are the product of cultural evolution in the sense that it’s possible to identify specific advancements in terms of complexity, sophistication, technique, skill, and taste. In terms of music this advancement can be identified up to around 1950. In terms of movement it can be identified up to several decades later with the emergence of the tango milonguero movement and partnering technique.

It’s difficult to see how the evolutionary advancements in the music occurred within an isolated “community”. We could talk about a “community of musicians” as a professional group. In that sense there are “communities” of architects, dentists, blog writers, etc. Musical genres based on the classical musical tradition like Jazz, Brazilian Choro and Tango did not emerge in isolation but had been informed by global trends adapted to local tastes. A musician in any of these genres would have been trained to a greater or lesser extent using the techniques and musical compositions from the classical era.

Tango movement might perhaps be more a matter of local practices and habits, but it has to be shown in some way that the practitioners were living in a cultural bubble uninformed by anything from the outside, eg., that they didn’t dance other sorts of dances which originated in different countries. But it is a generally accepted fact that tango emerged out of the cross-pollination of different dancing styles from different countries, apart from the fact that social dancing has a centuries long tradition going back to the English country dances and such, and some local adaptation is just an addition to that, even if it’s a really good one.

TangoVoice’s article attempts to use the language of anthropology to discuss some developments in tango dancing over the last few decades. This is supposed to give this analysis some sort of weight and legitimacy. The problems with this are multiple. These developments are either inconsequential or they are not positive adaptations. Anthropology is used (or misused) to avoid making such judgements, but the underlying message is to accept these developments and give them legitimacy. Such an approach could be used in the description of religious cults, gangs of various sorts, groups living depressed urban ghettos, etc. By giving their behavioural changes (eg., a change in drug taking habits or ways of committing criminal acts) the description of “evolution” it would give them an unwarranted gloss of respectability. Similarly, while the use of the term “culture” is defined in terms of the habits of a group, its use tends to depend for effect on the connotation with high culture. The latter is a completely different and separate meaning but implicitly gives a positive evaluation to the habits and practices under discussion, when in fact it’s not at all clear that either the so-called “macro-cultures” or “micro-cultures” have positive attributes.

Judging by the fact that the word “sexual” occurs 47 times and there is a lot of discussion of romantic relationships, the idea seems to be that tango “culture” is some sort of a dating scene. In that sense, one could talk about “Tinder culture”. As with much discussion about tango generally, I find that tango music seems to be some sort of a background to all the other things that the tango people seem to prefer to discuss. My own suspicion is that this is due to the feminisation of tango, because as Nietzsche et al have noted, women seem highly preoccupied with romantic relationships. If men were like this tango probably would never have evolved at all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s