Tango is an international phenomenon. Nowadays, you can find Tango all over the world, from South Africa to Finland, from California to Japan. If you want to dance nicely, you don‘t have to travel to Argentina - you find great Milongas & Festivals everywhere. You will meet people, dancing to traditional music, respecting the codes of the Milonga and having developed a great new Tango combining the close embrace of the elders with the gift of real improvisation, deriving from the innovators. Tango is a product of an international exchange, that started around 1900 and that is still happening all over the world.
I even want to go further and postulate, that in order to understand modern Tango, it is not enough to stay in your hometown and save all your money for the important trip to Buenos Aires. No, to really get Tango, you have to embrace the world!
So, experiencing an international process of evolution, I‘m always surprised to encounter national narrow-mindedness on the one hand and over-glorification of all that‘s argentine on the other hand.
Here I am again, breaking a tabu. Tangueros are supposed to worship the Argentinean gods, but I don‘t.
But what can I do? I was born in England and mostly grew up in Germany as the daughter of a German mother and a Spanish father. We spoke German, Spanish and - even more important - English. Lots of our friends were Americans, because my parents worked as travel agents for the american military and their families. As a child, I travelled a lot and got to know different cultures and people and I learned several other languages. Today, I study European history and literature. I perceive myself as an international creature and am therefore very sensitive to shows of national superiority, wherever they manifest.
In my first years of dancing Tango, I heard a lot of great stories about Buenos Aires. Although I‘m not easily impressionable, I was spellbound by the anecdotes of my German teacher, depicting all the phenomenal dancers, shiny Milongas and larger-than-life demos. In 2004 (I was teaching Tango since 2001), Detlef and me set out for our first trip to Buenos Aires. We visited the usual Milongas, danced with the porteños, where invited to do our first demo at the Confiteria Ideal... all very nice. But: I was definitely not overwhelmed. Apart from noticing a big concentration of top dancers, the average dance-level* at the Milongas was usually not very impressive and very often, the foreigners even raised the bar. I have to admit, that in 2004, many argentine dancers knew the music better and were more accustomed to navigate on a crowded dance floor. Do not misinterpret me here: I love dancing in Buenos Aires: They‘ve got the tradition and it‘s great, to experience the special ambiance of an original Milonga. But still: My favourite partner was an Italian.
And there they were: all those guys who tried to impress me with their grasp and wanted to sell private classes to the gullible tourist. And this was just a side-phenomenon of a greater notion: the idea that, no matter how little he knows, an argentine will understand Tango better than all those foreigners. And although nowadays many argentines acknowledge the broad understanding and high development of non-argentine dancers, the myth of the super-human Maestro still lingers.
No matter that a lot of the European or North American dancers developed a inferiority complex, manifesting in the most ridiculous ways: teachers making up false Spanish names and identities, students worshipping their Maestros and willing to pay 300€ for a private class, people plastering their walls with panoramas of the Iguazu falls and trying to drop Spanish words into every conversation to show: I‘m one of you!
Listen up: You‘ll never be an argentine, unless you give up your original nationality and move to Buenos Aires for good. And even then... But that‘s actually not important! To become a good Tango dancer, you don‘t have to ape argentineans. You have to dance and study Tango, wherever you find it and with whoever you think can teach you best, no matter which nationality he or she has.
Now this may read as If I were envying the argentine teachers their success, but if you look at our schedule, you‘ll see, that I‘ve got no reason to do so. And I can definitely live with the fact, that some organisers will never invite me to one of their glamour festivals, because I‘m German and my partner is too. Other sensible people will. ;-)
The Germans! They are the boldest admirers of foreign cultures and lots of them speak several languages, one of them usually being English. Many get real enthusiastic and I already have to endure the tendency to glorify Argentina ... But now a reverse-problem seems to manifest.
It‘s about language. I‘m used to French or Spanish people complaining, when you do not use their national idiom. Few of them they speak other languages, so I try my best. But I will use English as my default-language when teaching in other foreign countries, I use it on Facebook, on Youtube and I blog in English. Our Tangokombinat-site is now purely English, as our events attract an international crowd. Sometimes I even send an e-mail to our mailing list purely in English, when I do not have the time to translate it in French and German as well.
And now the Germans are complaining! Since about two years, several German Tangueros annoy me with comments on our Youtube videos, mails or now even on my blog. These are people who complain that I do not use German as my official language. What? German chauvinism in the Tango community? That‘s really more than I am willing to stand.
As I said: Tango is international. Get used to it!
By the way 1: I wrote a paper on "Tango as a product of international exchange" for my history studies. It's unfortunately in German, so it does not make sense to publish it here. Sorry.
By the way 2: English native speakers are of course very lucky. Their language has developed into THE international idiom. Fine... That does not mean, that learning other languages does not make any sense for you. He? ;-)
* As an explanation and response to several comments: when talking of "dance-level", I do not refer only to technique or complexity. A high level in dancing especially manifests in a nice embrace and rich musicality: the "feeling".
BEFORE you write a commentary on my text and start raving about bad Melina denouncing Argentine culture, please read again. I am NOT advising people against dancing in Buenos Aires and learning with the argentine teachers. I am just speaking out against over-glorification and thoughtless imitation. Get it?