Updated 5/18/00

El Firulete 
The Argentine Tango Magazine 
April 2000


What's in a word

When trying to put a historical perspective on the development of what is known today as the Argentine Tango, we often run into a variety of myths, and a series of tales conveniently packaged for effect and amusement.
However, when it comes to attempting to expand the scope of understanding of the circumstances surrounding the evolution of the city of Buenos Aires, its sociopolitical structure, and the ever-changing demographics that reflected over the last one hundred and fifty years the parallel evolution of the maximum popular expression of the city and its inhabitants, it is dissapointing to hear the overt denial expressed in the form of “I don’t know if I really want to know that much.”
This is typical of the syndrome known as the political economy of passion. A society that is puritanical at its roots embraces the exotic aspects of a dance that has been packaged for foreign consumption by artists of a Third World country.
Being able to count to eight while beating a pattern to death, has given a nation that frowns upon public display of affection, the mechanics of hugging and kissing, the freedom to fantasize in silence about short lapses of wild passion and Zen-like trances, and an exciting alternative to PTA meetings or Youth Soccer volunteer work.
Of course, there are many who are willing (unafraid?) to look beyond the veil of superficial symbolism to find the substantive components that have forged the unique ingredients that form the core of the body of knowledge known as the History of the Argentine Tango. I expect that those will continue to read, comment and discuss. For their inquisitive minds, the research time is well spent. This knowledge to various degrees of depth is what most Argentinos grow up with whether they'll ever set foot on a dance floor or not.
Take the origin of the word Tango for example. Even when there is no final word as to where the word Tango comes from, we tend not to spin the wheel of trivia if it cuts into our dancing time. I suspect that it will never be determined and eventually we will settle for some combination of theories that will satisfy our curiosity so we can move onto another hot topic: heels first or toes first, for example.
There is a current agreement among researchers that conclude that the meaning of the word Tango conveys the idea of an enclosed place, a place of dance, the dance itself, the unavoidable participation of blacks with their noisy instruments and their dances. We must keep in mind that it was the white man who concocted all the definitions and conclusions that led to some of the very well known definitions, based on his interpretation of social aspects according with his culture, religion, and his own cultural prejudices of the world he was facing in the 1800’s. His lack of knowledge about the people with whom he had to interact, to understand and comprehend their actions, created the philosophical dilemma of “I” and “the others.”
In other words, everything that didn’t coincide with the white man’s mentally structured, orderly and regimented world based on his values, belonged to “the others.” The Tango, a product of “the others,” had almost a forty year history before the first written testimonial of its existence was published. The year was 1913, the writer somebody only known to this day by his ‘Nome de plume’ Viejo Tanguero.

Alberto Paz
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