The survival of tango through challenging times

A little bit of history

If tango were personified it would be a fighter and a survivor.

Tango survived the great depression of 1929 and restrictions imposed at the start of the 1930s. It wasn’t until the government of Juan Peron that tango became fashionable again, only to suffer yet again during the 1950s after a series of dictatorships banned public gatherings and Rock & Roll emerged in the USA and Europe.

In the 80s and early 90s it started to re-surface again thanks to the opening in Paris and Broadway of the show Tango Argentino, and by Miguel Angel Zotto and Milena Plebs who captivated the world with their shows.

Finally, on the 31st of August 2009, UNESCO approved a joint proposal by Argentina and Uruguay to include the tango in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. Since then it has been growing and spreading around the world and it’s enjoyed by people of all ages.

The impact of social distancing on tango

When COVID-19 spread from city to city and exploded across the globe, everyone was affected, including all those people who work in the tango industry and who enjoy social dancing on a regular basis.

To know tango is to understand how it can slowly and quietly seep into your bloodstream, through your veins and into your heart, it can become not only an obsession and a passion but also an addiction, and for many it’s a form of therapy – with well documented social, physical and emotional benefits.

In March 2020 tough decisions needed to be made by schools, organisers and social dancers before the government of Australia stepped in and made the decisions for us. Isolation. Social distancing. Closure of clubs. Confinement. Quarantine. Pandemic. No public or private gatherings. Hundreds of thousands of deaths across the globe. Words and concepts difficult to fathom.

Keeping tango alive

They say that necessity is the mother of invention and that is precisely where creativity stepped in to keep tango alive in our homes and in our hearts during these challenging times.

From local and international virtual milongas, festivals and classes; online webinars by prominent DJs and historians; Zoom performances by solo musicians, singers, and well-known tango orchestras; and even a 48-hour round-the-world milonga broadcast live over the radio which made news headlines around Europe and South America.

The time gifted to us by the lock-down measures meant we suddenly had the time to practice, listen to music, read, dust off our records, watch documentaries and old films on YouTube, and discover even more. It’s times like these that I remind myself that when it comes to tango ‘Solo se que no se nada’, in other words ‘I know that I know nothing’.

Of-course those most affected are dancers and teachers, but there is a whole other group of tango lovers who do not dance, they simply enjoy listening to tango music, many are collectors, for them it would be business as usual in their homes.

The big question remains, when will we be able to dance again at a milonga? In Argentina and Uruguay many believe it won’t be until 2021; as for Australia, I only hope that it’s very soon.

Until then we’ll continue dancing in our living rooms, in our minds and in our hearts.

tango embrace

April 2024
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