Jim. From the personal to the universal connection

March 25, 2013

The author is a PhD. Psychologist and she writes like one about the Argentine tango as she explores the dance from the inside out. This is her personal journey but as we travel with her we learn some universal truths about the need for connection. Late in the book she writes that she felt the need to watch a mother giving birth and carries that sense of separation forward as the beginning of life’s counter drive and emotion for connection.

She starts her journey at Champaign, Illinois’ Refinery-a place I have danced-and divides that journey into 3 parts beginning with the people who devised tango out of needs as immigrants and as an isolated laboring class. As an introduction, we learn that contrary to the “popular history” that tango started in the bordellos of Bs. As. it really started with the masses and was danced and recorded widely beginning in 1902. The story that the stage shows propagate is that of the prostitute and the compadrito or pimp. Apparently this makes for a better story when presented on stage.

The first phase of her journey is the introduction to Argentines’ culture of connecting with each other in a way that Americans do not. They do it at milongas, riding in taxicabs, at stoplights, passing in the street. To Beatriz this is as natural as a national identity that finds expression in the tango. In this part she shares with the reader insights and feelings from dancers she met in the US and in Bs. As. alike.

The second part of the journey are her visits to La Boca and San Telmo where she visits milongas and experiences through the physical environment, the street corners and the tenements their history and connection with the immigrants and laborers who filled those neighborhoods and the clubs. She then devotes a chapter to today’s Tango Gypsies dancers who travel relentlessly to festivals all over the world to experience the tango emotion. She interviews some and includes their very personal emotions, feelings and experiences.

The third part is perhaps the most elegant part of the journey. She examines the poetry of tango lyrics and their evolution within the “one large tapestry.” We follow the portrayal of women from La Morocha to Milongita, to the role of the Compadrito, to Malena. Tango songs express also the longing for the past of life, the neighborhood, a street that was a home, a red brick wall-all symbols of individuals’ past. An entire chapter is devoted to visits with Alberto Podesta who started singing tangos at the age 16 (now 88) and still does. Podesta treats us to how he interprets a songs lyrics before he expresses its emotions.

As a tango dancer myself, I have personally found tango lyrics poetic in ways that we do not find in American music. The language is much more heart felt.

I would compare this book favorably with others that I have read: “The Meaning of Tango: The Story of the Argentine Dance” by Christine Denniston and “Long After Midnight at the Nino Bien” by Brian Winter. The former book includes a discussion of tango dance styles, milonga codes of the Golden Age and discussion of the orchestras. Winter’s book is a witty discovery of tango while he was in Bs. As. 2000-04. The three compliment each other as an addition to any tango lovers’ library.

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