When I was in school I was very weak in whatever lesson had to do with literacy. I wasn’t reading books, my worst grades were on subjects like Greek language and literacy or history, etc. My worst ever subject was ancient Greek. Yes! Students in Greece get taught ancient Greek as part of their obligatory curriculum and if you think I remember any of this .. you are deeply fooled. My second worst was essay writing. I was to take exams for two years on essay writing to get to university. It was my worst nightmare. And yet… Now… I am writing blog posts (like essays) in a foreign language! Go figure! But who cares about my grades in high school? Nobody.
So what does Tango have to do with it? It’s all about the language again. Yes. If we see Tango as a language, together with all the characteristics we use to describe its functions we should also examine its historical evolution. In particular, if tango (as a language) is still alive or dead. Languages can die when the population that uses them is either eliminated (see genocides) or forced to learn another one. This is pretty much what happened in ancient Greek. With the evolution of the population in the area of Greece and the different stages it went through, the ancient Greek was slowly forced to die and not be used anymore in everyday life.
This is not Tango!
The thoughts about this were initiated by an interesting exchange over a discussion about whether Tango is going away from its roots as it is globalized. Many people argue today that what you see in many performances and shoes is not tango because it is not what people used to dance back then in the 40s. Many also argue about the real tango, and the roots of the tango being closer to what is now called Tango milonguero, etc. In general, if you want to start a heated discussion among people who think of themselves as Tango experts you only need to say something like “This is not Tango”… then grab a bucket of popcorn and watch the show!
I am no expert myself but some time ago I saw the interview of Chicho (he is obviously a better expert on the topic than me) saying that nobody can tell you what tango is and what not. He is one of the dancers that have been criticized the most for their dance. He was told a lot of times that what he dances is not Tango and after his journey so far what he realized is that nobody has the authority to tell anybody what tango is and what is not.
But if people like Chicho himself say so, why do you still hear people complaining about how Tango changed through its globalization and discussing the roots of Tango and their preservation? The answer is simple… because Tango is indeed dead! Yes… Dead as a Dodo! If you define Tango as the dance in the way it was danced back in the 40s in Buenos Aires then it’s most probably dead. If you go even further and you take the whole culture behind it like the songs, the poetry, the codigos, etc. they are all dead. But for a good reason.
Languages serve a purpose. To facilitate communication. To describe actions, objects, ideas, emotions, etc. Can you imagine a person trying to describe the aeroplane back in the times when ancient Greek was spoken? The word did not even exist because obviously the object was not even thought of! The same goes the other way around too. Words that don’t describe something that is used today are not in our everyday language and oftentimes when historians need to describe such things they either use the original word or a similar one of today.
The same thing happened to Tango as it evolved over time. Being a language it had to discard parts of it, not useful anymore, and invent new ones for new ideas. It is part of the natural evolution of all living things… languages included. It is Darwin’s theory in practice. But then again… If tango is dead… What are we dancing today?
Names as overreaching umbrellas
The answer is again simple. Tango! Every living thing on this planet evolves to adapt to its environment. Have you seen WALL-E? Do you remember how people look after years of living in space? They almost have lost their ability to walk since they all rely on personal new-age wheelchairs to move and they are fat because they don’t exercise. Are they called different? They don’t look much like what we define today as humans but they are still called people, humans.
Even we changed and evolved in our life so far. Can we say we are the same person as 10 or 20 years ago? Probably not. But still (most probably) you use the same name. In programming, there is the idea of mutable and immutable objects. A mutable object is something that you define and associate with a specific name. For example… You declare an object called “myCar” and you just define that it is a car. You initialize it with some specific attribute values (eg. color is blue). But then, throughout the life of the program… throughout its execution, these values can change but the object is still associated with the same name. It might not have any of the initial characteristics… but it is still called the same.
Tango is just a name. A reference pointer to some mutable object that changes attribute values but is still the same object. Is there a need to change its name? Should we invent a new one for today’s tango? I don’t think so. Because the name links the past with the present. The name always points to the tango as it is in any specific time and place and eventually, it links to the initial object created and initialized ages ago. It is the same as your name… same as your favorite team’s name… your country’s name… or any other name for that matter. If you think about it… names live longer than the actual objects they refer to! Even after we are dead people will still refer to us with our current name! Isn’t it amazing?
Tango is dead but still alive through its name and its legacy!!! If you think about it… It’s like we live with a memory of a lost loved person. They are not here with us but we still remember and do some things like they were here… to honor them… to keep them alive in our memories. It’s like all those great musicians we learn about. They are all dead… but we still play their music… we still feel like they are here when we dance to their songs. It’s such a strange, beautiful, and powerful connection between so many different times and places. Isn’t it?
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango is about death! “Sus ojos se cerraron” is about death and partly about living with memories of a beloved person who passed away. The video itself is an extract from the movie “El día que me quieras” where Carlos Garden sang it in a scene where he mourns for the death of his lover.
So how about you? How do you define Tango? Is it something that continues to live and evolve? Is it an evolving memory (yes… memories do change and evolve too) of a beloved one who passed away? Is it still alive or dead? Does it even matter? How do you feel about it?