Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It Takes Two (Foreigners) To Tango

[Photo credit: me]

Some Argentines are furious about non-Argentines competing in and winning tango dance tournaments.
It seems paradoxical, in light of the present dispute, that tango originated among European immigrants here and in Uruguay in the late 19th century. The dance is "a blend of sex and chess," says tango expert Christine Denniston. After some down decades, tango started a renaissance in the 1980s, coinciding with the end of a repressive dictatorship in Argentina and the launch of a wildly successful international dance and musical show called "Tango Argentina." Last year, 100,000 foreign visitors came to Buenos Aires for August's "World Cup" and accompanying festival—a doubling of attendance in just two years.

Daniel Carreira, who runs the website in Buenos Aires, says he can think of at least two cases in recent years when foreigners—Japanese and Colombians—won their categories in the "World Cup." He says Argentines are slowly having to come to grips with the fact they no longer have a monopoly on the dance.
What the article doesn't get into (but should have) is the intense cultural pride and nationalism that permeates the country. To me, this quote says it all:
"Is it xenophobia—or are they just afraid of getting beaten?" 
It's both.

Sure, Argentina gets some tourists (like yours truly) for its European fusion in architecture styles and dishes (pasta, steak, empanadas, and not much else) and a lot of American and Spanish-language popular culture (such as Steven Segal's "Attack Force" and "White Chicks"). But the country, for the most part, is very insular.

Think of it this way: Buenos Aires is a large city in a sparsely populated part of the world that used to be very wealthy at the start of the 20th century. Argentina is former Spanish colony-turned-hub for European immigrants on a continent where the majority of people are non-white or mixed race. These factors contribute to a cultural bubble that raises Argentines to believe 1. they are the greatest people living in the greatest country in the world, and 2. they are beautiful Europeans in both culture and physical features.

I don't want to make a blanket statement about the country, because I met some wonderful, level-headed people in Argentina during my travels. 

But in many respects, the earlier quote is a trick question - because the national identity of Argentina is based strongly on racial/ethnic pride, Argentines offended by non-Caucasian tango champions are actually driven by both xenophobia and fears of being beaten - because, in this case, they blur together.

...Kinda like the movements in tango are supposed to.

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