With the internationalization of the tango, its slum origins were forgotten and a strictly codified dance was exported with clearly defined roles between man and woman. In the traditional milongas—the spaces in Argentina where people go to dance the tango—women generally sit on one side of the dance floor to show their potential dance partners that they were available. The man invites the woman to dance with a head motion and the women accepts or rejects the proposal. So begins a dance in which the man leads and the woman follows the marked steps, embellishing the dance with various adornments.
Nonetheless, in recent years people have begun to champion the so-called Queer Tango, with queer literally meaning “strange”, “different”, or even “eccentric”. The word “queer” was traditionally used pejoratively against people on particular gender and sexuality grounds, but was eventually appropriated by the LGBTQ community and studies exploring their struggles. The Queer Tango therefore does not aim only to create spaces for the gay community to express itself through the tango, but allows all people, regardless of their sexuality, to explore themselves and go beyond social gender norms. As the Buenos Aires Queer Tango blog explains:
[El Tango Queer] es un espacio de tango abierto a todas las personas. Un lugar de encuentro, sociabilización, aprendizaje y práctica en el que se busca explorar distintas formas de comunicación entre quienes bailan. El tango queer no presupone la orientación sexual de los bailarines ni su gusto por ocupar un rol u otro a la hora de bailar.
[The Queer Tango] is a space for tango open to everyone. A space for meeting, socializing, learning, and practice that seeks to explore different forms of communication between those who dance. The queer tango does not presuppose the sexual orientation of its dancers nor their taste for occupying one role or another when dancing.
Although at its inception only men danced the tango, in the traditional milongas of today, same-sex partners have been victims of discrimination and even expulsion from the dance floor. In fact, the birth of many “queer” milongas came as a response to these attacks.
In the video below, shared on YouTube by Edgardo Tucu, you can watch two men interchanging the traditional roles of dance at the 2015 Buenos Aires International Queer Tango Festival:
For many, the tango is a macho dance that relegates women to a passive role. Nevertheless, in recent years with the emergence of this new style of tango, the role of women has become more participatory. In fact, many women enjoy exercising the role of leading the dance. In the Queer Tango, women can lead or be led when dancing with a man or another woman.
In the video below, shared on YouTube by Tango Queer, one woman leads while another follows the outlined steps:
Mariana Docampo, one of the pioneers of the Queer Tango in Buenos Aires, explains on her blog that the main point of the dance movement is not exactly the subversion of roles, since ultimately this is part of the tango's structure. The problem lies in its “fixation and identity with the sex of the dancers” and can even crystallize the deepest of social stereotypes:
El tango es una danza popular, y como cualquier otra, funciona como espejo de la sociedad de la cual surge y en la cual se desarrolla. En este caso, la sociedad porteña. Pero el tango también es una danza de fuerte connotación sensual. Y de ahí que lo que este “espejo” refleja no es sino la forma en que nuestra sociedad concibe el erotismo entre sus integrantes: en primer lugar, hombre-mujer. Luego, podríamos decir, activo-pasiva.
The tango is a popular dance and, just like any other, it functions as a mirror of the society from which it springs and in which it develops. In this case, it is the society in Buenos Aires. But the tango is also a dance with a strong sensuous connotation. And so this “mirror” reflects more than one way our society sees eroticism among its members: first, man-woman. Then, we could say, active-passive.
She goes on to say:
Este binomio simplifica notablemente la compleja red erótica que existe entre los individuos. Y que si bien representa a una mayoría identificable en la sociedad, instituye una forma de sentir “admitida”, condiciona y censura formas de sentir diferentes. Se fija como modelo. Y afuera de este modelo quedan tod@s aquell@s cuyo sentir es distinto.
This pairing notably simplifies the complex erotic web that exists between individuals. And if it represents an identifiable majority in society well, it institutes a way of feeling “admitted”, while conditioning and censoring ways of feeling different. It is set as a model. And outside of this model remains everyone whose feeling is different.
Queer Tango has had to find its own niche outside the traditional milongas. In the specific case of Buenos Aires, there are different “queer” or “gay” milongas where the LGBTQ community can dance without being victims of discrimination. Queer Tango spaces are inclusive and open to everyone. In the video below, shared by Narkotango, we see a pair that explores and changes their roles throughout their dance in one of the queer milongas in the Argentinian capital: