Queer Tango

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Queer Tango, Soviet postcard from the 1920s

Queer Tango is to dance Argentine tango without regard to the traditional heteronormative roles of the dancers, and often to exchange the leader and follower roles. Therefore, it is related to open role or same-sex tango. The queer tango movement permits not only an access to tango for the LGBT community, but also supports female leaders and male followers, regardless of orientation.

Gender roles in the traditional Argentine tango[edit]

Conventional tango is said to be the stronghold of heterosexism and machismo:

"The tango is a duel for dominance. Partner against partner, man against woman, machismo leading female, using weapons and lures of sexuality."

— Gretchen Elizabeth Smith, The History of the Tango.[1]

Dancing in very close embrace – this intimacy is what defines tango as a "three-minute love affair" [2] -, the male dance partner is the lead and the female dance partner is the follow. These two gender roles are sexually defined:

"Tango. The word conjures images of dancers with smoldering eyes and simmering sensuality gliding to the melancholy sound of Astor Piazzola's accordion-like bandoneon. The men are manly and the women are, well, wrapping their legs quite conspicuously around them.

— Dina O'Meara, It takes two to tango.[3]

Traditional tango is steeped in machismo culture. It is a reflection of Argentine societal views on sexuality and gender relations. The man is the active participant while the woman is passive. Argentine tango is a full improvisational dance. The male leader moves forward, guides the step pattern, the tempo and protects the female follower who steps backwards in complete trust, her eyes might be closed. She adds expressive elements to the dance: adornos (embellishments). The man, choreographer, creates the structure of the dance, and his purpose is to make the woman appear pretty. The lady must wait for the man to guide the movement and with a bad leader, she’s lost.

At conventional milongas it’s the man who invites the woman to dance with eye-contact and a nod of the head, called cabeceo.[4]

Gender neutral dancing: open role reverse and same-sex tango[edit]

The Queer Tango movement breaks these rigid heteronormative gender roles of the tango world and permits all the permutations of partnering within tango. Same-sex tangoing is frequent: men dance with men,[5] women dance with women, who can lead or follow. Also men dance with women, exploring open role reverse. The term queer, commonly used as a synonym for the LGBT community, is used here in a larger sense. A queer tango dancer shifts the focus from sexuality to gender which allows to enhance his expressiveness by way of role exchange. Therefore, the Queer Tango scene gives not only a home to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex tangueras and tangueros (tango dancers), where they can feel comfortable. It creates a liberated tango environment for gender-neutral dancing, where rules and codes of traditional tango no longer restrain communication between people. By way of queer tango teaching, heterosexuals dancers can learn the open role reverse and enhance their competences in tango:

"Queer Tango proposes the possibility for people that dance tango to freely choose the role they want to take up and what gender they prefer to dance with. To be able to perform this way, the teaching technique used is exchanging roles. This means for everyone to learn to lead and follow. Dancers have the power to choose to dance the role they prefer or to exchange roles, depending on the person they are dancing with and the moment they decide to do so.This technique allows exploring the dynamics in more equal relationships. Here, the symbolic power that lays on the leading role vanishes when either person can take up either role, indistinctly."

— Mariana Docampo, What is Tango Queer?[6]

History of the Queer Tango movement[edit]

There is one story which claims that tango as a dance was born in the brothels of Buenos Aires, another relates that tango was created by men dancing tango between men on street corners at the beginning of the 20th century:

"Because of a shortage of women in the immigrant population, there were really only two practical ways for a man to get close to a woman under these circumstances. One was to visit a prostitute and the other was to dance. The men practicing together, looking for the best ways to please a woman when they danced with her, preparing for that rare moment when they actually did have a woman in their arms, were the people who created the Tango as a dance."

— Christine Denniston, Clichés about Tango. Origins of the Dance[7]

In the first decade of the 20th century, tango became famous as a couple dance (man-woman) in Paris.[8] There are also French and American postcards [9] from the first decades of the 20th century which represent tango between women. This feminine replica of man-to-man-tango generated much less literary documentation, yet a more extensive iconography tinged with a voyeuristic accent of eroticism:

"The origin of those images, like the origin of the enthronement of tango as a universal fashion, is Paris. They are mostly anonymous pictures of women before the retina of a man one imagines to be complacent with the image of two women narrowing the distance between their bodies, something this dance encourages. One cannot see in them any self affirmation of feminine propriety, but rather, flattery or seduction toward the male spectator.[…]On one hand, Saphic flirtation or outright lesbianism was exercised by valid individuals belonging to circles of artistic luster wherein this was entirely admissible. On the other hand, the cabarets, in their obvious role as vias for sexual escapism, found their place in society. The image of tango between women is to drink from both springs and, from both, some images representing it have been handed down to us."J. Alberto Mariñas, They dance alone…[9]

This popularity of Tango in Europe, and especially in Paris, made it an interesting couple dance (man-woman) for the upper classes in Buenos Aires, and the Tango was re-imported from Europe for their benefit.[8] The original way to dance it in same-sex couples got lost and was forbidden. Only male-female couples were allowed to dance in public milongas.

The Queer tango movement which revives the origins of tango as a same-sex couple dance is very recent. It was founded in Germany, in Hamburg, where in 2001 the first gay-lesbian milonga was organized.[10] In the same year the First International Queer Tango Argentina Festival was brought there to life. Since 2001 it takes place every year in order to bring together same sex couples in tango from all over the world. Born in Germany, the Queer Tango movement inspired other countries to create local queer tango scenes. Meanwhile, Queer Tango festivals are celebrated for example in Argentina,[11] in Denmark,[12] Sweden[13] and in the United States [14]

In the bastion of traditional heteronormative tango, in Buenos Aires, the first Queer Milonga, La Marshall, home for the LGBT tango community, opened its doors in 2002.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gretchen Elizabeth Smith: The History of the Tango. A ten-minute play with commentary and music. Dallas (TX) 2009. – plain text on: writeangle.org
  2. ^ Jennie Orvino: Three-Minute Love Affairs. Essay, Slow Trains, 2004. full text on: slowtrains.com.
  3. ^ Dina O'Meara: It takes two to tango. In: Western Standard Magazine, June 27, 2005. – full text on: salsavancouver.com
  4. ^ Ney Melo: Etiquette Article: The Do's and Don'ts of Inviting and Accepting.plain text on: close-embrace.com – see also Art of the cabeceo, description from a female dancer's point of view, on: totango.net Archived July 6, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Los Hermanos Macana bailan la Milonga Reliquias Porteñas – YouTube video – role reverse in: 0:36, 0:45, 1:19, 1:33 und 1:46
  6. ^ Mariana Docampo: What is Tango Queer? plain text on: buenosairestangoqueer.blogspot.com
  7. ^ Christine Denniston: Clichés about Tango. Origins of the Dance plain text on: www.history-of-tango.com.
  8. ^ a b Christine Denniston: Couple Dance Begins in Europe, 2003. plain text on: history-of-tango.com
  9. ^ a b J. Alberto Mariñas: They dance alone…: French and American postcards which represent tango between women in the years 1910/1920
  10. ^ Queer Tango – gay cradle in Hamburg on queer-tango.de
  11. ^ IVth Buenos Aires International Queer Tango Festival 2010 Archived November 26, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Queer Tango Festival Program Copenhagen
  13. ^ 4th International Queer Tango Festival Stockholm
  14. ^ International Queer Tango Festival San Francisco Archived May 30, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ 'La Marshall – first Milonga of Queer Tango in Buenos Aires Archived July 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine

Further reading[edit]

  • Wartluft, Elizabeth: Who’s Leading? Gender Role Transformation in the Buenos Aires Community. M.A. thesis at the University of Oregon, 2002. excerpt on: dancingsoul.typepad.com
  • Guillen, Marissa E.: The Performance of Tango: Gender, Power and Role Playing. Master of Arts thesis, Ohio 2008. plain text on: etd.ohiolink.edu.

External links[edit]