The Argentinean Dance Ethic v. A More Social Concept

A conversation with Eduardo and Gloria Arquimba

Editorial Comment: That which strikes me about Tango dancers in Argentina is that they are highly selective about whom they choose to dance with during a milonga or dance social: great dancers want to dance with other great dancers, which means that they overlook the presence of beginners.Those who, as a result of much hard work, can be described as "competent" dancers who may find themselves snubbed as well. The Argentinean dance ethic can be summed up as "Always dance with those who are better dancers than you are." Personally, I feel that this "dance ethic" is not helpful in American milongas. Beginners are going to dance with other beginners but they also need to be mentored by those who have been dancing longer; competent dancers become "great" when they experience and can adjust to a range of partners --beginners included.

If you are an experienced dancer, dancing with a new dancer forces you to be well versed in the basics and technique issues rather than merely knowing steps. So-called good dancers supposedly find it difficult to dance with new dancers because of the beginner's lack of skills. If you only seem to dance well with a good or better dancer, it would be an indication that your skill level is not quite what it should be, even if you consider yourself "a good dancer".

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The following interview reflects two viewpoints: that of Al of TangoChicago and the opposing viewpoint of one of the best known figures in Argentinean history, Eduardo Arquimba, who has been dancing Tango more than 40 years.

Al: What I want to know is this --why in Argentina are there such unsocial codes? For instance, they won't dance with a person unless he or she is already great at the dance. Is the ego more important than enjoying other people and socializing? Take for instance, Graciela Gonzales -- no one would dance with her for her first two years in the milonga.

Eduardo: That would be the ways things used to be. Now there are more dancers, newer ones, and many more tourists. Now people come from other countries; they go to the tourist milongas and they dance without difficulty. Also, think about this: every place has a certain set of customs --when you go to the place you have to accept the customs of that place. If I go to dance in milongas in Switzerland, there will be customs there different than other places. Before things used to be in Argentina as you described, but now these customs are changing because there are so many tourists coming in and altering codes because they don't know them.

Al: But when Ruben Terbelca came into town, he said only 5,000 people were doing Tango in Argentina at that time. He said it was a small community, where many people know one another. I think it would be even bigger there in Argentina if the community in Buenos Aires were more accepting and encouraging. Is that figure of 5,000 accurate?

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