This past weekend I went to my first tango festival. It was The SMITH (Santa Monica International Tango Holiday) and this was the first year of this festival. I have been to dance festivals in the past, mostly for West Coast Swing and Salsa, but this one needs to be written about.
For those of you who read this and do not know me, I am a dance addict. I started dancing Salsa when I was 14 and moved on to more and more dances. My current dance of choice is Argentine Tango. I learned a little more than a year ago and have fallen down the rabbit hole.
When I moved back to Los Angeles after college I started looking for places to Tango, classes to take and a community where I fit in. I am still searching for that Tango space that I feel totally comfortable in. I came across some stuff through Tango Mar Vista. One of the questions in the FAQ was “What kinds of people dance tango?” Their answer was “Awesome kinds.”
Awesome kinds indeed. This weekend I met a Tango Rapper, and a girl, presumed to be the youngest person there (that was always me when I danced Salsa). We got into a conversation about why we danced Tango. The rapper said “connection” and I immediately understood. Tango is an addiction. The girl said, “well… at first it was the shoes. My mother wouldn’t let me wear high heels.” This I also understood. You see, Tango shoes are the most beautiful shoes I have ever seen. They extend leg lines and come in every kind of color and pattern. The heels are higher than imaginable, and sadly, I can’t wear them and won’t go through the torture of learning just so I can wear cute, very expensive shoes. To the young lady’s shoe comment the rapper replied with, ” so you haven’t gotten to that point, at an all night milonga, where your brain goes off” and I interject, ” and you have this revelation, ‘So this is what it feels like to be human and alive!’?”
I suppose it is something that comes with age, not that I am particularly old. That search for a perfect dance, the high when you find one, and the longing once it is over. I am have not drank the Kool-Aid to the point where I live from milonga to milonga, always searching. My interests are varied and many so that I do not have the time or money to have tango consume my life, but some people do. Perhaps, if there was a community that I had that always provided a space where I could find something like that then I might, but the problem is, I am an omni-dancer.
My loyalties are not only with Tango, but there are things about Tango that I love more than any other dance. I like dancing tango to alternative and nuevo music ( music that isn’t as old as my grandmother, who is 94 by the way). Alternative music is music that wasn’t designed specifically as Tango, but Tango can be danced to it. Nuevo is new Tango music with a more contemporary feeling. Electrotango is Tango music with electronic and synthetic components. I like these. I also like fusion dancing, that is, blending multiple dances in the same song, and there are few, if any, opportunities for fusion in Los Angeles.
Now what does this have to do with fan culture? How does Tango fit in with media studies?
This community is similar to other communities that form around texts. This community just happens to form in a much more literal way. Dancing Tango requires connection with the floor, your partner and the music. The music is the text. The partner, and possible partners, are community, and the floor is a required element for dancing and connection with it helps to better open paths of communication between you, your partner and the music. These communities must spend time with other members of the community. They will travel ridiculous distances for shared cultural experiences often times with strangers, bonding over a shared subject.
There is also a certain religiosity to this whole thing. Much like participating in call-back lines at The Rocky Horror Picture Show there are familiar songs, and moves and people at tango events. There are familiar Tango events: classes, practicas, and milongas. Dancing tango is like prayer with the intention of looking for something larger than one’s self. For some it is discipline, training the body to do highly technical things, much like Tai Chi. Going to a milonga, the same milonga, every week is a regular encounter with like minded people, to conduct an action that can be comparable to prayer.
Tango is a fan culture because there are obsessive behaviors surrounding dancing this dance- and any/many other dances- that build communities around texts. These texts happen to be music and expression of community is dancing. I have yet to find a community perhaps because I have a hard time finding people who come together on a regular basis over similar texts, namely alternative, nuevo and electro-tango music. Perhaps it is because I have yet to commit to a milonga on a regular basis regardless of the texts.
I then ask a question to all of you, what kind of fan are you if you participate in a fan community for the community but not the text around which the community is built?
In the case of The Rocky Horror Picture Show the lack of variety in text (even though different casts perform shows different ways and cast members come and go), and longevity in the community creates some disconnect between pillars in the community and the text the community revolves around. People go there and talk with their friends, but don’t call back. What does that do to the community? How does that contribute? Is it inevitable? Is it like people who go out dancing and see their friends, but don’t dance?
Some veterans of the Salsa world don’t dance much when they go out dancing either. I was out once with one of the queens of Salsa in Los Angeles. We were there for hours. She danced maybe three songs, but they were the best three songs, with meticulously picked partners, to insure that the dancing that was had was not disappointing or dangerous. Is that the same thing? Why keep going? Can these communities only survive and personal connections made through them survive when mediated by the original text?
What happens when you take the people from the community and put them in a different context? What if that different context isn’t an extension of the experience (like going out for breakfast at 3 in the morning immediately following a milonga/RHPS)? How does the community change after they have bonded outside the context of the text? Or, does the context of the text permeate all social encounters? What if the other experience is in mixed company, those from one fan community and those from outside of it?
to be continued… perhaps.