Music & Arts: "El Abrazo del Tango: Una Cultura de los Colores"

Joel Baker, Prachi Parmar, Kate Minnihan, & Oksana Schuppan   

          Eight: the golden number in dance; the foundation for most dance forms…including that which was born to the working immigrants of Buenos Aires, Argentina in the early 1900s. Since then, tango has morphed into more than just an 8 beat dance; for many Argentinians, tango has become a way of life.  The ubiquitous diffusion of tango in Argentine culture can be seen in a multitude of mediums that include not only dance, but also music and art.

Amongst the many forms of art and music from the rich culture of Argentina, the most distinguishable is arguably the tango. Founded in the lower-class districts of Buenos Aires, tango has progressed from being just another dance to an emotional and passionate part of the Argentinian arts. Commenced around approximately 1850, the tango has gone through several eras of modification and has taken on many different styles. Noted popularity growth can be attributed partly to Carlos Gardel, a man who brought the tango style from Argentina to Europe which in turn increased popularity around the world. Below is a link to one of his most famous songs, “Por Una Cabeza.”

This painting illustrates a common tango step known as el abrazo, which translates to mean “the embrace.”  It depicts the raw sensual nature of tango at its core.  This painting was created by Fabian Perez, a painter born in Buenos Aires who has focused the majority of his career on capturing the tango along with various portraits.  In 2009, Perez was named the official artist of the tenth annual Latin Grammy Awards.  

Tango (as a dance) originated as a way for immigrant workers to escape the harsh realities of their everyday lives. It captured the ordinary man, the city, its memories, and inspired a sense of futuristic hope.  The dance’s heavy reliance on improvisation allowed dancers to connect with the music on a more intimate level and enabled a more direct link to the colorful Argentine culture.  
Note that America has also witnessed this infiltration of culture once before. Hip hop was an urban movement that began in the 1970s during a time of discrimination and socioeconomic inequality. It started as a improvisational street dance, where underprivileged communities came together, united by purpose and a way of expression.  Shortly after, hip hop was more than a specific genre of music or dance.  It became a style of dress, a modern attitude, and a new way of life.  People from all across the country began to identify with this dance.  Sound familiar?
Both hip hop and tango are living dance forms.  They have evolved through history and continue to reach growing audiences as the years continue to pass. Today, hip hop may still be seen in its original form, but is often fused with other styles such as jazz and contemporary, and in collaborating with country and pop artists, hip hop has been at the forefront of many entirely new types of music as well. Likewise, tango, though still performed in its original form, has also experienced change over the years in Argentina. For instance, much of what once was traditional tango, is now more heavily fused with jazz. This style is referred to as Tango Nuevo.  Lastly, there is one thing that remains similar to both tango and hip hop no matter the style: the 8 count. This dance form, after all, is the very reason these two dances feel as they do and are more similar than different, even in basic form.  
We are incredibly excited to travel to Argentina and look forward to immersing ourselves in the culture of tango that has for so long embodied the passion of the Argentine people. We will learn to dance in the streets, appreciate the art, and listen to the music that has captured this beautiful country. And perhaps while we are there, enjoying the culture of Argentina, we will even be able to showcase a little bit of home with a bit of Kanye West…maybe…

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