For over 100 years tango has been a dance between a man and a woman, in which a man displays his masculinity in his role as leader and a woman displays her femininity in her role as follower. (The practice of men dancing with men, common before the tango renaissance in the mid-1980s, with exactly that – practice; men did not dance with men at milongas in Buenos Aires prior to the first decade of the 21st century.)
In recent decades, many cultures worldwide have become more openly accepting of homosexuality. In contemporary Buenos Aires, there is a niche for tango dancing between gay men and between lesbian women, in tango social dance venues advertised as ‘gay friendly’. However, this exists within a more eclectic environment that is open to any deviation from the traditional tango roles of men leading and women following, that is, a ‘gender neutral’ tango in which men and women of any sexual orientation dance with either the same or the opposite sex in both leading and following roles.
There are several tango social dance venues in Buenos Aires that promote gender neutral roles in forming partnerships during tango social dancing:
– La Marshall (link1) (link2) (link3): Wednesday nights in Plaza Bohemia and Saturday nights in Bien Porteño, both located downtown (barrio San Nicolas)
– Tango Queer (link4): Tuesday Nights at the Buenos Aires Club in San Telmo
– Mano a Mano, organized by Helen ‘La Vikinga’ (link5) (link6), currently hosted Thursday afternoons at Salon Canning in Palermo (link7).
Whereas La Marshall and Tango Queer emphasize the gay-friendly atmosphere, Mano a Mano focuses on the variation in gender roles.
At the four tango social dance events listed above, there may be men leading men, women leading women, women leading men, and men leading women while dancing tango. With so many possible combinations of gender roles in dancing tango, it is not feasible to maintain the traditional milonga separation in seating sections of men (as leaders) and women (as followers), and use of the cabeceo is impractical. (Is one invited to lead? to follow?)
The demographic composition at these gender neutral tango social dance venues is diverse in age, but with a higher proportion of young people and a higher proportion of non-Argentines than at traditional milongas (Variation in Traditional Tango Venues in Buenos Aires).
The music played for dancing tango at these events is mostly traditional tango, but includes more modern musical derivations such as ‘electrotango’, as well as live music from contemporary orchestras.
Styles of dancing at these gender neutral tango social dance venues vary, but tend towards more dancing in an opened embrace, larger movements, and employment of more nuevo and stage tango elements.
In addition to the four tango social dance events with gender neutral role assumption mentioned above, there is also Baires Folk (link8) Monday evenings in San Telmo, ‘una peña y milonga gay’ that is more oriented towards folk dancing, but includes tango dancing.
These deviations from the codes and customs of traditional Buenos Aires milongas (link9) will be examined in future posts with regard to the representation of tango culture outside Argentina.