Argentina's feminist tango

Wednesday, July 17, 2019 - 5:19pm


Tango is deep in Argentine culture. It's also steeped in traditional male-female roles. But some dancers are pushing for a more feminist version of tango. The World's Allison Herrera reports from Buenos Aires.


Marco Werman: When you mention you're traveling to Argentina, somebody is bound to bring up tango. The dance is embedded in Argentine culture and tango is steeped in traditional male and female roles. But some women in Argentina are pushing back against machismo on the dance floor.

The World's Alison Herrera has our story from Buenos Aires.

Alison Herrera: On a Friday evening, couples at the Cheek to Cheek studio swirl around the dance floor. They're dancing tango, of course. Cheek to Cheek hosts what's known here as a milonga, a kind of informal tango club where people can practice and learn new steps.

Viviana Para is a longtime teacher in the Buenos Aries tango scene. She tells me the first time she tried tango, she wasn't that into it.

Viviana Para: I thought tango was for older people and I thought it was artificial, the way they dress, the way they express. And I didn't like it.

Alison Herrera: But her friends persuaded her to take a lesson so she could be part of a showcase in Miami. She wanted the free ticket to the US, so she did it.

Viviana Para: I took one lesson and I never stopped dancing. And I never I went to Miami and I quit the university, I quit my job — everything. Because once you get into the tango, you get addicted. And I really never stopped.

Alison Herrera: It's been 25 years since that first lesson and a lot has changed. More younger people dance tango now. The way people dress when they're on the dance floor has changed, as well. More women are wearing jeans, instead of fishnets and high heels. And now it's not just men. Women can lead to.

Viviana Para: The tango was macho. Not anymore. There's a new song: “[Indecipherable].”

Alison Herrera: That song in English says, "Hey, Guys! Tango Isn't Macho Anymore." Aside from the fact that Para was chided earlier in the evening by a male organizer for wearing hiking boots and not high heels, the dance floor has become a more inclusive place for women. And that has something to do with more women in Buenos Aires speaking up about their rights.

Viviana Para: That has happened in the last two years, three years. Women are in the streets saying, “We don't want anymore.” And we at the milonga are also saying that we don't want anymore.

Alison Herrera: What she and other female dancers don't want anymore, she says, is to be treated like objects. That's why she joined a Facebook group called Movimiento Feminista del Tango or the Tango Feminist Movement. The group promotes LGBTQ tango spaces and milongas that aren't, in their words, machista. They also call out male teachers who act inappropriately with their female students.

Viviana Para: The truth is that we have a problem with men in tango because women will come and complain. “Oh, when he was teaching the class he did this to me or he forced me to do that and I didn't want to.”

Alison Herrera: Para says female tango dancers have taken a page from Argentine actresses who started to speak out about harassment in their profession. She says at first it was hard for women in tango to talk about what was going on. But now they are talking. And she says male teachers are paying attention.

Viviana Para: Some of them understand that this is the beginning of the change and it's good that we're talking out loud, we're speaking out [about] the problems in the tango community, like in any other community.

Alison Herrera: Para says that to dance tango is to be very aware of your partner, to respect their space and their body. It just makes sense, she says, for that respect to be part of the way that everyone interacts on the dance floor.

Alison's reporting in Argentina was supported by the International Women's Media Foundation.