El Cuerpo de Baile by Brandon Olszewski

El Cuerpo del Baile: The Kinetic and Social Fundaments of Tango
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Transcript Body & Society DOI: 10.1177/1357034X08090698 2008; 14; 63 Body Society  Brandon Olszewski El Cuerpo del Baile: The Kinetic and Social Fundaments of Tango   The online version of this article can be found at:   Published by:   On behalf of:   The TCS Centre, Nottingham Trent University   can be found at: Body & Society Additional services and information for Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions: Journals Online and HighWire Press platforms): (this article cites 19 articles hosted on the Citations    © 2008 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.  by Felipe Jr. Jocano on August 20, 2008 http://bod.sagepub.comDownloaded from   El Cuerpo del Baile : The Kinetic andSocial Fundaments of Tango BRANDON OLSZEWSKI Argentinian tango currently enjoys global popularity from South America toEurope, and from the United States to Japan. While some aficionados probablylament foreign interpretations of tango and a possible loss of authenticity for thedance, new dancers across the globe celebrate the tango’s intimacy and creativity.What features of tango are responsible for its popularity? Through an ethno-graphic investigation of tango movement and gesture, I argue that its popularityis a product of the unique kinetic connection the dance fosters between partners.Three distinct types of connection will be examined here: the kinetic and somaticrelationship between leader and follower; musicality, or how the couple moveswith the music; and the link dancers have with the history and culture of thetango. The first of these facets, the kinetic connection, is most important becauseit distinguishes the dance as intimate and dynamic, and superbly exemplifies thetrademark interpersonal bond of social dancing.The popularity of tango across the globe is largely a function of its authenticity.The desire for authenticity in recreation and travel is common today, and thisdemand increases a product’s marketability and subsequent likelihood of degra-dation (Bendix, 1997; Shaffer, 2004). This paradox must be tempered by the Durk-heimian understanding that, to survive, culture must be reproduced, and through Body & Society © 2008 SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore),Vol. 14(2): 63–81DOI: 10.1177/1357034X08090698    © 2008 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.  by Felipe Jr. Jocano on August 20, 2008 http://bod.sagepub.comDownloaded from   reproduction it necessarily shifts. However, accepting this non-essentializingdefinition of ‘authentic’ culture invites an obvious challenge. Of the myriadhybrids produced, which forms of tango remain authentic? Which hybrids arenot authentic, and why? Who is fit to judge authenticity? In all likelihood, itwould be difficult to find a native Argentinian who believes that the exportedtango – now found in Europe, North America and Japan – is very authentic.Likewise, American football (i.e. pigskin, and not soccer) fans would hesitate tocall international teams genuine.The point here is that authenticity is necessarily problematic for any culturalphenomenon, from classical music (Le Huray, 1990) to folklore (Bendix, 1997).For the purposes here, I follow Shaffer’s (2004) understanding: that authenticityis something that is performed, found in the body (and not in places), and isdependent on actors and context. Authentic art confers a sense of aura, or thefeeling of awe and reverence one experiences as a participant or observer of some work of art (Benjamin, 2002). This auratic quality is a combined productof setting, actors and ritual. In our technological age, where art can be repro-duced without the indigenous setting, actors and rituals traditionally involved,art forms tend to lose their aura.In his introduction to a recent issue of Body & Society , Bryan Turner (2005)builds on Benjamin’s concerns and argues that, in comparison to other art forms,dance is particularly resistant to technological reproduction and, consequently,the loss of aura. In this article, I will take Turner’s argument one step further andsuggest that, due to the social, improvised and intimate nature of the dance, tango– more so than other social or performance dances – withstands artistic degrada-tion and retains an authentic and auratic character, despite the global wayfaringand hybridization the dance continues to experience. The kinetic connection –the passionate, musical and dynamic relationship between leader and follower –sustains this vitality. The intimacy of tango is a product of the kinetic connection,music, culture and history of the dance. Together, these facets accentuate thetango’s distinctively sensual nature. However, the social and improvised qualitiesof the dance deserve attention initially because they are indispensable to thedistinction of the kinetic connection. Social and Improvised When considering tango’s uniqueness, the differentiation between performance(such as ballet and modern) and social (such as swing, ballroom, salsa and tango)dances is consequential. Performative dances tend to use the body expressivelyin public display to convey meaning, identity and artistic concepts. Research on 64  ■ Body & Society Vol. 14 No. 2    © 2008 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.  by Felipe Jr. Jocano on August 20, 2008 http://bod.sagepub.comDownloaded from   such dances emphasizes how performance dance facilitates identity expression andnegotiation (Buffington, 2005; Grau, 2005; Hamera, 1994; Kaiser, 2006; Markula,2006; Signe, 2004; Wulff, 2005), political and social resistance (Kaiser, 2006; Manos,2003; Wilcox, 2005), and spiritual and philosophical exploration (Markula, 2006;Sklar, 2001). Other research has demonstrated how dance can be more than just ameans for developing identity, but also an activity where one feels truly ‘at home’(Hamera, 2005; Rapport and Dawson, 1998).In contrast, social dancing focuses less on performance and representation, andmore on the instrumental use of the body to somatically, kinetically and musicallyconnect dancers – often just a leader and a follower, although some social dances,like square and contra dancing are multi-dyadic. As such, social dancing tends tolack metaphorical and artistic significance in lieu of an emphasis on interpersonalconnection (the performative ‘meaning’ of the dance being secondary to the inter-action between leader and follower). This argument does not assume that socialdancing is devoid of individualistic artistic expression, or that social dances, likethe tango or Lindy Hop, cannot have performance value. However, the focus of these dances is not expressive or performative: it is, aptly, social. Research onsocial dancing likewise retains different keynotes: the habitus and hexis of dancecommunities (Doane, 2006); how dance-based social networks help dancers accesshealth care and employment opportunities (Viladrich, 2003, 2005); performanceand gender (Pettyjohn and Kemmelmeier, 2007; Yamanashi, 2007); and howdance-based social networks facilitate relationships (Doane, 2006; Eliasoph, 1998;Viladrich, 2005). The tango is a social dance and, as such, is necessarily predicatedupon somatic interaction – specifically, the kinetic relationship between leaderand follower. Although all types of dance can be filmed, this sense of connectionis impossible to reproduce technologically: observing a live ballet is a richerexperience than watching it on tape, but a film of two tango dancers is even moredegraded, as the process of dancing with someone else is necessarily corporealand visceral.While almost all dances permit an individual dancer poetic license to performin his or her own way to an extent, choreographed dances are, by their docu-mented nature, easier to reproduce. Improvised dances, on the other hand,necessarily happen only once. 1 Almost all social dances are, to some degree,improvised; however, compared to other social dances, tango is particularlyspontaneous. Most ballroom dances, for instance, teach dance moves or ‘steps’ aspatterns, often consisting of specified foot and body movements over the courseof three, four, six or eight beats. In contrast, Argentinian tango teaches nopatterns. 2 Instead, dancers are instructed about basic movements such as singlesteps and turns, and then encouraged to piece these movements together creatively. El Cuerpo del Baile  ■ 65    © 2008 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.  by Felipe Jr. Jocano on August 20, 2008 http://bod.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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