Many associate Argentinian culture with the passionate and glamorous facade of dance and music, but Queens College professor and author of the new book “More than Two to Tango,” Anahi Viladrich, says there is more to a people than the tango.
“We’re selling this idea of authenticity that we dance tango because it is a good image for ourselves,” said Viladrich, who is originally from Argentina. “Most people don’t actually dance the Argentine tango in Argentina. Of course there are a few people but we don’t bond through dance, we bond through food, barbecues and other get-togethers.”
Though Viladrich’s words may seem harsh, she said she is in no way judging people who make a living by teaching dance or love dancing in their free time.
Instead she said she believes that it is a lack of identity in the United States that leads many Argentinians to live up to this romanticized idea of the tango.
“The life of a dancer is not glamorous,” she said. “It is hard and usually requires artists to work multiple jobs to support themselves and yet we romanticize it and make it seem as though we all live in this passionate way.”
The positive things that have come out of this tango fascination are the milongas — tango parlors.
“The most important word in 'tango' is milongas because it is a place for socializing and has become a very international community,” Viladrich said. “It’s all about hanging out. I was able to enter the ethnic community by following the tango steps of my people.”
The implication is that milongas bring Argentinians together and give them a sense of identity that has little to do with dancing. The tango is what brings them to these spots, but it is the socialization with their own people that keeps them there.
“Most people fall in love with the tango while they are away because it somehow connects them to their home,” Viladrich said. “I don’t dance but I do identify with the music and the lyrics. It’s not just about the dance
Viladrich does not blame Argentinians for taking on the role of the tango dancing kings and queens.
“I’m not saying anything insulting to those who decide to teach or perform,” she said. “People have to survive. There are people out there who teach salsa lessons because that sells.
“If I’m Argentinian and I can make money teaching dance then why not? Argentinians are not selling crystals as diamonds but I don’t like the misconceptions that have developed. These people are free agents in a very competitive market. They have no benefits and no insurance.”
It is that harsh reality that artists who work in any medium have to deal with that the professor wants to emphasize.
“Most of my book tries to show the reality of it,” Viladrich said. “We want so badly to be shown as passionate people with tango running in our blood. We don’t have tango running in our blood.”
In essence, Viladrich is analyzing a culture from an anthropologist’s point of view and for her, to simplify an entire culture of millions of people into a dance is an injustice to the people of that culture.
“I’ve even had fellow anthropologists who go to Argentina and come back saying how much the tango is a part of the culture,” she said. “No it isn’t. They are romanticizing and only seeing a small part of Argentinians.”
So far she has not received any negative feedback on her analytical book.
When Viladrich is not writing about the tango, she is conducting research at the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology at Queens College and at the Doctor of Public Health program at the City University of New York.
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