Brainstorming about tango, made me think and research about the alienation of a culture , Yoga and Tango in comparison. On first view, both seem to have nothing, but nothing in common.
I find interesting parallels to the international widely spread phenomena of Yoga and Tango . Somehow, it’s interesting to compare their specific acceptance and development in the western world. To start with, I provide you with a short overview about historical relevant influences.
Let’s see what my point is.
Historical and cultural background of Yoga.
The origins of yoga dating back 3000 -3500 years, to the Vedic period of ancient India. India is a country with some of the most deeply religious societies and cultures, home of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Yoga is a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines. There are many different styles and interpretations found, as well in Hinduism as in Buddhism.
Historical and economical background in the West.
By opening borders to trade and allowing human creativity to flourish , New York and other cities across the globe had become centers of learning, producing, and sharing back in the 19th century.
This broke down national barriers and led to innovations in transportation and technology. While New York became the marvelous product of this openness , there grew a big demand for answers to spiritual questions.
Swami Vivekananda was the first guru who introduced Yoga to the West back in the late 19th century.
Born into an aristocratic family he was exposed to education and spirituality.
After his father’s death Swami Vivekananda could not stop the loss of his family’s wealth. He became a very poor man and asked his later teacher Sri Ramakrishna for help to pray for him, to get out of his misery. But Ramakrisha told him, he had to do this by himself.
He followed Ramakrishnas advise and prayed for wisdom, to get out of his financial problems. But his life journey continued poor and traveling as a begging monk was the only option.
The wisdom he found in his meditations finally brought him out of misery.
After some years of traveling and building up his spirituality, he got into contact with personalities from many diverse backgrounds, religions and influence.
New achieved contacts, views and wisdom made him decide to spread his believes to the western world in 1893. He should become a re-known lecturer with huge success in the UK and the US.
Due to better traveling conditions, many Yoga gurus from India followed his path to the West ,where their spiritual knowledge was accepted with interest.
Spiritual power miss-used for personal advantages.
Later some gurus miss-used their knowledge and spiritual power for personal advantages. This further has helped to arise criticism and paranoia against Yoga.
Many Yoga gurus were seen as corrupt and fake, that Yoga received a bad reputation. The media as a big influencer supported that negative image.
As the physical benefits of Yoga have not been questioned, Yoga became more and more popular as a system of physical exercise across the western world.
Since Yoga was legitimized as a purely exercise for health, unconnected to any religion, it was fully acknowledged.
The physical benefits of Yoga have not been questioned.
Since 2001, the popularity of Yoga in the USA has expanded. Every day, millions of people practice Yoga to improve their health and overall well-being.
In these days there have developed multiple branches or interpretations of Yoga: partner Yoga, pregnant Yoga , mother and child Yoga, bier Yoga ,wine Yoga, doggy Yoga, hot Yoga, what ever people invented to make a business out of it.
Yoga Industry become even more powerful by social media.
In the last decade under the huge influence of social media,Yoga has taken out totally the soul of it.
It became very artificial, meritocratic and profit oriented.
Yoga has become a huge industry with many side industries following , like Yoga holiday retreats, Yoga teacher training retreats, Yoga fashion, Yoga maths, Yoga water bottles, and , and…
The title “Yoga teacher” is not protected .
Big business has become with the teacher training seminars all over the world.
3 weeks of Yoga teacher training, everybody can take part and you are a certificated teacher.
No wonder so many injuries appear despite the heath beneficial exercises of Yoga.
Once established in the West and with the help of todays social media and the money oriented mainstream in this subculture , Yoga turned into an industry lacking on knowledge and respect for the original.
Yoga was introduced by Indian gurus with knowledge and spiritual experience, rooted in their cultural background.
When Yoga was introduced to the west, it was more than physical exercise; it has a meditative and spiritual core in the Sutras of Pantanjali.
Indian gurus, people of wide knowledge and spiritual experience, rooted in their cultural background and education by their spiritual grandmasters, brought Yoga tho the west.
But let’s keep up with positive views, there is still a side stream of existing holistic Yoga, open for the conversation to say hello people, we are offering you something meaningful, are you interested?
Historical and cultural background of Tango
Roughly in the same time Swami Vivekananda was traveling the western world, Argentina enjoyed relative peace and stability.
Massive waves of European immigrants radically reshaping social and cultural background towards the end of the 19th century. A small upper class with super rich families, and a huge lower class with real poor people.
Influences from African, Native American and European culture, Tango originated in the lower-class neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. In this ambience, Tango was the amusement for the poor, the immigrants, the working class.
The increase in prosperity led to Argentina becoming the seventh wealthiest developed nation in the world in the following decade.
Historical background in Paris, the Belle Époque,
La Belle Epoque in Paris, can be described as a revolutionary time in any sense.
Industrial Innovations, economical growth, textile and fashion industry, department stores, new architectual concepts and the rising of art nouveau is exeptional for this time.
From beginning of the 19 century until world war I, Paris was the center of attention in many sense. It was a melting point for all artists. These grandeur spread over to other European capitals like Rom, Berlin and London.
And of course, Paris was trendsetting for all high society of Buenos Aires.
First arrival of Tango in Paris
First of all Argentine Tango reached the European continent in Paris around 1912.
Rich, argentine families sent their sons to Paris to study or develop business connections. These young men, unknowingly by their parents, learned to dance tango in the forbidden establishments and brothels of their city.
They brought tango out of the shadow of low class entertainment into the Grand Hotels of Paris . Tango started to boom in the rich men’s world.
Its sensual nature inspired the pope in Rome to ban Tango, which only contributed to its rapid success.
With increasing popularity for tango overseas, Tango artists, who were struggling for money in general, found their destination outside of Buenos Aires. Overseas tango had not only a positive reputation, it also brought prosperity.
Better economic conditions for Tango dancers.
The first professional dancer was “El Cachafaz”. A man from the streets of Buenos Aires, with a lot of tricks and variations. Street smart and equipped with the sense for the opportunity, he earned his money with tango overseas, giving performances and private classes to the upper class. Indeed a pleasant way of working.
I think he was the pioneer, or at least the most famous of the first professional dancers in Europe and the US.
Due to political unrest in Europe by World War I, paired with boredom, economical instability and homesickness, argentine artists returned to Buenos Aires. Tango overseas came to a standstill.
Probably this was an important indicator, that the movement of tango reached a climax back in Buenos Aires by that time.
The Golden Age of Tango in Buenos Aires.
During the 1920’s big dance-orchestras appeared on the scene, and singer Carlos Gardel became the first tango superstar.
World War II paralyzed the entire planet, but Argentine economy flourished. The 1940’s are the Golden Years in tango-history.
With the world wide Great Depression, the golden age came to an end .
Declining and rising and declining again.
Juan Domingo Perón who started his presidency in 1946 supported tango and its artists and used them for his political campaigns.
In those years the famous orchestras of Juan d’Arienzo, Carlos di Sarli and Haníbal Troilo mesmerized Buenos Aires city-life. Open air parties with thousand dancers became quiet common.
The coup in 1955, originated by the CIA, that ousted General Perón had profound consequences for Argentina and for the Tango.
Tango became a subculture in the Dark Age.
The popularity of tango decreased due to the new military government favored the upper class. The culture of the mass of the population was alien and dangerous.
Perón was a nationalist and a populist, and Tango was both national and popular. As a consequence many artists end up either in prison or on a black list .
The new government, supported by the US, where interested to the new spreading culture of North America, Rock n Roll and Jazz.
A trick to manipulate the youth.
As much they would have desired ,the Junta could not forbid tango in general. Therefore they implement regulations to cut off the extreme popularity of tango. Tango turned more and more into a forbidden subculture.
New laws did not allow teenage boys to go to Tango clubs. Places for Rock and Roll music were open for all without exception.
While the best way for a young man to meet a young woman was in a milonga, suddenly it was much easier to meet a girl by dancing Rock and Roll.
A logical reason why young people stopped to dance Tango.
The Junta practiced a genocide over the civilian population with up to 30,000 victims. In conclusion ,reason enough for many Argentines to leave the country in the 80’s.
The dictatory of the Military Junta finally was over in 83, and Tango subculture became status again.
Juan Carlos Copes and María Nieves.
The lucky constellation of artist and choreographer Juan Carlos Copes, director and producer Claudio Segovia y Héctor Orezzoli, made up the success with the international tango show :
TANGO ARGENTINO in Paris (83) and New York (85). The new age of Tango, after years of suppression, began.
We can say, that Juan Calros Copes and María Nieves have been the first artists of the second wave or tango for export.
Together with with some other couples, Miguel Angel Zotto, Milena Plebs, and more, travelling successfully overseas consequently promoting Tango Argentino as a stage show.
Tango was always a dance of improvisation, suddenly it developed to a choreographed stage tango show. As a result Tango was ready for Broadway.
In its improvised form as a social dance, it seems like it would have never reached that popularity.
Miss-interpretation of Tango.
Somehow these choreographed tango shows, presented by professional dancers, created a big miss-understanding of what tango actually was. To the question , How did you like the show, would you like to learn Tango ?
It either triggered the reaction:
- “oh it’s very nice but I never can do this…thank you , but not for me”, or
- “oh yes, I want to do this jumps and kicks” .
A huge wave of argentine teachers spreading out into the world and made a living from teaching tango, which has became so popular. There were attempt of students to poorly imitate the show dancers. Somehow many teachers merged the wishes of their customers and their financial needs.
There was a new fashion amongst young dancers in Buenos Aires, and in the rest of the world, arising. Tango Nuevo. People of the new generation of dancers were dancing differently, and and kept an emotional distance from their partners while they were dancing with an open embrace.
Tango world dominated by clumsy dancers?
It is understandable that tango in Asia, in Europe in the US developed totally different. Each country has its very own interpretation of Tango and we cannot insist to have an exact copy of the original.
Each country adopt exactly those structures who blend in with its own culture. In many cases it assimilates quite fare away from the original, that it turned into a total new manifestation.
Many Argentine teachers taught in classes steps, variations or complicated figures. Maybe they did not realised, that Western people in general, do not have the lightness, the musicality, the corporeality and easy going nature of Latin people.
Furthermore the closeness of the embrace, which is so essential for Argenines, they will not even mention this in the classes. This precondition is not existing in western people.
They expected Europeans to learn in the same way they have learned.
Together with those Western students, who picked up the step combinations easily, still though missing elegance and body awareness, they created unknowingly a tango world which turned out quite different from the original.
Understandable since we know the influence of cultural differences .
The title “tango teacher” is not protected.
As tango is a social dance originated from the streets of Buenos Aires, there actually does not exists a professionally educated teacher.
In the old days, good dancers with some individual style and elegance usually will be titled ” maestro”. Senior dancers will have watched about the junior dancers until they were ready to go to milonga. A social – cultural structure of education.
Nowadays everywhere in the world, there are dancers, who have learned something, and have the calling to give their knowledge to others, call themselves a teacher.
It happens that dancers not knowing anything much, but find a lucrative side income by offering themselves in milongas as teachers.
Health benefits of Tango dancing.
Due to Tango in its profound connection of 2 persons and the rhytmical but even romantic interpretation of the music, the body will allow to disperse endorphins .
A side effect which is proven in many research made with elderly people and Parkinson disease. You do not have to be ill or old to feel the positive health benefits, just as a regular social dancer .
Competitive and always on a run.
Many dancers in Europe and Asia, take the dance very competitive. Probably they don’t understand what is missing. Tango has so much developed away from its original source. Since they train for the Mundial, everybody is a pro in the milongas.
Today with the happenings of encuentros and marathons, Tango subculture has developed fare away from its origin. People are dancing for many hours a day, if possible every tanda.
They do not take time and enjoy a beautiful experience for a while after, like a fragrant smell. This reminds me to the terrible custom of a “coffee to go”.
A 3000 year old Yoga culture from India against a very young, only 100 years of Tango culture from Argentina. How can we see anything in common?
In conclusion, how is it possible, that a totally foreign culture could reach out to other countries to get adopted by the host country and become a subculture?
What has Yoga and Tango development in the world in common?
With all the differences we see between Yoga and Tango, it is obvious that,
- The teachers came from fare away on their own will. No authority asked them to come. Economical reasons mainly were the motivation behind for the teachers and arstists to go overseas.
- Gaining acknowledgement, wealth and respect abroad.
- The title “teacher” is not protected.
- Health benefits of Yoga and Tango are widely aknowledged.
- The Interpretation of Yoga and Tango is differing from the original.
Economic reasons, the main reason for going abroad.
No doubt that Swami Vivekananda had great respect for his teacher Ramakrishna.
His meditation practice of many years, brought him wisdom and spirituality. In addition it caused the wish to bring the teaching to other countries. For him it was unmistakably a way to end his journey as a begging monk.
Furthermore he had in mind collecting sponsorships and donations for his ashrams and teaching centers.
Other gurus following these successful life pattern, thus made a great career outside of India. They would probably not been as respected as after reaching success outside of their home country.
Tango teacher following exactly the same structure. At first profit and adventure and as a result recognition in their home country.
The title “teacher” is not protected in Yoga and Tango.
With an intense course of 3 weeks and you can call yourself a Yoga teacher. Therefore it is easy in Yoga to get a teacher certificate.
Beginners usually do not understand the difference to a real teacher anyway.
Since you know how to do the basic eight and some ochos , many beginner will follow you. The bonus to pay less than in a proper school will help to make up the decision.
I have met Argentines , who think their passport and accent qualify them as a Tango teacher.
Different to the rest of the Tango world , In Argentina the education of dancers is still somehow social-culturally regulated.
Dancers, once they feel ready probably would like to make a professional teaching career out of it. At first they will strive for acknowledgement in between their peers.
First at all they will start to be assistants to their teachers, before they will open their own classes. Exceptions will be here and there.
Acquired recognition counts more than any certificate.
When Yoga and Tango brought to export, it lost its original soul.
Cultural conditions influenced and formed Yoga and Tango in their original country.
When brought to export, each host country adopt naturally exactly those structures, who blend in with its own culture.
This process goes often along with loosing the original soul. Either people
- don’t care about and are not interested in the original significance,
- or they misunderstand authenticity with blind copying.
- A western man in the West, does not have to wear traditional Yoga cloth like they do in India, to practice spiritual Yoga.
- A western tango dancer does not have to adopt “macho” characteristics to be able to sense the tango connection. There are many superficial appearances in the world of international Yoga and Tango , due to the intention to appear authentic.
To be authentic means to understand and grasp the essence, the initial of a foreign culture and transfer these ideas suitable into our own culture, without loosing the original spirit and soul.
The deviations mainly happened, when triggered by huge success and Yoga or Tango became mainstream inside a subculture. Because here it starts to become superficiality.
Teachers, dancers, organisers and students of Yoga and Tango shall always remind to teach , promote and be aware of the original intention behind.