Ever since I started dancing, the topic of tango clichés has fascinated me. The rose in mouth, castanets, head flicks, dramatic poses are all parts of what usually pops into people’s heads when they hear the word tango. Where did they come from, and why did they stick? Going through a lot of Hollywood production at least gives a partial answer, and Rudolph Valentino is one of the people to blame, the rose in mouth appears in the film Blood and sand, where he plays a bullfighter, while the film he dances the tango is Four horsemen of the apocalypse. The tango in Some like it hot must have reinforced the image further into the public memory.
But what lies behind the clichés, do they reveal something of interest, which we may overlook, just because the cliché is so easily dismissed? Could the tango have more important influence from the flamenco than is commonly acknowledged? The rose at least played a role in the real tango porteño in the way that the orchestra of Pugliese used a single rose on the piano during their performances to mark the maestro’s absence while he was held in prison for his political beliefs. The head flicks seem to come from the ballroom version of tango, and to my knowledge they have little relation to the “real” tango. Many of the dramatic poses, though, could have their roots in early tango moves such as cortes and quebradas.
Similarly, many sayings about tango, are often dismissed as being merely clichés, but I have found that many of them go deeper than we first think. That tango is really about dancing for the woman is one such statement. Often heard, rarely seen outside Buenos Aires, is my experience. Even by those who say it. I heard women talk about this for years, X dances for himself etc. It took me many years before I started noticing what they were actually talking about. But when I finally realized, it transformed my way of seeing tango, both my own and others’. It may appear superficial, a subtle adjustment, a cliché. In fact, what is needed is a fundamental change. Starting to dance for the woman, rather for one self.
Now read those Gavito quotes again.