Two men, one dance - passion in Buenos Aires

March 7th, 2009 - 9:31 am ICT by IANS  

By Anne Schafmeister
Buenos Aires, March 7 (DPA) Tango is often associated with macho culture in Buenos Aires, but times are clearly changing, and as society undergoes modifications so does the melancholy and sensual dance.

“For me tango is pure passion and intensive contact with your partner,” says Horacio.

The music stops momentarily and couples wait patiently on the dance floor. A pearl of sweat merges, reaches his lips.

Soon, the next notes are heard in the dim-lit dance hall in downtown Buenos Aires. Horacio seeks out Fernando’s hand, holds him closer and rubs his head against his boyfriend’s cheek.

Surprised looks would be the least both men could expect in the over 120 traditional tango clubs - the so-called “milongas” in Buenos Aires.

However, at Club Buenos Aires, in the colonial neighbourhood of San Telmo, nobody gives them even a second glance as Tuesday night is for “different” dancing.

Eleven couples dance alongside Horacio and Fernando to the melancholy rhythm of tango music amid cheap plastic furniture. A young woman in a knee-length floral dress gently leads her female partner, dressed in jeans and sneakers.

Same-sex couples displaying an intimate bond on the dance floor rekindle the origins of the dance in the Argentine port city. At the beginning of the 20th century, tango was merely a men’s thing in Buenos Aires as there was a shortage of women among European immigrants.

Nowadays, the image that Argentina exudes and sells to tourists is quite different - tango as an erotic encounter between a man and a woman. He leads, she follows.

“Queer Tango” is a movement which has for a few years wrestled with this South American cliche. In the gay and lesbian milonga, the rules and sexual identities characteristic of traditional tango dissolve with the pace of the melancholy music.

“Here everyone takes on whatever role they like,” says dance teacher Mariana Falcon.

Like most women in the room, she wears flat, black dancing shoes, a skirt and a small bandeau top. Her dark hair hangs from a careless ponytail as she glides gracefully around the room.

A dance with Mariana is for many women the climax of a night at Club Buenos Aires.

For around $5, the 35-year-old gives one-and-a-half-hour lessons before the milonga starts at 9.30 p.m.

“Straight hips! Move in sync! Feel one another!”

It’s not like there are no rules in the liberal “Queer Tango”.

In 2007, Mariana organised the first “Queer Tango Festival” in Buenos Aires. In this respect, Argentina lags behind internationally as the German port of Hamburg was then holding its sixth queer dance festival.

While Buenos Aires features countless milongas and tango lessons of the traditional kind, supply is far more manageable among the gay and lesbian community as there are only a handful of such events especially for homosexuals, Mariana notes.

In July 2003, “La Marshall” was the first milonga in Buenos Aires to become a meeting point for homosexuals in the dance scene.

In April of that year, the Argentine capital had officially recognised same-sex partnerships through the so-called “union civil”. Buenos Aires is now considered a stronghold of South American homosexuals.

“But elsewhere in the country you don’t notice any of that,” says 50-year-old Horacio as he adjusts his large, retro glasses.

He comes from a small village in the north-eastern Argentine province of Jujuy. Horacio first started dancing the tango in 2004 in a traditional milonga.

“There, women want men to take the lead. Everything happens in accordance with very specific rules,” he explains.

There are fixed seats for certain groups of dancers, and invitations onto the floor are made through eye contact.

At Club Buenos Aires a simple, “Che, bailamos?” or “Hey, shall we dance?” is enough, whether it is whispered or yelled across the room.

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