Dancing Scruffy Cheek-to-Scruffy Cheek: Gay Tango

The long-standing dictatorship in Argentina that lasted from 1976 to 1983 considered anything different to be subversive. Even following the fall of the dictatorship, though there were no actual laws directly discriminating against homosexuals. But there was an Edict Against Public Dancing, according to a report written by Sociologist Amy Lind and published by the North American Congress of Latin America in 1997. This edict pledged to "punish any proprietor who allows men to dance together."

Lind goes on to explain that individuals were arrested under these edicts, held by police for up to 30 days and fined.

In 2001, Argentina experienced an economic crisis when the peso devalued. To aid their recovery, the government tried to attract more tourists. And because it had become such an affordable trip — prices were down by more than a third — both straight and gay tourists realized they could eat steak, drink Malbec and dance the tango for a third the regular price. Even those who didn't go to Buenos Aires to learn tango would become smitten by the art form.

Civil rights for homosexuals gradually improved, and in 2002 Buenos Aires' City Council passed a measure recognizing same-sex civil unions and extending health insurance and pension rights to same-sex partners. Since then, the city has worked hard to attract gay visitors, creating a gay tourist map and presenting at gay travel symposiums.

As a result, Buenos Aires has become a very popular destination for gay travelers, and according to Hector Aguilar, an architectural historian who gives lectures for Lugar Gay, "It now rivals Rio as the gay destination in South America."

One gay man, who asked to remain anonymous, came to Buenos Aires from his hometown of Montreal for almost three months to escape the Canadian winter. "I heard about it at a gay travel convention, and realized that not only was it inexpensive, but there was a lot to do here," he says. "Mostly, I am working on my tango. There are more gay milongas starting, and even some of the straight ones are becoming open to same-sex couples."

Gay tango is the natural outcome of these social changes in Buenos Aires, and the city hosted the first Queer Tango Festival last year. It drew about 500 people from around the world, organizer Roxana Gargano said. Take note: This festival was not gay tango, but queer tango. Another evolution is occurring.

Ingrid Remmen, who is visiting Buenos Aires from Norway to study queer tango, explained the difference: "Gay tango is about sexuality, and queer tango is about opening up traditional tango so that women can lead men or other women."

A teacher of queer tango, and one of the founders of the Queer Tango Festival, Mariana Falcon decided to learn the man's part when, as she puts it, "I lost my tolerance for bad leaders. And even when the leaders are good, I don't want to wear high heels and short skirts and play that feminine stereotype. It's not who I am."

She found even gay tango a little restrictive, as while some same-gender couples danced together, ideas of the dominant leader and submissive follower were still in play.

Queer tango, as she envisions it, means that it doesn't matter if you're straight or gay; you have the opportunity to be who you are — leader or follower — regardless of your gender or sexual orientation.

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