The Dialogical Dance: Self, Identity Construction, Positioning and Embodiment in Tango Dancers

Abstract

Argentine tango is a complex phenomenon, involving music, dancing and lifestyle, today practiced by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. This is already a good reason for psychology to make it an object of study. Besides, studying tango could also help to develop a dialogical way of theorizing and a dialogical methodology, taking into account both the genetic historical and eso-systemic dimensions and the individual experiencing. As any other product of human psyche, tango creates an universal and abstract representation of life starting from very situated and individual acts. Such institutionalized representation, which is at the same time epistemological, ethical and aesthetical, becomes a tradition -that is the framework distanced from the individual immediate experience- within which the meaning of the experiences to be make sense in return. To illustrate this epistemological and methodological stance, a history of the development of tango as dialogical social object first is sketched. Then, an ethnographic study about the Self actuation in a community of Italian tango dancers is presented. Results show how participants construct and actuate their identities in a dialogue between their I-positions inside and outside tango community.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The “conventillo” is a typical kind of popular overcrowded block of the second half of the 19th Century. It was a multi-stored building with a dark central courtyard, called patio. All the small apartments, often one room, where disposed on an internal balustrade facing the courtyard. This kind of very poor housing forced all the social activities to take place in the common open space.

  2. 2.

    “Gringos” is the generic Argentinean name for European immigrants, while “compadres” are the immigrants from the inner countryside of Argentina.

  3. 3.

    The texts says: Conventions are the fences society has built to protect you and the race. Familiarities arouse dangerous desires. They waste your power for the finest human companionship and love. Physical attraction alone will never wholly satisfy. Complete and lasting love is of the mind as well as of the body”. Source: Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota, retrieved 2014 October 10 from http://digital.lib.umn.edu/IMAGES/reference/swhp/SWHP0081.jpg

  4. 4.

    There are at least four different theories on the origin of the name tango: from the Ancient Latin verb “tangere”; from the Spanish tango; from the African-American word “tangò”, a particular type of drum used in the celebrations; from the Quechua Indian word “tambo”, distorted by the European colonizers; and finally from the phonetic deformation of the name “Shàngò” or “Sàngò” belonging to the Afro-American pantheon, the divinity of the storms and thunders, lord of the percussion instruments (Castro 1991; Gobello 1999; Labraña and Sebastiàn 2000; Kohan 2007; Salmon 2000). Of course, this is not just and etymological debate, it is relevant that the opposing reconstructions point to different social or ethnic groups.

  5. 5.

    “Candombe” is a traditional African-American form of cadenced music played with different kinds of drums.

  6. 6.

    It is the king instrument of tango music, similar to, but also significantly different from an accordion, it was invented in the 1835 by the German Heinrich Band. The amazing story is that it was initially conceived as a portable substitute of the church organ in German countryside. It was brought to Buenos Aires by the German sailors and was soon adopted and modified by local musicians to carry out a more worldly activity (Labraña and Sebastiàn 2000).

  7. 7.

    “Tango is an infinite possibility”

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Acknowledgments

This work has been funded by the Marie Curie IEF-2012 grant “EPICS. Epistemology in psychological science, the heritage of Giambattista Vico and the cultural psychology” at Aalborg University (Denmark).

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Correspondence to Luca Tateo.

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Tateo, L. The Dialogical Dance: Self, Identity Construction, Positioning and Embodiment in Tango Dancers. Integr. psych. behav. 48, 299–321 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-014-9258-2

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Keywords

  • Argentine tango
  • Self actuation
  • Identity
  • Embodied knowledge
  • Dialogic epistemology
  • I-positioning