Most people will agree that the best dances happen when both the leader and follower are both leading and following each other. In other words, Tango is a conversation in which both partners contribute to the dance.
There is something magical that happens when the music flows into our bodies and is expressed as a dance via a shared connection between two people. This is why queer tango makes sense. It really should not matter what gender is leading or following.
But not everyone believes this to be true. I have taken classes by Tango teachers that have lectured on the sanctity of Argentine tango; that it must be danced by a man and a woman. They explain that the masculine and feminine dynamics are what make the dance so special and unique.
In all honesty, I have been hesitant to write about Queer Tango. I was not sure what I could say about the topic. As a woman, I very much enjoy my role as a follower in Tango. However, I also enjoy learning how to lead, not because I want to become a great leader, but because it helps me to better understand the dance. Plus, it’s a fun challenge. I also enjoy dancing with anyone who is a good lead, no matter their gender.
But does this mean I understand queer tango? Not really. I decided to ask someone who knows a lot more about the subject than I do.
Karen, author of Abrazo Queer Tango and local promoter of Queer tango events in the Bay Area kindly agreed to do an interview for SF Loves Tango.
SF Loves Tango: How did you get interested in learning Tango and for how long have you been dancing?
Karen: Well, it was salsa that led me to tango–salsa was definitely my gateway dance. I was taking queer salsa classes with Amy Little and Mila Salazar at the metronome in SF and then Amy and Mila and a few other students in the class started talking about this tango dance, then they stopped teaching salsa and went to tango. I hung on to salsa for a bit, but by the fall of 2008, I broke down and followed them.
I remember my first tango class with Amy and Mila very clearly—I can picture exactly where I was in the room when I got that first tango hit, that rush of being in an embrace with your partner and walking with them, that exchange between the leader and the follower. I haven’t taken a salsa class since. I felt right away that tango was my dance—I just didn’t know how to dance it yet.
SF Loves Tango: Have you danced any other dance styles?
Karen: In addition to salsa, which I still dance time to time (cross dancing!!), I really like two-step, country western waltz and contra dancing.
SF Loves Tango: What does Queer Tango mean to you?
Karen: Oh this is a great question that comes up a lot in the queer tango community and you’d get a number of different responses. For me, Queer tango is tango, with all of its beauty, joy and emotion, danced without pre-established roles based on your gender. From there you can go many directions: women who want to lead, men who want to follow, dancers who want to meet and dance with other queer people, same-sex dancing, and dancers who change roles during the song. In other words, dance the dance you have inside of you, that to me is queer tango.
SF Loves Tango: Why did you decide to start the Abrazo Queer Tango website?
Karen: Well, I went to a queer tango festival in Hamburg, Germany and basically lost my mind. They’ve had queer tango for 20 plus years in Germany, much longer than anywhere in the US, and I found myself in a room with 300 queer, open-role dancers. Amazing dancers, skilled, beautiful dancers and I could see and feel how deep the tango was in them. I danced for four days all day and each night into the morning. I was like an unsupervised 5 year old in a candy store—completely sugar high for days on end. I had never danced where I had that much access to tango. I was crazy happy. I came home from that festival very motivated to have that experience in the Bay Area. So I started volunteering for QueerTango San Francisco, the awesome group that was running the first two queer milongas here in the Bay Area and the SF International Queer Tango Festival. I later began to organize events with Marc SFqueertanguero, Evan (Redwing Tango) and other tango nut bars like myself. The website, Abrazo Queer Tango, came from that work and the goal of reaching more people interested in queer, open-role tango.
SF Loves Tango: What is the history of queer tango in the Bay Area?
Karen: That I’m aware of, queer tango in the Bay Area started between 2005 and 2006 thanks to queer tango dancers and organizers Amy Little, Winter Held, and Auriel, who eventually formed QueerTango SF, and Amalia Bergman of TangoFuego. They had amazing support and instruction from Christy Cote, Pier and Dan, and Lisette Perelle. The Bay Area now has the largest queer tango community in the US—but there is a large queer tango community in Seattle as well. They just had their first International Queer Tango Festival this past summer—it was awesome. There are also growing queer tango communities in Chicago, Boston and New York.
SF Loves Tango: Do you know of any other cities in Europe that are known for having a large queer tango community?
Karen: In Europe, the largest queer tango communities that I’m aware of are in Hamburg, Berlin, Paris, London and Stockholm. Hamburg and Berlin in particular draw 300+ dancers to their International Queer Tango Festivals. I’ve met so many wonderful dancers there—getting to go there every year has really inspired me to keep dancing.
Queer tango is lighting up everywhere and there are queer tango communities in Brighton, Oslo, Barcelona, Madrid, Zurich, Rome, and all over the globe really with large queer tango contingents in the Middle East, Asia, Canada, Mexico and South America. Buenos Aires of course has a huge community. I was lucky enough to go there in 2009 for their International queer tango festival.
SF Loves Tango: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Karen: I must say that I feel very lucky to live in the Bay Area with its huge tango scene that I feel very much apart of—I’ve met wonderful teachers who are very encouraging and awesome to me and other queer tango dancers, and I’ve met dancers at Cellspace and The Beat, all over actually, who are so much fun to dance with every week.
The tango fairy is looking out for me—always whispering to me, go dance, go dance! And I love it that I can here. Same-sex couples have been told to stop dancing, to leave the milonga floor in other cities, and that does not happen here that I am aware of. I remember going to a straight milonga once in SF early in my tango life. The organizer, well, I’ll just say his name, Glenn Corteza told me to find him if anyone gave me a problem. It was very kind of him. I’ve found that response typical in the Bay Area especially the last couple of years. And I think it’s an indication of just how passionate many folks are about tango here and how much work the early organizers of queer tango did.
SF Loves Tango: What aspirations do you have for queer tango in the Bay Area?
Karen: Oh, more, really more more more. More opportunities for queer dancers to dance, to take classes with the great selection of teachers in the Bay Area, more practicas, more folks interested in open-role dancing, and also more cross-over between the queer and straight tango communities. It’s tango after all– straight, queer or purple, tango is tango.
SF Loves Tango: Thank you so much for sharing information and your thoughts on queer tango with us all.
In conclusion: after attending one of our local queer milongas, I began thinking about the saying, “Queer Tango is for everyone”. I’d like to qualify it as “Queer Tango is for anyone“, anyone who wants to dance tango in a safe, friendly, comfortable environment where gender and sexuality is not an issue. Some people may choose to never experience queer tango, to never dance with a same sex partner nor learn how to dance the opposite role. But for those who want to expand their options and possibilities, queer tango is a great place.
Looking for more information on queer Tango? Here are a few resources:
International Queer Tango Festival
SF Bay Area Queer Tango Calendar