The below photo is one of my journal two months ago. I believe I was feeling frustrated after yet another cold shower (due to a broken gas line that stayed broken for quite awhile) and felt the need to vent.  Looking at this entry inspired me to write about what I will miss when I leave Buenos Aires this Saturday night. While I still stick with the statement that I will miss “everything,” I’ll try to be a bit more specific here.

1. My host family.

Not only will I miss the perks, like a home cooked dinner every night or a maid to clean my room once a week, but I’ll miss the extended family I’ve gained. Carmen always made me feel so welcome and included on any family activities.  As a result, I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with her brother and his family as well as both of her sons. Living with a host family was the thing I was most nervous about but it turned out to be a very positive experience and I feel extremely lucky to have been placed in this house.

My roommate, Stephanie, my host brother, Nico and I.

My host mom, Carmen, and I at the Teatro Colon.

2. My new friends.

I’ve met some incredible people here from all walks of life and it will be hard to say goodbye to them.  When I moved from Ohio to South Carolina for college, I met many people from various backgrounds and with viewpoints different than my own.  That was at times challenging but also very rewarding.  Coming to Buenos Aires, I had a similar experience but with even newer backgrounds and viewpoints. Knowing and loving friends with different ways of seeing the world is always a positive experience and I will miss the strange cast of characters that have become my friends here.

With my friends Kehala and Phoebe in Mendoza.

The ASA (my program) gang.

3. The ice cream.

Really, it’s indescribable. A creamy, gelato-esqe texture, but rich like ice cream. Just one more cone!

My friend Kehala and I enjoying some yummy Chocolate Mousse ice cream.

4. Spanish.

It sounds obvious, but I will really miss having constant opportunities to work on my Spanish skills. I love walking outside and being surrounded by Spanish (something that was a bit terrifying when I first arrived). I love the way Argentines speak Spanish. They speak with so much passion and exaggeration that it’s almost theatrical.

Answering trivia questions (in Spanish) during my first month here.

5. Traveling.

One thing this experience has taught me is that traveling is not nearly as hard as we pretend it is. There were multiple times here that I decided to take a weekend trip somewhere and simply went. It didn’t take months of planning, it often didn’t take a lot of money. I will miss that spontaneous thinking, but I hope I can bring it back with me. There are so many places to see in the U.S., why not go for a weekend?

Biking in Northern Argentina.

Queer Tango in Argentina

November 7, 2011

At the beginning of my time in Buenos Aires, I wrote an article for National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel blog about the World Tango Festival and places to learn, watch and dance tango in the city. While researching milongas in the city, I discovered a same-sex milonga called La Marshall. I hadn’t been aware of a gay tango movement and continued to be intrigued by this concept since Argentina tango is so full of gender roles and machismo.

Legendary tango dancer, Carlos Copello performs.

Fast forward three months and I was with a friend at a free milonga which takes place in a large gazebo in Barrancas de Belgrano, a park near my house. After embarrassing ourselves on the dance floor for a bit, we began watching the other couples when I noticed two men dancing together. I was struck by how beautiful and unique the dance was when gender roles where switched up. In that moment I knew what I would be writing my tango paper on.

As I mentioned before, I’ve been taking a tango class at my university this semester. I can’t say that it is always the most thrilling class in the world but I have enjoyed learning a dance that is so culturally important to Buenos Aires. Besides, how many Americans can say they learned tango in Argentina? Probably quite a few, but I digress. About a month ago we were assigned a paper to write. It could be about anything as long as it related to tango. Since it was to be 5 pages, single-spaced, in Spanish, I knew I needed to find a topic I was truly interested in. My new interest in same-sex tango combined with my recent realization that Argentina was the second country in the Americas (after Canada) to legalize gay marriage led me to chose Queer Tango as a topic. I decided to post my paper to share with you what I learned. It is translated from the Spanish it was originally written in so please forgive the lack of grammatical complexity.

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Queer Tango

“Gay Tango is about the sexuality and queer tango is the opening of traditional tango so that women can lead men or other women,” said one follower of the Queer Tango movement.

Queer Tango refers to a new form of dancing Argentine tango that questions the traditional gender roles en the dance. When choosing roles, gender and sexual orientation are ignored. In order to understand the significance of this movement, we should first examine the traditional gender roles of tango and the progression of gay rights in Argentina.

Traditional Gender Roles

In order to understand the Queer Tango movement, it is important to first understand the traditional gender roles of Argentine tango.

The gender roles in traditional Argentine tango are strictly defined. This is immediately evident upon entering a milonga, a traditional argentine dance hall. In many milongas, there are separate sections for men, women and for man-woman pairs. This implies that men will ask women to dance and then lead the dance. In many milongas, the cabeceo is used. The cabeceo is an invitation to dance where a man and woman make eye contact and make a slight tip of the head in order to indicate their agreement to dance. In the invitation to dance, the man and the woman are equal because they both must agree in order for the dance to proceed.

After the cabeceo, the man approaches the woman and embraces her. The man waits until the woman becomes comfortable in the embrace and listens to the music for a few seconds before leading a movement. In this moment, the man has the power in the relationship because the woman now depends on him to direct all the movement.

During the dance, the majority of the woman’s movements are guided by the man. Although she has some opportunity to make subtle decisions, she can only do so within the time and space permitted by the guidance of the man. Her decisions should not interrupt the flow developed by the man.

The masculine role is to make the woman feel comfortable in the embrace and the movement and to protect her from collision. This is a reflection of the masculine role in argentine society. In the traditional argentine society (and in Latin America in general), machismo is very important for the identity of a man. In order to be macho, he must be sure of himself and it is his job to look after the welfare, security and happiness of his woman.

This male-female relationship is reflected on the dance floor. He is confident, she is trusting. The two are happy in their functions and are equal in their relationship. The do not compete, they cooperate and they hold a mutual respect for each other. He respects the femininity of the woman and she respects the masculinity of the man. Each one has unique things to offer to the dance (and to society).

Queer Tango. Via the International Queer Tango Argentino Festival in Hamburg website.

Same-Sex Tango in History

During the Golden Age (1935-1950) of tango it was common for men to learn to dance with men in practices. In some cases, the men learned the follower role first and only after they reached a certain level of experience would they learn the role of the leader.

These practices were not considered homosexual and same-sex tango was confined to these practices. During this time, the women did not have as much freedom to go to the practices like the men. Men wanted to practice in order to meet and impress women in the milongas. Therefore, their only option was to practice with other men. The women represented the motivation to learn tango and practice with other men. Expressing homosexual desire during these practices would have carried a big social taboo. Learning the role of the follower helped the men to be better leaders since they would know what the woman needed from him.

Tango’s dominant male is also evident in the brothel and prostitute origins of the dance. Due to this association, women were less likely to participate in practices even when allowed.

For the women, the norm was to learn tango from male family members, usually at home. Therefore, the women only learned the follower role, while the men tended to learn both roles.

Homosexual Rights in Argentina

The increase of gay rights and the growing acceptance of gays in society has had a significant impact on the acceptance of same-sex and queer tango in Argentina.

Argentina has a long history of being in front of the curve in regard to homosexual rights. For example, sexual activity by persons of the same sex has been legal since 1887. In many parts of Africa and the Middle East, this is still considered illegal.

After the first military coup in 1930, police harassment of homosexuals increased.  However, there are reports that during the Peronist era, Juan Perón ordered the police and the military not to participate in gay bashings.

The first LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights organizations were created in 1969. In 1976, the government fought to eradicate the movement and many of the movement’s members were among the disappeared (during Argentina’s “Lost Decade”).

After the military dictatorship, the group La Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (The Homosexual Community of Argentina) made a public campaign for LGBT rights. During the time of re-democratization, a gay bar opened in Buenos Aires for the first time and the LGBT community began to be more open. Today, gay tourists are invited to visit Buenos Aires. The city even has a tourist information center specializing in gay tourism, called Pink Point.

In 2002, civil unions between gays and lesbians was legalized.  And, on July 15, 2010, Argentina became the second country in the Americas and the first in Latina America to legalize gay marriage. At that time, seventy percent (70%) of Argentine citizens were in favor of the legislation.

What is Queer Tango?

Queer Tango is a new method of dancing argentine tango that is free of the traditional heteronormative conventions. The purpose is to dance tango without pre-established gender roles and to be able to exchange the roles of leader and follower.

Queer Tango consists of two movements – Gay Tango and Gender Neutral Tango.  Gay tango is dancing between two homosexuals of the same sex. Gender Neutral Tango is when the dancers chose principal and secondary roles without considering the sex or the sexual orientation of the members of the pair.

Where traditional tango is the personification of traditional heterosexual gender roles, queer tango does not recognize these roles. It is the result of socio-political movement to free members of the LGBT community from the prevailing norms of heterosexual behavior in society worldwide.

According to Mariana Docampo Falcom, from the milonga Tango Queer in Buenos Aires, the dancers “can freely select the role they want and the gender they prefer to dance with”.

“There are many men that feel very liberated by following, and women that feel liberated by leading, and it has nothing to do with sexual orientation,” said Lexa Rosean, a lesbian that organizes a milonga in New York.

The teaching method is also different in queer tango.  Everyone learns to lead and to follow and the options for exhanching roles during the dance.  This permites the dancers “to explore the dynamic of the relationship more equally,” Falcon said, “the simbolic power that is put on the lead role disappears when either of the partners can fulfill either role”.

Queer Tango challenged and altered traditional gender roles and also frees the dance partnerships of the considerations of the sexual orientation of prospective partners. The queer tango movement grew out of gay tango dancers because ” gay tango is a bit restrictive, and that while some same-sex couples danced together, the ideas of dominant leader and submissive follower were still in play,” said Falcon .

When speaking of queer tango, it is important to note the difference between the terms sexuality, sexual orientation and gender. According to “Tango Voice,” sexuality refers to the expression of desire, sexual orientation refers to the direction of the expression of this desire (whether homosexual or heterosexual) and gender refers to a set of culturally defined roles or a set of expectations for behavior (male or female). By taking into account partner sex, sexual orientation and the assumption of roles, there are sixteen (16) possible combinations of queer tango associations. They are:

(1) Heterosexual Male leader / Heterosexual Female follower

(9) Heterosexual Female leader / Homosexual Female follower
(2) Heterosexual Female leader / Hetersexual Male follower (10) Homosexual Female leader / Heterosexual Female follower
(3) Homosexual Male leader / Homosexual Male follower (11) Heterosexual Male leader / Homosexual Female follower
(4) Homosexual Female leader / Homosexual Female follower (12) Homosexual Male leader / Heterosexual Female follower
(5) Heterosexual Male leader / Hetersexual Male follower (13) Homosexual Male leader / Homosexual Female follower
(6) Heterosexual Male leader / Homosexual Male follower (14) Heterosexual Female leader / Homosexual Male follower
(7) Homosexual Male leader / Hetersexual Male follower (15) Homosexual Female leader /  Hetersexual Male follower
(8) Heterosexual Female leader / Heterosexual Female follower (16) Homosexual Female leader / Homosexual Male follower

Gender neutral tango reduces the number of options to four:

1. Male Leader/ Female Follower

2. Male Leader/ Male Follower

3. Female Leader/ Female Follower

4. Female Leader/ Male Follower

This limits the options almost as much as traditional tango. Whereas gender neutral tango provides the benefit of flexible gender roles, they can cause confusion when the dancers want to use the tango as a form of courtship, as in the golden age. Queer Tango offers more options for dancers.

The History of Queer Tango

While queer tango has become very popular in Argentina during the last two decades, it, surprisingly, did not originate in Argentina. Queer tango was born in Hamburg, Germany, where the first gay milonga opened in the mid 1980s. The first queer tango festival was also held in Hamburg in 2001.

The intent of two of the founders of the movement, Marga Nagel and Ute Walter, was to be inclusive rather than exclusive. All tango enthusiasts who were interested in experimenting with the identities of its functions and with tango in general were invited. Angel and Walter were part of the first queer tango scene that originated in the gay club “Tuc Tuc” in the 1980’s.

The queer tango movement in Germany inspired other countries to start their own queer tango scenes. Queer tango festivals are celebrated around the world, including in Denmark, Sweden, the United States and Argentina.

According to the website of the International Queer Tango Festival in Hamburg, “the intention of Queer theory is to analyze the prevalent heterosexual norms and open possibilities for development. This can be achieved through the release of sensual experiences – eroticism, sexuality, fantasies – its heteronormative orientation and giving encouragement to be creative and fun. ”

Tango is the dance of Buenos Aires and should be open to all community members who want to learn. Queer Tango opens this cultural pastime to a greater number of participants. It also allows the dancers to experiment with gender roles, which is significant in a world where gender roles are constantly being blurred, while also providing an outlet open to gay and lesbian tango dancers.

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Sources

GLBTQ: An Encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture

Tenth International Queer Tango Argentino Festival, Hamburg

Finn, Maria. “Dancing Scruffy Cheek-to-Scruffy Cheek: Gay Tango.”

Forero, Juan. “Argentina becomes second nation in Americas to legalize gay marriage.” The Seattle Times

International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Hunt, Mary Ellen. “Queer tango throws out leader-follower rules.” San Francisco Chronicle

Spiritus Temporis

Queer Tango Argentina

Tango Voice

ToTango

“Tango Gender Equality.” ToTango

What’s this?! An actual blog post? I know, I know, it’s been awhile. Very sorry for the long absence but I promise I will be updating this week with stories of my latest adventures. Pinky swear.

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September 11th was the date for this year’s Festival of the Moon(La Festival de la Luna), one of the oldest and most important holidays in Chinese culture.  For the first time, Buenos Aires’ Chinatown hosted an outdoor festival to honor the holiday. Conveniently, Barrio Chino is a mere three blocks from my house so I decided to check it out with a few girlfriends of mine.

According to the flier I received, the holiday occurs every year on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month when, according to legend, the moon is the most full and bright of the whole year.

Paper lanterns hang above the street during the Festival de la Luna in Buenos Aires' Chinatown.

And, according to legend, Chang Er flew to the moon where she now lives and you may see her dancing up there during the Moon Festival. The festival is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture.  Families often reunite to watch the full moon and celebrate together.

Martial Arts show during the Moon Festival. They were pretty impressive.

Buenos Aires’ Chinatown is quite small, as I mentioned in a previous post, but there was a crowd of people stuffed into  four blocks. Some friends and I browsed the market stands, listened to a singer, watched a Martial Arts show and enjoyed some “Asian Cuisine” at a restaurant. Hey, it can’t be entirely authentic, we are in Argentina after all.

Members of the Chinatown Association carried the dragon through the streets.

We enjoyed watching the dragon meander through the streets.

Altogether it was a nice, relaxing day and a good way to enjoy some of the early spring weather we were having. It was also pretty exciting to experience some Chinese culture while living in South America.

My first experience with Melon Popcicles. So yummy!

I just got back from my third photography class here in Buenos Aires. It can be a bit overwhelming at times. Unlike the university classes I’m taking for credit, I’m the only native English-speaker and the class is not designed around my needs. In addition to a lot of fast Spanish, the discussions often involve technical photography terms which sound nothing like their English counterparts that I am so familiar with. But, I’m not complaining.  The class is fantastic practice for my Spanish (although I don’t think I’ll ever be able to roll those damn R’s) and everyone in the class, professor included, is incredibly patient and helpful with me. I even had a brief conversation about my 24-mm lens today with another student!

This past week, our assignment was to take photos to illustrate the different rules of composition. A pretty typical assignment but it was a fun way to challenge myself. It forced me to look for out of the ordinary situations. These are a few of my favorites – apparently I was particularly drawn to unique lighting this week. Enjoy!

Silhouette of tree branches in a park in Buenos Aires.

Palacio Hirsch in Belgrano "R", Buenos Aires.

A candle glows in the "Rotunda" Cathedral in Belgrano, Buenos Aires.

A drawing of John Lennon in Barrancas Park, Belgrano, Buenos Aires.

A view of the obelisk down a street in El Centro of Buenos Aires.

This past Friday, my host University put on an International Night. It was a chance for all the international students to mix and mingle and for the local students to meet some foreigners. Students from each country decorated tables with information showing the history and culture of their homelands. Each country also brought in traditional food and, of course, booze from their regions.

The party started off with a group of us from my tango class performing a choreographed tango show. I can’t say we were very impressive, but it sure was a lot of fun!

My tango partner, Eugenio, and I.

For me, the winning tables were the United States, Germany ,China and Mexico.  The USA table featured liters of Budweiser (I never realized how awful that beer was until after drinking really good beer in Argentina for two months), Cheeze-Its (yes!) and Oreos with peanut butter (double yes!).

The USA table after some major damage to the Cheeze-Its.

The German table featured men dressed in lederhosen, liters of Warsteiner and Becks, pretzels and radishes (I still don’t understand the latter).

The German table.

The Chinese table had a variety of homemade traditional Chinese dishes – which were all delicious. They were so popular that they ran out of plates and chopsticks so I ate my food out of a cup with a knife – college ingenuity at its finest.

My favorite table was the Mexican table. They showed everyone how to do tequila shots “like real Mexicans,” according to my tango partner Eugenio, who is a “real Mexican”. These consisted of a tequila shot with a drop of hot sauce, followed by a chaser of chili powder. Don’t knock it ‘till you try it, I was pleasantly surprised. Most importantly, the Mexican table had homemade quesadillas and chips with homemade guacamole, beans and hot sauces. And it was actually spicy! (It’s impossible to get spicy food in Buenos Aires)

The Mexican table.

I loved having the opportunity to hang out with my classmates in a more informal setting. I was also amazing to see so many different cultures in one place – we have so much more in common than we have differences and I loved being in an environment where we were able to appreciate and learn about those differences rather than criticize them. Maybe the way to solve the world’s problems is to get everyone in the same room with some good food, good drinks and lots of dancing. Well, it’s worth a shot!

Thanks to my friend David for letting me use some of his photos for this post! Check out his blog here.

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Hanging With the Gauchos

August 29, 2011

This post originally appeared on August 22 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

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Saturday we had our first excursion with ASA, the program I’m in Argentina with. The eight of us met our site director, Gaby, at a café in the center of the city and hopped in a van to drive out to the Santa Susana Estancia, about an hour’s drive outside Buenos Aires.  Irish immigrants built the estancia, an Argentine cowboy, or gaucho, ranch, in the 18th century. The beautiful, expansive property consists of the original main house, which is now a museum, the horse barn and the entertainment barn, as well as a lot of open land.

The old estancia house.

The restored kitchen inside the estancia.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with wine, juice and fresh, homemade empanadas. We meandered around the grounds and explored the museum, which has been well preserved. The house even has its own chapel, complete with a confessional.  After the museum, we walked to the horse barn for our horse ride.  They were the tamest I’ve ever encountered and we went on a much too short ride around the grounds.

A photograph of First Comunions hanging in the estancia chapel.

Kenzie lets her horse have a quick snack before heading out for our ride.

After pretending to be cowboys, a few of us braved the very large, incredibly rickety horse-drawn cart for another ride around the grounds.  That cart ride gave me an adrenaline rush greater than most roller coasters, simply because I was sure the wheels would fall off at any moment!

Around one, the dinner bell rang and all the guests rushed inside for traditional Argentine asado.  We chowed down on bread with chimichurri, traditional sausage and blood sausage and a variety of delicious salads while waiting for the gauchos to bring around the different meats that had been on the grill all day.  We had tender pieces of pork, chicken, and of course, steak.  We finished the meal with some pastelitos con dulce de membrillo, a type of pastry dough filled with jam made from quince and then fried and drizzled with honey.  So yummy!

A variety of sausage and meat on the grill for lunch.

The delicious pastelitos con dulce de membrillo we had for dessert.

During dessert, we watched a couple of dancers do a tango show and then they demonstrated traditional folk dancing and music.  At the end of the show,  many of the audience members, including yours truly of course, joined in for some high spirited dancing.

It was a very fun day and both my roommate and I were exhausted when we finally got home later that evening. I had been looking forward to this excursion most of all and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

After dinner, we watched the gauchos play a variety of games with horses that I can't even begin to explain. But, they were fun to watch!

Recently I started taking an advanced photography night class at the Universidad de Belgrano, the university I’m studying at in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  My class consists of four older Argentine women, two Argentine students and three foreign exchange students (1 Colombian, 1 Canadian and 1 American – me). Mainly I’m taking the class as a way to practice my Spanish and meet some non-Americans, but it’s also a fun way to keep my photography fresh and hopefully learn something along the way.

This past week in class, we were give 30 minutes to explore the 19 floors of the University building we were in. We had to take 10-20 photos that showed different perspectives and we weren’t allowed to delete anything. It was a fun exercise and forced me to be more deliberate with each photograph that I took. Here are a few of my favorites from around the building.