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THE DIALOGICAL DANCE. POSITIONING AND IDENTITY CONSTRUCTION IN TANGO DANCERS’ COMMUNITY. Luca Tateo - University of Salerno (IT) Giovanna Ammaturo - University of Salerno (IT). That’s Tango. Born at the end of 19th century on Rio de la Plata (suburbs of Buenos Aires and Montevideo);

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the dialogical dance



Luca Tateo - University of Salerno (IT)

Giovanna Ammaturo - University of Salerno (IT)

that s tango
That’s Tango
  • Born at the end of 19th century on Rio de la Plata (suburbs of Buenos Aires and Montevideo);
  • Creolization between afro-cuban and European immigrants‘ dances (candombe, habanera, spanish tango, vals, polka, Italian song, etc.);
  • In the early 20’s of the 20th century goes back to Europe;
  • Today involves hundred thousands people worldwide (hundreds of communities, websites, magazines, an Academia Nacional del Tango);
  • Couple’s dance with 1) established roles (leader and follower) but 2) both dancers must cooperate to play steps, 3) it’s mainly based upon improvisation (no fixed sequences) 4) is learnt like a language (basic movements that can be re-combined to infinity according to music, partners and mood).

Tango as object of study

  • Anthropology: ethnographic studies on dancers (Azzi, 1991; Viladrich, 2005), dance developing identity and sense of Self (Hamera, 2005)
  • History: the music with respect to the history of Argentina (Castro, 1991; Frank, 1969)
  • Gender studies: gender roles (Savigliano, 1995a, 1995b)
  • Literature: analysis of music and lyrics with respect to other artistic forms (dos Santos, 1978; Ferrer, 1960, 1980; Gobelo, 1980; Ulla, 1982)
  • Psychology: dance therapy in geriatrics, cancer, torture (Dibbel-Hope, 2000; Haboush, Floyd, Caron et al., 2006; McKibben, 1988; Lynn Gray, 2001), psychoanalysis (Fieiro Pompo, 1991)
the study
The Study

Methodology and data collection

  • Direct participation (dancing, participation to dancers community)
  • Video-observations
  • Semi-structured interviews (Bruner & Feldman, 1999)

Significant episodes are selected, analysed focusing on the dialogical identity construction in novice and expert dancers, on their positioning in dancers’ community and life’s attitude outside the community (Adler & Adler, 1987; Conquergood, 2002; Goodwin, 2003; Lave & Wenger, 1991).


  • Video and pictures
  • Field notes
  • 4 interviews transcripts
  • Secondary data: autobiographies, interviews by other studies (Azzi, 1991; Siegman, 2006)
it takes at least three to tango










It takes (at least) three to Tango
  • Tango is “inside and outside the couple, the different existential experience, even if simultaneous, of the relationship and the responsibility lived by the dancers and those looking at them” (Hess, 1996,28).
  • A set of triadic relationships is established forming the context for an actuation of identification, that is a set of operations carried out in order to produce and experience the Self through the experienced body (Markova, 2006; Rosa, 2007; Valsiner, 2007).
tango as embodied knowledge
Tango as embodied knowledge

Novice tends to become self-confident first with reproduction rather than creation. He reproduces sequences of steps learned before.

Expert masters a library of sequences and re-presentations allowing him/her

to focus on the active listening of the partner and the music (Hess, 1996; Olsewski, 2008). The ability to perform is directly related to the participation trajectory within the community (Lave & Wenger, 1991)

triadic relationship in experienced dancers
Triadic relationship in experienced dancers

To create the best conditions to dance, both must balance their weight, slightly bending forward, but avoiding the loss of balance and the partner support (…) Together they must create a third neutral space for the union to exist and thrive (Siegmann, 45, writer, 2006, 54)

There are three people dancing, not two (…) The woman, the man and a third volume. Each one feels it of his own according to circumstances. Is the man’s other woman, the mother, is another man. The man faces this third volume and the woman share it (Rodolfo Dinzel, 40, choreographer, in Azzi, 1991, 32)

The man brings the woman inside himself (…) in tango the man is not really willing to think of the woman as a sharer, rather than inside himself. The porteño dances alone, but brings the woman inside himself (Victor Sasson, 65, dancer, in Azzi, 1991, 226)

construction of self body and mind
Construction of Self (body and mind)

Voice of Group

Q: The most satisfying experience?

A: to follow not only my usual partner but others that invite me in milonga but also to be often told ”you are changed” even by my dance teacher has been a great achievement, but that’s a lot to do (Female)

Voice of Tango

Q: Can you tell me a typical evening of tango from your point of view?

A: Not simply dancing, but also trying to transmit some emotion to the other dancers let’s say that’s should be a scope of tango (Male)

Voice of Self

Q: Your objectives in dancing tango changed over years?

A: the need to follow different partners changed me in attitudes even outside in interpersonal relations because well I don’t know I think I got used to let me go to other person’s leading I mean trust because I ain’t really got it I mean yesss I am sociable cheerful but there’s always a little part of me that is untouchable nobody can get there because of fear and no tango changed me the problem is still there but I feel more quiet mind more easy (Female)

construction of gender roles
Construction of gender roles

Voice of Group

Q: Could you compare it with other dances?

A: ee beautiful ee I mean well it’s a dance of passion so there’s the commonplace of dancing tango with the fiancé or else picking up someone (Female)

Voice of Tango

Q: Your objectives in dancing tango changed over years?

A: In tango the man must be well the stronger part let’s say must be elegant must be someway sweet with the woman but at the same time must lead and instead woman (Male)

Voice of Self

Q: What about the relationship between tango and your other life experiences?:

A: well everybody has his own experiences but tango made me more malleable that is coming out my femininity well in other things I had to fight of course here too but well I fought not to draw out but to put away weapons as I am too much independent by nature even with men (Female)

construction of performance and participation
Construction of performance and participation

Voice of Group

Q: What are the most important aspects keeping together your dancing group?

A: You can understand some things only with those you dance with I mean with friends at the university we joke they seem interested but they definitely can’t understand so they tease me “ee it’s a sensual dance, eee you show the leg

Q: these are external people?

A: yes external but it’s different from the relations with dancers because they definitely know what you do and the interest for the type of music

Voice of Tango

Q: Could you compare it with other dances?

A: It’s a couple dance so all that a couple can transmit all the emotion so iiits a couple dance with all the emotions and sensuality you can see in a tango (Male)

Voice of Self

Q: The most satisfying experience?

A: The most satisfying experience is the performance but there’s also the satisfaction of doing something beautiful for those looking (Male)

construction of life s attitude
Construction of life’s attitude

Voice of Group

Q: What are the most important aspects keeping together your dancing group?

A: tango has been a moment to make the group growing even beyond tango itself (Male)

Voice of Tango

Q: Can you identify some turning points in your dancer trajectory, your mind and feeling with respect to tango?

A: Yes because leading it’s something that makes you take the initiative or naturally leading the woman physically in some steps and this reflects upon leading woman or other things in everyday life (Male)

Voice of Self

Q: Which moral of the story can you draw?

A: it start like a game but then it will be with you all life long and I wish I’ll never stop dancing it (Female)

concluding remarks
Concluding remarks
  • Results show how participants construct and actuate their identity in a dialogue between their I-positions inside and outside tango community.
  • The dialogue is embodied in dancing practice and then elaborated in meta-reflection.
  • The narrative elaboration of the experience affects the performance in return in a sense-making loop.
  • The triadic relationship is both embodied (glances, embrace, spatial positions, muscular knowledge) and narrated (voices of Self, group and tango).
  • Throughout initiation, peripheral and central participation trajectory, dancers construct different sense of their life experiences.