Times change. A century ago, Pope Pius X issued a pastoral letter against the tango, condemning it as degenerate, immoral, pagan. Today, Pope Francis insists that he likes it, that it lives deep inside him, that he often danced it in Argentina as a young man. Punctuating this striking reversal of opinion, hundreds of tango dancers flash-mobbed St. Peter’s Square on the pontiff’s birthday in December, twirling around on the cobblestones of the Via della Conciliazione in what the Catholic Church once would have called an obscene act. “I see the ‘tangeros’ are here,” Francis exclaimed, greeting the dancers with an amiable welcome.
Tango has had a long and storied career since it burst into the wild drinking establishments of Buenos Aires’s port and meatpacking district just before the turn of the 20th century. It began as a dance between men as they waited their turns in brothels: a strange, circling ballet, depicting mortal combat and often ending in just that. By the time Pius donned the red mantle, the dance was emphatically between sexes — a venomous strut — the reenactment of a tension between pimp and prostitute, with the man showing the woman a thing or two. Now, of course, the dance is taught to bright-eyed children, performed in glittering ballrooms the world over, hawked to tourists from Paitzdorf to Peoria. It may be an art form, but it’s also a booming trade.
Read Marie Arana’s full review at The Washington Post.