Friday, 11 June 2010

Tango and Argentine football

BBC Radio Three has an excellent evening programme called Night Waves which manages to be interesting about a very wide range of material, from Paul Davies on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life to the latest opera productions, from IVF and the definition of a family to... tango and Argentine football. Here's a quick summary: you can listen online until 15 June here, but it might not be possible outside the UK.

As the city grew, the huge immigrant influx resulted in densely crowded barrios, where the national hero, once the solitary gaucho out in the pampas or the literary hero Martin Fierro, no longer made sense. Football started as the past-time of the large British expat community, but was taken up everywhere across the rapidly expanding city. Huge crowds turned up to watch, and English professionals visited on lucrative tours with their focused, disciplined, unemotional, organised and forceful play, the football of an industrialised nation. But Argentina wasn't an industrialised nation, and its football favoured virtuoso footwork, individuality, the turn, the dribble, the feint, over the mechanistic style of the English teams.

& where had the Argentine footballers learned their more emotional style and moves? It was the time of the emergence of tango, which had been banned from the centre of the city, but thrived in the outlying barrios, where the footballers developed their skills. The sharp turns of tango, the rhythm of movement, were part of the same culture as football; footballers danced tango. Racing Club was written in the 1920s, and we still dance to it: I assumed it was about horse racing, but apparently it was about a football club. (Huracán, another well-known tango, I believe still is a team.) The 1924 Olympics in Paris and 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, where the Argentine football team took the silver, showed off the new skills. Football heroes took over from the gaucho as the new masculine icons of the nation, icons that could dance.

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