◊ popular culture ◊
Today was my favorite day so far in Argentina. We went to an estancia (ranch) in the countryside, not far from Buenos Aires. We all slept in the bus for the entire trip (we woke up at 6 am!) Once we arrived at the estancia, a man dressed in strange clothes was waiting for us with empanadas (little meat turnovers) and mate (an Argentinean version of tea). We later learned that the clothes he was wearing was that of the gaucho (Argentinean cowboy). He had a wide hat on, a poncho, loose baggy pants and knee-high leather boots. He also had a wide belt with silver coins on it, and a big knife they call the facon.
The owner of the estancia and three or four gauchos took us all to the area where the horses were. I’d seen horses before, but these were impressive! One of the gauchos told us that they had 125 horses there. WOW! Each of us had the chance to ride a horse with the whole group lead by a gaucho. I had been horseback riding once a long time ago, but most of my classmates had never ridden a horse, so there was a mixture of excitement and fear among the group. Once we came back we all loved it!
Then, a gaucho directed us to a huge open place made out of wood where there where long tables and chairs. There was a small stage and after we all sat down, three gauchos got on the stage along with two guys with drums. Then the show began. The gauchos began dancing to the rhythm of the drums and their boleadoras hitting the wood floor. Boleadora is a tool used by the gauchos, made out of stones, and bound in leather strips.This dance is called malambo and only men dance it. There were three or more gauchos on stage where they bounced the boleadoras in a circular motion at a high speed hitting the floor with one of them at a time. The boleadoras followed the beat of the music. Since I play the drums, this was especially interesting to me. I really, really loved it. The three gauchos hitting the floor combined their sounds to create something spectacular, but it also looked very dangerous. All the while they continued to tap on the floor with their boots. I don’t know how those men did not hit themselves or the other dancers with the boleadoras. It was absolutely amazing!
While we were watching the show, several men were cooking a typical Argentinean BBQ or asado just outside where we were. I was sitting close to the huge grill, so I managed to take some pictures. The grill was close to the ground, and they were cooking all kinds of meat. Finally it was time for lunch, and what a feast it was! The servers brought steak, chorizo sausage, blood sausage, and tenderloin–a true meat lovers’ dream. We were told that Argentinean meat is considered the best in the world…and it tasted like that to me!
After the meal, we were directed to a place where we could sit to watch several gauchos demonstrate their horseback riding skills. I don’t know exactly what the game is called, but the way it works is that the gaucho and his horse go faster and faster down a dirt path towards a small golden ring hanging overhead from a string. When they reach full speed, the gaucho tries to “grab” the ring using a utensil about the size and shape of a pen or a pencil. Then they gave the ring to one of the girls in the group. I think this was their favorite activity of the day!
When we got to Argentina, Alina Aguilar told us that our trip to Argentina included tango lessons and a tango show. I am not too much of a dancer, but I was excited to learn to dance the tango. My dad listens to it all the time, but neither he nor my mom knows how to dance it. I thought it would be cool to teach them when I get back home. When we got to the studio, Alina asked the instructor, Alejandro, to tell us a little bit about the history of the tango. I had no idea that it was going to be so interesting! As Alejandro spoke we all sat on the floor and listened to him.
First, Alejandro talked about the origins of the tango. He said that it was born in the mid 1800’s in a barrio in Buenos Aires where poor immigrants lived. Immigrants from Africa, Italy, Spain, England, Poland, Russia, Germany were all hoping to make money to bring back to their countries or to be able to bring their families to Argentina. Also poor native Argentines lived there too. All these groups borrowed dance and music from each other, and so the tango was born from a mix of these different kinds of music and dance. Alina, who is also Alejandro’s dance partner, told us that this music and dance reflected a longing for the places and people the immigrants left behind.
Because most immigrants were single men, they danced with each other. These male dancers were called the compadritos. They were young, mostly poor, and liked to dress in slouch hats, loosely tied neckerchiefs, and high-heeled boots with knives tucked into their belts. These young men took the tango to various poor neighborhoods in Buenos Aires where dancing took place. Soon new steps were invented and practiced.
Alina also told us that, at first high society looked down at this kind of music and dance from the poor immigrant barrios, but eventually everyone joined the dance craze and, by the beginning of the 20th century, the tango became so popular that pretty much everyone in Buenos Airesm men and women of all social classes, listened and danced to it. Then it soon spread outside Buenos Aires to the rest of the country where it became part of the urban culture. By the early 1900’s, when wealthy sons of Argentine society families made their way to Paris, they introduced the tango to a society eager to learn new things. By 1913, the tango had become an international phenomenon in Paris, London and New York. There were tango teas, tango train excursions and even tango colors—mostly orange. The Argentine rich and famous, who shunned the tango, were now forced to accept it with national pride. Since 1940s and 1950s the tango has become one of the greatest expressions of Argentinean culture.
I found the tango’s history so interesting that I was eager to see how it was danced. So Alina and Alejandro danced a tango for us called “La comparsita.” We were all looking at them in awe. When they finished, Alina asked: “So, who wants to be the first tango student? –We all looked at each other and Alejandro in silence. I took a deep breath and told Diana “¡Vamos!” We got up and learned our first tango steps while the rest of the class cheered us up.