M A R I LY N G . M I L L E R
The tango is an infinite possibility.
popular saying
The Tango Continuum
For more than a century, an eclectic array of students, scholars, and fans have
debated the origins, meanings, and relevance of the tango. Where did it orig-
inate? Who invented it, and who has composed, sung, played, or danced it
best? How did it develop into what we know today as tango, and how should
it be performed and preserved in our own times? Why is it called tango in the
first place?1 The scholars convened in this edited volume address the fields
of music and dance but explore tango’s vitality in language, literary critique,
film, and art as well, concluding that tango is alive and flourishing in all these
venues, in some cases to a degree perhaps never before seen. For some, this
heightened interest and enthusiasm signals a resurgence, for others a contin-
uation, and yet for still others a rupture with hallowed traditions. However
one understands its recent history, tango praxis today constitutes a hub of
rich, diverse, and multifarious activity in contexts both local and global.
Questions about tango’s present state in relation to its storied history are
not new. In an essay published in 1926, the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges
distinguished between a “contemporary” picturesque tango and a more gen-
uine “primordial” tango built of “pure insolence, pure shamelessness, pure
happiness in bravery” (On Argentina 43). Such categorizations, resting on
the tensions between tradition and innovation, authenticity and creativity,
still generate impassioned debate. Attesting to tango’s deep resonance in the
twenty- first century, the twenty- four members of unesco’s Intangible Heri-
tage Committee named the music and dance forms of the tango rioplatense a
world cultural heritage in 2009.2
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