It Takes Two: Four (or More) Ways RILM Can Enrich Interdisciplinary Research

Library Resources | Tina Frühauf| October 11, 2017

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Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM) has created a universe of musical reference resources. Tina Frühauf, Associate Executive Editor at RILM, talks about how one topic, tango, spans interdisciplinary applications of music research.

With their song “Takes Two to Tango,” written in 1952, Al Hoffman and Dick Manning coined an expression that found itself soon to be an integral part of the idiomatic repertoire of the English-speaking world, famously popularized by Ronald Reagan with regard to Russian-American relations during détente. The tango metaphor has also gained currency as a proverb in loan translation in other languages. Like many other dance forms, it does take two; but to create tango, it took much more. In essence, tango draws from diverse elements found in African, Latin and South American, and European cultures. Its inherent hybridity has made it an object of research beyond the realm of music and dance. As political scientist Martha Savigliano asserts in her acclaimed book, Tango and the Political Economy of Passion, it is “also a philosophy, a strategy, a commodity, even a disease.” Indeed, tango has become a subject in a variety of disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences. In this vein, RILM treats tango as broadly as it does with other interdisciplinary subjects, as the following examples illustrate.

Dance – Tango emerged in the port and slums of Buenos Aires and the La Plata river area among immigrants from Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe, who worked out steps among themselves; from the 1870s onward it evolved in three different forms: tango, milonga and valse. Going beyond the form, there are also cognitive aspects to tango, which allow for creation and interpretation on the spot, allowing individuals to become better at negotiating space with others in an intuitive yet co-creative way.

Music – Tango syncretizes the Afro-Cuban dance rhythm known as habanera, the milonga (a gaucho dance of alleged African origin), the candombé (an African-derived rhythm that had become an important part of Uruguayan culture), as well as European instruments (among them the iconic bandoneon) and forms (the waltz). But tango can be enjoyed on other instruments such as the Mongolian horsehead fiddle known as morin khuur. 

Place – Tango is tied to geographies, most notably Argentina, where it originated. In February 1914, the tango made its Istanbul debut at a ball in the Skating Palace. At first only enjoyed by the non-Muslim minorities — Greeks, Armenians and Jews — with the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, symbolizing Atatürk’s policy of opening to the West, Muslims embraced tango as well. Ever since, tango has become a global genre disseminated throughout the world with tango scenes in Helsinki, London, Berlin, Tokyo and New York.

Sexuality and Gender – Tango’s early history is linked to the brothels of Buenos Aires. The erotic suggestiveness of its movements and the topics found in the lyrics of the tango cancion make it an important topic in gender studies. Recently the queer tango movement emerged, which has adapted and transformed tango in order to redefine a liberated territory that attempts to avoid identity confines.

Medicine and Therapy – Recent music research suggests that tango dancing may be an effective strategy for influencing symptoms related to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. In turn, tango can positively affect the training of healthcare professionals, whose understanding of patients in a therapeutic setting can be improved through the mastery of this dance.

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Tina Frühauf
Associate Executive Editor

As Associate Executive Editor at RILM, Tina Frühauf is responsible for acquiring the content for RILM's newest projects; she also plans and oversees marketing activities. Dr. Frühauf teaches at Columbia University and is on the doctoral faculty of The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. An active scholar and writer, Frühauf's research is centered on music and Jewish studies, especially in religious contexts but also art music, historiography and Jewish community (through participatory action research), often crossing the methodological boundaries between ethnomusicology and historical musicology. She has received most recently fellowships and grants from the American Musicological Society, the Leo Baeck Institute and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.

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