Tango Fever: the birth of the first culture war

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Music has a profound effect on its fans, often inspiring radical changes in style and associations with specific genres. Nothing seems off-limits for a band or genre if there’s a captivating tune behind it. While most genres have customary dances linked to them, the tango craze of the early 1900s encountered a significant obstacle due to one of the most nonsensical prohibitions imaginable.

For as long as there has been music, there has been some dance going along the way. Before punk squats or even jazz clubs, the biggest names of the Renaissance were known to make music designed to be danced along to, albeit with a few more nuanced steps than what many see these days.

If any dance is something people don’t understand, they want to put their stomp on it as quickly as possible. So when parents saw their kids making the kind of steps of the tango, they didn’t see their kids having fun. This was a dangerous form of expression, and it needed to be stomped out immediately.

Emerging from Buenos Aires, the tango quickly became one of the most popular dances in North America, spreading amongst various dance clubs and people teaching classes on how to perform it correctly. For the squeaky-clean clientele of the day, though, there was a little too much action going on downstairs for the dance to be anything but vulgar smut.

As much as everyone was having fun, cities like Cleveland and Baltimore forbade the tango from being danced in public at all. Going into effect when the dance was at the height of its fame, many law enforcement officers were known to lay down the law whenever they could, even monitoring the dance floors across the country and kicking anyone out who tried to tango.

Even though the idea of doing the tango seems like one of the most tame misdemeanours these days, it would prove to be one of the first major culture wars that swept across the American music scene. If concerned adults were worried about what evils were to come with the tango, wait until those people got a load of what rock and roll had to offer, bringing with it loud guitars and songs that promoted doing such vulgar things as… going to a dance.

While this kind of gross blanket statement about the tango seems stupid these days, those cultural divisions were just a preview of what would happen once movements like the Satanic Panic went into effect. Despite not having any connection with the occult, many parents would use logic backwards half the time, convincing themselves that whatever went against their moral principles had to be evil.

In reality, none of these culture wars held any water. For as many people did the tango back in the 1900s, there was no one going to have a religious experience or turn themselves into a criminal just because they danced once.

As loud as the nay-sayers wanted to shout, most of these culture wars are rooted in some sort of fear. Since these people don’t want to seem out of touch, their justification for it being unethical comes down to those who have their brains shut. Not only do they not understand the kind of social movements coming after them, but they’re oddly proud that they don’t understand and will do anything they can to make it go away.

Culture wars are most likely going to be around as long as there are different music scenes, but the fact that the tango got hit with such a firm misdemeanour is one of the single most hilarious ways adults have been a buzzkill to the youth of their time. Besides, if we were going to try to outlaw any kind of dance over the past century, do you really want to live in a world where something like the Macarena is viewed as morally corrupt?

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