Communications Studies professor Della Pollock offers a “suggestive framework” for performative writing that illustrates what good writing typically does rather than viewing writing as a fixed form with codigos that we all must memorize and write 1000 times on the chalkboard. Tangueros can embrace Pollock’s theory of performative writing to think about tango and its many styles, steps, sequences, and embraces and how it “suggests” what good dancers TYPICALLY do rather than what we MUST do. 

Performative Writing [and Tango] is Evocative

Pollock states that writing allows us to interact with “other-worlds” and evokes emotions, memories, sensations, inquiries, and ideas (80). Both language and experience intertwine like the roots of an aging maple tree buckling the city sidewalk outside a cafe in Buenos Aires. 

In tango, we use our bodies and senses to step into a new world where bandoneones drive the tempo, urging us to move like an impatient child pulling his mother’s arm. The violins tell the mother’s story and she can’t help but ask whether it was all worth it after all these years. And finally, the piano and bass remind us that the only constant in life is time and we too shall pass. 

Performative Writing [AND TANGO] is Metonymic

It “takes its pulse from the difference rather than the identity between the language we use and the thing, experience, or concept we attempt to represent. Metonymic writing is “filled with longing for a lost subject/object” (84). We may write and write and dance and dance longing to capture and relive the feeling, sensation, or experience, but it’s always the gap between what was and what is where we insert our words and bodies. 

Performative Writing [AND TANGO] is Subjective

Pollock applies a non-conventional use of the word, subjective, meaning that writing is a material contingent practice between subjects. We engage in an intimate reciprocal process of acting and reacting based on the material conditions in which we write or dance. A tanda begins before our palms caress and our feet step into the musical track of D’Arienzo. It begins before his anxious search for my eyes from across the room. It begins before we laced our shoes and ironed our clothes while admiring our favorite dance couple looking dapper. It begins before there was tango itself, when European immigrants created a musical form and dance inspired by the cadence of African drums. 

Performative Writing [AND TANGO] is Nervous

Writing and dance is restless, always moving across “stories, theories, intertexts, and spheres of practice, unable to settle into a clear, linear course….” (90-91). The body, both in a state of writing and dancing, is constantly in motion. We type and fidget searching for the perfect word in Google or the vaults of our memories. We walk and pivot around our dance partner, eager to return to the comfort of his embrace. Even in the silence of sound, the silence moves with us like a wayward shadow, our hearts pulsing, and breath descending down our backs.

Performative Writing [AND TANGO] is Citational

Writing is revising, a process of intratextual and intertextual revision. It is a return to multiple versions and interpretations of ourselves, history, and culture (Pollock). No two tandas are identical. We may cite the same toe taps for Biagi’s piano and boleos for Troilo’s bandoneón, but the sweat that slides down the valley of our backs moves more quickly with each tango and our breaths more attuned to the inhalations of the bandoneón. 

Performative Writing [AND TANGO] is Consequential

The difference between writing to report and writing to experience is distinct; we know it when we feel it. Pollock cites one example–it’s the difference between the wedding announcement and the wedding vows. In tango, it’s the difference between dancing the tango of Chicho Frumboli or Moira Castellano or dancing the tango burrowed deep in our body where the sorrow of yesteryear surfaces and follows each shallow breath. 

Work Cited

Pollock, Della. “Performing Writing.” The Ends of Performance. NYU Press,1998, pp.73-103.

4 thoughts on “6 Things Good Dancers and Writers Typically Do

  1. Lovely way to compare tango and writing. Thanks for sharing.
    However, I’m not seeing Tango as nervous. I believe that the comparison could be understood in a different way as nervous – restless. I feel dancing tango like a restless flow but not nervous.

    1. That’s a valid point. I’m not sure why Pollock opted for the word “nervous” because it does have negative connotations and she does describe it as restless.

  2. The main point is that Performance Tango is nothing to do with the real Tango Argentino, so I wonder with Performance Writing has anything to do with Real Life :).

    1. I feel tango escenario and tango social are part of the same Venn Diagram because they share the same music, typified movements, and dance roles, but there are plenty of distinct differences. As for writing, it’s about language which means it’s about how we construct knowledge which means it’s about how we construct our past, present and future selves. As humans, we cannot escape language. It shapes all our thinking. Writing is an artificial technology we created to manage those thoughts and revise those thoughts and interconnect them. Thanks for your comment. It gave me the chance to clarify this relationship further ☺️

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