TAIPEI – Taiwanese Tango has become a rage on the island where thousands of aficionados have taken the sensual dance form out from ballrooms to trip the light fantastic in public gardens.
With a strong Japanese influence coupled with some Mandarin and local lyrics, Taiwanese Tango has developed its own form and appeal among thousands of its followers who can be seen dancing in gardens and, of course, in studios on the island.
However, the slow-paced Taiwanese version, which is simpler than the original tango that originated in Argentina in the early 20th century, is not so well-known beyond its borders.
“It is impressive that Taiwan could develop its own tango,” Argentinian tango instructor Fernando Waisberg, living on the island, told EFE.
“It is a very magical and mystical matter,” he said.
According to Lili Chang, one of the managers of Amanda’s academy of dance that has six branches on the island, there are millions who dance to tango including in the community colleges and centers for the elderly.
So what is so special about the Taiwanese Tango and how did it come out from ballrooms to gardens, roadsides and into homes, becoming like a daily ritual for many?
“We don’t know. We listen to it, we dance to it, but we do not a have an exact idea as to how it came to us,” said a dancer at Amanda’s.
Musicians and instructors of Taiwanese and Latin American dances also do not have any definitive answer about its evolution.
“The are two versions: one that came with the Japanese during the occupation here (1895-1945) and another from the United States during the Vietnam war and it mixed with the ballroom dance and the Taiwanese Tango was created,” said Isabella Huang, a tango instructor.
Paraguayan musician and composer Roberto Zayas, who played with the tango legend Astor Piazzola in Japan, told EFE that “until now only a very shallow analysis has been done” on the origin of this tango, which remains unknown outside the island as well as among young Taiwanese people.
“Tango, like traditional music composed in Taiwan, with Taiwanese and Mandarin lyrics, was born during the Japanese colonial times, with Japanese musical influence, which does not exclude other origins, especially in dance, “ Zayas pointed out.
Tango rhythm was liked by the Taiwanese and they “used it with pentatonic melodies in certain compositions” with a unique touch to it, because they “could dance in groups and in pairs,” the musician said.
Musically, Taiwanese Tango “is not European or Argentinian at the least” but is more closer to the former and shows a great influence of not only traditional Taiwanese music but also of Bizet’s “Carmen” and tango’s “Jealousy,” said Zayas.
Tango instructor Waisburg said the Taiwanese tango is distinct from Argentinian because it doesn’t involve frequent change of pace and “is much simpler to dance.”
Much of the lyrics for Taiwanese Tango are inherited from the Father of Taiwanese folk songs, Teng Yu-hsien (1906-1941), who began writing these compositions until the late 1930s when Japan banned singing in Taiwanese.
In fact, Japan – which had its presence on the island for over 40 years – had a deep influence on the popular traditional music of Taiwan as majority of the musicians until 1950 studied in Japan.