Tango in Jeopardy

This is a post from last year, June 08 – I’m dusting off to republish. It’s still fun:

Tango was on Jeopardy, featured as a category in the first round of the TV game show on Tuesday, June 24. Just as I was telling someone who is not in the “Tango Club” that, yes, tango is like a cult, there it was on mainstream network TV. I felt elated—the dance that is more than a dance was finally of wide-spread interest.

However, my elation dwindled rapidly as I watched the contestants, those ordinary folk of above-average intelligence, all avoid the category Tango the way I would avoid one on baseball, football, or even soccer, sad to say.

And then, when they were forced to choose from the Tango category, they could answer so few of the questions. I could answer only two. The questions were a big disappointment, betraying a sort of cultural (or cult) bias and lack of understanding of tango. Given that they were a flop, I don’t think we’ll be seeing a tango category again any time soon on Jeopardy.

The first question to the answer (the format used on the game show) was Who is Marlon Brandon, the star of a Bertolucci film (Last Tango in Paris). OK, fair enough, I didn’t mind that one, although in the movie, tango enjoys all of a minute or less of air time. The next question flew by me, but was about some old TV show (sorry, TV is another category I’d avoid; I only happened to catch this show because I’m still hanging out with my 86-year-old Mom).

The next question was What is Argentina? The country of origin of the dance. OK, that was a giveaway. But a trickier question would be, the other country along the Rio de la Plata in which tango was born. And the answer is, What is . . . ? Write me if you don’t know—-or if you do know. You don’t have to belong to the club to know this.

The next question/answer pertained to the couple who reportedly brought tango to America. Nadie, not a one, could answer this, including yo. The couple were Vernon and Irene Castle. Who?

I perused Wikipedia and learned that they were America’s sweetheart ballroom dancers back in 1910. So, I’m wondering if they brought American tango, the staccato, leave-room-for-the-holy-spirit dance? Or did they bring the real deal? Anyone know for sure?

That same year, 1910, coincides with the time frame during which the high brow and well-bred were taking tango (sometimes surreptitiously) from the bordellos and immigrant ghettos of its origin to the City of Light and elsewhere in Europe and Argentina.

In sum, Alex, Judges, that was not a good question. Nor was the final one, for non-tango folks: Tango is danced in 2/4 and this beat also . . . The question to the answer is What is 4/4? Sorry, I didn’t know that, nor did any contestant. (I always associated 4/4 with disco music, que se yo?)

Here are a few tango-related questions that I’d like to see in a future Tango category. They would be framed for mainstream people, not for the likes of us in the cult or club or whatever it is you consider us tango-apasionados. Please feel free to suggest some of your own. We can get our own Tango Jeopardy game going and it will be fun (maybe a pair of Comme Il Faut or Fattoamano shoes to the winner?):

1. I think any contestant who qualifies for Jeopardy should be familiar with the name, Carlos Gardel. I call him the patron saint of tango. He’s sort of the Buddy Holly of tango, in that he died in a plane crash in 1935 in Medellin, Columbia, a tragedy that enhances his immortality. The question could mention that he had the voice of a zorzal, a thrush, and the famous saying that “everyday he sings better.”

2. Forever Tango the Broadway smash hit certainly has mainstream recognition. I wouldn’t expect the casual observer to know any of the stars. Although, some older contestants might know the names of the famous duet of another tango show, Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieve since they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.

3. It seems like famous trivia, that Rudolf Valentino starred in the film, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Please indulge me as I quote from my upcoming book, Tango, an Argentine Love Story:

“Gauchos didn’t dance tango in the 1920s, but that didn’t stop Hollywood from dressing Rudolph Valentino in chaps and bombachas to perform the dance in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1921. Tango fever was not only turned up a few notches worldwide after the release of that film, but the luxurious scene on the pampas (“The Scent of a Cowboy,” it might have been titled if it were released today) solidified the anachronism, generating even more movies with tango-dancing gauchos.” (excerpted from a chapter called Even Cowboys Dance Tango).

4. A giveaway question would most certainly be one on Al Pacino and his famous tango scene in Scent of a Woman.

5. I didn’t see the film, Addams Family, but I’ve heard it has a very sensual Angelica Huston dancing tango with Raul Julia.

It’s impressive to think that if Jeopardy were shown in Argentina, whether the viewers danced tango or not, they would know questions/answers regarding such names as Carlos di Sarli, Osvaldo Pugliese, Astor Piazzola, Rodolfo Biaggi, Anibal Troilo, Juan D’Arienzo, and so many other composers, singers, and songs. One doesn’t expect that in the U.S.

But here in the U.S., although tango is gaining in popularity, it is still of cult status. It’s hard to believe that it is so, when one’s waking hours are so consumed with the dance, the music, the steps, the culture, the lingo-the whole empanada.

Any other questions for the non-tango Jeopardy contestant? I have a Double Jeopardy one: What great American jazz trumpeter showed up at an Osvaldo Fresedo concert in 1956 and began to play with him—leading to a famous landmark recording?

If you can’t wait to hear the answer, go to this wonderful all-things-tango site:


Final Jeopardy: When you find yourself getting so frustrated because you can’t answer all those Jeopardy questions, at least not as quickly as the contestants, remember that an accumulation of facts, does not necessarily lead to useful wisdom, just as knowing the steps in tango does not a great dancer make. Wisdom in life and skill in the dance come with  observation honed in the stillness between facts, in the silent space between sky-high file shelves of knowledge. And yet, the knuggets of knowledge and the silence are both necessary.