Tango from Romford

June 5, 1998

AMERICAS

SINCE he was born in Romford, Essex, in January 1954, Nicholas Tozer has gone a long way ... all the way to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he has become a member of the country's unique National Academy of Tango.

The academy is one of 15 national academies, which are considered the country's authorities on arts and sciences. That tango has its own is a token of the esteem in which Argentinians hold their national dance.

"Everyone who is anyone in the world of tango is involved in the academy's seven separate divisions, but only 40 people are academicians," says Tozer. These include poets, linguists and musicians. "As far I am aware I am the only British citizen (and one of a handful of non-Argentines) to be a full member of an Argentine national academy."

Tozer has written several papers and articles on tango during his years editing the English-language Buenos Aires Herald, but he only started dancing it in the past ten years, taught by his wife.

As a foreigner, to be invited into the academy is a source of great pride, especially as tango represents the one thing that is quintessentially Argentinian.

"Tango is the one thing Argentina has produced that is absolutely Argentinian. Everything that Argentina is about has to do with tango in one way or another - even the Malvinas (Falklands) war," says Tozer.

Both tango and the Malvinas dispute, on which Tozer is doing his PhD, stem from entrenched perceptions Argentines have about themselves and their place in the world, he says. "In tango there is a longing for a lost past - both for the countries from which immigrants came and/or for the rural 'arcadia' that was Argentina before mass immigration into the country took place late last century.

"In the case of the Malvinas there is the same sense of loss - of the sovereignty of the islands in 1883 - when Britain 'seized' land that Argentinians historically considered theirs."

After the 1982 war between Britain and Argentina ended, Tozer became actively involved in the South Atlantic Council, which lobbied for better relations between the two.

Although Tozer was born in England, his mother was born in Buenos Aires of British parents, and the family had emigrated in 1961. He has spent most of his life shuttling between the United Kingdom and Argentina.

With a foot on either side of the fence, he felt a special loyalty to the SAC, set up when military rule in Argentina ended in 1983 by a group of British MPs, former Foreign Office officials, academics, church representatives and businessmen.

When no formal links existed between both countries, the SAC organised visits by British MPs to Argentina and by Argentine members of congress to the United Kingdom, as well as seminars, conferences, publications and active monitoring of bilateral relationships.

Nowadays links could hardly be better, says Tozer, and there is much discussion about setting up joint ventures to explore the possibilities of developing oil fields off the Falklands.

Tozer studied sociology and anthropology at the University of Buenos Aires until the university was closed by the military government in 1975. He moved back to Britain and was awarded a diploma in Spanish by the British Institute of Linguists. His masters in Hispanic studies, specialising in the works of Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, was from London University.

Tango has influenced his life personally and academically. "During the 1960s, tango was on a down while rock 'n' roll was ascendant. I started listening to tango quite naturally as it was an integral part of the everyday life around me," Tozer says.

"As a foreigner I was always listening out for new words and or twists in language and took a distinct liking for Argentine slang (lunfardo), which is the basis of much of the lyrics of tango."

In fact Tozer become so interested in the slang that it formed part of his thesis on Borges. "However, important though these studies were," insists Tozer, "my 'real education' was acquired on the streets of Buenos Aires, living and working the life of a Buenos Aires night bird!" He says: "Despite my dedication I am not anything like a professional dancer, and while I can hold my ground, I am at best a veteran amateur dancer. Being an academico, I find myself regularly having to dance with assorted ladies while travelling overseas.

"What I particularly like is that tango can only be done properly if the two dancers work together. Although it is often described as a 'domineering macho's dance, it is virtually impossible to dance if the partner does not voluntarily participate." As they say around the world, it takes two to tango.

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