Tango and Conflict: Learning Outside the Classroom with Past Today

By: Shawn Doherty, Third Year Ph.D. Student

Professor Richard Serrano’s signature course Past Today: Why Conflicts Endure exposes students to a multi-media approach for analyzing global conflicts through literature, film, music, architecture, and visual art. On February 24, students gathered for an even more interactive experience: a tango lesson.

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In the course’s unit on Argentina, students learned about tango as a way of approaching the longstanding conflict between Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina. In their tango lesson, students had the opportunity to practice this challenging dance style. Mariela Thompson, a dance instructor with Rutgers Recreation, demonstrated proper form and led the students through the foundational steps of tango. Students switched partners throughout the evening in order to continue to develop their skills. The students who attended this extra-credit event enjoyed an evening of music, dancing, and socializing with their classmates.

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Thompson also explained the culture of dancing tango in a milonga, such as how to ask someone to dance, who leads and who follows, and how those norms have changed over time. In the following classes, the students who attended the event were able to share with their classmates more information about how practicing tango changed their understanding of the tango music they were studying and also how it helped them interact more concretely with a conflict that seems far removed from many of their lives.

As a signature course, Past Today attracts a broad range of students to think about how conflicts are represented and remembered through a Comparative Literature perspective. This event marked a highlight in a semester-long exploration of how a critical analysis of art and literature can help students in a variety of disciplines understand past and present conflicts.