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  • Women performers at the Tango Hembra festival which challenges sexism in the industry.

    Women performers at the Tango Hembra festival which challenges sexism in the industry. | Photo: Twitter / @GabiRadice

Published 13 March 2019

An all-female tango festival was organized in Argentina to tackle the sexist industry which discriminates against women performers.

The first ever feminist tango festival took place in Argentina’s Villa Crespo district of Buenos Aires on March 9 and 10 as part of the International Working Women’s Day celebrations to challenge the male-dominated art form.

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"Tango is a genre of music which belongs to men who danced with anonymous women," said musicologist and author, Mercedes Liska, during the festival. "In dances, men change their female partners and keep building their name. Sometimes, the women aren't even mentioned."

Tango continues to be dominated by men who hold powerful positions from festival management to radio-production roles. Women are often sidelined and less than 15 percent of women are billed on festival line-ups. This also makes it difficult for female dancers to establish themselves professionally.

Lower salaries, fewer opportunities, and shorter career spans have also made it difficult for women to pursue art professionally.

"Men help each other out and often exclude women from festivals," Claudia Levy, a pianist and composer, told Al-Jazeera. "It is even harder to gain recognition as a female composer - as there are many women who sing the tangos of men, but no male artists who sing tangos written by women."

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"Twenty years ago, I wrote a tango that spoke about an abused woman," Levy said. "I had to stop singing it, as it made people uncomfortable. That was when feminism was a bad word, and when people hushed issues of domestic violence. But now, feminism is touching everything, so I began to sing it again."

Historically, famous songs were also very violent towards women and this group of women performers wants to change that.

"Historically, tango came from the people and, at the time the songs were composed, in the '20s, '30s, '40s, it was normal to hit women," tango singer and composer Marisa Vazquez said.

"We don't want to stop singing these songs, but we want to repurpose them, to teach audiences about where tango comes from and how it has led to the society we have today."

Hence, Vasquez founded Tango Hembro, Argentina’s first female-only international festival. "Tango originated at a time when society was extremely macho” and that is why this circle seeks to create a space for women to tackle the discrimination.

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