The tango, some historians speculate, was born in the brothels of South America's Rio de la Plata region. Others argue that only well-to-do gents learned to tango inside bordellos. In the late 19th century, mastering this dance was common for the men of Argentine's growing immigrant labor force who needed to win the affections of women with their stylized moves. The tango was peacocking, a way of attracting a mate. When these men failed to magnetize someone, they continued to practice with one another while waiting in crowded cathouses where the wealthier lads then discovered the dance.
Ethnographers believe the tango originated with the darker skinned folk of Uruguay who mixed motherland Candombe rhythms with a melting pot of Bohemian polka, Cuban habanera, and the German waltz. Whatever the origin, today Argentina is recognized as the Tango Mecca of the World. This fact catapulted artist Nico Mazza out of her New York City apartment into a nomadic South American life in search of the perfect tango. For those who embrace the more than 125 year-old dance, the road to Argentina is a pilgrimage, where the call is both sacred and sensual.
In Buenos Aires, the tango is so pure, so rich, and very passionate. I fell in love with the city. I started dancing about five or six years ago. I got into the music first, then found that I was addicted. This is the story of most people who tango, something drags you in. I've always had nostalgia for the past. I'm moved by traditions. Traditions of practices. Traditions of art methods. Traditions of storytelling. I'm drawn to experiences that I haven't lived. - Nico Mazza
It's fitting that an artist compelled by custom and history would find the tango. It's also fitting that an artist charmed by sensuality would find her work on the walls of our last exhibit The Feminist Sex Shoppe. When probed about the genesis of her masked nudes, Nico confesses that it was guilt.
Guilt from my grandmother. She used to tell me,"If you ever touch a man, you'll get pregnant." The first time I kissed someone I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm gonna have a baby!' I was really terrified. So scared. On top of that, as a kid, I used to masturbate in her bedroom. My grandmother had an altar on her dresser with all her little votives. I remember seeing this framed picture of Jesus's face looking back at me. I was so ashamed that I hid under the covers, hence the hooded women in my work.
You might spot Nico on a ballroom dance floor near you, but it would be easier to visit her at SHE/FOLK, a women's arts & story collective where she is a co-founder and regular contributor.