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Professor researches tango

Christian Myers | Friday, September 23, 2011

It may take two to tango, but it only takes one passionate professor to study the dance.

A Fulbright grant recipient, Notre Dame professor Maria Rosa Olivera-Williams is currently conducting field research on the cultural aspects of tango in Argentina and Uruguay.

Olivera-Williams said her research will help finish the manuscript of her book, “The Rhythms of Modernization: Tango, Ruin, and Historical Memory in the Río de la Plata Countries,” by 2012.

“I question how did tango … become the embodiment of modernization and a strong national symbol of Argentina and Uruguay,” Olivera-Williams said.

Her field research is the important final step in her years of research about modernization in Latin America and the cultural phenomenon of tango, she said.

“I have been studying and writing on modernization in Latin America for many years,” she said. “I became passionate about tango in 2002, when I saw people in Buenos Aires, [Argentina] and Montevideo, [Uruguay] who were demanding justice for the disappeared and for all the crimes of the 1970s and 1980s dictatorships tightly embraced in tango figures in the streets and parks.”

Olivera-Williams said the research she is doing in Montevideo and the research she plans to do in Buenos Aires is significant because it allows her to experience the culture of different communities firsthand.

“I am re-entering the Uruguayan culture and this experience will make a huge difference in my writing,” she said. “I am in the best place of [Montevideo], very close to [where] I was born and raised.”

Olivera-Williams’ unique contribution to the existing scholarly work on the subject of tango is studying tango as a cultural ruin.

“Since its origins, tango brought to the present of its displaced creators — Italian immigrants and rural migrants — images and sounds from the past, a past to which they could not return and did not want to return,” she said. “The present time of modernization in the lyrics, music and dance of tango is seen in its vulnerability, paradoxically at a time when debates on Latin American modernity and nation building played out.”

Olivera-Williams is currently living in Montevideo and her research is based at the Universidad de Montevideo. She will also give lectures about her research at the Universidad de Montevideo and The Artigas Institute, which prepares future high school teachers. She was also invited to deliver a lecture at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago, Chile.

Olivera-Williams said to receive a Fulbright grant, a professor must have a strong proposal and demonstrate how the grant will make an important difference in his or her research and final product.

“This award lets me know that the scholars who read and evaluated my project felt the importance of it and shared my passion,” she said.