Friday, March 26, 2010

Tango en français

What I want to know is, who teaches these Frenchmen how to tango? Last weekend in Nearby City, I got to dance with someone who turned out to be another lovely and delightful French leader. France is three for three, on my personal scorecard! With this small sample size, of course, it is probably too soon to generalize about the whole of the French tango community, but I'm inclined to think somebody is doing something right.

I will probably write more about other lovely things from last weekend, later. There were many!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

En el bar de tango...

Not really my most successful evening, but it can be a difficult venue; the floor is small, the seating arrangement a bit inconvenient for getting dances. People need to cross the dance floor to get to the kitchen, the bar, the restrooms... Navigation is perilous, even in the arms of a good (and careful) leader; one man can only do so much when others are not being equally courteous. I've had better nights there, but also worse.

This time the bar was invaded by a flock of young men who, if they actually do dance tango at all, must be very new to it. I'm guessing, from the moves they did and the way they moved, that they were salseros. Problems?

1. A crowded and fast-moving tango floor may not be the place to do a big dip with your partner.

1a. Especially not if you drop her.

2. Salsa, as I understand it, is a slot dance--you dance back and forth in your tracks on the floor, more or less without moving from your area. Even if you circle each other, you don't progress. Yes/no? But tango is a walking dance; there is a general circular advance of all the couples on the floor, counterclockwise. Meaning: Dudes, move already!

Conclusion: No matter how smugly you wear it, a fedora definitely does not make you a tango-dancer.

(Conclusion II: Oh my God, I am so grumpy lately, what is wrong with me?!)

(Okay, here's the thing: I don't want to seem down on newcomers trying things out and maybe not being perfect. We've all gotta start somewhere. I'm also far from averse to having fun on the dance floor; my partners often ask why I laugh when we're dancing, and it's because I enjoy a good dance so dang much! Or maybe because a particular step seems somehow cute to me. But, seriously, acting with some respect and trying to learn about the dance? These are Important Things. I wouldn't traipse onto a salsa floor and tango my happy self around, getting in people's way. I'm not in charge of these things, but it seems like reciprocal respect would be nice.*)

* I have to admit, though, it's not as if they were actually that far out of place, around here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cinderella's lament (not about the shoes!)

I've been finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile my two lives, of tango and work. From a glorious evening of tango, where I feel beautiful, graceful, powerful, flirtatious, elegant--I come crashing down on Monday to my workday world, where I am, well, not.*

I want to live in that enchanted nighttime tango-world all the time... but I'm not sure anyone really does or can. I don't know much about what other tanguer@s around the world and throughout history do in their non-dancing hours, but I know, just as an example, that the extraordinary older milonguero, Ruben Harymbat, worked for 43 years in the Argentine post office as his day job--not exactly the highest-status, most publicly appreciated job one can imagine. I wonder how his feet felt at the end of a long day, after which he would still go out and make magic on the dance floor:

We've all got to pay the rent, no?

Even for those few who make their living touring the world as tango teachers, I suspect that teaching classes all day--once you've managed to get booked for them, which probably involves large amounts of time and effort that are invisible to we who are only students--in a place where you may not have the most facility with the language, followed by a milonga where everyone, regardless of whether they paid to take your classes that day, wants to dance with you,** then off to another airport to get to your next event, is probably not quite the thrilling whirl of jet-setting glamor that it might appear at first glance. I think it seems pretty likely that only profound love of the dance would keep anyone doing that for very long.

Maybe that contrast with everyday life has always been part of the appeal of tango, right back to its roots. Say you're a dockside laborer, or a factory worker, or a seamstress. After a hard day's work, your whole body aches--and maybe you don't have very much for supper, and maybe you don't have a lot of beautiful  clothes. But you still clean yourself up however you can and go out to the milonga, to forget your troubles in the arms of your partners, as they forget their troubles while they dance with you.

While the music plays, we lead a different life.

* Maybe it's not even unique to tango; maybe it's true of nearly any hobby. But I think that the contrast may be sharper in tango than in, for example, scrapbooking or baking, because as tanguer@s we literally costume ourselves (even if we don't dress up in tango-drag) and go to a dedicated space to play out our escapism. Which, when I think about it, is also true of things like mountain biking. But tango seems to have a special reputation in the popular imagination, even among various other dances for which the rest of what I've said may also be true, of glamor, sexuality, and general forbiddenness.Whether or not that is true, or to what degree it may be true, is quite another issue. But it's been my experience that when people hear I dance tango, they often seem mildly scandalized ... or at least surprised! I'm not sure I'd get the same reaction if I said I do line-dancing or even salsa (which, at least in my imagination, seems much more overtly spicy--heh--than tango as I dance it).

** Which I am sometimes guilty of doing, myself. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Female empowerment and the cabeceo: A very linktastic post

Something has been brewing in my brain, lately, from thinking about the cabeceo and the etiquette of asking for and declining dances, combined with a recent burst of pondering about Nice Guys (TM) and what Good Girls do. They're all connected in a way that I could articulate clearly and succinctly at about 2 AM on Monday but somehow can't right now--but I'm going to have a try, while there's anything left at all.

See, the other day, after being honked at by passing cars twice in three days as I walked during my lunch hour, I'd had enough of politely ignoring this behavior like a Good Girl, and gave the guy a great big bras d'honneur--which I doubt he saw, because by then he was already busy honking at the two women walking their dogs farther down the block. Further discussion with a friend, who also provided me with a wider perspective on street harassment, ensued.

Good Girls, you see, are taught not to make a fuss. Don't hurt anyone's feelings. (Do you know how often I mentioned my concern for Babysitter Guy's feelings in my last post about the cabeceo? It was a lot.) Don't be rude. So we politely ignore it when something makes us uncomfortable ... And we sometimes tell guys who do, in fact, make us profoundly uncomfortable for reasons that we might not even be able to consciously identify, "You're really nice, but..." in order to protect ourselves and escape quickly--propagating the myth that girls don't like nice guys.*

And in tango, we often don't just say no to a man we don't want to dance with.

Well, I do, now, with some men. It took a while for me to reach that point, though.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On the cabeceo

I've been reminded again how much the cabeceo facilitates a pleasant experience for both men and women, when I attended two milongas for a workshop weekend here in my hometown (but not the workshops themselves; have to pick and choose events these days).

The first milonga turned out to be the most satisfying evening of tango I've had in quite a while--rather unexpectedly, since all of this was based among the open-embrace dancers in town, where I usually feel less at home and more self-conscious, and find fewer partners. Enough of the partners that I like were there, including several from out of town, that I could dance nearly to my heart's content--even with only sporadic use of cabeceo. (Nearly. But I can never really get enough good dances! Am very greedy in this regard.)

Here is the thing, for me, a lot of the time: When cabeceo is not used, I worry that I will be imposing myself on a man who doesn't really want to dance with me, if I go over and ask him. (You see, I do not believe in depriving myself of the enjoyment of dancing because of some old-fashioned--and, in this case, dysfunctional--notion of the impropriety of a woman asking a man to dance ... If I have to. But this is part of why I so much prefer to use cabeceo.) And what if he accepts, because he feels like he must be polite, and then I dance poorly, or we dance incompatibly, and he ends up regretting it?

That's the great--and extremely practical--thing about cabeceo: since it allows both men and women to decline a dance without embarrassing the initiator of the invitation, it is quite empowering. Without it, I am very shy about approaching strangers to ask to dance--and so I was this weekend, though at the first milonga I managed just fine anyway. The second milonga, not so much.

(The only thing is, in the US, it can be tough to know whether people just aren't using cabeceo, or are using it and rejecting you. I usually figure they're not using it; observation can usually tell you for sure. In the milongas I went to in Buenos Aires, the air became positively electric with silent communication at the start of each tanda. You can tell.)

When it is not used, one winds up in awkward situations like this...