Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shapes and sizes

With thanks to Mari, author of My Tango Diaries, whose posts and links lately have helped catalyze a lot of what I'm going to write about now. And to the others who look for the beauty in all those around them, even when we cannot see it ourselves.

It starts here:

Marcela Duran and Carlos Gavito; photograph by Alex Waterhouse Hayward.

I have to admit that I don't know a lot about Marcela Duran, other than what I can see about her in photographs and videos--which is to say, I know she was a beautiful dancer, that she performed with the famed dancer, choreographer, and teacher Carlos Gavito in Forever Tango on Broadway and around the world. I hear that she gave up professional dancing to raise a family.

But look at her in that picture. Specifically, look at the shape of her body. While she does not look as though she has an ounce of extra fat on her--as you might expect from a professional dancer--she also does not look what you might call wispy. She looks solidly built and very powerful. (You'd have to be strong, to hold yourself in that pose.) Although it can be difficult to gauge actual sizes from photos and videos with no objective means of comparison (and granting that Argentines tend to be petite people), she looks tall.

I think she looks like a goddess. And she dances like one too.

(I like this video better than some others of Duran and Gavito I've seen, because it looks more like improvised milonguero-style tango, even if it might be a choreographed performance.)

I sometimes get very intimidated at one milonga or another--around town, especially the open-embrace ones, because the other women there tend to be a distinctly willowy bunch. They look like what I first believed tango dancers should look like--in a few words, tall, leggy, and narrow. And I could weigh considerably less than I currently do, and still not look like that.

I know because I used to, and I didn't. I wore a smaller dress size, but I still had relatively broad shoulders and wide hips. I still stood about 5'6"--no matter how much I wished I might be shorter (and "cuter") or taller (and "more elegant"). Underneath fat and muscle, the bones don't change.*

The possibility of my getting intimidated (really, my intimidating myself, because certainly no one has ever said anything to me about this) is not limited to just the open-embrace milongas in my town; it could happen anywhere. But because of the frequency with which I see this group, it occurs most with them. And I think that if I had fallen in with that group first, I probably would not have stuck with tango. I probably would not have felt "pretty" enough to stay with it, even if I had been able to learn the dance well enough.

But luckily I happened to sign up for a class in estilo milonguero first. And with its emphasis on social dance, rather than performance, and its respect for others sharing the floor, it makes tango accessible to ordinary people, of all shapes and sizes and ages and levels of athletic ability. You don't have to be a model or a gymnast or a professional dancer to be good at it, and to get to enjoy the beauty, grace, and joy of a really good dance.

(I am aware that I am conflating a few things here, but it does appear that in my town, at least, neuvo-influenced style = bigger, more athletic/dramatic moves = younger crowd =  intimidating levels of attractiveness among followers. At least, that's one way to look at it. Others may be possible, and the theory is not a law.)

It's an important thing for me to remember, as I try to fight my critical inner voices. You don't have to look like her


...Although you can. You can also look like her

(Also by way of Mari, because I am so far behind on the tango videos I'd like to watch--but now the computer issues are fixed, and I can start exploring videos for myself again! But mostly because Melina and Detlef are wonderful, and I love so much of what they do in this video, and if you were wondering how tango can be funny, just look at about 1:40.)

...or her

(How much do I love Pocho and Nelly? SO MUCH! They are so adorable, like your favorite grandparents! And look what they can still do on the dance floor! This remains one of my favorite videos of them.)

...or me, or you.**

*P.S.: I still wasn't happy with my body, even at my thinnest. Which tells me that losing weight, alone, is not enough to make you love yourself--so you might as well start loving yourself as you are. What is the point of waiting?

Well, easy enough to say. Although, actually, most days I am pretty happy with my body right now. I try to eat nutritiously, get a decent amount of exercise, and otherwise generally be healthy. And my body seems to have settled into where it wants to be, for now. When I look in the mirror, usually I'm pretty content. But it's a continuing struggle--not every day is a good day. Still, it's something to aspire to.

**Obviously, this has been written from a female perspective, but the same is true for men. I've had wonderful dances with men of all shapes and sizes--skinny beanpoles that I feel like I might break if I leaned on them too hard, great big bears who actually make me feel petite and dainty, men who stood a full head shorter than me, men with six-pack abs and chests like a brick wall, heavy guys who I could barely reach my arms around, very old men, and quite young fellows, men with full heads of hair, men whose entire faces were engulfed in full beards, men who were completely bald ... It's really not about looks for men, either.


  1. Great post (and thank you so much for reading my blog!) I was lucky from the very beginning, that when people pointed out the very best followers in our community, the ones I should try to emulate, they were often older, and not wispy - they were strong women of every shape and size. So from the very beginning I knew that it didn't matter what I looked like, it mattered how I danced.

  2. Your blog is a pleasure, Mari. Thank you for sharing your writing in it.

    That is a great message to get, early in your dancing career. I know, in my mind, that looks don't matter--among other things, I got to see Pocho and Nely dancing in person, early-ish in my own experience--but it can be pretty easy to forget. I need to remind myself, now and then. :)