Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The language of following

This started out as a reply on Tango Therapist's recent post about the inadequacy, as he sees it, of the term "follower." Then it got too long to be a polite comment, and it always was rather tangential to the actual discussion in his blog, so I decided to bring it over here, so as to be able to rant freely about it.

The discussion on Tango Therapist's blog is about the reductive nature of calling a woman "a follower." I hadn't yet gotten around to fully considering the merits or demerits of "follower" (other than that its gender neutrality is helpful for dancers who do not fall into the man leads/woman follows model). In general, though, it has been something I've been vaguely uncomfortable with for a long time, as I've wrestled with the problem of how to reconcile my feminism with what I do in tango. The discussion in Mark's blog is interesting and useful, with many thoughtful points raised in the comments.

For myself, I mainly dislike being called "a follow." I don't like "follow" being used as a noun because (a) it's a verb, and I'm persnickety about language like that; I occasionally (used to be regularly) get paid to be. It seems lazy on the speaker's part, that he or she can't be bothered to tack on a single extra syllable to avoid poor usage.

But mostly, (b) because it is used as a noun, it becomes a statement about what I am, rather than what I do, and that comes across as belittling. I am not a follow, with all its implications of mindless lack of volition--and, indeed, lack of humanity. A follow, if it exists, is a thing, not a person. Rather, I follow; I am a person who chooses a particular role in this dance, in which both roles are required in order for it to function.

(It appears, Mark, as though you might say that both the man and the woman must follow the music, but that still depends on a notion of leading and following--albeit with a nonhuman leader and two followers--in order for the dance to be both functional and beautiful.)

Credit where it's due: La Planchadora, whose blog was one of the first I started reading regularly and whose snark writing I miss very much, did greatly influence my thinking on this, although she had a slightly different take on the matter.

So that's my pet peeve about the language used to describe the roles in the dance. Don't ever call me a follow. Also, don't talk about how you or any leader "drives me."*  I am not a car, and if you're dancing like I am, you've got bigger problems than just language.

* Yes, not too long ago I had a leader do both of these things at once, together with a spectacularly rude backhanded compliment. I was so angry I could barely speak. EPIC MANNERS FAIL.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It happens.

"That's one thing I especially like about dancing with you," he tells me, grinning. "We may screw up, but we'll screw up very precisely."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I read Jan's chronicles of the older milongueros and milongueras eagerly, hoping to recognize a face despite the short time I was there and the long and ever-growing time since then--and hoping that, if I do, the dash won't be followed by a recent death date. I don't think I've recognized anyone yet, other than a few who have (or had) wider reputations.

There is one who I know is gone. He was a cab driver and a friend of my teachers. They arranged for him to pick me up from the airport when I arrived, and he went far out of his way to help me overcome the difficulties of that first day. If there was a time when I knew I would need a cab somewhere, I called him. My teachers said his evening schedule was like this: He'd pick up fares until he wanted to stop and dance. Since he was, I believe, an independent driver, he could just stop into a milonga and dance until he wanted or needed to leave, maybe taking a fare from the milonga. It seemed like a very clever way to manage it.

Despite the language barrier, I learned a little about him and his family. His wife, his son--no grandchildren yet. I wanted to talk to him more--and listen more to him--but I didn't know how. At his prompting, I promised him that I would know more Spanish when I came back next time; he promised me that he would try to learn some more English.

I only ever knew his first name. 

When my teachers told me that he had died when an infection set in after heart surgery, I found another sort of language barrier: I did not know how to talk about him. 

How could I explain him to my friends? He was a tango dancer and a taxi driver and my Buenos Aires grandfather/knight in slightly battered but still shining armor. I didn't know his last name, and we could barely communicate. I knew him for two weeks--but the news of his death left a little hole in my heart, and in my thoughts of the city.

I wish I could have more eloquently expressed my gratitude for all his help. I wish I could offer my sympathies to his family. I wish I could tell them how happy I was to have known him, even so slightly and for so short a time. I wish most of all that he were going to be there whenever I next manage to go back.

All I can do is remember him. And even though I am sad, the memory makes me smile.