Last night I met a huge ego from Germany at a Parakultural class with a violent embrace– really rigid, and jerky– who got totally pissed off when I didn’t follow his “lead.” I think I suggested he’d have a better time dancing by himself and walked off.
Well. Attitudes sometimes get in the way. I know I’m no angel. And while I realize it is very challenging to learn tango as the lead, that it is a blow to virility struggle with a step, we go to class to learn things. There are awkward moments, hours, in this process. We have to accept this awkwardness, even invite it! and leave the attitudes at the door with our street shoes and cell phones.
Generally, any given weekly class in Buenos Aires attracts a different group of students each time it meets. Tango-tourists come and go, the locals move around. I have a few classes that have the same core group, but in general, I’m passing through the arms of men I’ve never seen before and will probably never see again. They are all different. There are the fantasy guys who want to wrestle you into the dramatic tango dancer he visualizes twirling and kicking around his pelvis and between his legs. Coming up after fantasy man is the timid one who leans back so far and touches you so weakly you feel that you feel like you’re fumbling in the dark. Making his way around the room, Mr. Greg Arious insists on blabbering, humming, or counting through every step– dude, will you shut UP already, I told you I’m deaf… and also there is a fair share of the cocky, more experienced dancers who feel entitled to touch you in “friendly” (and condescending) ways, such as placing palms on your hips or patting your back. I’ve grown tired of smiling this off and just walk away now.
Most troubling is the guy who is so desperate to connect in that tango way: the fluid flow of energy between two physical, working bodies, that he’s, like, gyrating and sparking like a live wire seeking ground. When you dance with him he tries to bore an incision into your chest somehow, then squeeze himself into it. This is annoying because you need the connection in order to dance well, but in this case, you want to withhold it from him, because he is not relaxed, he isn’t gentle. And most importantly, he isn’t opening to you. So you dance like shit.
I know there have been books written, and instructional videos, and other blog posts explaining the “passion of tango” and whatever, I’d be glad to read these things, as long as the prose isn’t too purple– I just haven’t yet. There are occasions when you are dancing with a great dancer and without even touching you or using muscles or movement, its like BOOM something locks into place. He holds you with this soft, but powerful ray of light: an energy channel that sees right into you and coaxes you to open up your own. Suddenly you can’t hide anything. The second your mind drifts, your axis wobbles, or you tense up, he knows. You can only give him what you have, and as soon as you don’t, this intangible matrix will say “you’ve left me, come back.” Its pretty scary, and lovely, and it takes training in both confidence and in dance.
The other side of this, is that despite needing to establish this connection with your partner in order to dance well, as a woman (and a between-the-lines-reading American one, at that) it is also a little difficult to know whether or not your partner is about to get the wrong idea… Is he starting to think about making the beast with two backs? I mean, we practically already are. For this reason I am starting to really appreciate the more formal milongas with men and women seated separately, and you get to return to the comfort of the girl-side of the room after the tanda, safe from any sexual advances. In the hipster milongas, the line isn’t so clear and you don’t know when you’re off the hook or when you have to start inching away. Everyone knows the meaning of “gracias”: “thanks, now get lost.” And gracias for that.
I’d like to give a shout-out to yoga. I don’t do it despite having a best friend who is a certified Ashtanga & etc. instructor and whole group of fanatic yoga people for friends. I’ve found that most of my favorite dance partners practice the zen zombie stretching and sweating, and as a result they have great posture, _very_ open energy channels, and an innate ability to relax, and help me relax too (huge feat, I can tell you).