After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Last night after the milonga Ruben and I were interviewed for an article in a tango magazine. Well, Ruben was interviewed. The two men were just talking away and I couldn't get a word in edgewise. I had to say, espera espera espera, por favor.
It's like when Ruben and I go out to dinner, I don't exist for the waiter. Most of the time I don't even get a menu, but that's ok, because I know the Argentine Master Menu by heart. But even if it's a restaurant where the waiter knows me and when I go alone, we exchange besitos and conversation, when a woman is with a man, she ceases to exist.
Last week I read a post on a tanguero friend's blog where he said he doesn't like male posturing and role playing as in example the Chacarera folk dance. He indicated that he prefers dances when everyone dances the same thing, and he enjoys an interchange of lead and follow in tango.
It's true in most folk dances that men and women dance together, the simple moves act out the basic roles in society: the men stomp their feet and the women twirl their skirts. Or else the men and women dance separately.
However in La Zamba, the national dance of Argentina, the man and woman dance the same steps around each other, never touching, swirling handkerchiefs. The goal in the zamba is to seduce the other person, and at times can be more sensuous than tango.
In other couple dances like salsa, rock n roll, ballroom, square dancing, the couple also do the same steps, but the male/female connection is not important--two girls can often have just as much fun dancing together. The macho part of swing is the acrobatic lifts and spins.
Some couple dances can even be done alone: salsa, disco, cha cha cha, mambo, samba, Charleston.
But traditional tango is all about role playing: the man leads, the woman follows. The man decides where and how the woman steps. The man protects the woman, turning and receiving blows on the floor that otherwise she would get. A woman needs to feel safe in the embrace so she can give up control, close her eyes, and go to Tango Heaven. And when this happens, the man is proud. He is also proud to show her off, to let her shine, because he knows that it makes him look good. That's also why he tends to wear neutral clothing in the same way as of old: all the men dressed the same in black and white top hats and tails or tuxedos, to let the women on their arms dazzle.
Most people are glad to assume these roles in tango, because they know it's only for the length of the tanda. These male/female roles however come out of the macho life style of a latin culture. That's why the tango is Argentino and not Gringo. And while Argentine women are strong and outspoken, the residual machismo is still around: different pay scales, different prices at milongas (although this is almost extinct now), men letting women board the bus first (but then it's a free-for-all for available seats), waiters and taxi drivers not acknowledging women when they are with a man, and the codigos of tango.
In order for a man to dance tango well, he needs to dance "like a man," with confidence, power, control, plus sensitivity and sensuality. That's a tall order. Not all tangueros have these qualities in their daily lives. But on the dance floor, they must "play the part."
Most of the women I know who like to lead say it's to allow them to dance more, and/or to follow better. But all else being equal, they prefer to dance with a macho, they prefer the luxury of surrender for three minutes, if not in their lives. It's natural-- ying/yang, positive/negative, masculine/feminine.
Maybe the woman is a CEO, or "wears the pants" in her family, or even is La Presidenta de la Republica. But when she dances tango, she wants to be feminine and to follow the lead of a man. She wants to submit to machismo.