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.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Feeling the Tango

When I first journeyed to Buenos Aires to dance in 1997, tango tourism was fairly new. Still, a lot of the local men I danced with handed me hastily made up cards declaring themselves, Profesor de Tango.

I collected those cards as a joke--not that I didn't need classes in those days, but from the absurdity of every Juan, Ricardo y Horacio being great tango teachers. I knew that even then.

In a weird way, it's flattering to older foreign women to have so many men begging you to call. Also you get more attention at the milongas during the time the "profesores" are trying to whip up some business by dancing with prospective students.

I did take a couple of group classes years ago with men I met in the milonga because I liked them and how they danced and I wanted to show my support. It was obvious that they were living hand to mouth. And I did learn something--about tango.

Teachers immediately have a personal advantage over their students: the advantage of power and perceived knowledge. It's been forever thus. How many students have fallen in love with their teachers? (Me too, but in my case it was my French teacher.) And in tango it's even easier because of all the body contact. But if a teacher--like a psychologist or doctor--uses that power in trying to seduce, he or she is really taking unfair advantage. (In fact, in the U.S. there have been law suits over this; not brought by the families of underaged students, but by mature adults. Students of all ages and both sexes are vulnerable.)

It's not only the wannabes who try to seduce their paying students, but many well-known big name traveling tango superstars are infamous for more than dancing. They probably seduce because they easily can. But if they do so while taking money from a student who wants to improve his tango, shame on them.

To be honest, sometimes the tango student wants to be seduced. A sexy good-looking teacher attracts students for lots of reasons, one being the desire to be embraced by the teacher for the length of a private lesson. But a truly professional instructor will not mix the personal with the professional during the class.

Recently it came to my attention that an old milonguero friend of mine tried to cop a feel during a private lesson with a foreign woman. (Age is no security that this won't happen.) I'm sure it wasn't the first time, and I know that he isn't the only one who does that. Because I've known this person for many years and always thought of him highly, I am very dismayed, and just so sorry and disappointed in his behavior. I gave him more credit. It just goes to show that sometimes people aren't what they should be.

It's up to the student, unfortunately, to set the limits of student/teacher "affection," whereas it should be the professional who takes care to act "professionally."

Painting by Aline Bureau.


Anonymous said...

Amen to that. It is especially confusing to newbie women because they may very well think , "oh, this is a cultural thing" or "maybe he just got carried away with the passion of the dance." NOT!

I feel compelled to add, however, that many visiting women behave in ways they never would on their own turf. They go to bed with guys whose last names they do not even know - whose marital status should put them on notice, with guys who have no jobs and no money. Please stop and ask yourself if you would have anything to do with that type if he didn't dance tango. When visiting women get that reputation, it marks all visiting women as easy.

And if you do fall in love every week, then please don't put the details on your Blog where your mothers and children can read all about what should be a private experience.

Anquises said...

Cherie ha ilustrado el post de manera brillante: en el dibujo los brazos de la pareja están en el lugar incorrecto.

Tina said...

I think newbies can be afraid to be anything other than nice and agreeable in weird situations. If something makes you uncomfortable or if you even have to question it for a minute in your head, it's probably not cool and it's always okay to leave the situation.

Caroline said...

I wonder which blogs Anonymous is talking about. Haven't seen any in which the turista tanguera falls in love every week then post all the personal details.

You're right about some men being predatory tango teachers. A woman, no matter where she is, should listen to her instincts and know when she may be taken advantage of.

Señora Capone said...

I hope she charged him double the price of his lesson, for him copping the feel.

miss tango said...

I hope she charged him double of the price of the lesson for copping a feel, and was not agreeable and nice in the "weird situation".

Anonymous said...

It is always sad when the seemy side of Tango rears his head. But in these particular instances, especially involving someone whose behavior is otherwise impeccable, I always have to wonder about the "other side of the story".

It is entirely possible that the newbie unknowingly gave off some sort of tacit approval, leading him to believe it was "ok".

Anonymous said...

The cultural differences and a woman's psychological stability (or instability) may as well be attributing factors. While ago, I have witnessed a young woman rolling up her skirt at a milonga, almost revealing her underwear to get men’s attention. She would, otherwise, be a normal person outside of a milonga.
Unless we hear both sides of the story we’d never know the whole truth. Foreign women new to tango often misinterpret argentine men's embrace and the body connection.

tangocherie said...

So sorry to disagree with the last two comments. But are you honestly saying the student can possibly be blamed for the teacher not controlling him/herself?

It's like someone saying that a sexy dressed woman is asking to be raped!

Women dressing sexy in a milonga hoping to get dances has NOTHING to do with a teacher, who is being paid for his time and expertise, inappropriately touching a student during a lesson.

I'm sorry, in this case I don't believe there are "two sides to the story." A professional HAS to act professionally, despite his personal feelings. He (or she) is being PAID to teach tango, not for sex!

And it's not only foreign women with Argentine men; it's foreign men with Argentine women, and foreign men with foreign women, on and on. There was a famous law suit in the States some years ago about this very subject--no Argentines involved.

As I wrote in my post, the teacher has the advantage of power and perceived knowledge, just like a doctor or a shrink. And shame on those who abuse it!

Anonymous said...

I hear everything you say, and agree, Cherie. And in terms of "absolutes", absolutely. Yes, a teacher SHOULD have absolute self control with regards to their student, and one would hope that they watch out for the good of students, no matter how stupid they might be.

Still, I do know from personal experience (not in Tango, mercifully), that there IS always more than one side to every story. And that unless we are there to witness the event - as I said, especially in the case of someone we have always regarded as having integrity - I would not be as harsh to judge.

tangocherie said...

Oh Johanna, I could never "blame the victim." To me there is no excuse. "She was asking for it?" Is that an excuse, even if it were true?

Most women can probably say they've experienced some sort of sexual harassment during their careers as students of one thing or another. It first happened to me at UCLA, for example, and several male tango teachers have put uninvited moves on me since then.

You know what? I do not blame myself--I blame them for being slimy and unprofessional and trying to take advantage of me.

If a student wants to have sex with a teacher, he/she can invite the teacher to an occasion OUTSIDE of the classroom. And the teacher can do likewise.

Personal -- professional: SEPARATE!

The onus is on the teacher to set the guidelines of the class--not on the student.

Anonymous said...

[waves white flag]

n a n c y said...

Do you really think that Cherie would engage in reckless gossip? Do you think she would bother to comment on every day flirtation that goes on in the milongas with every sleazy 'teacher' there is? In all the time I have read her Blog and known her personally, I have found her very careful in what she publishes.

The other side of the story might be that the guy is just a creep...a milonguero, but a creep.