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, August 15, 2018

Hero Worship and False Idols (repost from 2011)

In every field there are famous folks who have become cult figures, from rock 'n roll, to fashion, to sports, to science, to TV, etc.

Tango is among the worst, because everyone has his own style/preference/ideas of how to dance. "You dance who you are," means that there is not just one way to dance, thank goodness. But searching for the right way for YOU to dance can be like following the Holy Grail with one wrong turn after another; like trailing after glamour stars of tango, hoping some of the glitter will fall on you by propinquity.

Students and wannabees look often for quick fixes and "Argentine Tango in 10 Easy Lessons." One of our students told us about a "tango boot camp" in their country where you can learn to dance tango "well" in a weekend or even one day!

Well, sorry to disappoint, but this can't happen. Tango takes its time. I don't care who your teachers are or what they promise before you plunk down your money or how many hours you practice in a weekend; you've got to put in your time. Tango has to "cook" within you.

Often because of media fame or cults of personalities, some dancers are worshiped, not so much for what they do (which can be good or bad or several degrees in between) but who they are. Generally these are dancers who tour outside of Argentina, either performing and/or giving workshops.

The great social dancers of Buenos Aires just dance night after night in the milongas; they don't speak English, they have never left Argentina, no one has starred them in a movie, they haven't won or even entered tango contests, and they haven't danced in a stage show.

When hero worship makes cult personalities of tango dancers, it's usually because of marketing; the media and especially YouTube can make a star of anyone. But if all you know of a person is what you are told by advertising, and what you read/see on the internet or at long distance in a huge tango workshop, perhaps that person doesn't deserve the gifts lavished on them when foreigners bribe them to rub elbows during their trips to Buenos Aires from lands far away. And even more to the point, do not deserve adoration.

I guess I'm getting somewhat cynical after so many years of working with tango, and above all, observing what goes on. Foreign dancers wine and dine the objects of their hero affection, and spend a boatload of plata on private lessons and buying drinks in the milongas, and always paying the taxi. That's fine, really; the foreign dancer gets what he wants--a little prestige to hobnob with the famous and an ability to name drop, and the Tango Star gets free meals, gifts, and more hours of private lessons. There's nothing wrong with that; it can be a friendly recognition that the visiting students probably can afford to do those things more than the locals. The problem begins when it turns to hero worship, when the star can do no wrong on or off the pista.

It's always been hard to separate the dancer from the dance. But worshiping false idols by throwing money at them, especially when the person involved is an extremely bad example of how to behave--meaning not following common rules of etiquette and not being a caballero (yes, I'm referring here especially to men), makes everything bad for everyone except the "hero" who is getting rich off of a false reputation of being a fabulous dancer, teacher, and a perfect person.

I have had occasion to know well a couple of famous touring tango dancers/teachers and they both made fun in private conversations of the foreigners they profited from.

We've all heard the story of Pablo Veron's fisticuffs with a woman at a New York milonga.

And the extremely famous contest winner who socked a woman in the eye when she inadvertently nudged him on the dance floor as he was walking to his table. She had to ice her face and leave the milonga. Ruben and I were dancing right next to this incident in Los Consagrados about a year ago. This is the same famous dancer who announced to his table of friends that no foreigner could ever dance like an Argentine--and he makes his living off of teaching foreigners.

I've heard about the really bad attitude of a famous dancing couple while giving workshops in Australia--leaving the room, paying attention only to each other, etc.

And tales of many male tango teachers seducing their hostesses while being housed for workshops.

Is this professional behavior? Is this worthy of adoration? Or is it all part of the Tango Game?

Some dancers haven't a clue how to teach. Some can't handle the fame and fortune that came to them late in life. Some are just "bad" people who can dance well. And some are ego maniacs with no respect for those who respect them.

But there's something a bit "immoral" about worshiping so-called heroes who behave badly. We can admire their talent--the way they play football or golf, or the way they dance. And that is what should be appreciated, not the whole package of a low-down rude, haughty, superior s.o.b.

Famous tango dancers are famous mainly due to good luck and marketing. If you like the way someone dances, by all means study how they dance. But don't waste your adoration on folks who probably would not take you to the E.R. at 2:00 a.m., especially if you were no longer paying them for privates or inviting them to restaurants.

You can have good professional relationships with your tango teachers and you can have good friends. Only rarely are they one and the same (yet it can and does happen.)

In the States, everyone is our "friend." "I'd like to introduce my friend, Bill," you say to Norm, but you've only known Bill a day. We all have many "friends." In Spanish they differentiate between "amigo" and "conocido," which I think is a great thing to do. In English we rarely use "acquaintance," because everyone is our "friend."

Maybe it's time to think who really is our friend and who is our tango teacher and who is such a perfect person he/she is worthy of worship.

Friday, August 10, 2018

If you are in Los Angeles on August 15, please come to my Author Talk at the Memorial Branch Library, 4625 W. Olympic Blvd. I would love to see you there! (And copies of my two books will be available to borrow on your LAPL Library Card.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Thanks to All Who Responded to my Old Milonguero Survey

The surveys on the old MILONGUEROS of Buenos Aires are now closed. I want to thank the many women who participated. Your answers will help me as I go forward with my third memoir about the eleven years I lived in Argentina. Of course my book is not a scientific study, or an anthropological report, but my personal experiences there. The survey answers help me to understand the machista culture through the eyes of others.

I got some funny replies, by the way. One person wrote, "This survey is utter crap." And, "Why are only females invited to complete this survey? It is discriminatory." I love it. All answers were completely anonymous so I have no idea who any responders were or where they're from, but more serious replies are useful. Thanks again to one and all who took the time to answer.

Las encuestas sobre los viejos MILONGUEROS de Buenos Aires ahora están cerradas. Quiero agradecer a las muchas mujeres que participaron. Sus respuestas me ayudarán a medida que avanzo con mi tercera memoria sobre los once años que viví en Argentina. Por supuesto, mi libro no es un estudio científico o un informe antropológico, sino mis experiencias personales allí. Las respuestas de la encuesta me ayudan a comprender la cultura machista a través de los ojos de los demás.