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, July 14, 2009

The Circle of Tango

The tango blogging "theme of the week" has been Why people quit dancing tango, a notion noodling in my head for quite some time.

It was all started by Clay's Survey.
Elizabeth wrapped it up perfectly for me.
Check out Modern Tanguera's post and the interesting comments.
And cranky Tango Pilgrim says, Who cares?

The thing is, if you've quit tango, you're probably not keeping up with tango blogs and taking surveys--you've moved on to other things. So how accurate can such a survey be?

These posts and the survey seem to prove that folks quit out of feelings of inadequacy, rejection, hopelessness, frustration.

But there are other reasons apart from personality and popularity issues why someone quits tango. There is, just like in Life, a Circle of Tango. We start on the bottom and move around the wheel.

Most tango bloggers start blogging to chronicle their first baby steps on their tango journeys; it's such a new and fascinating experience, all of it--the trying to learn, the emotions, the man-woman thing, and we struggle to express it. Tango as we all know is unlike any other social dance. Tango opens up our hearts, which means we can travel the whole spectrum of feelings, from exhilaration to depression. Tango means taking risks.

So we write about it, and read the experiences of others, and try to understand the whole phenomenon, this new world. Then bloggers often get bored with trying to explain tango, or feel too exposed with their raw emotions out there in cyberspace, and the blogs languish. Sometimes blogs are made private, and sometimes they morph into photography, writing, belly dancing, art, family, or travel.

The Circle of Tango begins with dabbling in dance lessons; maybe we saw a movie or a stage show, maybe we're going to Buenos Aires on business, a friend invites us to a milonga. If we only dabble, we eventually move on. Once we realize that tango is not "vertical sex," that just because it's sensuous doesn't mean people fall into bed with us, that it's no more a pick-up activity than any other place where men and women meet, tango can seem like too much work.

If we stick around long enough to have a Tango Epiphany, then we can become addicted: chasing around for our next Tangasm.

Then those of us who can manage it try to be Tango Bums--traveling to dance, whether it's to a local festival, milongas a couple of hours away, to Europe, or to Buenos Aires. We'll do anything to satisfy our cravings for a tango fix.

Meanwhile we're taking classes and practicing and studying and figuring out how to dance who we are.

If we hang in there long enough, and bring enough to it, after several years we're finally pretty good. Other people like to dance with us (it's no longer based on our age, looks, or height but on how well we dance and who are friends are) and we manage very well dancing with others. We enjoy this point on the wheel for quite a while, proud of the skills that we've worked so hard to attain.

And then what?
What happens when we're as good as we're going to get, and danced with everybody we want to--over and over again?

If we're young, talented, limber and skinny, we take ballet classes and try for a stage career. This is especially true for Argentinians, as it's a way to get out.

And if it's too late for that, and our own personal Circle of Tango is complete, then we move on to DJing and/or teaching.

If none of these options is appealing, that's when we quit. Tango has a natural life span like most other things. For me, tango is a life-long pursuit; but even if I gave it up, I still would have the benefits, pleasure, experiences, self-knowledge that tango brought me. And traveling the circle would have been worth it.


Elizabeth Brinton said...

Cherie, Thanks for those thoughts, they fill out some of those unspoken and maybe even unconcious reasons for the move away from the tango, and then from the writing about it too.
(I think there is something odd about the survey. The people must have quit recently or not quit yet in order to still be on the mailing list? Reading the comments at the end of the survey..they all sound like the same neurotic person. )

There is something really sad about watching some of it...little girls dance dreams played out by older women, fear of rejection etc. Does tango make people confront their personal demons?
Writing too, blogging or otherwise, requires some deeper and more open hearted exposure, (risk?) Maybe people just don't realize what they are getting themselves into with things. They may as well play it safe then if that is what they need. Not you though, I dare say, and not me.

Anonymous said...

This topic has been around before - part of your circle of dance?!
Although I might have some issues now and then with venues, leaders, etc, I will never quit. I might take a break and they say that a change is as good as a rest. I no longer whine or complain. It is what it is and if I don't like it I leave. I heard the music many years before I learned to dance and when I was learning it certainly filled a void and made me more confident and even more outgoing than I normally am if that was ever possible. There was some romance, but that was a by product of getting along with someone, not because of how they danced. There was work through friends and lodgers. All because of Tango. There is dissatisfaction with every type of dance form and the people involved with it and is not mutually exclusive to Tango. Situations change, people change. That's life. Does it really matter who stays or goes in Tango? Is knowing really going to change anything? I doubt it.
Love the cartoon, very appropriate as that is what my garden looks like right now!

Henry ( said...

I suppose there might be a natural cycle, and I agree that -- in addition to the points brought up in the blogs you referenced -- tango dancers can drop out when they feel like they've hit a plateau and aren't progressing at the rate they used to anymore.

I also strongly agree with your observation with regards to selection bias -- if someone has quite tango, as in really quit, they're not likely to fill out a survey on why.

Thus, I assume that most people who fill out the survey are those who have hit such a plateau and are grumbling because of whatever is holding them back from the next phase of development. Sometimes it takes a break, sometimes an extended break, to get reignited on the connection.

In short, I question what it means to "quit" tango. If you've been absent for 1 month and eventually return, have you quit? How about 3 months? How about 6, or 12?

And here are the real toughies -- if you used to dance a lot, and only dance rarely or not at all for some period of time but eventually expect to return more full-force, have you quit? What if you aren't sure if you'll return?

The term "quit" just isn't so clear for me ...

n a n c y said...

I did receive the survey and found the results, especially the comments, to be very interesting. I also sent it on to six friends who have quit tango and asked them to complete it to provide more balance. I believe several of them have done so. Only one of them lives in Portland but they were all good, ten year dancers who had traveled to Buenos Aires. Three of them are men.

Anonymous said...

Meh! I quit all the time.

Elizabeth Brinton said...

Johanna, you are funny.

Suzy Vegas said...

Cherie you once told me that I would either come back or I wouldnt. Like you I am a trained pro and I wanted to dance it but I didnt have the patience to wait for someone who 'completed' me.
Now living in Salta province, I read tango blogs all the time, wishing I had the option to go to a milonga

Anonymous said...

I don’t know if it is a circle or just a path. In any case, like everything else, our tango experience transforms itself as we ourselves change.
As a beginner (man), I took many classes and workshops taught by anyone who I think will teach me something new. As I got better (intermediate?), I started dancing, and dancing lots, with everyone who was willing. I then become more selective, because I can, and because I became less tolerant of suffering through a whole tanda with a bad partner. Now I dance maybe 50% of the time that I am at a milonga, and often dance multiple times with the same partner. After all, I ‘m there to have a good time. No? Also, I may not dance with someone often, but I always say hi, and chat a little if the time and place allows.
Sure, I will try dancing with someone new or from out-of-town, but only if the opportunity presents itself, and her dancing is up to par, for the music being played. I am human after all, and respond to my primal instincts. However, I rather have a nice dance with someone I already know, and who appreciates my dancing, than suffer through a tanda with a (young) new face that wants to be tested on her ganchos and adornos.
I don’t complaint if I do not dance, because there’s almost always the music, which I started collecting, and learning about (I speak Spanish). I am also learning about the musicians, the history, the society of the time, etc.
Proof-reading what I wrote in the first paragraph, there is definitely an infancy/youth/adulthood/maturity theme running through the descriptions, and that’s what I referred to as the path.