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.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hero Worship/False Idols

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.


Melina Sedo said...

You are so right.

Have a good day,


Elizabeth Brinton said...

Very good Cherie. Anyone getting into tango needs to know all of this.
I think people go along living a pretty dull life, then tango comes into their lives. New outfits!! A sense of glamour, beautiful looking people who will teach you to be wonderful! Possibilities for new relationships, romance....It is overwhelming and you can see at any milonga how it takes over peoples better judgment. Over time, most people get sensible, learn to enjoy. But what a lot of wasted money and time, adoring complete charlatans. Thanks for shedding some light.

Tangocommuter said...

Well put. But thankfully the majority of people in the tango world are far from this perverted celebrity behaviour, and are open-hearted and welcoming to us visitors who enjoy their dance.

Paul Weiss said...

Great blog, Cherie, and understanding about some of the unpleasant themes that run through tango. Sadly, they run through every human endeavor but the saving grace is that most ... well, many ... okay, enough folks act in good ways to make the negativiity tolerable. The welcoming spirit of you and Ruben at your table and on the milonga floor is a rare thing. It makes tango fun and more. You both represent the best of tango in Buenos Aires. Thanks for what you do.

Maraya said...

Great post Cherie! I ADORE you and Ruben - cuz you're good people!

Anonymous said...

I concur 100% with you Cherie but I think that these people act this way because they can! Tourists can be 'guilty' of any of the following (the list is non exhaustive):

1. They haven't done proper homework about all the options available to them
2. They are are unable to communicate in the local language and negotiate lower rates
3. They falsely believe that being the friend or lover of a famous tango star will improve their social status or self worth or that they'll somehow be 'discovered' and be given opportunities to pursue tango professionally.

Especially the women here are to blame - they let themselves be used in exchange for some temporary special treatment.

Until tourists start to punish them right back, things won't change any time soon.

I feel equally strongly about this as you. Thanks for writing!

rafael said...

Rafael from Australia, Cherie thanks for your coments on this topics,I could not agreed more with you.
But the tourist get what they wanted-ATTENTION- and the smarts Argentinian get to EAT EVERY DAY ;free drinks; free taxy rides and don't have to pay for a worm bed over nigth.
I come from that part of the world,and took me over 20 years to learn and respect and interact with other people-specialy females-
that you can be friendly,have fun, and lugh and of course DANCE TANGO ,without expecting any favours from them and in the process gain so much respect and smiles .Gracias por tus comentarios,estoy de acuerdo cien por ciento .suerte y segui escriviendo ! Rafael

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Cherie,

Absolutely right and we agree with you - Toronto is right on the tour circuit of some of these parasites and really, they come to town to take whatever they want - sexual favours, cash, free lunches, your soul - (some on an annual or semi-annual basis) and make no contribution whatsoever to the local community. We've seen some of those uninformed persons who have dished out barrels of cash for their mumbo-jumbo teachings - they dance exactly the same as before they took the class, or sometimes, even worse! Can you unlearn "navigation" and "common sense on the dance floor"? Apparently, after classes from these goons, yes.

Yet, the visiting "Maestros" are worshiped and adored like the second coming of Tango God.

Thank you for your very insightful post, and all the best to you and Ruben,

Irene and Man Yung

OliveTango said...

Thanks for this post! I've never been (yet) to BA, so I only experience the touring teacher "cases" in my home town and at the festivals I travel to. A lot of them are very kind persons & competent teachers. Yet it is mostly true for the less known ones. As in every other branch, success often turns the head of people. It makes them feel like gods (being helped in this by a mass of groupies) and act like divas. This is good to read articles like yours that show the back of the medal. I reposted it on my blog, with a link of course! Un abrazo, OliveTango

Dieudonne said...

Great post! I wish all those "con artists" could read this, they might acquire some humility, but I do have to say that members of our communities encourage this behavior, especially some workshop organizers who relate to them as Gods.

tangocherie said...

I loved everyone's comments --thanks so much for making them. I try to overlook some things that I observe, but some times I just need to speak out when folks are being taking advantage of. And yet, if everyone is happy, why should I care?

I don't think that observers of violent behavior by the famous (Veron, and others) should cut them some slack because they are tango gods, but should protest, not hush up.

Chris said...

"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"

That's here in the UK.

Cherie, it's not what we call dancing tango. It's the dance that's called Argentine Tango by TV programmes here such as our Dancing with the Stars - a show-based dance usually done to English pop or modern club music. Here's a sample performance from that same dance school.

I don't think these dancers believe they're dancing tango as do the Argentines, and nor would they want to anyway. Very rarely does one see this tried in what you or I would call a milonga around here.