The other day after seeing yet another tango blog on Facebook that whined about a man who had done this dancer wrong, I clicked and asked not to see any more posts from this blogger. I couldn't take it anymore. After awhile, all these blogs begin to look alike. They either whine about someone who did or did not dance with them. Hero worship. The absolute correct way one must or must not dance tango..in their world. The best music.
I have a warped sense of humor sometimes. I thought about the 5 stages of grief. Is there a 5 stages of tango? The more I thought about it, the more warped I got. Finally I decided I had to write a blog post about it. Probably tomorrow I'll be flamed on the other's blogs. It's OK, at this point I really don't care. Hmmm, which stage is that? The I don't care stage?
So here you go, my 5 stages of tango, and you don't have to like them, love them, or even agree. I don't care, but it's not a stage. It's an attitude. We all know, I have plenty of that.
SHYNESS or SHAME take your pick. You get this crazy idea you want to learn to dance tango. For whatever reason. You have friends who are gaa gaa over it. You're sick of dancing (fill in the blank) swing, salsa, ballroom. You saw Forever Tango or Scent of a Woman. If you are a man you think it would be a good way to meet women. If you are a woman you think it might be a good way to meet men, although you are skeptical of having them that close to you.
If you live somewhere where there is a large tango community you can pick and choose where you might want to start lessons. If you live somewhere where there is a small community, you have almost no choice. You wonder if you have to dance with a rose in your mouth. Fresh roses could get expensive.
Once you start classes you realize that your body has become Gumby. Walking becomes an impossible task. While your teacher (hopefully because not all do) walks like a graceful cat moving forward. You feel more like a construction worker wading in wet cement. Backward ochos standing up without bending your knees seems like an Argentine torture left over from one of their wars. You watch yourself in a mirror and feel hopeless. If you are a man trying to lead a woman feels like trying to move a refrigerator on the dance floor, worse is you have no idea where you are going with that refrigerator or how to move it. If you are a woman you feel like a pile of dirt being bulldozed. Just like dirt, you feel like you are falling apart and you don't know how to stop it. Let the finger pointing begin. This is not the fantasy you had about dancing tango. That and the music. You like it..maybe. It definitely is not AC/DC or Manchester Orchestra. Or even Adele. There is so much to learn. You hear people talking about codes. That is all you need. Codes.
At this point you either drop out because you are so miserable being so bad at something that should be fun. Or you are determined to make this happen...you just don't want anyone to see you.
EUPHORIA You get it! One day it just sort of happens. Your body makes that ocho flawlessly. You start humming a song in the supermarket and you realize it is Bahia Blanca. If you are able to, you go to tango as many days a week as you can. Now that you think you can do the moves you want to get better. If there are not many classes in your area you watch YouTube. You order DVDs. You start to travel to communities near yours. Even if there are lots of classes in your area you still do all those things. You can never get too much tango.
You start to wear black. All the time. Of course if you live in San Francisco, this is no big deal, because everyone wears black there anyway. If you are a woman you start looking at clothes in a new way. Before, they were just "clothes." Now they take on this whole new dimension. You are in (Take a pick) Nordstroms, Target, HSM, and you see a skirt, or top, or dress, and you think "Wow, this would be great for tango." I don't think guys have the clothes epiphany like women do. They are more like listening to music and think "I could dance tango to this..." You fantasize who would be dancing with you.
Visiting teachers, especially those from Argentina are like the word of Gospel. Trying to soak up as much as possible. Having been the worst of dancers the goal is to be the best dancer in your community.
Once you were this person who liked (Take a pick) Jazz, rock, salsa, and now all you listen to is tango. Every CD in your car is tango. Too bad there is not a tango radio station. Your cell phone has a tango song for its ringer. You find yourself doing ochos when you are waiting in lines. You explain yourself to people "I dance tango."
You feel like you have finally joined the elite club of people who dance tango. You listen to the people who have gone to Buenos Aires and all the festivals. You start reading the online forums to learn as much as you can.
Your friends begin to change. The friends you had for years seem boring. Or maybe not boring, it is just that they don't dance tango and they don't understand your passion. You can spend hours talking about tango and they are just not interested. Better to be with your new friends who share your passion online or otherwise. You are obsessed with tango. You work so that you can feed your new passion.
ARROGANCE This is the point where most people begin to blog, teach, travel. (Yours truly inclusive.) When I came to Buenos Aires my first time I had been dancing a little more than 2 years. In my community I was considered an intermmediate-advanced dancer. In Buenos Aires they considered me a beginner. It was a humbling experience. I kept coming back for more. In those first few years, if you didn't dance well, you didn't dance. I learned on the floor from milongueros and then from my milonguero partner.
I thought that made me better than all the people who threw hundreds and in some cases 1000s of dollars at teachers. People in this stage post in forums, write blogs. It is not that they do it, it is the form that they take.
While some can be entertaining (I like to think that at least some of my blog posts were entertaining) the majority sound like country western songs. He done me wrong - she walked out on me, or he is always on my mind to I will give her my endless love. I have read some blog posts that are so mean that it amazes me. The writer will shred, and I mean shred, people in their community, teachers, dancers, milongas, all while making themself look like the second coming of tango. While the Argentines themselves may be competitive, I have never seen or heard them be as mean as the foreign community (Unless they are throwing punches..)
There is something about tango in the exterior (as it is called here) where everyone wants to be famous or important or a star. You usually find it in this stage. Women bragging about how many pair of shoes they have. When you stop to think about it? How stupid is it to be the Imelda Marcos of tango shoes? Shoes that for the most part are not well made, are made of cardboard and leather and plastic, and cost a fortune. That and where else can you wear them? Can you imagine yourself in your Neo Tango shoes at the gym? Men brag about how many songs they have. I meet men that talk about having 500, 600, 700 or more mp3 files. The new baseball card. Everyone wants their little piece of fame.
The there are the Facebook posts. Besides the hundreds of ads for classes, shoes, and clothes, there are the threads about life in tango. If you agree with the commenter then you are OK. Disagree and the machete comes out. The arrogant stage wants recognition whether the person recognizes it or not.
I spent my time saying I didn't want to dance or teach all while I was doing it and dispensing advice....I see the same now. Funny how history continues to repeat itself in this dance. I said I didn't want to be famous all while photographers and journalists came from all over to write stories about me and I loved every minute. Sigh..
HUMILITY I knew Carlos Gavito before he became ill. He was very arrogant. I never understood that attitude that so many dancers had. He never danced with me. The same with Nestor Ray. Then both became terminally ill. I would see Gavito in the milongas. He went from being a robust man to a mere shadow of himself. In the process he became humble.
He would always be at Porteño Bailarin at a table with friends. I would always greet him. He was warm and friendly. One night he invited me to dance. After the tanda I asked him if he was going to cut off my leg. He laughed. It was something he had threathened to do to me a long time a go in a class. In front of everyone, in a not so nice way.
Nestor Ray was never known for being Mr. Nice Guy, but he was the consumate milonguero and an incredible dancer. I knew him from Buenos Aires as well as his times in California. I never took classes from him and he didn't like that. He either ignored me or was rude to me.
Several months before his death he surprised me by asking to dance my birthday vals with me. I never forgot that dance. I am only sorry I didn't have a videotape of it. After the dance he looked at me and said one word "Bien." That was a lot from him.
I suppose the thought of death can bring humility to some people. I was in a bad car accident with my partner. It brought me down to earth. The longer I was here, the more I danced, the more I learned. Then one day, all the things that had seemed so important were not.
Humility in tango are the people who dance well and don't need to talk about it. They just go to dance. That's it. Sometimes they dance many tandas, sometimes they don't dance at all. People watch them and enjoy watching them because they have style to their dancing. They have life.
DEATH This could be literally or figuratively. Why do people stop dancing? Especially when something has been such a major part of their life. Obviously some people die. For some people the tango dies.
One of the women I most admire in tango has been dancing more than 60 years. To this day for me, she is still one of the best dancers. She almost never goes to dance. When we talk about the milonga she almost always says to me "For me the tango is dead." Until 10 years ago in her opinion (or maybe 7) there were good dancers in the milonga. Now she sees almost none and the few that there are, are busy chasing the foreign women. "Why would they dance with me? she says. "I am just an old woman who can dance." She would rather not go than to watch a dance that was so much a part of her life danced poorly.
A couple of months ago on a Sunday when I was walking my dog, I ran into a woman I had met at Lo de Celia's 10 years ago. She was always in the milongas, every night and in the late afternoons. In the last year or so, I hadn't seen her around. We hugged. She told me her son had just moved to this barrio and she was helping him.
She asked me if I was still in the milongas. "Not like before." I told her. She told me she stopped going. She felt the quality of the dancing was just not there anymore. The few good dancers left..well, they look for the tourists. She got tired of paying her entrada and sitting. I always loved to watch this woman dance. She told me now and then she goes to Roberto Canelo's advanced class. She says this is better than a milonga, because the dancing is better. We both laugh. I haven't seen her since.
There are other women in my barrio who went to the milonga. I see them from time to time in the bakery, the chicken man, and the pet store. It is always the same. They ask if I am still in the milonga. They after many years have stopped dancing. For many it is now the cost. A night of tango is 100 pesos. (35 pesos to enter, 12 for water, and a taxi home..it isn't safe to wait for the bus in most barrios late at night) Many people can't dance more than once a week now. Men and women. With inflation rising and expenses being what they are, food, insurance, and other things become more important. Slowly the tango works its way out of their life.
The tango isn't dead for me. It just is not the most important thing in my life any more. One day I found myself in a milonga watching all the people. I saw people I had known for 12 years. Women who were dressed in clothes that would have been better for their granddaughters. I was seated a little further back and so I watched. I watched the Argentine women dressed age inappropriately, in clothes a little too tight vying for the attention of the men. On the other side of the room were the foreign women. Wearing much more expensive clothes, that fit better, although maybe not always age appropriate. Some of them would hike their skirts up a little or bend forward to show more clevage. Smiling widely. There were about 75 women competiting for the attention of about 35 men. The men were clearly shopping. Ability to dance was not in the equation for most of them.
I realized in that moment, in 10 years I didn't want to be in that same chair hoping some man would invite me to dance. It made me feel sad. 12 years ago when I first came to Buenos Aires, there were more men than women dancing tango. The emphasis was on the dancing. Every night was like a show. You could see Ricardo Vidort, Omar Vega, Either or both of the Zottos, Nestor Ray, Gavito, (If he was in town) Pupy Castello, Graciela Gonzales, and many others too numerous to name, and they all danced well. They didn't come to sit, they came to dance.
After 14 years of dancing tango..12 of them here, I needed to expand my horizons. For me the tango is not dead. They say that in the final stage of grief is when you let go, and let other things into your life and move on. Perhaps this is where some of us are now.