Saturday, March 10, 2012

How Queer

Fact:  He had never asked another man to dance before this year.  This did not mean, however, that He had never danced with another man; He, of course, just graduated from college.  Same-sex dancing, from what he remembered, was taken light-heartedly between friends at most Galas, house parties, concerts, and other social venues.

But passionately?  He had never seen nor experienced that.  He expected it to be a big deal, a kind of revolutionary way to dance that would amaze performers and audience members.

Before we get there, however...

Taking the advice of his host, He decided to head to one of the more popular milongas in Buenos Aires, La Confiteria Ideal.  One of the more noticeable characteristics of this milonga was the expensive entry price: 45 pesos|10.47 U$D, a whole four dollars more than most of the other classes he attended.  Another noticeable characteristic was the massive space covered in marble floors and pillars.  But what had caught his attention were the glass cases sprinkled throughout the main floor.  Each case displayed fancy sweets, chocolates.  Tonight, He would tango in a [terribly fancy] candy shop.

"If you can walk, you can tango." Leonardo, whose slicked back black hair and relaxed demeanor did nothing to contradict the tango dancer stereotype, explained in English.  This would be the only thing Leonardo explained in English, but it was more than He could comprehend in one class.  For the next hour, He was led by Leonardo around and around the small square designated for the six person class to learn how to walk normally.  He was surprised at how difficult it was to just walk, especially with a tango teacher.

"Why are you so tense?  Relax." Leonardo asked.  He shrugged.  He thought he was keeping the tension required to tango.

After attempting to just walk with a Venezuelan woman and a sixty year old grandmother, He left the class in incredibly low spirits.  It seemed to be the more classes He took, the worse He became.


He found his way to Tango Queer that same night; this was the actual part of his fellowship project.  He did two things upon entering the milonga: the first was to reapply deodorant, as the sweat from running from La Confiteria to Tango Queer decided to make itself apparent, and the second was to sit grumpily far from the dance space and let the previous lesson's reality sink in [What the hell am I doing here?  I can't tango.  I couldn't even lead an elderly woman!].  Two women stepped onto the floor, music began, and it wasn't until they finished their tango and waved the students sitting around the floor when He thought to himself, Oh crap.  Another class to humiliate myself.

The students divided into principiantes y intermedios || beginners and intermediates, most of which piled into the principiantes group.  One of the two female tango dancers said something in Spanish, waved her hands around, pulled a girl from the circle of beginners, shifted her weight from foot to foot, continued saying things in Spanish, and waved her hands to the rest of the beginners to follow.  He reached out to take the hand opened in his direction, and found himself in the follower's role.  He looked up into the face of a forty-five year old man, Andrew, who he learned was taking a vacation from work for two weeks to learn Spanish and tango.  Their feet stepped on each other, their shoulders collided with that of others, and heels dug their way into Achilles' tendons.

Aside from the beginner's inexperience that led to these [often] painful mistakes, He found that dancing with Andrew
And so was dancing with Emilio, Tony, Christoff, and Emily.  Sometimes he would lead || conducir, and sometimes he would follow || seguir.  The class consisted of only this: changing roles, shifting weight, learning to walk, and learning to pivot on the balls of the feet.

The milonga [in this context: open dance] afterwards, also proved to be normal.  Men danced with men, women danced with women, and there was even the occasional man who did dance with a woman.  In these instances, sometimes the woman would lead.  Hand positions traded places to indicate who lead and who followed.  Everything the dancers did was beautiful, graceful, sensual...

... anticlimactic.

"Why aren't you out there now?" Emilio asked, and He shrugged.

"I don't know enough yet." He, Emilio, Tony, and Julia sat at the edge of the dance floor, watching the slow turns and leg brushes of nearby dancers.  "Just the basic step.  I can't go up there yet, not when everyone up there is an expert.  I need to take more classes first."


A few days later, at La Viruta, He met two newcomers to tango [so very behind his five days of classes]:  Diana, a woman from Holland who was in Buenos Aires because her boss was making her sell products in a way that she 'didn't agree with,' leading her to quit her job and take very much needed vacation, and Martin, a man from England who also was forced to sell products in a manner he didn't agree with, leading him to quit his job and want to eventually work for a more worthwhile company [UNICEF].

Both were in their mid-forties, had left their terrible jobs, and were looking for themselves in Buenos Aires.

How many people would He meet during his travels who so dearly resembled the Eat, Pray, Love woman?


Christopher, a Canadian-born man raised in Italy and who lived all over the world [Madrid, Paris, San Francisco, etc., currently in Florence] was currently taking a 50th birthday vacation from his sports equipment managing position.

"I manage 38 sports equipment stores in Italy.  I set my own schedule, I work the hours I want to, and I come in when I want.  My job allows me to travel because we need to find partners all around the world.  My job's great.  But I just needed a vacation."

The teacher at La Marshall had assigned them partners half an hour into class; although both spoke English and understood a considerable amount of Spanish, neither really benefited from this pairing.  Christopher had arrived that morning in Argentina, and He had taken only a week's worth of beginner's classes.  Christopher was decidedly the leader of the pair, and He wanted to learn what it felt like to follow [how else would He understand the body signals required to tell his partner what to do?].  After class, both found themselves sitting with a glass of white wine, watching the experienced dancers.

As in Tango Queer, same-sex partners and opposite-sex partners switched roles between every song.  Occasionally, a folklore song would play and a kind of tap-dance combined with waltz and bar-mitzvah circle dancing would be performed.  And sometimes a dance involving handkerchiefs being twirled in the air and drawn around necks would be performed as well.

He and Christopher would discuss who was particularly good, and what made said person a good tango partner.

Fact:  A good tango partner can lead.  A great tango partner can lead and follow.  An amazing tango partner can do both without facing their partner.  The best can do everything with their eyes closed.

Tony, from Tango Queer, walked over and asked if He remembered what He learned in class.  He shrugged, took another sip of wine, and almost dropped the glass when Tony nodded his head in the direction of the dance floor.

"Normally, in tango, the leaders never ask to dance.  We just look across the room, and if we find a partner we are interested in, we nod.  If the partner nods back, they both meet each other on the dance floor.  No talking is done.  But since you do nothing but look at the dance floor, I have to ask you.  So let's practice."

He laughed, nodded, and stood up and made his way through the tables and chairs.  He warned Tony that all he remembered was the basics, to which Tony replied, "Just relax. Follow.  Don't be nervous."

Two songs passed in what felt like ten seconds.  If that was what it was like to tango outside of class, He could easily understand how Argentinians did it until six in the morning.

"Now you can say you've danced milonga in Argentina." Tony said, packing his belongings.  He said that He wouldn't be able to say that confidently until he lead a milonga in Argentina, which would certainly take some time.  He went to sit back down with Christopher.

"I wasn't watching you the entire time," Christopher said, "But when I looked over, it looked like you knew what you were doing.  It looked great.  Shall we?"

He asked if Christopher was serious.

"Why not?  I'm here for only ten days, and I'm not going to be an expert before I leave.  I won't look like that," he said, nodding to the other dancers on the floor, "but that doesn't mean I can't have fun.  So what if it's not perfect?  Perfect is boring."  And with that, He and Christopher went onto the floor.  Yes, all the basics that they had both learned went flying out the window, and they weren't so skilled at avoiding bumping into the other partners.  But it was fun.


He went to bed at 5:30 that morning, surprised that he could stay in a milonga for that much time.  But Christopher was right; He shouldn't be so worried about looking perfect or knowing what to do.  As long as it was all fun, He'd learn eventually.  But learning only came with practice, and sitting on the sidelines and watching dancers didn't count.  He'd had enough being the fly on the wall, the shadow, the benchsquatter, the fart in a hurricane.  Of course He might not get noticed, but who cared?  He was a stranger in a strange land, and in this situation, that came as an advantage to not knowing.  Tango didn't run in his blood, not yet.

He had learned more than He thought He would from going to queer milongas, more than in the non-queer ones like La Viruta, La Catedral, La Confiteria, and El Gricel.  Considerably more important than the hand positions, the amount of force required to push a partner from the chest and arms instead of with force from the feet, he had learned to relax.  To be in the moment, to enjoy where he was, regardless of who or what was in it.

Wasn't this what Philip was telling him earlier?

Considering He realized this in the first week of being in Argentina, He could say that He was doing alright.  Nine more weeks of this?  Who knew how far He'd go, how much more He'd learn?

[In The Moment] 

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