Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The world of politics applied to tango

It's around two in the morning and we are walking in the nearly empty streets from one milonga to another. I ignore the cucaracha scuttling away - I do not want my friend to notice it - and try not to meet the eyes of a handful of people waiting at a bus stop in a tired stupor. We are a small group of five people, so I am less afraid of being robbed than when we are just three girls, neither of us particularly tall or broad-shouldered, but there is no harm to being cautious. Just the other day, we were recounted a tale by a woman of how two men stole her necklace, in broad daylight, in a safer part of town, pushing her down and ripping it off her neck. She showed us the large bruises on her knees and legs. Apparently nobody had told her not to wear jewellery here.

"Where do you usually dance? I do not see you around a lot," I ask one of our self-appointed bodyguards. He is young, with a slightly round face and tanned skin, very white teeth and a shy smile.

He thinks a little bit and gives me some names. They are far from where I live, and I have indeed not been there often. It is easy in this city to only meet the same people on a few occasions over an extended period of time, if at all.

I am asked in return which are my favourite nights out, and answer with my top three. Has he been there, I ask?

"Yes, but  I don't like the first one," he answers. "Too many politics."

"It wouldn't be a problem," our other friend adds, "because we dance well, but we don't like it".

I'm surprised and tell them so. I have never noticed any particular politics going on nor found it more difficult to get dances in that particular milonga - in fact it is usually the place where I almost always get at least one very high-level dance, of the sort that leaves me on a little cloud of adrenaline and happiness. I have heard it described as an explosive high-energy place with a sky's-the-limit level, but I am not exactly an advanced dancer yet and get invited nevertheless.

However, a few hours later, as I am sitting in the large and dimly lit underground room of our destination, my thoughts wander back to tango politics. I have heard many thoughts on that subject since arriving in Buenos Aires.

Who dances with who, where, why... It's a world I would rather not enter. I heard I did not notice these games because of my newness on the tango scene, yet I find it difficult to believe the situation is as bad as I have been told. It's true I do not look out for it, but now I sometimes wonder how many people are walking around greeting everybody they know because they are genuinely friendly or because they want to be seen ("look at my connections, look at them! I know all these famous dancers"). Usually for me the problem is that I am too scared of bothering people to go say hi and then I come across as standoffish (so if I don't greet you please don't hesitate to come over).

I find it regrettable that a Milonga would be avoided altogether because of apparent political games. Tango is after all just a dance, despite being certain people's livelihood, and in my opinion some dancers need to take a deep breath and chill out. For me, trying to show off connections or dancing is a childish and destructive behaviour because it creates an unhealthy and uncomfortable atmosphere that drives away beginners.

I have stumbled into long and winding online arguments about the merits of one couple versus another or on obscure technical points (doubly useless because almost no two teachers have exactly the same technique either way and online teaching has little value). I have heard convoluted stories about why so-and-so doesn't talk with so-and-so over something that happened fifteen years ago. Sometimes, I feel like the stakes are higher than in the US presidential election. Why should I feel obligated to defend the places I go dancing because some people are criticising everything from the organisers to the floor? Why should I care that one couple dances a shifting embrace, very creative Milonga while another flows through the same song in a seamless, unbroken unity with a flurry of little steps?

Tango politics, if they truly exist, are something I intend to keep ignoring as long as possible. If I talk to someone, it will be because I am interested in getting to know them. If I (try to) dance with them, it will be because I think I will enjoy it. Both are not necessarily synonymous, by the way.

- Vida

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