Just like those of the sea, the gods of tango give us a strong slap from time to time, to remind us of their power and our vulnerability. You may be swimming along in calm waters, relaxed, happy, and fairly confident in your ability, only to find yourself upended by a big wave that you didn’t see coming.
All followers can tell you tales of tango terror; those milongas where you sat for hours with only a tanda or two, or worse, none. Even followers with partners will experience a night when no-one other than their partner invites them. You plaster a smile on your face because you can’t look like a loser in case you do get that dance. Inside, your spirits are crushed, and you need to try very hard not to walk out and go face down into a vat of wine.
As a follower of about eight years, I’ve had my share of milonga humiliation. I’d always blame myself in these instances, mostly for my dancing, but also for my appearance. I am not a tango waif, and never have been. The version of me that re-emerged from the pandemic was middle-aged, silver haired (by choice) and menopausal. Tango was always a sweaty business but in recent times, I’ve discovered new places for it – knees anyone?
Coming back to dancing after two years of no practice or lessons was intimidating. But I soon realised that everyone felt the same, no matter their skill level before lockdown, or even if they had a partner at home. We all had to learn to walk again.
It took a little longer for me, but something semi-magical happened in this last year. Perhaps it was a slow epiphany from turning fifty, but somehow, I understood that there were leaders that did like to dance with me, and it wasn’t just polite toleration. I’d go to the weekly practica and have hugs and nice dances that were mutually enjoyed. I stopped internet dating, which made me a thousand times happier. I took private lessons with a wonderful teacher. I did yoga.
In short: after eight years, I finally felt good about my tango. That is when the gods strike.
Two weeks ago, I went to a workshop and afternoon milonga in a different city. There were people there who I knew, both followers and leaders. One of them asked me for a tanda at the start, then afterwards I sat there, desperately seeking cabeceo, for close to an hour and half. I tried to look friendly and approachable, talk to people, circulate a bit. Nothing.
Talking to other followers, I could feel the emotion bubbling up, tears pricking the corner of my eyes. All my old hang-ups floated to the surface, and I was convinced that no-one invited me because I was too fat. I was just on the verge of leaving when I got a tanda, then a lovely one with the teacher, which almost made up for the day.
But not quite.
On the train home, hating myself, I reflected on the afternoon. The irony was that I had watched the leaders and aside from one or two, had not seen any that I yearned to dance with. I thought about the leaders there that knew me, and who must have seen me sitting there all that time yet didn’t offer me a friendly dance. I thought of my own community where strangers are welcomed. I came to the conclusion: some places are just more egotistical than others.
So instead of wasting my time self-loathing, I chose to rise above it. Because you know what guys? It’s not me, it’s you. No-one should ever feel compelled to dance with another person, but sometimes it’s just about human kindness. Ten minutes to save someone from despair. And while there may be greater equity now in straight tango, men still have the edge in terms of power. It’s no wonder that so many more women are learning to lead.
Unlike those of the sea, the gods of tango are mortals. This time, they did not get to wield their power over me.
Published: 3 Apr 2023 @ 14:47