Are we crazy, or just stupid, to organise events in dimly lit spaces, with the sole intention of bringing men and women together in close embrace? Are milongas still allowed in the United States? The legal liability risks for organisers must be dazzling… Is this the reason that YouTube footage of American events usually shows big and brightly lit hotel spaces? ‘So, can you give us ANY example of a measure or policy, that makes women feel safe in your milonga?’, the prosecutor inquires. ‘Well, we play a lot of d’Arienzo, to keep them moving?’, may not be the most convincing argument. What are the implications for milonga management?
Our dance floor is the contrary of a brightly lit hotel space. It looks like an oversized dark room. Our DJ’s adore to go into romantic material towards the last hour of the milonga. Emotions run high and testosterone is likely to boil over, but, is anything unacceptable going on that we should have an opinion about? I like to think of myself as a kind-of-decent person, but I’m only human and in my early tango days, during a particularly sensuous Troilo solo, my hand unconsciously dropped to my follower’s hip. Our South-American DJ noticed, and laughed, wiggling his finger and making a cheeky remark about it. As if physically slapped on the wrist I withdrew my hand to where it belonged. I learned, that there are implicit boundaries and that we kind of know where they are, but we can never be sure of the other’s perception. My follower winked and grinned, saying no ‘problem at all!’, but of course it was totally unclear beforehand, whether this was consenting hip-service, or an unacceptable breach of a code.
In my professional life I see organisations campaigning internally, portraying ethical looking guys stating: “I make sure unacceptable behavior is talked about”, which made me wonder what it is that the milonga is doing, to make sure women feel safe. Oh, I know the stories women tell about undesirable advances and leaders with boundary issues. But none of those women ever approached me, up until now, and told me this or that person crossed the line and needs ‘The Talk’ (the approach I have prepared, if this occurs). It would seem there is a common understanding among Argentine tango dancers that we are all treading on sensitive ground, with grey areas and blurred lines, and a high potential for misunderstandings. One would expect people to act respectfully, but hey, it is an ‘open-for-all’ milonga, we don’t get to check who is entering the door, nor do we require recommendations, or paste a code of conduct on the wall to tell you exactly where to leave your hands.
I am reminded of those actresses in movies, that walk into a dark, deserted house, while we, the audience, know that this is the typical place where serial killers love to lurk. Don’t they hear the ominous background music? Well, there she goes anyway, let’s hope the script writer put some karate lessons in her past. And then, I imagine that it is me in that house, having to make sure no harm will be done on my watch. Surveillance cameras may ruin the magic, I guess, so we have to rule those out. In old Buenos Aires, family members chaperoned young girls, to make sure that nothing inappropriate happened. I guess the responsibility falls on our team to be substitutes for those grandmothers, aunts or brothers, in the way that DJ corrected me at one time. On the other hand, we like to think of the women entering our milonga as strong individuals, able to communicate where their boundaries are.
So, ladies, you’re safe on our watch, but please be sure to take your own responsibility as well: make clear to your dance partner, from the start, where you stand on hand placement. If that doesn’t work, come to us and we’ll do ‘The Talk’. And gentlemen: we love you all, but please be aware of the need for mutual consent and don’t make us put you on a rail, tar you, feather you, and carry you into the street. Because we will.
Published: 18 Sep 2019 @ 19:16