I was recovering from a cold and wheezed into a follower’s ear. ‘Are you okay?’ she asked with a concerned voice. ‘It’s just a little wheeze from my cold’, I answered. ‘Really’, she said, in obvious disbelief. ‘If you want to rest, or sit, let me know, okay?’ ‘It’s just some bronchitis on my chest’, I insisted, ‘Had it as a child. I can’t hear it myself.’ She looked at me with pity. ‘I’m just worried about you.’ She didn’t say: ‘I don’t want you to die in my arms’, but I could hear it, anyway. For the next tango, I attempted to hold my breath for 2,5 minutes. Later, I wondered if this was my first experience of ageism: that form of subtle prejudice and stereotyping that makes followers turn their heads away. And gets you discreetly moved to lower places on waiting lists.  

As I regularly redefine the time span of the term ‘middle-aged’, ageism in tango worries me more. Society is aging, and there’s little chance that I’ll be overlooked. I’ve experienced the new fifty, and the new sixty, and wonder with some trepidation what the new seventy will hold for me: that time when society will euphemistically categorize me as ‘Senior’. I admit that the milonga organizer in me is a dreadful ageist. When I visit an unfamiliar milonga I routinely take the headcount and analyze its demographics, until I realize that the grandmothers and grandfathers in the group are likely scoring me on the age ladder as well – as are the thirty-somethings. Thirty-somethings are probably the worst ageists.

Occasionally, young dancers complain to me about the tango crowd not getting any younger. I respond with sympathetic sounds, like the despicable hypocrite that I am. As if the complaint, surely, does not include me, the man who will forever be twenty-three. Still, around me, I’ve seen wrinkles multiply and hairs turn grey, as did mine. I’ve heard women fret about when to stop dying their hair, maestros develop knee conditions and guys of sixty show up with glistening black hairdos. I’ve also seen young dancers defiantly organize milongas ‘for the young’, afterwards eagerly visited by the old. Eventually, they all blend in again quietly, in philosophical acceptance.

The mixing of generations and prioritizing dance skills over age may be one of the biggest assets of tango. I know that a lot of women now think: ‘that’s because you’re a man.’ Still, I sense something is shifting. Maybe in the coming decades, we’ll be less ageist, when retirees have the time to be relaxed, fit, yoga-stretched dancers, who vastly outnumber the annoyingly confident, beautiful youngsters, who still have kids or careers to manage, sitting behind screens all day accumulating stress and fat. Quite a few of them have wheezed in my ear, after a couple of nicely accelerating waltzes.

During a recent 3-day event, my most favored and technically proficient dance partners shared pictures of their grandchildren with me. The youngest dancers in the event were in their late thirties. Everybody was all fine with that, and so was I: if I wheezed, nobody would mind, and, most likely, they wouldn’t even hear! Wait – did I do it again now?



Story posted by: Martin van Kesteren

About the author: Organiser, Writer from Amsterdam

Published: 13 Mar 2023 @ 14:03

Last modified: 13 Mar 2023 @ 14:03

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