This is a guest post by Maria, a friend who attended the first Tango Queens Congress, billed as an opportunity to ‘give the women in tango a chance to connect with other women, share their stories and discuss the complex experience of being a woman in tango.’
There is a new verb in the tango world, coined by Veronica Toumanova after the congress. To queen: to meet other tango women for dancing, laughing, talking, sharing, hugs, support, solidarity, emotion, knowledge, wisdom, patience and love. If I add yoga, this sums up perfectly what we did at this tangueras-only event, a new format in the international tango events scene …
For me, it started with the Friday night milonga. All by myself, I entered a room full of women and felt utterly disorientated. How do you know the leaders from the followers? Shoes often can be deceptive. Sometimes I only found out in the moment of the embrace if I had actually found a leader. My usual anxiety on entering a milonga where I don’t know anyone was heightened by the fact that there were only women. Even if you have perfected that most elusive skill of mirada in order to elicit a cabeceo, it does not work the in same way for women as for men. I don’t know why, but I felt I suddenly didn’t know how to look at women in this situation, even though I’ve always been engaging with women in tango, and indeed made many new female friends.
Nevertheless, from the Saturday morning session onward, the place turned into a safe haven where we felt comfortable and free to express our feelings, thoughts and fears about our tango lives. Equally, we were enthused and curious to explore new things. For example, I jumped at the opportunity to take leading workshops with Mila Vigdorova and Corina Brunner, two outstanding teachers – with the added benefit of partnering with followers who were of course at a higher level than in any normal beginner mixed-gender class. It was a delight to see the leading classes so full.
Much of our focus was on the problematic aspects of tango, and what we could/should do to initiate change. The root cause of most problems seems to lie in the gender imbalance, that instigates fierce competition among women and disincentivises men to behave well and dance better. The problem is compounded by the addictiveness of tango. It’s mind-boggling to think that even in an environment where women outnumber men, the advantage is again on the male side.
Another issue that excited us was the perception of tango. We looked at imagery, visuals and stereotypes, both past and present. A survey carried out before the congress demonstrated the chasm between what outsiders think tango is, and what we experience as tangueras/os. We all wish more people would join our tango communities but many schools and performers are still falling back on stereotypes of machismo and sexually-charged imagery. It was refreshing to see that there are other approaches, relying on the portrayal of intimacy, beauty, elegance and the joy of dance.
All the queens had travelled plenty for tango events and I enjoyed hearing their stories of encuentros, marathons, festivals and the possible variations and permutations. These things still sound bizarre to this veteran of a hundred scientific conferences – why, no plenary after-dinner lectures by a Nobel laureate!
Carmen, an Argentinian dancer with many years of tango, explained that mirada and cabeceo, by which most tangueros swear today, did not originate in Argentina with the same genteel attitude that we use today – and were not widely established as a codigo until the second millennium, mostly thanks to the influence of European tango.
Foot problems are endemic among tangueras. Even the most accomplished teachers and performers have them. Shoes and feet are one of my favourite subjects recently, so I was in my element. Oh, the shoe dilemma when one wants to follow and lead the same night! It’s one dilemma I too wish to have soon.
We tangueros are candid about the fact that tango is not just a dance, it’s an addiction. Perhaps truer to say that tango is not just an addiction, it’s also a dance. I heard a surprisingly apt analogy at the congress, likening tango people to vampires. Once you drink the blood of the tangasm, there’s no going back to being a ‘normal’ person. In her presentation, Veronica said to everyone’s delight: once you experience connection you don’t need cocaine, you need D’Arienzo (substitute your favourite orchestra).
Veronica’s talk was undoubtedly a highlight of the congress. It was full of interesting thoughts and delivered with much humour. I have heard many times that tango is a synthesis of life. This came into sharp focus though her words. The thing is that in tango, certain issues become amplified and we are forced to face our deep fears and vulnerabilities. We must prepare ourselves psychologically for that.
Here are the nine best practises to live a good tango life according to Veronica:
- Develop your skills: it’s hard work and requires dedication
- Build a social circle with people you like; understand the basic social dynamics that are at play
- Connect to other women – they offer the best support you can ever get
- Manage gender imbalance; respect men and their challenges; seek pleasure in the dance, not the dancers
- Learn to lead, not just to avoid sitting too long, but because it’s fun
- Nurture your friendships, travel to meet old friends and to make new ones
- Date wisely: tango can be a part of a relationship but not the whole relationship; recognise abuse and leave unhealthy situations
- Love tango in many ways – you can teach, organize events or shows, DJ, design fashion, write
- Use tango to grow as a person, expand your awareness (personal and social), and tackle the challenges tango puts in front of you
Veronica also talked much about the power of connection. Interestingly, this blissful state is gender-independent and is what makes tango addictive. MRI experiments show that the positive effects on the brain are akin to those of mindfulness and meditation.
Connection is the heart of tango for most of us. But Veronica emphasized also that our yearning to improve has beauty as an objective. This is not to be confused with canonical beauty, the kind that doesn’t require you to move a single muscle, if you’re blessed with it.
Feeling good, moving beautifully and being good-looking are very distinct qualities. Looking beautiful will help you to get dances, but without that feel-good quality, you’re unlikely to dance again with that partner. Feeling good is about our ability to embrace, follow (or lead) and connect well. Something well worth our efforts. However this quality won’t necessarily make us graceful dancers. Beauty of movement is a step up in our strive to become better dancers. Those who achieve it, no matter their appearance, get transfigured when they start dancing.
For a new queen like me, the weekend was full of discoveries and a balm to my intermediate plateau purgatory. As a gift, before leaving, Carmen gave us earrings: two crowns, because there will always be another queen looking out for us.
I want to end with the words of Enrique Rodriguez, shared with us by Almut:
Hay mujeres regulares,
hay mujeres desgraciadas,
hay mujeres con mal genio
y las hay con mucha guasa.
There are regular women,
there are wretched women,
there are ill-tempered women
and there are fun women.
Hay mujeres como globo,
hay mujeres como flautas,
hay mujeres chiquititas
y las hay como jirafas.
There are women shaped like a balloon,
there are women shaped like flutes,
there are short women
and there are giraffes
Pero feas feas feas,
pero feas y con ganas…
No hay ninguna mujer fea,
por mi madre de mi alma!
But ugly ugly ugly,
but ugly and eager …
There are no ugly women,
by the soul of my mother!
Si alguno me contradice
y a apostarle me permito,
tráigame una mujer fea
que por mas fea que sea
yo le veré algo bonito.
If anyone contradicts me
I would place a bet
bring me an ugly woman,
as ugly as you may find her,
I will see something pretty.