Veronica Toumanova’s series of essay Why Tango offers reflections and answers on many question that can be asked about tango. I enjoyed the variety of subjects that she wrote about as I found myself reading about “why we marvel at steps but yearn for embrace” one day and about “why we believe technique kills emotions” the next. The essay that I chose to comment on is the only one that I didn’t quite agree with, the one that asked “Why we are often confused about what it means to be social”.
The author wants to define and elaborate on what it means to be social in Tango. She provides her own definition of sociability as three forms of respect: respect for the context (learn and be curious of the rules and practices that make the Milonga go round), respect for other dancers (on the dance floor and during the interactions that lead in and out of a dance) and respect for your partner. That respectful triad made sense to me and I kept reading. After offering that definition, the author goes on to describing and criticizing what she thinks is the wrong way to define sociability in the tango world. In that definition being social is equaled with dancing with as many people as possible, even if you don’t really want to, and even if they’re not that experienced. She advocates that one shouldn’t be judged on who you decide to dance – or not dance- with. The underlying issue here are the critics received by good dancers who choose not to dance with beginners, or those who decide to dance with a restricted number of people. She finally states, in their defense, that “(…) if a community wants to cultivate a higher level of dancing, advanced dancers should be free to dance with whomever they want to without being judged or otherwise pressured, so that they can inspire others to progress.”
And that’s where she lost me. I didn’t agree with her at all and I tried to understand why. She states that unattainable figure might drive you to work harder and push yourself to progress in order to get what you can’t have yet. But to me when somebody is completely out of reach as a dance partner, he/she often make themselves out of reach as a person. The author completely ignores the fact that in a Milonga, a dance is often the only way to make contact with another person, and that by avoiding dancers with lesser experience, you cut yourself from the opportunity of getting to know that person at all. If you don’t dance with somebody chances are you won’t really interact with them outside of the dance floor either. A group of people that cut themselves from any kind of interactions with others based on their dance skills are not part of a community, but they are part of a class.
If what drives you is to be able to be part of the “good dancers club,” chances are that you will replicate that system later on – why would you dance with beginners when what made you better was admiration and perseverance in the first place? Slowly a strict hierarchy settles and the fluidity that might make a Milonga more welcoming is lost.
Of course, I don’t think dancers should force themselves to dance with somebody they don’t want to dance with. The author mentions that tango is a passion, not a community service. But Tango is also a microcosm with a variety of complex interactions. The way each individual decides to behave toward the group impacts the kind of community you’ll end up with. And I’ll take one that values every dancer.