Tango for World Peace

World Peace Begins at Home

Excerpts from  Tango, an Argentine Love Story (Seal Press) showing its peace-promoting tendency and why it is not macho:

From “Goddess of the Tango Galaxy”
“I watch both the men’s and women’s feet do adornos, or adornments, the decorative punctuation in a tango sentence. I watch and learn, taking notes on ones I like enough to incorporate as my own. The best male dancers can trace lápices (literally “pencils”), or circles, with the balls of their feet as they turn the follower, all in fluid, seamless motion. I take ceaseless pleasure in watching the men of this so-called “macho” culture show their feminine side in the way they move their bodies. The women do quick amagues (nervous clicks), amazing deft footwork in those spike heels, and high and low voleos that show off their legs and sometimes their thighs.
There is incredible competition in tango, but I am never jealous of other dancers. Never threatened. This is my other deep dark secret-my good secret-that I have never shared with anyone. I am nameless and faceless, but nobody can touch me in tango. When I step onto the floor, I go from broken to whole, from a flimsy self-confidence to a self-assurance of steel. Off the floor I am an average-pretty woman, in good shape. On the floor, I am a goddess. Soy la diosa de esta jodida galaxia.


” . . . Agosto executes a move called sacada, and I respond with the slackness of a Hacky Sack, which lets my legs fly in a pretty arc. Then I reclaim my muscle tone to keep my balance. It’s a follower’s challenge, this switching on and off of your muscles, perhaps in a thousand cycles a minute in response to the leader, who must also switch on and off, allowing you space to receive his energy. This multitasking occurs so seamlessly and automatically if you bring to the tango partnership complete presence minus willfulness-the exact sort of detachment I want so badly in the rest of my life.”


From “Accidental Tanguera
“. . . My own attraction to these two seemingly unrelated practices [tango and Zen] seemed to unfold before me over the course of the lecture. Reb continued, “We need to train in movement and stillness to enter realization,” which affirmed my gravitating more and more to tango. “When you sit in meditation,” he pointed out, “you learn to do so with no expectation. To sit still with no anticipation, with no plan. This is exactly what seems to be the case in tango.” My mind clicked with how Zen, which drew from my masculine energy-the discipline, stoicism, and restraint that both my parents gave me-was already merging in a happy marriage with my tango, the feminine energy awarded me by those same parents who knew there was a time to drop work and indulge their bacchanalian love of dancing.”


From “El Principe Azul”

“It’s September now, and the evenings are still cold. This would be the warmest time of year back home, but Argentina is coming out of its winter into spring. Off I go prowling for good dance partners at Club Gricel. I enter the warmly lit dance hall, a bit timid of the social scene, but confident in my dance skills. One of the hosts, Patricio, seats me in the women’s section-near my power pillar. It’s unfortunate that I never got used to contact lenses. I have to keep my glasses on to scan the men’s section as I wait for one of them to cabeaceo me—to make an eye-lock with head nod, the requisite body-language invitation to dance, a venerable custom among many here in Argentina. The cabeaceo always recalls the Zen saying, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” I love the idea of just sitting here and taking what’s offered.
I hear complaints from both men and women about the unfairness of the custom of waiting for the man to nod his head. I don’t mind it, though, because the women, in fact, have the power to say no. And we have the option to turn our visage on a man and raise our eyebrows-please cabeaceo me. No one save the two having done the interaction will know whether he resists. Call it sexist, but for me it is grand theater, one that goes with my tango wardrobe of beaded, frilly, sequined, see-through gossamer and my painted face and nails. It is a chance to partake of this macho culture on its terms and its turf. I never forget that I am a guest in their country.
For the Argentines, who have witnessed terrible human rights abuses, I sense there is a consensus to keep sacred something that is theirs and that is venerable. The cabeaceo is a ritual that clearly evolved from olden days. It evokes a scene, say, in a La Boca conventillo, a man and woman peering at each other across a doorway or a window sill, using just their eyes to set up a meeting. For me the cabeaceo is full of buena onda-good vibes. And as a non-verbal cue, it is fitting, because, unlike with most other dances, you never talk during tango, which would be redundant, because the dance is a dialogue.”


From “Accidental Tanguera”
“In “Exploring the Dance of Buddha,” Reb Anderson said, “I must not keep standing where I have skill.” I am starting to run up against the fact that I’m going to have to eventually move out of the comfort zone I’m in with my dance. I’ve been content being the dancer in the plain brown wrapper-a generically good milonguera, sometimes better than the fancy packaged “brand name” goods. My confidence has grown immensely. I dance tall on the balls of my feet. I only drop my heels to walk to and from my seat. I keep my axis. My legions of anonymous soldiers on the floors around town aid and abet this. My sensitivity gets sharper all the time. I refine my ranks of leaders. I’ve weeded out those who engage in the old style of leading whereby the man pokes and prods the follower’s back with his fingers. It feels like they’re tapping out Morse code, and it’s distracting from the heart-connection lead, not to mention irritating. At first I try talking nice, “Señor, por favor, no me gusta este tipo de marca,” (“Sir, I don’t like that type of lead”). I’d say I have a 50 percent success rate. I avoid those who don’t get it.
I drop leaders who embody the obnoxious view of Ricardo Guirlandes that women are “obedient beasts” who submit. This is passé violence. Such perverted views of my powerful receptive female energy demand that I drop leaders who emit any energy like this, not because they are bad or I don’t like them, but because the dance asks me to. I am a faceless warrior in its defense. As the embodiment of the feminine energy that receives and gives back to the male impetus, I feel sovereign. It is not a passive role.
I aim to dance tango without borders, but not without discrimination. Rodolfo is a man who remains a friend whom I hug and kiss warmly when we see each other, but whom I will not dance with because of his whipping lead. He lost six apartments in the 2001 financial crisis and is full of sadness and disillusion, but I’m not dissuaded from my decision. Another man in a class means to compliment me when he says, “You obey well.” I laugh sardonically, but he’s a nonnative English speaker, so I let him get away with the perhaps unintended insult. A male friend who’s a good dancer says to me, meaning to praise a woman he dances with, “She was great, she went everywhere I put her.” When he is ready to hear it, I would like to tell him that when he exchanges “put” for “invited,” I’ll know he’s moving toward greatness.
And then there are los fantásticos. Or the divinos milongueros-like Rufino. At Salon Canning, Rufino steals up behind me. It must have been his smile beating on my back like sunshine that made me turn. It was a tanda by Juan D’Arienzo, a composer with a lot of compás, or rhythmic beat, which Rufino likes. As we dance, he says, “¡Qué espectacular!” several times. He tells me he’s been watching and waiting for me to be available. He looks like a young Richard Gere, only more handsome and tender. A contractor who’s been renovating an old building in Palermo, Rufino has a lean and athletic body. I’m not being modest when I say that if he saw me sitting in a café, he wouldn’t look twice. But he loves the way I move. Like me, he adores the dance. He tells me that he dances with emotion and excitement, and that I know how to respond to him. Another dancer bumps us. Rufino stops, stands still, and enfolds his arms and hands gently around me as if protecting a bouquet of fresh flowers. How life-affirming is this? I think to myself. Deeply so. These are the moments I feel I have not lost anything.
I have no need to be Rufino’s one and only. (The “palace” door is locked anyway, closed for renovation.) He is free to say everything he says to me to others. I don’t try to imagine that he doesn’t, and actually I hope he does. Tonight, however, I notice that he leaves the milonga after having danced with only me.”

End of excerpts – copyright 2008 Camille Cusumano All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission from the publisher, except by reviewers who may quote brief excerpts in connection with a review.

Published by Seal Press, a member of Perseus Books Group, 1700 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710, (510) 595-4228.