When I started dancing tango I thought “finally, a place to wear fabulous clothes and shoes!” I dressed like a doll, and wore the most fabulous shoes I could find, 15cm heels with 3cm platforms covered in glitter.
Everybody knew me for my shoes.
I could hear the word “shoes” whispered as I went around the dance floor and when I took a break from dancing, some lug would often take this opportunity to approach and inform me that “you can’t dance in those shoes.” I took on a deadpan and responded “I just danced 4 tandas in them.”
I made a terrible mistake. After 4 years in those shoes, during which I received a really undue amount of admiration for a beginner dancer, I bought proper tango shoes for my first trip to Buenos Aires. I didn’t wear them all the time when there, because I was still more comfortable in my platforms, but this began the slide to conformity.
Some Porteño, in a rare fit of engagement with reality and honesty with foreigners, took me aside. I remember his digging grip on my arm as he told me urgently “Don’t conform. You’ll lose everything.”
“It takes 3 weeks”, he went on, “until the girls change how they dress”. (At the time this meant slinky loose poly-stretch yoga clothes and hippy earrings.) They put the elegant, glamorous clothes back in the suitcase. And then they all looked alike.
“Your style is your power. When you give it up, you lose yourself.”