Silences in history. Silences by code. Silences of fear. We already know that Tango’s silences can be sublime and they can be devastating.

I drag the social scientist to the scene to enumerate the facts of the case, the mysterious force whose cycles of angst and redemption defy reckoning.

I’ve made an accompanying workbook to help us account for how tango affects our lives.

 

The Biomechanics of Unconditional Love
Addiction: beyond Endorphins
The Dissatisfactions of Feminism
Walking to Hide the Holes in your Shoes:
A Dance about Class
An African Dance,
Typified by a German Instrument,
Pride of a Nation of Massacres
Industrializing a Transnational Culture
Selling Authenticity
anti-Art
Libertango: Legacy of Freedom

TABLE OF CONTENTS

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The codigos
protect egos and unrequited loves and other things we don’t want to talk about. And importantly they eschew dialogue in favor of a silent system of rules. Their silence is indicative of much about tango. From the mood when we dance, to things we cannot say to our closest partners, to some other, very significant, silences. Silences of far greater social impact.
Who knew (least of all, she!)
That she yearned to charm with sultry obedience, the arch of her foot, the twist of her chest. Who knew that she would find satisfaction in being an extension of his body.

She feels very proud of her obedience. She offers it, she codifies it in her gestures, she exults in it. She may have come in order to “meet someone” or “express herself”, but now she just wants to be pretty and do it right. It gives her the surge of relief that, truly and finally, she is a good girl.
African Candombé
Moved from Montevideo to Buenos Aires. In both cities, Europeans copied the African dancers. Meanwhile African dancers were interested to learn the European mazurka. It was highly improvisatory, without set figures, drawing on a vocabulary of more than 50 elements.
Together
Her step must go here, exactly now. This sensation of inevitability induces a perception of destiny – that not only the 8Until Foreverstep, but this dance, this tanda, our meeting was somehow significant, driven by something we didn’t realize until now.
Your eyes seek
A willing partner. Not only strangers will reject your gaze, but friends who have another agenda tonight, people you used todance with regularly who moved on or up, and your own romantic or dance partner who isn’t interested at the moment. No one is required to explain themselves.
What has been popularized as “authentic”
is arbitrary, static, and myopic, expressing a particular set of values: Elegance and control, orderly traffic, one position in a necessarily moving embrace, and –to the bewilderment and consternation of contemporary tango composers– just one of thirteen decades of music.
Surviving a milonga
Requires great psychological fortitude. One must exude confidence despite rejection, patiently cultivating enemies and allies for what will surely be a long journey together. While maintaining some dimension of uniqueness despite envy or disapproval. While keeping faith in the immanent glory of an admired dance. The drive to be witnessed is not, after all, a territory of the insecure.
In both group and private instruction,
Teachers evade questions, either by making jokes, reiterating that tango is “difficult”, or telling students they “think too much”, They will refuse to teach the thing the student wants to learn, insisting they should “work on basics”. And they will fail to provide the purchased service (instruction), simply “showing” the movement repeatedly without disclosing actionable instructions. With irresistible Argentine charm, they blame, tease, and humiliate the students. Refusal of accountability seems endemic to tango exchanges.
A rhizome
of tens of thousands of volunteers in large and small cities have given their time, energy, and money to build the infrastructure and do the ongoing labor to identify venues, furnish, decorate, set-up and-break down, manage registrations and accounting, promote events, teach classes, and host practicas, milongas, and festivals. The vast majority of these people have never been paid.

Argentines did not get Tango out of Argentina.
Like heroin,
Tango can provide “short-term relief from stress, anxiety, or depression” but the body adapts, and then the addict is no longer feeling high, but feeling “trapped”. Tango is a “drug that becomes the center of their lives.” Rapidly “things they used to cherish lose importance.”
Trying to finish this book,
A friend called to lament. For ten years the lament has been the same, and is the same with everyone who books a private lesson with me: Not being given a chance. Not being seen, at all. Efforts unrewarded. Accomplishments unrecognized, erased, canceled –for no reason. Rejection, disappointment, waiting.
Is it my ochos? Is it my smile?
I decide to ask him, straight up, if I am on his list of “good dancers”. Daring, this one or anyway first time, just rips open a box of pain. All the times I didn’t know. All the quiet self-assaults in this forest of doubt.
The man who embraced me
Moments ago now embraces another. The man who danced with me last night ignores me tonight, pursuing another. My partner of years allows himself to be seduced, returning later with apologies and love proclamations, a situation which, like abuse, cycles constantly between painful negligence and redemptive adoration.. I sit waiting to be “chosen” by one or another or any man.
I thought we were well-matched
but, like drug dealers, we are making a handoff – back-room deals for professional connections or a guest room.

No one wants to admit the desperation that is electroplated to the pride and glamour of this life. I try to tell myself that what I make is art, or pedagogy. But I fear that what we make at tango, is lies.
One of the first
things that “free thinking” tango people do is throw out the ancient cabeceo, a sublime and egalitarian technology for the very contemporary issue of consent.
Cycles
The lyrics we dance to are hell-bent on fateful loss. There is more that draws us back than the failure of accounting, or even the fact that “every new hand brings fresh hope and possibility”, it’s that no other kind of evening holds the promise of spectacle as the scrapbook history of our nights of tango. This is a cycle we are all accustomed to. We tango dancers pride ourselves on managing our jealousy with strength, with retribution, with ritual games, with “codes” of etiquette. We believe this strength and savvy calculus buys us something valuable and precious.
Identity
When we dance we escape professional stress, family troubles, taxes, diagnoses, even trauma. At the entrance, we checked not only our worries, but also our accomplishments –wealth, status, education, flashy car keys– and all that has eluded us. All that we have achieved and failed is foregone.In its place we become, and show, and are witnessed for, things that seem essential, raw, and profound. While dancing, we do not smile to attract, instead we show that we are consumed – by fervor, delight, or ecstasy.
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images by Romain Baillon,  Evelyn-Bencicova, Fabian Perez, Eszter Papp,  unknown.

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