I ended up spending a bit more than five weeks in Berlin this summer. I also attended my first tango marathon, Heaven in Dresden, and I spent a week in Zürich. I danced every night but two (one because I was on a train and the other because I was injured). Here’s my Guide to Argentine Tango in Berlin and my review of the Berlin Queer Tango Festival 2014. This post is about the deeper lessons I learned during the trip.
1. Things are not as I thought they were
I actually don’t see myself as a very good dancer. Generally in life I assume that I’m near the bottom of things and there’s a long way to go. I put in and out a lot of power because that seems to be the thing to do. I’m easily intimidated by revels with pretty feet. I anticipated being in the lower tier of advanced dancers in Berlin, and meeting plenty of advanced and creative partners every night. Leaving aside the local professionals, I found instead that I was often one of the more experienced dancers in the room and I met only seven superlative marks in four weeks (including the marathon). I felt lucky if there was one mark and one revel in the room each night who I wanted to dance with. There were many nights with only one of these, and plenty with neither.
I was flabbergasted. Even in Berlin there are very few people I want to dance with. (More on my desire later.)
By the end of week four I was facing the rather devastating fact that I seem to have hit peak tango. There just isn’t much tango pleasure left for me in the world. In week five, I met Roberto, which has changed the outlook dramatically, but I am aware that my hope hangs on just one golden thread.
Like any other activity, the idea that getting better at it will bring more pleasure is just plain wrong. The better we get, the more discerning we get, the more taste we acquire, and the returns diminish. Many people talk all kinds of trash about how they can enjoy dancing with anyone. I think they’re lying. (More popular clichés here.)
2. So what do I want?
Several of the deep lessons here are things I had been saying, and even writing about, but they became more visceral and powerful during the trip. One of these is that I want a mark who trusts me. Many high level marks look good and/or feel good, but they don’t take any risks in their dance. For me this is not interesting. More importantly, it’s impersonal. I want them to dance with me. I want them to discover what my body can do and what I can make possible for them. I want them to use me, not just control me in the execution of something they’ve done a thousand times before.
This is why what’s called the Marathon Scene doesn’t interest me. The marks are Very Nice Dancers with Very Nice Musicality and Excellent Embraces, but everyone dances pretty much the same. It’s a very nice monotone. The music doesn’t vary (they don’t even play Pugliese), the dancing doesn’t vary, even the photos all seem to come out the same.
I want to dance with someone who is interested in their own edges, someone willing to take risks (of mistakes, of looking bad, even of falling) with the intention to Make Art with Me Now.
Another thing I’ve been expounding on is how good revelling can “set marks free”. I had a couple of small experiences this in the last few years with dancers I didn’t know. I felt their dance grow dramatically when they realized that I wait in projection. I teach revels to put all their attention into their first and second projection, and never to think about stepping. By prolonguing this moment, we create spaciousness for the mark.
In Berlin this trip, with three different marks, my philosophy came to life in a way and to a degree that even surprised me. What I felt was that they felt they could trust me. They stopped trying to control me. And their consciousness dropped down out of their brain. I felt a surge of power from them and creativity that threatened to tear the room apart. They danced like hurricanes. It was not just a matter of dancing faster, it was a completely different kind of power that I had not experienced before, validating my approach to revelling and my concept of the tango roles. I even went so far as to propose, in one of my sleep-deprived typo-strewn fieldnotes, that the cabeceo should be about trust. And that this kind of dancing is a gift to the room.
My approach was also validated by a number of comments from an additional group of somewhat startled men (that first group didn’t do a lot of talking afterward) who exclaimed that they “could do anything” with me, that they were “marking things I never did before” and “not dancing any of my usual tango clichés”.
4. And what do I want from a revel?
I danced as a mark more than 50% of the time on this trip. I went there to enjoy revelling, but there wasn’t much of that to be had and instead a very welcoming environment for women marks. Spending a lot of time in my masculinity was interesting. I began to feel my power to choose and I became more aware of what motivates me to mark.
When I first started to notice that I seem more particular with the girls I thought I was discriminating in some way. It’s some kind of sexism, objectification. But on further reflection I recognized that it’s just that men are all the same. Most tango guys are not cute at all and they wear boring clothes so there’s not much choice. Moreover, I am accustomed to press my body against any man. I don’t evaluate. If I were to dance only with men who attract me, I would dance one tanda a month. With women there’s a lot more options.
To my surprise, the girl I want to mark is not like my own femme. She is not butch either (or if she is I want her to do the marking). I am totally unattracted to girls wearing high heels. My revel wears sneakers, showing that she’s ready to move. She is neither delicately built nor primly dressed. She is not busty. She is not wearing patterns. Her jewelery and hair will stay out of my face.
She does not steal the lead. She does not do her own thing. She is interested in –rather than annoyed by– the unfamiliar. She is willing to dance slowly. She is willing to take big steps. She can imagine doing a voleo with her right leg. She is not prudish about ganchos.
5. My power
I’ve also written about the power of a woman’s desire to attract the man she wants to dance with. I’ve had some striking experiences with this in the past. But by the end of this trip to Berlin I was getting my man every night. It helps when there’s only one man in the room who I want. He can feel that.
Now I am so aware when I am in a milonga desireless, or with only lukewarm desire. Those I consider casually, without desire, are not compelled.
And if I really want a man, I don’t even need eye contact any more. Twice now I’ve taken a man from behind.