Usually blogposts spill out of me, as if I am transcribing. The only work is to discover the proper place of disordered fragments, and connect a few abstruse dots.
This time, the theme is my estranged heartland. For I have accepted that I have no homeland. I am as strange there as many other places.
I have spent my life searching for home and family.
What we dancers have in common, despite our many diversities, is that we are moved by the experience of partnership. But we know that tango also delivers sharp blows and complex pain.
Two nights ago I was dancing beneath the envious gaze of a girl who wants not only my men, but my skills. What she doesn’t know is that the sinew of my dance is made of more than a decade of persistent tears – ruptures, scars, and weeping.
She imputes joy to my movement which is in fact the urgent beating of wings to fly aimlessly in a storm that never ends.
I dance like this because I have had the privilege to dance with extraordinary men, who used me in ways I can only interpolate. And to have polished my skills with young talents, who, perhaps naïvely, gained so much so fast that they quickly surpassed their dreams and found they didn’t need me, or tango, anymore.
Great artistic partnerships ruptured by unmanageable betrayals, young talents diverted by trivialities, heartbreaks … Those are the big losses, the sharp pains, and the objective tragedies.
There are also the dull and ordinary ones.
While booking a gig the other day the organizer asked me if my partner (a new one) and I would need separate beds. “We’re selling an image of romance and sensuality, we better be able to share a bed.” The ordinary deposits electricity on the dance floor perplexingly contradicted by his (or my) disinterest off the dance floor. This is routine. And that’s just the working partners.
Any night in the milonga, I may find intense love with a stranger, who, as it turns out, is barely present, or married. Fortunately, I’m over the addiction to this. I no longer go to milongas with hope. I go there to drink, write blogposts, and watch for my rare students: people who are open, learning fast, ambitious, and have good physical preparation. Twice a year, a stranger breaks through my blast doors and captures my heart in a tanda. Only to walk away. Our fingers intertwined until the last moment, and then he is gone. Again.
Most men I chat with came to tango with a girl, who no longer dances. In tango he finds something he wasn’t looking for. He becomes, despite his shyness and unattractiveness, a latent Casanova. Most women who are still dancing came to tango alone after a divorce or separation, looking for “self-expression”. Instead they find the tender embrace no lover ever gave them, and they can’t get enough. Until she gets something she wants more –for many women this is a child; consumed by a new compulsion, she rarely returns. Remaining, the hungry ghosts circulate. Ghosts because after some years we have lost track of who we once were. We come to life only when the light is just right, someone is paying attention in the right way. For a few moments we are alive and real, an ever-more fleeting experience on this long, and indeed questionable, journey.
Tango turns out to be a solitary journey, a form of transportation attendant to its risks, safety mechanisms poised for survival on the brink, another hit of ecstasy in time before the shock of abandonment obliterates the psyche.
I sit before the first Christmas tree I’ve had in nine years, the first since leaving my home and belongings in the U.S. The tree is adorned only with my collection of chandelier crystals, the symbol of Berlin. The tree snuggled promptly into the only spot which would not disturb the dance floor, and this happens to be the only wall of the house to which any kind of images are affixed.
It turns out that the gifts are not beneath the tree, they surround and embrace it. These images are the history of my tango, and all my partners, the hard-won gifts of all my heartbreaks. They are almost all there, legacies each of delight and delirium-inducing pain.
One of the points about which I came to disagree with my maestra Dana Frígoli was her commitment to leave the past behind. When any of her apprentices (my teachers) left the school, and even when her co-founder and partner and great love Pablo Villarraza left, their photos were promptly removed from the walls. She dared to erase our history before our eyes, a distinctive violence.
All of mine are there, even those most infuriating in their abandonment.
Because each of them, on at least one occasion, carried me to the next day.
Fritz who bought me stiletto thigh-high boots and went dancing over shards of glass in hiphop bars – and then terrified me with jealous rage. Devin, a youtube-selftaught savant. We were so close in the embrace, yet so far outside of it. He was a U.S. Marine. I spent weekends trying to stop the next war. He invited me to make my first performance.
Duro, my love, our perfectly-matched talents did not include the grace to work through the hard stuff. I’ve spent the last 8 years searching the world for a second chance at what we had together. This journey has brought many spectacular experiences, but nothing approaches the grandeur and sweetness of our life together, every day and every action rich with intention and collaboration. To give up on this vision of partnership would seem to dishonour it. Against advice, I dare not mourn. I dance in faith that eventually I will discover for what I paid this tragic price.
Claudyne, my first woman partner, who encouraged my first developments as a Mark. Lala, who dared to dance with me in my first show as a Mark, and affirmed the first steps toward my own biomechanical technique. Sanjay, in whom I invested all my quavering hope after Duro, who just walked away one day. Sebastián, we graced one another’s careers at a crucial time, and laughed at ourselves together. Rodrigo, hiphop powerhouse talent, who couldn’t stop chasing girls long enough to step through the aperture I offered. Damian, who collaborated to help me make my first professional videos. Armin, who revealed another layer of analysis, and taught me playfulness, and then decided to be a “serious” dancer, abandoning our friendship on his own doorstep, blaming me. Nick, the first (and to date only) partner with whom I had the egalitarian and profound connection to be moved to change roles during the dance, who learned so much from me, and yet managed to make me feel he didn’t care at all.
And this brings us to Roberto. When he ended our romance, I thought I would die from the pain. I watched movies and drank alcohol all night in a calculated strategy to float myself just far enough away from the pain to survive. When I forced myself to go out to milongas, I was shaking with shame, transparent to our community that I had somehow botched what had promised to be the greatest romance of all time – and was certainly my very last hope for love after Duro. Having gambled everything for this partnership, I withstood both pain and shame, and kept dancing with him. Often it was a disaster. Sometimes we set the room on fire. On these occasions I knew for what I had devoted that then-decade and I was very glad I had not withdrawn from the opportunity to manifest it. Eventually we walked together to the edge of the cliff. A witness stood with us. And we each stepped back. “I love you.” Since that date in early 2017, our relationship has steadily improved, and our dancing feels like flying. I am so proud of both of us that we didn’t take that fatal step.
Also on the wall are the boys I engage to keep the business going when Roberto and I can’t manage, Andi, Mano (Germain), Gökhan, Thomas, Antoine. My first girl partner, Jessica. And finally, my shipwrecked crew, the gorgeous TangoForge Apprentices of 2017: Yoko, Stefan, and Swan. Three fabulous dancers lost in the fog. I took them on as trainees as I had others before, because they were talented and eager. And typically, just as they neared the point of being useful to me (able to perform and teach), they discovered that their dream to be “professional dancers” was really just a dream of being a good and respected local dancer. Two of them thereby won adoring girl/boyfriends and didn’t need me anymore. Our time together was precious and beautiful. They will be the last of their kind in TangoForge. I’m not investing like this again in people who cannot accurately perceive the contract they are entering.
Did you count? 19 partners in 12 years. And there are more; some who never made it so far as a photograph – but that doesn’t mean my heart did not record their passing.
And now you know there is nothing there to envy. Least of all the questionable judgment about continuing this dangerous journey.
Through all of this betrayal and torment, I trusted tango. From the very beginning, I perceived it as an external force, something bigger than me, carrying me. I waited and trained in faith that there would come another partner, and another level, another understanding of what tango to could be.
I was prepared from age 3 to be an artist. There have been many detours. It comes. Six months ago I met with a pianist to discuss a collaboration. He insisted we experiment, but he had no piano and I had no partner. I said “well, I might touch you.” He said “ok.” He made sounds with his body and I alchemized a principle: whatever he did, I would find a movement from the tango vocabulary to express it. A breakthrough: Tango is a language rich enough to respond to any sound. In the end, I didn’t touch him, but I did include in my repertoire the bold chest of the tanguero, the daring desperate groundless confidence which is tango’s insistent gift.
Two weeks ago I went to the First Lyon Neotango Festival des Lumieres, and connected with no less than three superlative dancers. This week, in a nearly empty milonga in a storm, under a jealous girl’s eye, I realized that I could put my foot to the floor in a way that reflected the perturbation of the percussion beat, and after a few measures, my partner, at first disturbed by the quality of my step, picked up this expression and matched me. Elation rushed through me – my understanding of tango’s artistic possibilities expands. And I have grown partners who can learn with me inside the dance.
What has changed in the last year, dragging me out of my despair and hostility toward what tango has become, is that I have refused to further permit my tango life to be adjudicated by milongas. Instead I focus on opening space for collaborations with musicians, singular unrepeatable events for my communities. And I have shifted my attention to the “neotango” scene. I’m not saying the music (or the level) is any better, but the attitude is completely different. People are not there to consume one another, but to create – ourselves and tango.