No means no

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Some time ago I was assaulted by a date.

When he tried to unzip my dress at the back, I said “no”. He didn’t seem to understand that this also meant “no” to trying to get into my dress from the front, or from underneath.

I had to explain to him that “no” meant “no” from every direction.

But ideally, he should have never put his hand on the zipper, because when he first embraced me, I already turned away from him. That should have been enough.

The fact was, I didn’t dislike him and I didn’t want him to feel rejected, I just wasn’t ready to take that next step. I didn’t want to have to say “no” three times. In fact I didn’t want to have to say “no” at all. What I wanted to say was “not NOW”.  And actually I didn’t want to have to have to speak at all. I wanted him to be sensitive to a more subtle gesture.

In tango we have this subtlety, it’s called the cabeceo.

Tangueras, if a man turns his face away from your desire, it means he doesn’t want you Right Now.

If you walk around to the other side, right, left, up, down, closer and closer, you are not accepting this “no”.

You are presuming that your target “doesn’t really know what he wants” or “says no when he means yes”.

Like women who would like to be able to say “no” or “not now” to amorous dates with just a gesture –twisting the torso away, tangueros would like to be able to say “no” with their eyes and body language, and not have to deal with a verbal or otherwise unavoidable request.

Tangueras know all about the penguin man who stands in front waggling his hand or his eyebrows. We don’t like that situation. But I see women do the reverse cabeceo at point blank range all the time now. Why?

The explanation from women about why they violate the cabeceo  is “I’m not going to wait around.”

Stop. Take that and put it in a man’s mouth as his hand slides into your dress. He’s horny and you’re sexy. Why should he “wait around” for your (or someone’s) consent? It’s no big deal. It’s just a little feel.

When you ask and pressure a man to dance, you feel you’re not asking for much. Same like a guy who just wants to feel your breast or your ass. It’s not much.

Actually a dance is a lot, especially the “good” dance that you want. It takes a lot of physical, emotional, and psychological energy.

“But the men are here to dance.” That’s basically the equivalent of “well you’re wearing that sexy dress, so you want to be sexual. Don’t send mixed messages. And why are you so uptight?”

The answer is the same: Not . with . You . Right . Now.
And I do not owe you an explanation.

Maybe he doesn’t like the music. Maybe he’s waiting for a desired partner to become free. Maybe he prefers the company of the companion with whom he sits. He should be allowed his preference and his agenda, without being put on the spot to react to yours. And if you “like” this person enough to want to be in his arms for 12 minutes you should not only evidence, but also feel sympathetic to his desires and preferences – and respectful of his privacy about them.

Like women on dates, tangueros acquiesce to avoid rudeness. Do you really want that dance with a man who doesn’t want to, but feels uncomfortable saying “no”?

• • •

It is especially disturbing to me that as people want to “modernize” or “liberate” tango, the first thing they want to get rid of is the cabeceo. That’s one of the best things we have! Not only is it a super technology for managing the important and very contemporary issue of consent, it’s also its own source of delight. The cabeceo is a way of giving and receiving a really nice compliment, and a great cabeceo with a stranger can be thrilling.

This strange line of assault on the cabeceo concerns me because it indicates that people are not thinking clearly and carefully about modernity and liberation. Tango has gender problems, but the cabeceo is neither cause nor culprit. The gender problems have to do with the facts that Argentine Tango gives men permission to treat women in ways that would never be acceptable at work or at home or anywhere else in a “modern” society. And intelligent, educated women get off on being dependent and dominated, get addicted to this, jump into the unwinnable sexual objectification race, and then suffer tremendously.

Violating consent and demanding a man “give it to you right now” to you is a sad and desperate bumble, lashing out at one man for the suffering imposed by a system in which we are all participating. The violation of consent is qualitatively comparable to Incels, “men [who] blamed women for their involuntary celibacy” and respond with “aggrieved entitlememt”.

If we are concerned about modernization of tango we should address the fact that there is no possibility in tango for dancers to communicate with their partners about what gives them pleasure and what hurts. We should be concerned about tendencies in tango which devalue women’s skills.

We should be concerned about repressive attitudes toward self-expression and athleticism, and how this forces monotone gender performance on both tangowomen and tangomen.

If we are concerned about modernization and liberation we should also be concerned about the financial viability of our tango scene, about whether the old clichés and music will keep our milongas afloat, and how to be culturally relevant to the next generations.

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This book is not about tango, it’s about everything else.

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Dyv stands for Duro y Vio. We were inspired by a 2007 conference at Harvard University about tango as a transnational culture. Also we wanted to create something that would help people to imagine a queerer tango. We forbid ourselves to use the word ‘passion’ and instead tried to articulate the experience more precisely.

Argentine Tango is more than an elaborate and difficult dance, it is an international culture of intimacy, desire, and dignity. No mere romance or memoir, the intricately woven stories evoke tango’s true mysteries … the elation, the frustration, the compulsion…

We published the book in 2009. Dancers asked “how did you know what I was feeling?”

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

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