As a tango dancer, I meet a lot of amazing women. Beautiful, smart, aware, interested in connecting with other women. Real sisters.
Eventually the conversation turns to marking, their admiration for my skills, and why they don’t do it. Almost all of them first say:
I want to learn one role fully first, then I’ll take up the other role.
This is easy to rebut. You learn faster and better if you learn both roles. They can’t disagree with me about that. Most of them let fall the real answer:
I’m a leader in life. I’m a professional, I’m in charge of people. I love that in tango I can be feminine.
Sister, I know!
For me too, tango was the very first time I got to feel beautiful. The first time I received masculine attention in a way that made me feel feminine. The first time I got to fulfil the fantasy before which I had always been a failure as a smart, aggressive, overeducated, know-what-I-want and don’t-take-no-shit Grrrl.
My first year, I felt –finally– that I had my Scarlett O’Hara moment, men coming at me from every direction. What ecstasy! Didn’t matter that I didn’t want any of them. The important point was the experience of myself as desirable, and desirable as a woman, a success at the things women are supposed to be good at, being pretty, dressing cute, being feminine.
This is gone.
Not because I’m older.
Not because my fabulous wardrobe is languishing in a storage unit in the US.
It’s gone because I’m a better dancer now.
I block 90% of that desire because I know those guys will hurt my body by applying excessive upper body force. 1/2 of the guys I’d be willing to dance with are too intimidated to even look at me. The few who have both the chops and the confidence are busy. So I’m the one who has to mobilize the power of desire to get to them. Mostly these days I can’t be bothered.
The problem with committing your tango to femininity is that the night will come soon when there is no man you want, or the ones you want are busy, or there are just too many beautiful sisters in the room.
As an organizer, teacher, and Mark I am so conscious of the suffering of women. I feel surrounded by their hopeful adornment, their ready bodies, their desperately sweet smiles, and the unconcealable glittering hunger in their eyes. I see how beautiful they are. But even though I Mark, I do not try to feed them, because I know that what they want is not a Mark, but a Man. I know that Men take little pleasure from this situation, because they too feel the individual and collective pain in that unfulfillable anticipation.
The reason, Sister, that I want you to learn to Mark is that I want you to have the choice to make the evening your own, so that you will not suffer.
When you Mark, you come to the milonga with two pairs of shoes. You only put on those stilettos when you feel there are specific men in the room who you actually WANT or when you see that numbers favor your being able to receive a satisfying portion of male desire.
Marking doesn’t mean you give up the ecstasy of the feminine fantasy, it means that you accept it as a fantasy. It’s a sweet beach holiday, not a “new and improved” product you can rely on to find in the grocery store every time you show up.
Femininity is always a fantasy. There is no lasting escape from our strength and men’s frailty. (There are other ways to understand it, but these moments are also rare.) The respite and pleasure you receive from tango is a precious gift, a facet, a moment of “altered perception”, and an addictive drug. Like every drug, like every addiction, it is not reality, it is damaging, and you will come down.
To get real with this retrograde gender activity you’ve got yourself hooked in to, you need to decide that you are not going to suffer. And there are other ways than leaving the milonga when there are too many women.To stop suffering the absence of fantasy-ecstasy-femininity requires that you accept all of who you are.
image from the MAC “Strength” campaign
For me this has been a lifelong struggle. I want to be the lovely delicate feminine creature from the movie, who is scooped up by the adoring man. Unfortunately I am too smart, too competent, too fast. I have spent decades searching for the “off” switch, trying to find a way to show up for men without my intelligence. I thought tango was a way. But after a few years, the circuits fray, and she is back with all that fierce acumen, all that vision and clarity and irrepressible courage.
None of my friends will agree with me that my feminine fantasy is even a worthy (or sane) ambition – but every beautiful tango sister knows exactly what I am talking about, shifting weight from one foot to another in those stilettos, talking while we wait for a man.
Withdrawal. Sobriety. Rehab. Reality is I am both that fierce strong thing, and this beautiful delicate fairy princess thing. Just yesterday I had the delight to be a fairy for hours in a milonga. But it was unplanned. I don’t anymore dare to expect this. I don’t even express so much hope as to dress for it. Sometimes it graces me.
But I always carry two pairs of shoes, and I will not suffer anymore. Not at the whims of men, not at the abundance of sisters who share my yearnings, not at bigoted remarks meant to keep me in a cage.
Women speak about the roles as unrelated distracting activities. They are not. The muscle action is the same. Marking can only improve your dancing as a Revel.
The first few times you Mark will be horrible. Then it will become integrated with your experience of the dance. Get past those first few times, as quickly as possible. Mark one song per day on anyone you can get your hands on. Accept your knowledge and power.
I still struggle with how to relate my strength to men, but at least I have now a healthier relationship with tango.
I know that my femininity is a fairy who will inhabit me when she’s not too busy.