Tango is a a space where most dancers do gender more extremely than in the rest of life. This can be fun, it can be healing, and it can be distorting.
There are several dimensions to gender extremity in tango. The first has to do with costume, and is pleasurable for those who feel competent, but can be intimidating for those who don’t feel up to incarnating the stereotypes.
Women are not required to wear high heels, and many dance better without them. Please experiment with a variety of shoe types and make an authentic choice for your physical and aesthetic pleasure, not for the presumed eyes and judgments of others.
Men are not required to wear suits, but some enjoy playing the gentleman. Of course those who wear suits to work may want a different look at night (perhaps more flamboyant or more boyish?), while those who wear a uniform or casual dress to work may want to dress elegantly. Let tango be a space to expand your personality and expressiveness.
Play gets real
The dark side of gender play is that we may become identified with inegalitarian dimensions of the extreme. For example, women may become identified with the at-times flattering and even thrilling experience of being desired, and adopt a passive role that will not always serve them.
Likewise men who find a welcome new level of self-confidence as a tango leader may take this too far, becoming arrogant and self-indulgent in judging women.
Of course the extreme dysfunctions of these two roles can synchronize and reinforce each other like a harmonic wave. Arrogance + passivity can be disempowering and alienating. Relating to each other from these extremes can even be dehumanizing.
To avoid getting stuck in the negative dimensions an extreme identity, make friends in the tango scene so that you develop compassionate relationships and authentic enthusiasm for other dancers’ development.
Learning to dance the other role is a powerful way to jolt yourself into another perspective and experience. Exploring a gender role distant from your usual one may provide you with unexpected pleasure as well as information about what’s desirable in a partner playing your usual role.
Women are often excessively intimidated by the prospect of leading. Unexpectedly they often find themselves fascinated by the biomechanics. Leading is a guaranteed path away from the passivity. It also means that you’ll be able to control the musicality, instead of depending on your partner.
To be empowered in the follower role, it’s crucial to stay in contact with your desire. You do not want every or any man. Focus on a few whose dance, cologne, or shoes you like. Give them your attention and your desire. I sit with my stilettos in my lap, looking for at least two objects of desire, one for each shoe. You might want to read my post about desire.
Renaming the roles
The more I experience and enjoy tango the more of a gender essentialist I seem to become. For me it does affirm extreme, nearly fantastic, masculinity and femininity, but as a person I enjoy more and more both of those roles. I am now dancing about 60-70%lead, some weeks are 50/50. I do not feel that I dance the lead as a woman, but in my maximum masculinity. Depending on my intentions for the next tanda, I hold my body differently, I move differently, I interact with the people around me differently. I make the cabeceo as a man… But my follow is also becoming more and more sensuous, flirtatious, giving, and delicate, and more pleasurable.
I noticed in BsAs some people are talking about a genderless tango, an exchange of roles. I have experienced this too, almost. I still tilt my head like a bull when I take the lead in the middle of a dance.
So I am now reaching to describe what IS that masculinity and what is that femininity? I like the word ‘marcador’ (makes the mark). In English, creator. The role of the follower, best I can describe it so far, is to bring his mark to life, with dynamic, subtle, beautiful motion and power. To give it back to him, a little more beautiful than he imagined. Simon wrote that he feels that the follower gives LIGHT.
So… The leader makes the MARK in the dark. The follower LIGHTS it so it can be seen. In Castellano, marcador y iluminador.
Update: I finally did rename the roles….