Girlfriend, I know.
Dancing tango as a revel is the experience you’ve been looking for all your life. When it’s good it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted. You can’t get enough.
Not all marks do it for you, but you don’t mind the suspenseful wait for the eyes of one of those marks, the ones who make you feel like a princess-angel-fairy-ballerina…
You know you are in trouble. You know that on a good night it works, and on a bad night, when there are too many girls, or too few guys, or the wrong guys, you are going to leave hungry. You know that sometimes when you are waiting your mind is drawn in some unhealthy directions, self-doubt, envy, brutal self-criticism, competition with other women… You know you are giving a bit too much power to some asocial men, just because you like dancing with them.
You know that the bad nights are dangerous and that the good nights lure you to take risks you probably shouldn’t. And yet you’re in over your head, and your intelligence and wisdom is sidelined.
You know you “should” learn to mark…
But you want to savor this delicious high. You want to float in this delightful weightless beautiful dream-come-true as long as possible.
You also know it’s not going to be easy to mark, and that you’re not going to get the same things from it that you get from revelling.
And that’s the key here.
It’s not a replacement for revelling. It’s something else. It’s a completely different relationship to this thing that you love, a different way to be in this space you keep coming to. It’s a different relationship to yourself and to other women.
It’s something to do on the bad nights
I will tell you the truth: It will never be as good as the best dances you have as a revel. But it’s also true that it is compellingly interesting and reliably empowering. And a lot more engaging than the bad dances you have as a revel.
It puts you in a position to look around the room, decide that none of the marks present are very interesting, grab another bored girl and make your own fun. Instead of dressing up and throwing yourself at the mercy of guys who you don’t even like. Or going home sad without enough dances, wondering if something is wrong with you.
Walking into a milonga as a woman who dances both roles means you decide if any of those guys are worth putting your beautiful shoes on for. It puts you in the position to make your own night, construct your own desire. You’ll never have to dance with someone who hurts you or drives you like a piece of equipment, or refuses to use the cabeceo. Because you can always say “Sorry, I want to mark this tanda.”
So, how do you start?
The most beautiful way I can imagine to take this first step is to call up one of your tango-girlfriends and tell her you’re ready to start marking. Will she help you? Get together once a week, at home where you’re comfortable, and make it girl time. It’s all about you. No one is watching and you can take as many breaks as you want. If you’re taking regular group classes as a revel, you can repeat the classes at home as a mark, or you can use the TangoForge online courses if you want a structured guide. You may be more interested in learning according to your own interests, rather than in anyone else’s syllabus. For that you could use the KnowledgeBase, where you can start and end anywhere you want each time.
You might also want to read Mitra Martin’s reasons why women might want to learn to mark.
I had never considered learning to mark…I thought leading was too different and hard to comprehend. Vio’s style of encouraging dancers to swap both roles and partners…helped to demystify leading. I learned how to help other revels and became a better revel myself and eventually wanted to learn to lead for its own challenge and enjoyment. Susan Callan
Vio’s Story of learning to mark
In 2007, my friend Aja Fenn was kicked out of a milonga in Los Angeles for marking [another heterosexual and popular woman]. This broke my capacity to tolerate the heterocentric and sexist environment of tango. Aja offered a class for women leaders, and I joined. We were like zombies crashing into each other and the walls. I remember being so bad that Aja couldn’t stop herself from laughing at me. I dreaded that class, but I got there.
Then Duro and I started teaching Queer Tango in 2008 in Boston, because we felt someone should. So I had to mark our students, including an amazing woman named Julia who was over 6 feet tall. Duro let me practice on him. I remember how hard it was for me to decide that I was in charge of his motion, rather than moving as a consequence of his body. Before we left Boston, we organized the Celebration of Women Leaders in Boston, MA. Click to see the slideshow!
At DNI in Buenos Aires on the first trip in 2008 I marked in the DNI beginner’s class every week. Their methods were so direct and easy. I also led a few times at the Carlos Copello school when there weren’t enough marks. I remember once Maxi Copello hollering at me across the room, “you’re facing the wrong way!” Then he tilted his head and said “Oh! You’re a man. Ok, that’s right.”
I practiced a lot that year, and started to have some good times, sometimes. In 2009 back in Buenos Aires I took privates as a mark once a week, and group classes as a mark every day. I got so tired of the way the girls treated me. Especially since after they danced with me they realized I was often one of the best marks in the class. It’s always a bit of a surprise how a girl will react. Many are very supportive; some are really mean. You might want to read an essay I wrote about a women’s space in Buenos Aires and what I learned from it.
I drove my teachers crazy with questions, especially the incredibly patient Adrián Ferreyra. I took a lot of notes and made lists. One of my early lists (which eventually became a class) was “7 Marked Adornos from Front Ocho”! I knew that a lot of marks weren’t clear on the difference between a revel’s gancho and a revel’s back sacada. This confusion can easily cause the revel to stumble and I wanted to grasp the difference. I wanted to systematize what I was learning.
After losing Duro, I spent 2010 and 2011 desperately trying to create a male dance partner. Slowly I realized it was easier to teach from the position of mark than revel, and I embraced the idea of working alone.
Now that I go weeks or months without dancing with a Mark who moves me, I am so grateful for investing in marking, so that I have another way to enjoy this beautiful dance. I especially like to Mark men, because I enjoy the way they move.
I prefer the term ‘GrrrlLeaders’, echoing RiotGrrrl to better capture our courage and creativity in wanting to master the art of tango fully.