I found myself taking an uncomfortable position. Being a rebel doesn’t make me uncomfortable, but being a prude does. I was squirming as I honestly expressed that I felt insulted by two female performers showing me their asscheeks (one was about 1/4 covered and the other was 100% bare, without even a symbolic g-string). I listened to myself describing how “sexual” it seemed to see the naked concave curve just between hip bone and pubis.
People were arguing strongly about this. Some seemed to think it was ok to show whatever you want if you’re young and thin, but not so if you’re older or fatter. I didn’t buy this. I’ve been delighted and proud to watch (in non-tango contexts) women performers both older and fatter showing their flesh in a self-loving and empowered way. Some tango observers used arguments about “disserving your artistry by dressing like a tart.” I don’t like that argument as ‘tart’ is usually a code for classism.
I kept saying “The legs are so sexy. It’s enough… and then trailing off, brow furrowed. Many of us were using the phrase “distracted”. Others responded “just avert your eyes”. I felt embarrassed to be on the side of this conversation that I was on. But it was true that I didn’t want to see it. And it was true that I had a hard time distracting myself from the question “Why is she wearing this? Does she really think it looks good to show her ass like that?”
As the conversation went on, I kept trying to switch myself up to figure out why and how I could be offended. If I saw a dress that showed that particular concave curve at a burlesque show, I would be thrilled by a new way of showing off the sexiness of women’s bodies. Is it about context? What about nudity at the opera? That would be a bit unusual, but I wouldn’t be offended. When I saw ballerina Paul White threatening to wriggle out of his underwear on stage, I was surprised but open to the exploration of ballet’s celebration of the body.
I like strip clubs. How could I be “insulted” by a tango dancer showing me a few curves? At one point someone said “it’s stage tango.” I said “if they had been on the stage I would have felt differently.” They weren’t on the stage, they were doing a demo in the milonga. Why does that matter? I thought through the data of demos I’ve witnessed that brought up these feelings.
- Some beautiful girl with very pretty tits and no bra whose red strapless dress finally ended up at her waist during the variacion in the couple’s final dance at Practica X in Buenos Aires 2010. I admired her for boldly continuing to dance, but I felt the struggle with the dress throughout the demo and her show stealing flash was an unfair distraction from her partner’s concentration and dancing.
- I am always confused by Carolina Bonaventura’s choice of what I can only describe as beach wraps when her partner Francisco Forquera is always dressed with utmost elegance and formality.
- Tamara Bisceglia’s bleached blue jeans miniskirt. I didn’t really like this, but I did like that she expressed herself. I felt that she made space for others to escape the tango fashion cliches.
- Cecilia Garcia’s shorts. I think very very few women, regardless of age and condition, have sufficiently pretty upper thighs to show the upper thigh from the back while dancing. It’s just not a pretty part of the body when moved the way we do in tango. Cecilia’s sense of attractiveness is diametrically opposed to mine. I know she chooses her clothes but I cannot think of anything further from what I would want to wear to go out dancing. Although I do respect her dancing, I find those thighs so jarringly unattractive that I cannot study videos of her when she’s dancing in shorts.
- Soledad Larretapia’s short short white angel dress also at Practica X in 2010. The night no one took their eyes off that hemline, wondering what kind of panties this sexy girl wore, and paid no attention to poor Ricky Biggieri’s fine and energetic sacadas. (We never saw the panties because the wondrous fabric of the dress got longer as she spun. I bought this dress in 5 colors.)
- The most recent two examples are Gisela Natoli with the upper pubis shot and apparently no panties at all (doing a choroeography full of acrobatics predictably sure to raise the skirt repeatedly) and, causing even more surprise, Milena Plebs’ strange choice of a high-cut thong bodysuit showing 3/4 of her ass through some black lace.
I have written and stated repeatedly that I think tango is a chance to be sexy and show off and that people should wear whatever they want. I have written that one of the great things about tango is that “No one will ever say ‘You’re too old to be wearing that’.” One of the things I love about tango is that older women dress really sexy. I simply had no foundation at all for the position I was taking. It’s clearly untenable to get prudish about the dance which is already perceived to be pure sex.
When I was a beginner, my partner and I did a typical little tango in the living room for a non-tango but not prudish friend, and my friend said “that was so sexy I felt uncomfortable watching.”
If this is the dance that we’re doing, how can we draw an arbitrary line about “too sexual”. How can it be problematic to express the essence of tango in a more literal, or thorough, way?
What everyone kept saying was that it was a distraction from the dancing, and from the partner, unfair to the man. And here I believe I have found my ground. It’s about the respect for partnership. If they had been on a stage, I would interpret the outfits as costumes, as artistic decisions, and therefore involving consent of the partner. In a milonga demo, the outfits are rarely paired costumes. Dressing for milonga demos occupies a strange halfway zone between costume and outfit. Dancers who perform at milongas will see themseves on Youtube every time. The girl will want a different dress each time, which could mean 30 outfits a year. Some of these will malfunction.
Many performers change their clothes for the demo and then change afterward before returning to the milonga. (I also feel offended by this. When I dress for the milonga I believe I am adding to the festivity of the event. I wouldn’t take that away and put on some informal clothes halfway through the night. When performers don’t wear their clothes for the whole evening I feel they are saying the society of the milonga doesn’t deserve their best.) While the changing of the clothes implies that the performance outfits are costumes, unlike stagewear, there is rarely any relation (and there is often clash) between the leader’s and follower’s outfits and there is unlikely to be a costumer or art director involved with these performers. (I suspect that the biggest international stars may have a personal shopper or stylist, but given the frequency of outfit malfunction at demos of the world class dancers, it seems that most performers do their own shopping and dress themselves without assistance.)
A choreography on a stage in set costumes may be physically demanding, but it’s predictable. A milonga demo is likely to be improvised, which is much more difficult for both partners. Just as on the social dance floor, the leader is under incredible pressure to create art, to contribute to the communal experience, to distinguish himself, and to communicate clearly to his partner. She is under pressure to accurately and beautiful interpret his moves.
To bring this long exploration to a close, I believe that every aspect of the outfit must be chosen in a way that respects the partner and these considerations apply to any dancers who are dancing improvisation. This applies to men, whose outward-poking collars can poke her face and stiff jacket shoulders can interfere with her connection to his chest. They must ensure that their shoes and pants hem cannot catch her heel. There are simply many more factors that a respectful follower must keep in mind when assembling her outfit.
First of all she should ensure that her hemline cannot catch her heel. This can disrupt his dance, destroy his concentration, and frighten him that she is going to fall. Completely unfair to the partner. If a dress or pants catches your heel once, it should be eliminated from your milonga wardrobe. If parts of the outfit along the back can catch his hand or buttons prevent his free and confident movement, or (in the case of sequins) scratch his skin, he can be distracted or discomforted. Both partners should avoid protusions such as knots, large beads, belt buckles, and stiff waistlines, which make pressing against one another on the frontside unpleasant. I am not particularly modest, but I do not want to embarrass my partner by allowing my tits to pop out of my dress and I do not want to distract him during the dance by grabbing at my clothes. In fact I am often needing to readjust the bodice, especially if he leads a lot of ochos with a tight grip on my dress.
I believe that followers should avoid show-stealing elements such as clothing which risk showing ass, breast, and crotch. It’s about respect, celebration, and utmost support for your partner’s concentration, freedom of movement, visibility, and image.