Marathon psych


Tangotourist in Europe, Summer 2014

Runners have to train for the psychological challenge of marathon chemistry. Your body goes into death mode and you want to quit.

I think I might just stick it out. The food is good.

Good conversations at breakfast. Everyone hated the music last night.  “I needed more power,” said the 60 year old man sitting next to me.

The showers, bathrooms, food, stage dressing room, services, and food are great, but people didn’t like the fact that the sleeping rooms were already too hot with direct sun at 7 am (the music goes to 5, so people need a bit of sleep). And people are incensed that the gender ratio is not, as promised, balanced. Compared to Sydney I didn’t notice it , but this is a fundamental principle of marathons. If there are too many girls it’s because the organizer wanted or needed the extra money, but it betrays the fundamental trust of the marathon contract.

Yoga under the trees and a shower. Bright, cheerful afternoon milonga. Slowly people sidle up to me and tell me they love my shoes or wings, or both.


I see some pink shoes dance by and realize it’s the guy sleeping next to me. People are so tired that they just go into the dorm and sleep whenever. It’s strangely not weird to go from the formal relations and clothing of the milongas to underwear.

It’s 02:30 now and I’ve had five partners today who rocked my world (4M, 1R), in addition to dances with sweet M, who has become remarkably good at cabeceoing people on the other side of the hall in the dark. And is also dancing with charm and confidence.

Spent some hours today chatting with some marathon vets. There are two kinds of marathons, marathons and encuentros. At the latter the dance and etiquette are rigid. It’s the Susannah Miller style of close embrace with feet forbidden to leave the floor. Also the cabeceo is required, there are rules of floorcraft, and a couple is not allowed to dance more than two tandas. ( Here if you enjoy your partner you continue as long as you want. Most of my partnerings have lasted 2-4 tandas.)

In the non-encuentro marathons, some are very free dancing, including what is called here “sport” dancing, which is athletic. “Not everybody can do what Chicho and Juana do. It takes too much training.” But most of the marathons are rhythmic dancing, composed only of ochos, giros, rebotes, and steps. Some people I talked to said that there is now something called “marathon style” and even some marathon sequences. They described some of these as “washing machine dancing” – ocho ocho giro, ocho, ocho giro.”

What I like least about the marathon is the relentlessness of the music. One DJ played one Nuevo song today, but it was only one minute long, and not even a tanda (an extended cortina). I’ve talked to quite a few people frustrated with this. A group of us popularized a gesture to describe our feelings – cutting one wrist and then the other.

What I like most is the non-urgency. You can chat, nap, write, have a shower and put on a new outfit, and the milonga will still be going on. Through the day and night the room morphs unevenly from casual milonga to dining hall to formal milonga. And because we’re in Germany, people drink beer for breakfast with aplomb.

Make that 5M…


By Sunday the girls are getting acid from sitting and the organizer gives them a free glass of champagne. The last session runs from 1300-1800 and you start to realize you need to secure those you’ve been waiting for. I’ve made friends with an elegant Czech couple and I tell her I’m dying to dance with her husband. She snaps her fingers.

We started with only a few steps left in a song. But it only took those few steps for him to stop, exclaiming “you”re a Nuevo dancer!” “I don’t call it that. I just dance the whole tango lexicon.”

He promptly loosened his fingertips and tried every move in the book. One or two were rusty and he repeated them, giving me more freedom to show him the way. After the second song he blurted out “perfect!” And after the third he just nodded and said “That’s Dancing.”

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

What I do in my blog is use myself as a lens – sometimes a microscope, sometimes a telescope. I try to be as honest with myself and you as words concede. Then I try to find a deeper meaning and imagine a pathway for us.

A blog post can be a fragment, a wisp of inspiration, an outline for thinking. A book must complete and reconcile it all. Now I drag the social scientist to the scene to enumerate the facts of the case, the mystery which brought both stardom and tragedy to my life.

I invite you to join my resolution to take a look at the dark silences of Argentine Tango in our lives. It’s time.


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