Pivot

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Acknowledging my extraordinary good fortune to be locked down in a beach house, I cannot credit warm weather and nice views for the exodus of alcohol from my life. I must associate this with the tango arrear, the deficit of disappointment and emptiness that I filled with red wine.

What are the disappointments of tango?

  • The failed romances and their ghostly presences.
  • The men in whose arms I spent so many hours that it became unthinkable that something “real” was not developing. In fact they were stones.
  • Encounters undeveloped.
  • Partnerings not tried, no reason given.
  • Being ignored and passed over, displaced and degraded, no dialogue possible.
  • The many friendships so hard-won that I believed they were unbreakable, now gone.
  • [Acknowledging the patronage of a very special and visionary minority of the tango community who enabled me to survive financially for 10 years and that as one of the few tango women trading on her own name, which furthermore no one learned because I had ever been chosen a partner by a “world class man”] a palpable lack of regard and respect for my knowledge and skill as a teacher and Mark.
  • [Acknowledging with gratitude the many friends who evolved from being students] the lack (and betrayal) of peer friendships, because in this industry and this addiction no one can afford loyalty.
  • On par with the unpredictability of the pleasure, the reliability of the pain.

As I prepare to return to Europe, I want a new relationship to tango well before any milonga beckons. I suspect many of you also hope to return differently to tango – or hope that it will be different upon our return.

I need a new answer beyond those I have alchemized over the years: “Make Tango your Own”, “Build your Partners”, “Dance Both Roles so the Night belongs to you”, “Create don’t Consume”. Right and true all but not enough, apparently, to prevent this creature ending up confined to a bottle. How did that get in there?

The alcohol is a cynical shield to deflect the coming pain. And the pain is welded to the pleasure.

The solution is not merely a matter of accounting. It’s budget cuts and new investments. Pivots.

In business, a pivot is a dramatic reconfiguration of a product or business model which has become unsustainable. Pivots abandon the current architecture, reconceptualizing a product or campaign with more integrity to the core of value which has become apparent.

So I need to pivot.

How? Where?

I take a break to sit in the sun, eating a papaya with finger lime and reading. I am working my way through the house’s strange library, and have come to a famed French crystal manufacturer’s luxurious 26 x 26 x 3cm documentation of their 250-year history. So long as here I drink wine from their glasses, I might as well know the story. It begins with Louis XVIII commissioning the establishment of a crystal factory in the small town of Baccarat and proceeds to their extravagant displays at the Worlds Fairs, where they took orders from the royalty of the whole world. While the book extols the French mastercraftsmen, it turns almost immediately to the significance of stylistic influences imparted by the orders from Persia, India, Japan, and Russia. I was struck that Eurocentrism did not marginalize these influences to the end of the book. It presented the fusion of French, Middle Eastern, and Asian aesthetics up front, as constitutive not only of the global fame and fortune of Baccarat but also of its very aesthetic identity.

Tango too, was constituted by fusion, a point ignored as thoroughly as possible by Argentine nationalism and the industry’s unironic monotone claim to “authenticity”.

What would it mean to pivot around fusion as a core of tango? I’m not at all sure that it would mean to mix tango up with other dances willy-nilly. Tango’s fusion is as much about attitude as it is about the density of diverse instruments, rhythms, musics, cultures, and dances in the Rio de la Plata region. That attitude, most crucially, was curiosity and openness, experimentation, and the willingness to falling in love. Argentina’s Africans “disappeared” on battlefields and in epidemics, to be sure, and also into interracial unions. Experimentation continued into the Golden Age, as dancers showed their prowess through innovation. After the dictatatorship, as tango was recouped by nationalism, Buenos Aires continued to spawn experimentation around “tango arts”. Only in the 2010s was this attitude suppressed by the concept of a static, ahistorical “traditionalism” presumed useful to the patrimonial chokehold over the industry. The result is Fundamentalism, a movement equally cruel and crude. Its modus operandi is the suppression of exactly that enthusiastic engagement with diversity which brought tango to life.

Of course I’ve been writing for several years about how this monotone drives me to drink because I rarely see anything on the dance floor that inspires me to put on my shoes.  Meanwhile, serving as mascot for the underdogs, I grow weary of the indignities of caricature rendered as frequently by those I serve as by those who declaim us.

Could an attitude of experimentation become a sword with which I would again stride enthusiastically into a milonga, without my anaesthetic shield? What kind of experimentation? Not with other dances, since I don’t know any. And good God, haven’t I broken every rule already? (Except the cabeceo, which I have no interest in breaking.) And there’s no diversity there to fall in love with.

The author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert recently talked about Byron Katie on Tim Ferriss’ podcast (somewhere between 1:02:00 and 1;30:00). Katie teaches that “the body knows the right answer”. We are usually rerouted from this knowledge by either trauma or culture. (Trauma is our personal history which shapes our needs and limitations. Culture is what we are told to want, not want, and measure ourselves by.)

Although Gilbert insists that this knowledge is located somewhere near the core, my experience is that my being (not my body exactly) does usually know quite surely, and just need to distinguish between that knowledge and fear or hope or whatever else is noisily buzzing about. On those occasions that I don’t feel I know, it turns out to either be not important, or to be a question shortly made obsolete. My defense against bad decisions in this moment is to eschew deadlines or establish my own trumping timeline by the end of which either my “knowledge”/desire has become wildly apparent or the problem has disappeared itself.

One of the characteristics of behavioral addictions is a perception –on the part of the addict– that the schedule is an obligation, rather than a choice. We rationalize this in all sorts of ways: not wanting to let people down, not wanting to miss a visiting stranger or a chance to dance with Ms. X before her impending return to her home country, feeling the need to maintain a rigorous schedule in order to remain in top form… For the last year I was keenly aware that some of Berlin’s extraordinary venues, such as Clärchens Ballhaus, would soon close and I didn’t want to miss any opportunity to be in that room, regardless of how moribund the dancing might be. Of course there were a few nights that brought unexpected delight, and many more that valorized the Languedoc wine in the thermo in my otherwise undisturbed shoe bag.

Now that Clärchens and Tangoloft are closed, and Roter Salon when occasionally open is now overcrowded and furthermore has purged my favorite chairs, my strongest rationalization must be retired. In its place I propose to myself that I only go out if I can find that enthusiasm somewhere in my body (or soul, or somewhere). No more going out as a routine, out of fear of missing someone, losing my prowess, or breaking my word (better not to give it in the first place). What this likely means is that I will go out when I have an appointment with a partner. This allows me to alter the definitions at play, to take tango righteously to its edge. I withdraw from my commitment as witness to the ongoing death vigil.

Resolution {1}: Every night I must choose between dancing and alcohol. If I want to drink, then drink. Only if I want to dance, go dancing.

Resolution {2}: Do no depend on tango as the only context for costuming. Design my week and month to contain a more aesthetically diverse set of public appearances. One of the main thing that “works” for me about tango is the opportunity to dress up. Fashion is part of my family, and the most accessible form of self-expression. But I also whine about how tango’s technical and sexual specifications emaciate my wardrobe, with dulling repetitive effects.

Resolution {3}: Ritually burn, drown, and then bury the idea of “respect”. It’s a chimera, and even when it does manage to show up, isn’t satisfying. In fact I have quite a lot of respect, but am unduly obsessed with those who do not. The do notters are an inevitable result of the fact that I dare to do anything new and nonconformist, a tendency I cannot extinguish. In some sense my seeking and whining about respect is a form of self-violence, a failure to appreciate what I am – an avant garde who creates beautiful things and apertures that others cannot see or do not dare.

Resolution {4}: Stop denying the pain and glorifying my capacity for silent suffering. If friends are involved, I will speak with them about the dynamic. If not, I will at least detangle it from the cycle of agony and ecstasy and investigate it.

I know that every dancer’s accounts conclude differently (some are even in the black). Each of us face unique iterations of our shared fugue. To resolve your own pivot, I suggest:

  • Identifying the parts of your tango “schedule” truly linked to your desire, and those linked to fears, hopes, or social-cultural pressures?
  • Consider the experiments you would like to make.
  • Find places (probably outside of tango) to speak about the pain and take it seriously. Perhaps we may still accept that cycle for artistic or other reasons, but we should not discount the pain and its costs.

If you have resolutions for your return to tango, I would love to know what they are. Log in and share in the dialogue below or send a private message.

We all need more students, more dancers in our milongas, and great partners to dance with for the next few decades…

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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.

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