Tangotourist in Berlin, Summer 2014
Some of my friends said I must see tango at Insomnia and others spent 30 minutes trying to dissuade me. “It’s a sex club!”, they kept repeating.
So? here’s my report:
A spacious room with bar and large couches, dark, fabulous mix of music.
About 20 dancers + 5 observers when I arrive at 11:15. About 3/4 of the dancers are dressed normally, the rest in tasteful fetishwear. For example: One girl wears a thin shift through which you can see her bra and panties. Looked nice. An older woman, very good dancer, wears a tasteful lacy shorts outfit. A man wears normal pants with a corset instead of a shirt. Another girl wears a corset and crinoline skirt. A man wears a long satin coat over normal clothes. As usual with tango dancers, it’s mostly about the dancing, but with a taste of freedom.
For about 30 minutes there is a very beautiful ropes performance in which a girl (wearing panties) is slowly tied in intricate rope knots and hoisted above the dance floor. The dancers circulate around the performance. There are also fetish art photos projected on the wall.
There were some other rooms where people could make out or do whatever one goes to a sex club to do, but there was no making out or anything like that going on in the dancing room while I was there, nor did the club’s patrons approach the dancers.
What I think (because everyone is asking):
It makes sense that people who are into flirty fetish scenes would be attracted to tango. Most of the people in the world who actually wear fishnet stockings are in the fetish scene. Moreover the images by which tango persistently (and, in my view, misguidedly) advertises itself are obviously costumes, and since they are out-of-fashion and overtly sexual, if one had to categorize one would have to put them in the category not only of fetish but of public sexuality.
But people who have even a little experience with fetish culture will then be put off by the prudishness of most tango communities, where the sight of lingerie is an outrage. The clothing rules seem to be “as sexy as you can possibly be, without showing your underwear/chest hair or making out on the dance floor”. Kisses are ok on the dance floor, but quickly. No tongue!
David Bowie (whose fabulous exhibit I visited today at the Martin Gropius Bau), reintroduced stage makeup to rock and roll. He did so not only because he liked to costume, but to challenge the hegemony of that time which claimed that rock and roll was more authentic without makeup. His point was that rock and roll is always performative and inauthentic.
Likewise the “informality” of tango is an affectation. It’s all costume, even when you decide to wear yoga clothes to the milonga. Those who wear such clothing do it because that’s the clothing they feel sexiest in, likewise for those in jewels and suits. Just like at the fetish club, the invitation to be “sexy” results in a wide variety of expressions.
But in every subculture, participants also conform. Partly to be easily identified as “one of the group”. If you do not wear stilettos are you available as a revel? Partly because too sadly too many of us (and I catch even myself all the time), do not seize our precious freedom of self-expression — which David Bowie (and many other artists) bravely campaign to encourage.
But tango is a sex club. The life (and dramas) of tango include real actual sexual sex which happens. Not everyone has sex with a tango dancer, but I believe that everyone finds some sexuality through their tango experience. Perhaps a sexuality that completes their needs, enabling them to continue participating without disloyalty in a partnership which doesn’t meet them all.
In fact tango and fetish have a lot in common. Folks who are drawn to fetish are those who do not find arousement or interest in what they call “vanilla” sex. (They prefer feet to breasts, or they are only aroused when there is some power-play, or they seek an intensification of trust…) Fetish sex decenters orgasm.
“Why is tango better than sex?” I like to ask. (The best answer ever, from a woman, was “musicality”.) For me, tango is Hollywood film sex, which means the heat of romance, intense intimacy, and beautiful smooth movement keeping the body’s imperfections artfully hidden, without unattractive genitalia, and skipping the awkwardness.
Folks who are drawn to tango are those who seek (or stumble upon) another way to relate to people and themselves, a way that goes beyond or around words, a more wholistic way including the body and the spirit (and musicality!), a sensuality that defocuses the genitalia and (like tantric sex) prolongs the ecstasy. Just like fetish, tango is an alternative form of romance and sexuality. Why should tango not happen in a sex club?
And the reason why not (for some) is that tango’s very lies about itself are the core of its sexuality. It is sex that is not sex. So to draw attention to sex, or the body, or tits and pubis, as the fetish scene sometimes does and the idea of “sex club” certainly threatens to, revolts the tango aesthetic and threatens to disrupt the very pleasures and satisfactions of tango-sex.
But make no mistake, tango is already a fetish sex club.