Tuesday 24 June 2014

Dressed to kill?

Within the last year, I have been blogging less and living more. Mostly in a non-Tango context. I even got to spend time with intelligent, non-tangoing adults.

So there‘s a discussion I had some time ago:
A non-tanguero: "Why did you dance with that guy in jeans?" (Referring to a photo on Facebook)
Me (after having identified the tanguero with a few questions): Why should I not dance with him? Because he‘s wearing jeans? A lot of guys do that!
The non-tanguero: "In my opinion, this shows a severe lack of respect. ... I‘d dance with him in a club or at a party, but not at a ball. Milongas seem to be formal occasions as it can be deducted from the way women dress up? These occasions ask for a certain respect towards the partners and the setting - as does any other form of social environment. Therefore women should not dance with men, who do not show that form of respect towards them and the occasion. By this, women could actually provoke a change in men‘s attitudes."
My intuitive reaction (not having thought about that question in Tango context a lot): "Hey! I chose my partners according to their skills as dancers and out of sympathy. I am quite picky and dance with very few people. If I‘d start to sort out the ones who are not dressed to my liking, I‘d get to dance even less!"
From then on, the discussion took another turn, but some of the thoughts stuck and kept on working. 

So let us have a closer look at the argument.

First of all, I will have to check the initial assumption: A Milonga is a formal event.

Non-tangueros might consider tango as an environment, where dressing-up is pretty much the standard or at least should be. They could imagine gentlemen in three-pieced-suits and ladies in evening gowns, maybe with a touch of nostalgic accessories. I‘ve heard that actually a lot. But how do they build their image of tango? I guess by watching movies, TV, from books and other similar sources.  They might also evoke memories from dance-school when everyone was asked to dress up for the balls. These are valid associations that generate the images of formal events. And - let‘s face it - these images fit to what tango was a couple of years ago or still is in some places.

When I started out, tango was an exotic and very special pastime for middle-aged academics. Going to a Milonga felt a bit like tango-show-re-enactment. Everyone was dressed up, some men wore braces and two-coloured shoes, the ladies dressed in red and black. I was lucky to discover close-embrace Tango de Salon right in the beginning and did not get stuck in Tango Fantasia, but I still liked liked the idea of living the tango-fantasy. Back then, I even wore fishnets. Imagine! And yes, Milongas felt like formal events.

But over the years, our environment changed a lot. 

Sure, there are still the grand balls with shows and orchestras and people in evening wear, there are still more genteel Milongas in and out Argentina, where a certain standard of clothing is considered appropriate. There is still a formal Tango setting. But that‘s not the world I live in.

So what‘s my Tango-setting like and why did it change?

Over the last 10 years, more and more young people joined, importing their habits of communication and dressing. Tangueros got more and more interested in getting to know the music, in learning how to communicate and how to develop their dance and less interested in showing-off their attire. Tango became an important part of many people‘s lives and sometimes, it was hard work. In a way, tango became everyday life.  It might be an addiction, but it has in the same time been secularised for many and professionalised for some. It‘s been analysed, it‘s steps have been taken apart, it‘s history has been studied and old myths have been dissected by the minds of tango-scientists. Mind you, we‘re still big weepy romantics who cry over a Tango by Di Sarli or explode in hysteric laughter when we manage to do that one perfect shift of weight exactly on the syncopated note. But tango-life nowadays is much more profane than it used to be. 

And events have become quite casual occasions. There is still a difference between afternoon Milongas where people show up very casually and the evening events where everyone pays a little more attention. But in general the Milongas, Encuentros and Festivalitos I visit are more like parties:
You‘ll make new friends and meet people, with whom you have already spend many hours at similar events. They have seen you at the start of the Milonga when you‘re all new and shiny and at the end of it, when your make-up is smeared and your clothes sweaty, your feet swollen and your walk unsteady. They have shared your room at the youth hostel and hung out with you at the swimming-pool. They have seen you cheerful and sad and annoyed and enthusiastic. And you‘ve embraced them so many times... These are no formal acquaintances. They are friends or sometimes enemies. Pretty much like the crowd you used to hang out at university. I expect them to behave politely on and off the dancefloor as I would on any other occasion. If they want to dance with me, I will also expect them to keep up an agreeable level of personal hygiene, to have a comfortable embrace, to connect nicely to the music and to not annoy me by pushing me around or by rattling though memorised steps. But I will not expect them to dress up. When my eyes are closed, I will care about how you move and not what you wear. As you all know, I spend a lot of time at Milongas sitting and watching or talking to people. I can make a very educated guess in saying that the majority of dancers at these sort of event will agree to my last words. (If not, please speak up.)

So, let me state: the tango events that I visit are no formal events. Wearing clean jeans and an ironed t-shirt is considered to be appropriate on these occasions by the majority of those who participate. Different standards might apply to those who perform (work) at these occasions. But this would be another topic.

But still, my partner in the above cited conversation has made a another valid point, that might be of importance: there is a misbalance between the clothing habits of men and women. The days of formal evening wear might be over at Encuentros, but women in general still dress nicely, wear a little make-up, high heels - even when their feet hurt... They do it for themselves, to feel better, to boost their self-confidence and ... to please the eyes of the gentlemen. 

Yes. Although the Milonguero nowadays will not anymore be so easily tricked into dancing with a beginner because of her Comme-Il-Fauts, he‘s still a man. And men like pretty women. They will probably invite the lady in a nice skirt more often than the hag in clogs. Won‘t they?

And this is where it gets unfair, as a lot of men have taken the „come casually“ idea a little bit too far. They seem to think, they can show up in their pyjamas and still get the all women to dance with them. Mind you, they are not the majority, but it‘s not a rare phenomenon either. 

Where does this overly careless attitude come from? In the last decades, men have learned that there are many more women in tango and most will not be too picky about their partners. They‘ll accept every invite, no matter how lousy you dance, behave or dress. It took me several years of self-reflection and a lot of willpower before I was able to reject the ones I did not like or who would not please me as dancers. In my classes, I encourage women to say „no“ if they don‘t want dance with a guy. And they are slowly getting there, especially at Encuentros where the numbers of men and women are evenly balanced. This is why most guys nowadays notice, that it makes sense to improve their dancing skills, to mothball the old macho-attitude and in general to pay attention to what women like. But they forget about the visual aspects of partner choice.

So, this may come as a surprise, but guess what? Women have eyes too. They will most-likely not reject an invite because the guy is wearing jeans, but there are certain limits to what a woman is willing to accept.

And: I have to admit that a well-dressed and prettily-groomed gentleman will attract my special attention. There is always that one guy who stands out from the crowd, who has developed a modern tango, but who kept a little bit of an old-fashioned charm about him. Who shows that sweet respect to the occasion and the ladies by taking a little extra care of his appearance.  Sure, I‘ll choose him mainly because of his skills as a dancer, but: physical attractiveness plays a role. Dancing with him makes me feel special. Why lie?

So. It might be worth while getting a shave, having your hair nicely cut and once in a while wearing a tasteful suit. It‘s not outdated, it‘s not cheesy. It shows respect. 

Thursday 19 June 2014

Beziehungsunfähig (no Tango post)


Now that‘s a word, that I have heard many times since the early 90‘s. It translates as „not capable of maintaining a meaningful romantic relationship“.
When a german grown-up with a certain level of education goes through or prepares a break up, he (or she) will most likely ask him- (or her-) self: Am I „beziehungsunfähig“ and should I therefore give up trying to have a relationship in the first place? In some cases: What do I have to change to become „beziehungsfähig“. (Capable of...) 

I have heard these words from friends, I have heard them from partners... it seems to be such a common way of thinking. But fact is: I have never used them, whether by referring to others, nor to myself. I guess some ex-partners would point out, that this lack of questioning my general capability of bonding was one of the major problems, but I wonder... is it just a different cultural background?

Because yesterday, during my Yoga workout, I started to think about the word "beziehungsunfähig" and tried to find an english translation. I did not succeed and neither did my preferred translation tool on the internet. I tried English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Polish. No such word exists in either of these languages.

And this is where I ask myself: Does the concept even exist in other languages? Do people of other origins question their capabilities of maintaining a relationship after a breakup or do they „only“ suffer, move on or do whatever people do before they start looking for somebody new. Is it only Germans who over-psychoanalyse every move they make? (And is this the reason why I don‘t read german authors... by the way?)

I am not like that. After a breakup, I am sad, I suffer, I move on or I don‘t, I ask myself what has gone wrong or I am just mad or relieved that it‘s over. I sometimes wonder, if I will ever find love again, but I never ask myself, if I should stop trying because of a general incapability.

The language you use will influence the way you think, will define limits and possibilities. So, the question is: Am I too not „deep“ enough or just lacking the „German“ gene? Is it because I grew up with three languages instead of only one, that I don‘t even think in that direction? Am I doomed to make the mistake of bonding to someone new over and over again, although I might be „beziehungsunfähig“, just because I am not german enough to enough to admit it? 

So... What is it? Do non-germans even think that way? Can they, if they don‘t have a word for it? Or do they just don‘t give a damn?