Wednesday 20 December 2017

Confusing Kisses and Embraces

Many years ago, when I started dancing tango for a second time, I felt quite uncomfortable in the tango community.

This had nothing to do with the dance or the music - I liked all that from the start.

But the many mannerisms in the tango world did not fit my rather plain and outspoken manners. This applied in particular to the typical greeting customs. The kisses between almost-strangers, two or three, sometimes even four on the cheek, often combined with loud exclamations of joy, as if you were greeting a long-lost family member! I am - after all - mostly German, and have not imbibed such habits culturally. The only people I would kiss were lovers and close gay friends, not even family. By the way, my Catalan relatives were quite reserved as well - you'd have to search hard for a more effusive Mediterranean element in my upbringing. Hence the instinctive rejection of everything over the top. Detlef - who did not know me personally yet - apparently used to call me "the woman who never smiles".

Naturally over time, I came to terms with the besitos, bisoux and baci. Most of you will know, what I mean: you suddenly find it normal to kiss 50 strangers at a milonga and have to pay attention to not greet your postman the same way. You don't even have to like it - but the sheer force of habit! In the first years, I completely freaked out my friends, who were either used to a very brief hug or just a nod and hello. For them, the kissing felt totally phoney. Luckily they told me so and we got back to our normal forms of greeting.

But kissing is not the only issue. If you teach tango professionally and do not have a normal "work life" anymore, the informal ways of communication in the tango community will influence other fields as well. Apart from my sweetheart and a few old friends or family-members, my contacts to non-tangueros are limited to the odd salesperson and - once in a while - a doctor, accountant or bureaucrat. This is why I am not used to displaying "grown-up", formal behaviour any more., like e.g. shaking hands with someone. And: In tango, you will mostly use first names. In real life, you only address friends and family by their first names and in Germany you will furthermore use the formal "Sie" when talking to anyone else. But after so many years, this now feels un-natural for me. And as most of my written communication is with tango organisers and clients as well, this even affects my letters to non-tangueros. I think my landlord is constantly shocked by my overly casual mails.

But there has been a further development in more recent years:

When dancing and teaching with such a constant focus on the close embrace and intimate connection, you get used to a very physical contact with other people. There is quite a risk of loosing the feeling for other people's personal space. More so, as I have many good friends in the Encuentro community, where constant hugging outside of the dance floor feels so natural, not only to greet someone. Some say, that these friendships are superficial and that you do not really know most of the people; that all is fake. But does this matter in the moment? I remember e.g. a wonderful hug with a female friend during a Di Sarli tanda. We stood silently outside the dance floor, not talking, not moving, only embracing. I felt safe, loved and very much at peace. It does not really matter, if I don't know your parents or your profession. We can still feel close and one can get addicted to that form of nearness.

So whilst I once perceived the kissing as an invasion of my personal space, I now sometimes feel rejected when someone greets me in that manner. I ask myself: why is that person so distant? Does he or she not like me? Have I done something wrong? And then I remember that not all tango people are used to the intense greeting with a heartfelt hug, in particular not newcomers, whom I don't want to affront.

This is why I now constantly have to run a mental programme when interacting with all kinds of people, tangueros and non-tangueros alike: How do I address this person? Is a kiss (or two or three or four) appropriate? How near can I stand to someone, how appropriate is it to touch this person, can I hug him or her, and if so: how long and intensely? It is a little irritating and gets even more confusing, if you take into consideration the various forms of interaction in different cultures.

But apart from that slight disturbance in my behavioural patterns: Am I not lucky to work in an environment that allows for such close connections? With there being so many lonely people in the world who are longing for the slightest physical contact, I've got embraces in abundance!

For this I thank you, my tango friends.

Do not misunderstand me. I still don't wanna hug or even kiss anyone anytime. There are still people I don't like or moments when I need my personal space. Sometimes, you'll just get a nod and hello or "Mahlzeit". But you'll know how I feel, because I will never I never be "touchy-feely Melina" who embraces the whole world in-distinctively. Neither studying psychology, nor doing Yoga could turn me into that person. Tango won't either. I still believe that a smack on the head would do some people a lot of good and - as you know - there are quite a few tango-habits that I will never get used to. So, no need to fear that "nasty Melina" has been replaced by some lovey alien. I am still me. The strong need to write this last paragraph proves it.