It is only about an hour into the Saturday night milonga, when I get there, but the marathon location is already steamy hot. The atmosphere feels heavy and muddy thick.
It is a typical marathon feeling: when one takes a short nap early in the evening, only to struggle then with getting up again. It took my whole willpower to force my eyes open for long enough to get out of bed. Yoga stretching. Hot water showering to awaken the muscles. Then a truck-drivers’ kind of coffee to walk back to the dance location.
And then the reality hit me.
After two pleasant tandas, I turn invisible. There is literally no way to catch the eye of either a follower or a leader in the room. At. All.
I had forgotten already how highly competitive such night-time milongas can get. It’s the time when everybody just searches for the best for themselves, without the smallest thought for another human being in the room.
It hits me by the heart. Competition always does.
I notice that a lot of ladies had simply left the place. It must have been too much to bear, to have been sitting there for hours without getting noticed. The remaining ones were the well-established ones, dressed up perfectly, their body language accentuating the seductive sexual energy and their looks focused, laser-sharp, on a fistful of the most desired leaders in the room.
Speaking of which… They were in their element. It was the Hunters’ Time, with lots of reward reaping. There were a few leaders who consistently looked through me, no matter how many miradas I shot into their direction. Understandably so. They were pumped up with their hormones and could get all the cherries they wanted.
It could also be I was unable to give strong enough signals of desiring to dance with them. I wouldn’t say so, but one can never tell - especially after observing certain women whose body language mimicked their screaming at full lungs.
Not me. I am more of a whisperer. If someone wants to catch my signals, they will. But of course, in a highly competitive, loud environment, whispering is not the most efficient approach.
Of course I tried to rationalize the situation. I’d do anything for self-protection.
But to no use. I did not really believe my mind when it was trying to convince me that it is absolutely natural not to belong to this group of eternal tango travelers. They have known each other for years and they regularly meet every few months. It’s been 6 years, for goodness sake, since I’ve been abroad for tango. Even then, I mainly travelled to my beloved El Corte, where I’d know for certain I’d meet a group of friendly souls to whom I belonged.
But not here.
Here I am nobody. I am invisible. I am untouchable.
The downside of expectations broiling for such a long time is the depth of the free fall that they lead to.
It hurt. It hurt so much. It was not just one thing, it was a bunch of them.
It started with the invisibility to a few of my favorite dancers in the room. Left me wondering in circles, questioning my self-worth.
Then, all followers’ eyes were searching for male leaders and not stopping on me, a female leader, for long enough to cabeceo them. Such a shame. One foot here, one foot there, one ends up being really nowhere.
Then there was a physically painful tanda with an unknown leader with very little musicality and zero connection. Seriously?
Next came the embarrassment of miscatching the cabeceo intended for another woman. What’s wrong with me again?!
Finally, I received a rude kind of a rejection from a follower I had thought one of my few friends in the room: it wasn’t so much for the rejection itself (I get it, we all have our moments of tiredness or a desire for waiting out a favorite leader…), but the manner in which it was delivered. The burden of guilt for saying “no” was placed on me. I wasn’t respecting the cabeceo, she claimed - which is true, but to be honest, she wasn’t respecting it with another man just shortly beforehand, either. Even worse, she stretched out the rejection over 15-20 seconds of gathering her thoughts, while I was standing in front of her. Total humiliation. As I tried to excuse myself that I also would have preferred to use a cabeceo, but no women were even looking at me, she hammered another sharp nail into my sore heart: “Maybe they are not looking because they don’t want to dance with you?”.
Maybe. Could be.
But I hope it is not.
It could be they were too focused on the first-league leaders to even notice us in the second league. Or they could simply be unsure as I dance both roles and don’t really belong to either side.
In either case, that night was a very painful experience. But it was useful.
There is definitely a dark side to tango - as with everything in life. I should rephrase this. There is definitely a dark side to every single one of us. There is the dark side to my loneliness. Tango just brings it up to the surface. For me, it is a question of belonging or not belonging. It is a question of being good enough just as I am as opposed to pleasing to the point of fitting in. It is a question of taking the ebbs and flows as they come without judgement. And it is a question of patience and zero expectations.
I pledge guilty to failing at all of these questions.
But the questions themselves, they are wonderful questions. Getting to the bottom of them will probably turn into a lifelong process for me. They are wonderful questions, because every time I face them, I feel I resurface stronger and closer to the passing point.
In the meantime, I’ll keep on dancing: dancing through lovely times, dancing through pain, dancing through life’s brilliance and through its darkness. It is simple. It is who I am. Imperfect and highly sensitive and ever learning about the depths within.
Photo by Oirad Aguls
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I'm Hannah A. Tomšič from Ljubljana, Slovenia. I'm in love with both leading and following in tango. It is wonderful to explore tango indefinitely and to help others learn. Please, join my quest. Ask a question, tell me your story, make me see another perspective. We are all here to learn from each other.