Tango: Bayle Nuestro O Bayle Mío?

So... I have yet to get back to the social dancing scene. Part of the reason is that once you have broken free from the habit it can be hard to come back. It can be hard just to know when to come back. When you will be able to be in that environment and appreciate it anew, bearing no grudges against what you perceived as the things that made you withdraw in the first place. When you will feel able to embody a positive, contributing presence to the festivities.


There has been the mantra going around, apparently paraphrased from zen, about "being the tango you want to see." A fine concept, to be sure, and overall a very noble and idealistic perspective to keep in the face of circumstances beyond one's control. But whether that can be the simple solution to my finding fulfillment in tango--or at least, avoiding dissatisfaction--is something I seriously call to question.

If you are dancing only for yourself (or, by extension, only for you and your partner), then perhaps you could be content by whatever happens within that limited sphere, and only within that sphere. But if you perceive your dance as being one voice in a choir, and that the milonga is a living presence made up from the sum of its parts of which you are but one of many, then it is more of a challenge to detach yourself from the goings on around you.

Outside of the milonga setting when I am practicing with my partner, I find great satisfaction in being the only ones in the studio and being able to move without the encumbrance of others, having the freedom to play and amplify anything to whatever degree, to get sloppy if need be. In a social environment, I am far more restrained. But does this mean I resent not having the absolute freedom that I have in practice? Absolutely not. Because as we all know, the objectives in a milonga are different than in a practice session. This also means that the elements that bring joy come from a different source. The whole point is different.

Think of it like this: you are a part of a group with a perceived objective which can only be reached through a collaborative effort. You try in good faith to do your part, only to look around to see others who aren't pulling their weight. Do you shrug it off, feeling that you did your part and that's enough to keep you happy, even though the objective fails?

Again, I am speaking for myself, partly from a leader's perspective. I imagine it might be different from a follower's perspective since in either a practice or social setting the bulk of her focus is on herself and her partner and so the distinction of dancing in practice vs. milonga isn't as pronounced as it is for leaders. But I am also speaking from an observer's perspective, as someone who sits on the sidelines for much of the night, looking for the beauty of flow in la ronda and finding entitlement and obliviousness instead. Watching a floor like this is like listening to a record that's been scratched and warped to the extent that the music is unrecognizable.


Another issue I have with the mantra is that I don't like the idea of being some sort of flag bearer for what I think anybody else should be doing. Indeed, uniformity is, in my opinion, absolutely contradictory to the ideal of tango. But this is part of my lament from the last post. Looking out on the milonga floor, one doesn't see personal expression. Instead, one sees a lot of Lego pieces being put together. You can often look at a dancer and see exactly who they studied with, or where they stole their moves or style from. Usually badly. So you have both unoriginality and poor form. Even in the cases where a good dancer has strong technique and a broad dance vocabulary, it is often still a derivation of a dance already danced, of elements that have already been established, deconstructed and given names. Not to say that I'm not guilty of this myself. Everybody is, to some extent. It is such a pleasure, then, to see someone dance with a true signature that isn't a result of technical limitations but as an honest expression of who they are.

So, to the question at hand--Bayle Nuestro o Bayle Mío? I suppose there is a place for both, where "Bayle Nuestro" can be exemplified by the unity/community of la ronda, whereas "Bayle Mío" is exemplified by the unique expression that each dancer potentially carries.


I know I'm coming across as terribly negative lately, which perhaps justifies my willful self-exclusion from tango activities. I also know that ultimately the fault lies in my own perspective. There is beauty out there on the milonga floor--always--and honest expression and joy and community. It's just that my view is obstructed by an idealism which is most likely unrealistic, and I give undue attention to irritants that are relatively minor. Like looking up in the Sistine Chapel and dismissing it because of the smudges on my glasses. Meanwhile, my burnout is to a large extent feeding from the fundamental mistake that I'm bored with what I see, but of course the real joy of tango isn't derived by what is seen. That is, I'm a little sheepish to admit, a beginner's mistake (which many outgrow, but many do not).

And so I remain waiting for this to pass, which it will. It's the uncertainty of not knowing when that is somewhat disquieting.


Finding the balance - Tango vs. non-tango.

It's been about a month since I've gone out to dance recreationally. Leading up to the point when I decided to take a break was a steadily increasing unease with the social environment, a sort of restlessness with the expectations of being at a milonga as well as a fatigue from the energy that is generated by crowds. Not to mention a growing kind of boredom and/or outright dismissiveness of the bulk of dancing that I was seeing--much of it rote, of dubious technique, and disconnected in myriad senses of the word. Since that time I've gone back to catch up on some activities that I consider to be important but which had been seriously compromised from what was perhaps an overemphasis on tango during whatever free time I had. I'm finding myself taking to these old activities with relish, and that the call of tango is, for the time being at least, easily put aside. It is an apparent ease of abstinence which would be alien to so many I know in the community, who talk as if missing tango for a day or two completely discombobulates them. To be fair, I haven't completely excised tango from my life. I still dedicate three days a week on dance study and practice. The milonga scene, however, is something that I not only am feeling fine doing without, but to which I am actually feeling a pronounced aversion.

It's clear to me that I have yet to find the right balance between tango, which I would still consider my primary pursuit, and the non-tango, which is just as essential. Perhaps complicating the matter for me is the challenge of reconciling the social requirements of tango with the facets of my personality which are decidedly anti-social. As one who for the most part prefers solitude over company, I suppose the pursuit of tango is a strange fit. Or, perhaps it makes perfect sense. I recall a story Negracha told me about a silent milonguero who everyone respected but no one really knew. He would come to the milongas alone and sit alone, and every now and then he would send out a cabeceo and dance a tanda. But if the woman ever spoke or tried to compel him to, he would disengage and go back to his seat. Now, far be it from me to understand his intentions, but he strikes me as a very private man who didn't want to know or be known by anyone. The milonga setting afforded him the ability to make fleeting connections with no strings attached, and that gave him all the human contact he needed to get by. I can relate to that. But I also value the friendships I have in the community and the exchange of ideas which enhance my understanding of tango and my attunement to its ever-changing culture. Not to mention my passion for the art of tango, which--in addition to discipline and hard work--requires collaboration.

As I type this, I am considering heading to a milonga tonight. While the idea strikes me as unappealing and I can think of no one in particular with whom I'd like to dance right now, I'm also aware of how perspectives can change once you are in the environment. Kind of like resisting going to the gym but coming away from it refreshed and with the fulfilling sense of having had a great workout. Hm... I'll hit the shower and see where it leads me.