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.


tangobaby said...

"...once you have broken free from the habit it can be hard to come back."

Yes, I know that to be quite true and I've come to a place where at least I don't feel guilty about it anymore, which made the separation worse.

I hope you are finding other things to do that make you happy in the meantime, whether you return to the dance floor tomorrow or much later.

Malevito said...

Hey TB, good to hear from you!

Ah... well if guilt is what it's going to take to get you back to tango then maybe I should push some of those buttons? I'm sure you have some very lovely shoes that are feeling a little neglected as of late ;-P

I think that it takes a conscious effort to get back in the game, not some definite threshold that is crossed or a clear bell going off indicating "it's time." I'm sure if I waited for something like that I'd be waiting forever. I equate it with being out of the swimming pool for a while and feeling averse to being shocked anew by the cold of reentry. Best thing is to just grit your teeth and jump in. So I guess you could say I'm in the pre-teeth gritting phase.

Anyway, thanks for the positivity! :-)

tangobaby said...

Absolutely. You can certainly try to push the buttons. ;-)

But I'll be at Ney and Jennifer's tonight anyway... will you?

Malevito said...

Hey TB--

The reception sounded like a nice event and I was really considering it but ultimately decided I'm just too tired. Seems like I found enough gumption to go to the All-Nighter after all so I was out pretty late, then had to get up earlier than I would have liked to attend a dj get together before meeting my partner for our regular Sunday practice. It's just as well, I should probably take things a little easy since I'm still kind of recovering from a back injury. Hope you got some dancing in, though :-)

Un abrazo milonguero...