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God I Hate This Place

When it was time to go to graduate school for set design, I applied to the two best schools for it in the world: Yale and NYU. Nobody gets in to Yale. Nobody gets in to NYU. So I also applied to CalArts, UC San Diego, and University of Washington.

CalArts, UC San Diego, and University of Washington all rejected me without a second thought. Yale accepted me with a, “in some ways your work is extraordinary, we've never seen anything like it.” And NYU accepted me with a merit scholarship.

I should remember that the next time I go to el V and spend the night sitting on my rumpus, working on my sciatica.

I'm sure every tango community has its special milonga. Its place where—they say—only the very best dancers go. A place with such a mystique built up around it and its very-best-dancers that just the prospect of going can give you a hernia. A place so forbidding, so intimidating, and so awesome that mere mortals will never apply.

This mere mortal gave up on our community's beautiful-people-only milonga long ago, but then I made friends with the ladies and started going back. But only for the ladies. Because I don't have the spare emotional energy for anything or anyone that makes me feel bad. So when I go to el V, I go to talk, and if maybe a little dancing happens, great.

But as my life outside of el V progresses, my relationship with it makes less and less sense to me. I initially assumed that nobody there danced with me because I was a total rank beginner, and that was true. I'm still a total rank beginner. I'm going to be a total rank beginner for a very long time, perhaps the rest of my life. But now, beginner or not, a growing cockiness speaks inside me when I'm there watching the men dance. “I could take him,” I think, as if sizing up sparring opponents. “And I think he would, gasp, actually enjoy the process.” Also what makes less and less sense to me are the Aberrations. The men who one day finally dance with me. They profess to have a wonderful time. They ask for a second or third tanda. They volunteer enthusiastic interest in future tandas. And then...never again. They avoid my gaze as if I were Typhoid Mary. This doesn't happen at other milongas, but it happens to me at el V all the time.

I'm fine with elitism. Elitism is just natural selection given a bad name. Tango is an elitist dance, and that's why it's such a score to get to dance with good dancers. But I still get frustrated there: as soon as I think I'm finally starting to make a dent in this steel wall of across-the-board rejection, boom, I realize life was just playing with me and I'm back on the total-rank-beginner bench where I belong, watching the varsity team play out the game.

And what I don't get is that outside of this enclave of superiority, I dance with kings and priests. I dance rare tandas of warmth, darkness, sweetness, and runny centres. I dance tandas full of intimate secrets. I dance tandas of understanding, of slapstick, of compassion, of short, I dance. (I also dance plenty of run-of-the-mill tandas, like everyone.) And with men who are way, way too good to be dancing with the total-rank-beginner likes of me, which reinforces my current notion that It Has Nothing To Do With Technique. And as this gap between my el V social standing and my non-el V social standing grows, I scratch my head more and more. I dance with a couple of men who are so A-list they're like, “lists? Where we're going, we don't need lists.” (my apologies to Back to the Future) So why is it I can't get a tanda with more mortal, but still delightful, dancers?

It's not just me. I have a friend who is a very fine dancer, much better than I, with lovely technique and a warm and giving heart (and no, that's not a euphemism for “she's old and fat and ugly,” because she's the perfect opposite of all of those things), and she too has a tough time dancing there. “What, am I invisible?” she wonders. Like me she keeps on going. Because you never know.

I keep on trying to crack the tough nut. I wish I could know whether this was a worthwhile investment of my time and energy: if I keep on trying, will I one day get to dance there? Spending the money on taxis, losing the sleep, and straining my relationship with my son's father?  Or is it better to simply walk through the doors that open all by themselves? But the thing about life is you never know, when you're living it, when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, when to walk away, and when to run.