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Insider's Club

“God gave you everything you need to become a great dancer,” someone once told me. Others have gone into more detail. I say God did an almost perfect job, but he did leave out one tiny thing that annoys me.

I was born in the wrong country.

I am not now, never have been, and never will be from Argentina, and it drives me nuts. My parents couldn't be less South American. It wasn't until last year I even knew my name was Spanish. Sí, estoy aprendiendo castellano. But the only thing about me that will ever wear a sign saying “Soy Porteña” is my shoes. I was raised in an extremely different culture, and once the cake is baked, that's it, you can't change the ingredients. I go around feeling like I'm perpetually a six-year-old allowed to stay up late watching a movie with my parents: I know I'm missing the good stuff. Subtle nuances of thinking. In-jokes. Attitudes toward life. Values. Priorities.

I've travelled. I've lived in different countries (some more different than others). And it's not a small world after all. It's a great big world and people who come from different parts of it are really, really different from one another. How can I authentically dance something called “Argentine tango” if I'm not Argentinian? “Jordana tango” at best, but won't that always be a translation of one culture into mine, a pale interpretation of someone else's heart? Won't I permanently be missing big, undefinable, untranslatable porteñosity?

On the other hand, is it possible that my character suits me to dancing this stuff better than some people who were, by accident of birth, raised in the correct culture? Does desire preclude upbringing? Might there be something about me that allows this “tango” to reveal some of itself to me that it might not show to someone who was born and bred in the arrabal but cares only for football? Or can sheer hunger to know, perhaps, make up for a little unfortunate citizenship? How much can we ever adopt someone else's culture?

I know someone who does have a sign on her saying “soy porteña.” It's invisible to me but the Argentinians can see it and she gets to dance with all the kings who pass through town. “It's my culture, it's what I need,” she says. I say, it's not my culture, so I need it more! I have to make up for lost time. She says she personally needs to have good dancers in her life dancing with her. I say that, strangely, doesn't sound so bad for myself either. We both know that they can relax and feel at home with her in a way they'll never feel at home with me. Not even if I move to Buenos Aires and spend the rest of my life there.

And then there's that language thing. Sure, I can more or less understand what you're saying...except for when you start speaking normally! By which I mean, when you start speaking quickly, slurring your words, using slang, and talking about...anything worth talking about. And when you talk amongst yourselves, forget it. I'll catch one word in a sentence.

And then there's that history thing. How you guys got to this point in your life as a country isn't how I got to this point in my life. We share no points of reference. Your household names are not mine. Your food is not mine. Your politics are not mine. Your wars are not mine. Your toilet paper is not mine.  Your music is not mine (although I'm main-lining a subgenre of it as fast as I can). Your fashion is not mine. Your art is not mine. —Heck, I could go on all night about how different we are. But maybe just one more is sufficient: your religion is really, really not mine. I've lived in a Catholic country before. It's different.

On the other hand there are some things that transcend culture. For my own sake I'll appreciate them. Fortunately, tango is about being who you really are, no apologies, and no faking it. So in order to truly dance an authentic tango, I shouldn't try to be Argentinian at all. I should try as hard as I can to be me, but what me is is always evolving. Me has always felt like an ex-pat, including and especially in my own country. Me is always hungry to learn more about how other people think, to see if that's something that's inside me or not. The answers are often surprising. Is there a little bit of porteña in me? I certainly hope so! And sometimes, when I walk down the sidewalk on a soft summer evening, with my heels clicking on the pavement, and the men turn and stare at me, and I tuck their compliments into my hair like a garland of flowers, I am the proudest, most majestic, and most beautiful porteña of them all.

But sometimes not.

I'll always have that chip on my shoulder. And that might just be the coup de grâce that puts me over the edge and makes me into the greatest dancer I can be. God did a perfect job after all.