“Excuse me,” I said. “I have a question for you. No wrong answers.”
She looked up from her shoe buckle. She wasn't young or pretty. She didn't have a beautiful body. Her clothes were not what I would have chosen for her. I would have asked the same question no matter whom had been sitting next to me.
“Why do you dance?”
Why indeed? Day after night after day after night, I wonder: why are we doing this? The more I do it, the less I understand what we're doing or why we're doing it. Taken as a group “we,” I have no idea. And taking my own self “I” in particular, my mind just boggles.
Why do we do this thing that costs us so much? Dance demands all our money. All our time. People notice again and again that it is incompatible with holding down a real job, or having non-dancing friends. All we ever think about is tango, even when we're rank beginners. We never get anything done, ever again. We give up sleep because we'd rather be dancing. We even give up sex because we'd rather be dancing.
One common rite of passage is the Tango Divorce, because if you're married when you begin to dance and your spouse doesn't come along with you, your marriage's days are numbered. It's so common it's hardly worth more than a casual mention during a cortina. On the other hand, I have no idea how people manage who begin to dance and their spouse does come along with them. I've never met any cases of this, but seems just as likely to cause Tango Divorce. Family...children....
“Tango will demand everything of you,” any number of people have told me. “Tango will change your life completely and you will have to give up everything for it,” someone told me. “But it's better this way.” They were right. “You have to give tango everything you have,” someone else told me. “No matter what you can do, you have to do everything for tango.” They were right. The moon's a harsh mistress.
All the people you know who do not tango see, and don't hesitate to say in these exact words, that you are obsessed, addicted, and allowing unhealthy imbalance in your life. They don't understand. All the people you know who do tango see, and don't hesitate to say in these exact words, that you are obsessed, addicted, and allowing unhealthy imbalance in your life. They do understand. Because they're the same way. “It's terminal,” we chirp conspiratorially to each other. “My friends thought I had joined a cult,” someone said. “They were right.”
I always say tango is like a Lyme-disease-carrying tick, and once it burrows its way into your brain, that's it, you're done for good, you're stuck with it and its permanently behaviour-altering ways.
My Netflix subscription lapsed long ago because I can no longer watch anything other than tango. Scripted acting performances bore me after one glance. I don't read any more, because I'm watching/practicing/listening to/shopping for/reading blogs about tango. I never go out to eat or out to movies or any of those other things people used to mean when they said “go out.” I haven't thought to buy non-tango clothes or shoes in a million years, while my closet inexorably fills up with silk scraps and golden stiletti. I can't listen to music I used to enjoy because it lacks tango's complexity and sophisticated rawness.
I've thrown out everything I ever thought I knew about sex and in the place of that knowledge is now a huge void.
I've also given up the ability to admire an attractive man on the street. I can't tell if a man is attractive, any more, unless he's dancing. I have shifted from a static physical-appearance-based mating paradigm to a kinetic movement-based one.
People in advanced stages of tango addiction usually find they can no longer live in places that are generally considered highly conducive to sustaining life, because there is only one place that gives them what they need: Buenos Aires.
We give up everything. Money. Time. Sleep. Sex. Marriage. Security. Social circles. Friends. Stability. Regular hours. Productivity. Ideology. Morals. Ethics. Values. And for what?
What do I see when I go to a milonga? Bad dancing, mostly. A bunch of shuffling. Horribly dressed women, hunched old men, crappy technique. And the more I grow as a dancer, the worse most of the available dancing is. I see things that make me wince and shudder and blush. Things that embarrass me for the person doing them.
I see men who cannot commit to a woman for more than ten minutes at a time. I see women chafing if they don't dance, and sniping mean things at women who do dance. I see relationship disasters in the making. I experience relationship disasters in the making. I see a total abandonment of some nice old notions that protect us from our baser selves specifically because they run counter to human nature. I see the brutality of that human nature when allowed to run unchecked. I see shocking scandals and disgusting, dishonourable behaviour. I see people hurt and crushed and betrayed. I see lives ruined, and then ruined again.
We give up everything that we had previously considered as “life” in order to...what? WHY?