On the outside, tango looked like a much healthier dance rabbit-hole to fall down than, for instance, ballet. Because in tango you were allowed to eat!
It's true that social milongueras have a wider range of body types than professional ballet dancers. And it's true that degrees of body dysmorphia amongst these milongueras vary, and some of us think we are Just Lovely exactly as we are, no matter what that is.
How is it that one birthday cake invariably is about half a cake too much for a whole entire milonga full of people? Why is it that you only ever see the men eating the birthday cake? Surely not every single woman present has celiac disease or a sugar allergy.
“I don't eat cake,” she says, firmly.
“I'll just have a bite of his,” the other one says, firmly.
“I don't eat sugar,” the other other one says, firmly.
And that's great. Sugar's not very good for you, and sweet tooths are personal preferences. But all that sugar and spice got me thinking about the social culture of this dance that is supposedly about being yourself, being true to yourself, being exactly who you are no matter who that is, revealing your essential core. Turns out that you can, as long as you fit within a narrowly prescribed visual range....
“Oh, no one dances with me in Argentina. Nobody finds me attractive there. I'm too fat for them,” said a normal-looking American-born tango teacher who dances very well.
“I can't keep eating. I won't fit into my tango clothes,” said another milonguera.
“Can you tell...” said another milonguera, face deathly serious, “that I've gained three pounds?”
“TOO MUCH! LOOK AT THIS! TOO MUCH!” said a porteña professional bailarina and maestra who happened to be built like a Stick Insect, as she grabbed a milonguera's upper arm in her bony claw and tried to flap it back and forth. She failed, because the milonguera in question was probably the only other woman in the whole Bay Area who could compete with the maestra for the Medal for Sinewy Ectomorphism, who survived off of one meal a day, and who went to the gym for fours at a time.
And then there's Everybodysfavouritedancer, a veteran chain-smoker. Her mother is fat. This, clearly, must never happen to her. Better yellow teeth and lung disease than adipose tissue!
“Why do we have all these mediums?” said an event staff person, sighing as she went through a stack of t-shirts. “We should have nothing but smalls! That's the size of your average milonguera: Small.”
“You should feel lucky we even let you be here,” is the attitude another American-born tango teacher says she finds in the dance world.
“The body doesn't help, let me tell you,” said a porteño bailarín of that American tango teacher, who has difficulty winning over dance partners.
Many of the rock-star bailarines are teeny tiny men, which is probably why they became excellent dancers. Ah, the sweet smell of compensation. It means that women who dance with them can do nothing about their height but had better make sure their girth is quite small, otherwise they upset the dream, which is that men are supposed to be bigger than women and that way everyone's happy.
The hypocrisy of TangoLand is no different than the hypocrisy outside of it. It's just more tangotastic, in that we deal with it the way we deal best: we don't talk about it, but it's omnipresent, jarring, and visceral. Be exactly who you are, really and truly, be yourself, be true to yourself, don't fake anything, etc. But on the outside you have to look a certain way or nobody will dance with you. And if you're going to perform or teach, you have to look a certain way or you have no career. End of story.
Ladies, if you're not eating the cake out of health or personal taste reasons, I salute you. If your real self is a small and/or thin person, that's an objective truth. But if you're not eating the cake because you're suffering from body dysmorphia, please either definitely read or definitely do not read the following book, which is a hard, upsetting look at the world of dance and just how fucked-up it can make the heads of women:
The night after this was originally posted, everybody's diet was on rampant display at la Florecita. A friend was looking extra nice, and I thought it was the sassy jewellry, but it turned out she'd been on a diet and had been exercising relentlessly for months by now. The other friend next to me had *also* been on a diet, for a whole year, and the two of them spent the next...long time!...discussing the agony and the ecstasy of dieting. Later I sat down with the sassy-jewellry friend who happened to be sitting over a plate of particularly good Christmas cookies. She loved the way they smelled, she said. I tried not to bite the arm off a gingerbread man with malicious enjoyment, but I failed.
Later when I was passing by again I reached out for another cooky and somebody smacked my hand. Gentle Reader: your right to your food neuroses stops where my hand begins.