Names and place names have been changed to protect the humans.
“Jordana, you're coming back to the Bay Area? That's wonderful! Please come demo and teach at my milonga in Santa Cruz!”
“Thanks so much, that would be great!”
Hangs up phone. Realizes she has no partner. Calls a friendofafriend she knows only from Facebook and has never met in person. Because when opportunity calls, you find a way.
Fred had a lot of huevos. He had left his New England cow town and lived in Asia for many years, teaching German in a remote village in Japan, learning tango in China, and speaking a thousand languages. He was obviously very smart—he had to be, to learn and teach as many languages as he did. For the last few years he had been living in Buenos Aires and teaching
tango to real porteños, and I found that endlessly fascinating: what kind of gringo brings their coals to Newcastle, and successfully sells them? —He had talked about how much he loved teaching. I could grok that. I love teaching too. I had looked at his performance videos and lesson videos. He had a hard-working, smooth, studied dance. He looked like he had invested a lot of effort learning to produce the right shapes with his body on command. I found his lesson videos intriguing because everything about them was completely different from how I would have handled the same subjects—and I know that everyone learns differently, and he said people loved his teaching, so how interesting it would be for our students, if we teamed up and offered two completely different ways of thinking about the same issues! —He had a respectable resume, he spoke English and Spanish, and when we had spoken, he seemed like a standup guy.
“Hey Fred, I’ve got a gig in Santa Cruz, and I know your solo tour of the East Coast ends right about when it’s happening. Want to do it with me?”
“That sounds great! I'd love to! This is my first US tour and I want to get known in as many cities as possible and build my resume. I’ll pay for my plane ticket.”
Be careful what you wish for.
And write out formal contracts and have everyone sign them and keep copies. Because then you can sue for breach of contract.
I love sniffing out, chatting up, and organizing artistic opportunities. So I called around, up and down the West Coast. And even though it was last-minute, even though the markets are super-saturated, even though June is the high season for itinerant teaching, and even though I am Just Me, I got a respectful handful of people wanting us to come.
In moments of doubt when I caught myself thinking, “oh they don't want me, they just want him because he comes from BsAs, I am just an appendage,” I reminded myself that everyone who said yes said they wanted us because of what I had to say about my own philosophies about why the hell I was doing this tango stuff, my own attitudes about what is worth sharing, and my own perspectives. Every organizer said yes to me, and accepted him as part of the package. It was easy to blind myself to this later when everything became the Fred Shitstorm. Easier to think, oh, I am just an X, Y, Z, and it’s all about Him.
In moments of doubt when he was piling his steaming crap onto my head, I had to remember, I have organizers in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, New York State, and La Paz who want me to come to them, and don’t care who I come with. (Also I could probably convince one in Athens and one in Southeast Italy. Voila: world tour.)
I did all the work. Every inch of the schmoozing and organizing and scheduling and negotiating and following up and greasing wheels and figuring out lodging and transit. I carried both ends of the couch, alone, and he sat on the couch complaining. Also making us look bad by never talking to the hosts, by not committing when commitment one way or another was called for, and by being unreliable, unavailable, and flaky in the extreme. Meanwhile I was hearing about him double-booking himself in two cities at once, never being able to get anywhere on time, and so on. After a while I decided that my initial joke-to-self was not a joke, and that the only possible reason for anyone being so pathologically business-incompetent was that he must have suffered a severe traumatic head injury in the past. And / Or, he was Special Needs in a big way.
We were supposed to begin in May, and had a gig scheduled at a big place in San Jose, and were also supposed to do Samovar Tango and a few other places, before doing our string of events in June. The San Jose one in particular was widely publicized. Then he stopped answering any communication for a week, and when he re emerged, he said, oh, he was feeling poor, he didn't have money for the plane ticket, I would have to apologize to the organizers and cancel for us, he might come later for the other ones.
This complaint would have carried more weight if the next sentence out of his mouth had not been a progressively-pushier insistence that I spend $2000 on a plane ticket to Japan so we could perform One Unpaid Song at one unpaying three-day festival. He didn't have $300 to come here for several paying already-publicized gigs in the country he will be permanently moving to at the end of the summer, but he had $2000 to dance one song for free in a country that he had already told me was xenophobic in the extreme about giving foreigners paid work. He was almost offensive about it. I felt like una re mierda telling him that I would only go to Japan if he came up with a more financially rewarding business model.
He had also been insisting that I spend $600 to come out to Boston to practice with him, and I felt guilty for not wanting to, but I was broke, and this was my only time with my son and I wanted to see him, and I felt that since he was going to be coming here anyway, why not we practice here. Use the same time, but use it here, with just the one plane ticket that was already going to be bought. (If you're wondering how the cost of a plane ticket between the coasts doubled since the last paragraph, it's because initially I felt like if I said no it would mean I wasn't serious, so I kept asking him every day where he would be so I could buy my ticket, and he kept not answering. In the end I am glad he didn't answer.)
After enough organizers said, “you can leave your postcards at our milonga,” I realized I had better make some postcards, so I took the time, and allowed him input, and he shat all over them instead of providing anything constructive. He insisted that I put “direct from Buenos Aires” in big letters next to his name, and make the names smaller, which I felt said much about his insecurities. No matter how big the letters I made, gritting my teeth because it would make him look foolish, they were never big enough.
Also, every day he had been harping at length on how old I was and what a huge disadvantage that was, and therefore we would have to preemptively market me as an Old Sexy Mrs Robinson who knew all the tricks and whose extreme advanced decrepitude made me Sexy and that would be the entire marketing theme for me. I told him I thought there were about 100,000 other things about me that were way more interesting and germane but he would not be dissuaded. I was the dried-up Old Hag.
Please note that we are the same age. I am just a few months older than he. And I don't feel old, I feel like me. (I also don't feel Sexy, whatever the hell that means. I feel like someone on a journey and uninterested in wasting energy trying to please others. Despite this whole story being about feeling like an abused overgiving overpleaser.)
Another favourite tack of his was to go off at length about how pretty girls could coast on their looks but I obviously had had to work hard for every single advance I'd achieved.
I had to agree with him: I wasn't Pretty and never had been. I wasn't Nice, either, and never had been. But I was Beautiful and Real and knew that for myself and, just in case, had a whole stable full of ex-lovers and admirers past and present all over the world drooling over me as the rare magical creature I am. However, nobody likes being called an ugly old hag. It certainly does not make one want to take someone in one's arms.
By the time he arrived, I didn't want to see him, but, unfortunately, it takes two to tango.
The first day, he was four hours late. With no apology. We danced one song, and I should have enjoyed those two minutes more, because they were the last two minutes before he opened up his nonstop tantrum. From that point on...just about every step I took made him throw down his hands, turn red, puff out his lower lip like a blowfish, shake his head, and storm away in rage. When this happens ten times in one minute, it becomes comical, but I was in no mood for laughing.
Drawing on all of my diplomatic skills from the theatre world, and drawing on all of my unhealthiest habits of staying mute and doing whatever it takes to keep everyone else happy at no matter what destructive personal cost to myself, I obediently did everything he asked me to, turning myself inside out to transform myself into a completely different dancer to suit his whim, despite the fact that pretty much everything he told me to do ran counter to in-depth investigations I had conducted with way better (and way more famous) dancers than he that had resulted in informed physical choices I was making about what I knew worked for my own body. But the more I threw myself under the bus to make him happy, the angrier he got. He would make me do a step twenty times in a row, each time telling me it was completely wrong for a different reason than the reason he had just made me redo it.
After a couple of hours, he shoved me, hard, and sharp, and angry, and mean, with a face full of rage. The situation: we were working on some moment where he had just spent five minutes telling me to pause at one point. So I paused, and then he angrily told me to travel. I was confused. I can only become a silent obliging miserabe doormat and cater to your every whim if I know what your whim is. So I said, “I don't understand, what do you mean by travel in this situation.” Shove. “That’s what I mean by travel,” he said, purple-faced and biting out the words.
He decided we would dance to “Un Infierno” by Calo, without allowing me any say in the matter (fortunately I love Calo, and un infierno was definitely what things were feeling like). I would have thrown him out after the shove, except...with no partner, I had no open doors.
He decided we were going to do a fast giro at one point. He wanted me to do a step at every beat, which I can barely do at that tempo even standing in one place with my feet together. Knowing my limits, after trying a few times I said, “I can't do that. We need to do something else.” By which I meant, if I practiced for six hours a day every day for five years, I might eventually be able to do that...but even if I could I sure as hell wouldn't want to! He said, No Excuses, I would just have to practice hard and have it by tomorrow. He gave me a long list of things I had to do totally differently by tomorrow and never allowed me a moment to speak my own needs, my own vision, my own understanding of the dance and what I wanted for the partnership.
He decreed that I would do a seven-part fast adorno at a certain point. I, who have been trying hard to cut down my adornos, which are currently at an 11 and I want them to be at a 2. Since when does any man get to decide a woman's adornos.
Since when is it even about the adornos.
The next day, he did not come to rehearsal, nor did he say anything about it, although he had told me we had to start at X o’clock and practice for 6 hours.
The next day, he did not come to rehearsal, nor did he say anything about it. I hoped we would practice during our photo shoot, which was the kind and generous donated work of the fabulous and clever Misha, whom I may have permanently alienated by calling in this favour for such a schmuck. But instead of practicing with me, he just played with his phone and then struck poses, even though Misha and I wanted to capture actual moments of actual dancing.
He hated all of Misha’s pictures and was rude and mean to him and was furious that Misha was not paying us to help him add to his portfolio. Misha, who is fabulous, and kind and sweet and generous and funny and warm and helpful, and whom we should have been paying.
He kept saying “we” have to make a spreadsheet of the dates and places we were going to be. I was so sick of him. I had given him the info a thousand times, I didn't know how to make spreadsheets, he had been included in every message exchange, and he was definitely part of “we,” so I said, great, and gave him the opportunity to make his own fucking spreadsheet. He didn't, instead telling me every day to do it. I gave him the data yet again and he would not make one.
When we showed up at Jules's new milonga (him an hour or two late), I worked hard at making pleasant conversation with someone who would not volley the conversation ball back. We did a hard-working miserable tanda where he spent the whole time No’ing me and criticizing me and making me move in his grippy, clenchy, foot-endangering, barbed-wire-inducing way. I thought he knew that the rules of milongas were that you cannot do that shit at a milonga. If I didn't have to present a united professional front I would have thrown him out then too. But we had a job to do and a face to present to the public.
I have never been so glad to see Juan in my life. I have never been so relieved to dance with anyone, although I could feel the residual gripping and stress and tension from dancing with Fred still vibrating through my body. Thanks, Juan, for stepping in and saving the day.
A few weeks later, after everything was done, and I told Juan that Fred was despicable in every particular, Juan said that he hadn't liked him, that he had gotten an unpleasant feeling in his stomach talking to him, and that he had found it discomfiting that Fred had insisted on talking in a fake strange accent that he, Juan, a native, had found Extremely Hard to Understand. I felt vindicated—first, that it was not just I who found Fred disconcertingly unlikable in person, but also, that I had not been nuts about his accent! Fred liked to talk about how for him, English was now a second language that he often forgot, since he lived in Spanish all the time down in BsAs, and I understand and respect that phenomenon. But for me the music of a language always comes first, and the engineering of the language comes a distant second. I am still fuzzy on stuff like when you use the imperfect form of “estar” vs the preterite of “ser” (see...not so easy to distinguish, if you think about it!), but I know how to say the name of the capital of Argentina. “vwehnohsAYYrehs.” But dang, I had been feeling so foolish and stupid around Fred, who was so clever with languages and knew so many and had been living down there after all, and who insisted on saying, “Buainos orrres.” He must be right. Right? —Hearing that he was wrong made me feel fabulous.
We arrived in Sausalito and despite having the financial terms spelled out for him in writing several times beforehand, they hadn't sunk in. He didn't get it, until we were right there. Then, he blew up, like a bright red puffer fish. But only after pointing me out to the bartender and talking about how horrible I was because I (who loathe sitting on busses) had made him walk through Sausalito to get to the restaurant (on a beautiful afternoon) instead of taking transit the twenty or so minutes’ walk through town, and how unprofessional I was for doing this to him, and could he please have some heavy painkillers because the walk had been so horrible for him, but then again, he shouldn't be surprised, that's women, you know, and that's me in particular.
I was looking forward to teaching class! I love teaching, I love sharing, I love seeing the light bulb go on in people. Until it turned out that class was still The Fred Show, micromanaged to within a gnat’s eyelash, and all I was permitted to do was mutely stand and pose like a dummy. This pissed me off, because I didn't agree with anything he was saying, but in order to present a united front I was willing to dig in myself until I could find the part where what he was making students do pointed to something I could grok. I was willing to teach his stuff. I was willing to explain his stuff and make it digestible. If only he would give me an inch.
Every word out of his mouth was some kind of bitchy dig humiliating the students to their faces and reminding them that he, Fred, was the Best and they were Crap. Sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle. He shamed them like he shamed me, he humiliated them, he threw too much at them and confused them, and they, like the underdogs they were, looking for an Alpha to revere, worshipped him as their anointed King.
It turns out that “I wish you were in jail right now but I have to have you around because we have professional responsibilities” creates an energetic charge in me that adds…verve...to a performance. “Get your filthy hands off me, you asshole,” also translates into something interesting for audiences, who don't know what the energy is coming from.
Afterward, a woman came to me and asked when “you” (a vague word in English, more specific in Spanish) were coming back. I said, Fred is starting a permanent position in South Carolina, but I will be back this fall. And she said, “oh but we don't want you! We want HIM!”
You can have him, I thought.
It was 100% marvelous to see and hear Marc and Jed, who are sounding warmer and richer and realer than ever.
Then Fred flaked on the LA part of our trip. He said it was because we had not been provided lodging and would have to stay with his student who lived in a studio. But I think it was more than that. I was looking forward to not having to put up with him, but it did mean I had to let our organizer know and bear the brunt of us looking bad in the organizer’s eyes, since it was already publicized pretty extensively. And I had to come up with a partner pretty damned quick. (Thanks, trusty organizer, you will get your own story.)
I had assumed that we would practice in between Sausalito and our next do at the Mission. Especially since I had paid for Ari to be in day camp for that week so we could practice, when instead I could have been spending time with him (Ari), and every day we were supposed to practice and instead I hung around all day long waiting for him to show up and he wouldn't and never said anything.
He told me to come to his friend’s place for rehearsal right before the thing at the Artists' Guild. Then he shortened the practice time, again and again, then he gave me the wrong address, then he gave me an address that didn't exist and I spent a zillion dollars on a Lyft wandering around...and the irony was that when I magically got to where he wanted me to be, he was standing right next to the buildings address and the numbers were a foot high.
On the way over, he got into a diatribe about what a bad dancer I was, and his students from Japan were a thousand times better than I, they were ready for multiplication but I was only ready for addition, and so on.
We arrived at the Artists' Guild and he took five minutes to introduce himself and then said, “and this is Jordana ok so the first thing I'm going to have you guys do is something I call London Bridges,” etc. I had to teach his stupid counterproductive exercises and go along with his stupid 30-part sequence when what those people needed was...none of that shit. And again, with the relentless humiliating of the students. Except for his friends from Japan. Somehow the guy who was so impoverished he didn't have money for anything, not even real food, had money to take all his Japanese friends out to chic restaurants.
I checked out these famous students of his from Japan who were ready for multiplication. They were hard-working silent boxes who dutifully and obediently had no voices, no feelings, and no personal journeys. They were robotic lifeless dolls trained to drudge from one accurate foot placement to the next.
This is still what much of the world thinks makes a dandy woman.
Ingrid would not get her hand off my ass, in voluptuous, creepy caresses that studied its entire arc from top to, er, bottom. But maybe they do things differently in her country. I had to keep giving her the benefit of the doubt. After all, she was the organizer, and she had money that would be mine at the end of the night. And I wanted to be able to come back.
We danced one song during the milonga before demoing, and as at the Beignet, he just could not stop himself from No’ing all over me.
We demo’d and I think you can hear in the videos how loud I was stomping my foot on the floor. In person it was really loud. The loudness of someone who wished someone’s face were under their stiletto heel. (And yes, I made sure that the accent of my TickiTickies was on the Up, not the Down. It still made hella noise.)
Once again, after we were done, a (different) woman came up to me and asked, “when will you be back?” Again with the vagaries of English! I gave the same response as before. And, even though this was a different woman, she said…”Oh but we don't want you! We want him!”
Lady, you can have him.
Sunday came and I assumed our plan to practice before going down to Santa Cruz was still in place so instead of going cherry picking with my son, I hung around San Francisco alone all day long waiting for him to show up, practicing and thinking of my son’s childhood slipping away unwitnessed by me. And he never showed up.
We went down to Santa Cruz. He yelled at me because we had to transfer from Bart to Bus to another Bus.
You can imagine how the class and performance down there went.
And...yes...third time’s the charm. Afterward...a third woman came up to me! And we repeated. The. Exact. Same. Conversation.
Lady, you can have him.
Afterward we went out with the milonga attendees and Fred regaled everyone with his legitimately interesting stories of life in China. Prick or no, he has had an interesting life.
Then he had our host drop him off at the bus stop. This was news to me, considering we had at least one lesson we had to teach a couple days’ hence, and theoretically we were down there to attract and give lessons. He said he was going to San Francisco to practice with the woman he was going to dance with in Japan at the unpaid festival, and just let him know if we got any requests and he would come.
That was the last time I ever saw him.
He flaked on the lesson and I had to apologize to the student, who declined to take from just me.
Then he decided he didn't feel like going to Pacifica for our two-day-long workshop. Two days before it was to happen. So I had to...wait for it...apologize profusely to the organizer and beg him to let me come on my own. Even though the thing was already publicized all over the place. The organizer kindly allowed me, saying, “great! Way better you than him!” And republicized it as just me, indicating that Fred had been called away by a Personal Emergency. Which is true: being an asshole is definitely a personal emergency.
So the organizer was Pissed when my friend Ben messaged me from SF, asking why it was that Fred was up here in SF going out dancing without me. Pissed.
Meanwhile, Fred pulled another card: he suddenly demanded that I pay him $400 for his plane ticket. Cf initial deal, fortunately saved in written messages. His stated reason: he felt like I was benefiting from his presence, because as half of a couple I could open doors that would stay closed to me alone. He said this was a horrible feeling. Since this was exactly what I had told him up front, I dont see where the issue was. He also cited my terrible dancing, but the thing is, from the beginning, I handed him single video of me dancing that existed. This Is Me Dancing. He knew what was on offer, and he took it, and he offered in writing to pay for his own ticket.
Plus what kind of parasite preys on broke homeless single mothers for money. Oh wait I know, because it has already happened to me so many times.
So I called a bunch of friends to find out how to say “no, I won't pay for your ticket,” instead of, “no, fuck you, you abusive predatory sociopath, you deserve to rot in hell for a thousand lifetimes, and fortunately that's exactly what's already happening to you because you have to live with yourself, you loathsome excrescence that shames humanity every day you dare to show your face in public.”
Because, the high road.
I had a humdinger of a time in Santa Cruz alone. I hung out with my witchy friend, I got a bitchin’ tan by the ocean, I wrote and practiced and read, I did Qi Gong and African dance, and I learned how to surf.
Then I had an equal humdinger of a time in Pacifica alone. I taught exactly what I wanted to teach how I wanted to teach it, I shared a chatty delicious dinner with my hosts, I lounged naked in the hot tub under the stars, I shared similarly chatty long sunset walks by the ocean, and I played the piano.
And now I’m having the humdinger of all humdinging times in LA alone, learning a Shit Ton of vital physical art-wisdom from my host who treats me great and we are becoming fast friends. And taking awesome classes on physical silence with another great dancer, goodbye adornos. And visiting my favourite Rembrandts and my favourite Chinese gardens.
We travel best when we travel alone. I know this, but sometimes life and business are set up so that you can't get anywhere unless you have a member of the opposite sex hanging off your arm. So perhaps this girita is teaching me a key strategy: come to the party with a date, so you can get in, and then go your own way!
Now...to find a partner for this fall’s Northeast and Canada tour...and one for LA and La Paz!