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Then You Take a Step Back

I was listening to an interview with Everybody's Favourite Dancer's previous partner, the Poet. In it he said, tangueros walk like Argentine men walk. A French man or a Scottish man would walk differently.

Great, I thought, that is very clear if you're a man. But the Argentine women? They walk around backwards all day long? What is this walking backwards stuff that we women do?

Once upon a time, someone once told me, the women never walked forward. “It's like, 'I'm gonna fuck you,'” he explained. “You are not gonna fuck me.” (And only in Argentina is this such a one-way verb....) But now in the egalitarian future, women sometimes get to act like men and walk forward. It is assertive. And it is also an act of succumbing. It definitely feels like you're saying “yes.” You're saying, “here it is, take it.” You're finding the courage within yourself to yield to inner propulsion. You are, in short, saying, “ma'am, I am about to get all up in your business.”

The man's job is so clear. It is simple. It is straightforward. All they have to do is follow our lead. But what are we women doing? Does anyone even know? The women's job, like we women ourselves, is murky and indecipherable territory. Who knows what women do, or why we do it. The thing about walking backward that marks it most clearly as women's work is that no one knows exactly what we mean by it, and usually we mean two things at once.

Stepping backward feels like yielding. It feels yin. Talking about that other kind of tanda recently with an old milonguero, he said, “I don't know why women get so emotionally involved—maybe it's because they get invaded.” And that logic carries through to the kind of dancing we do in public with clothes on. It's the man's job to invade our space. We all understand that. We want them to do it. It's thrilling for us, it's thrilling for them, we get terribly disappointed if they don't do it. But as soon as they do it, we...step back! Is it an act of giving in, of saying, yes, welcome into my space? Of saying, here is the space you want, take it? Are you drawing someone into your parlor? Are you accepting them, allowing them to join you in your private sphere?

Or are we actually saying no? Perhaps true acceptance and true yin yielding would be to stay right where we were. And if we did that, we literally would be invaded. You can't have two things in one place (although it's lots of fun trying). By stepping away from the space where the man was about to be, are we keeping up the chase? Thumbing our nose at them just a tiny bit, saying, “nyah, nyah, you thought you could catch me and boy were you wrong, buddy?” By stepping backward, are we maintaining our independence as discrete creatures?  —Is the dance all about the joy and frustration of the simultaneous and conflicting yearnings for "together" and for "alone?"

The order of operations suggests that women flip back and forth between our yesses and no's several million times in a given tanda. Because everything starts with the women. “Come here,” we purr. Or sigh. Or insist. An infinite number of ways of saying “yes,” but they all lead to one result: the men, overwhelmed by the far-greater-than-they forces of music, women, and moment, come there. Except that by the time they get there, we're not there any more! Our yes is now a “no!” How maddening, and yet, how freeing. Women have to stay out of the men's way and give them their freedom. While at the same time being one thing with them, providing them with an emotional haven, and giving them a stable home where they can drop all their defences. Don't worry, little man. We women are here in our shining armour to protect you from all the dragons for the length of this tanda.

What I can't figure out about this stuff is that the men seem to love it that way. They get mighty disgruntled if you stay right where you are, instead of always running away while remaining faithfully in their arms. But then they get petulant if you just walk away, too. Direct current just doesn't seem to be the way to go, whether it's set to “yes” or “no.”

But this alternating current stuff—is it exhausting, or is it women's nature? If we look inside ourselves, aren't we constantly saying yes and no? Isn't that what all our famous introspection is about? Finding the million and one ways to say yes and to say no, at the same time, with equal conviction? Acceptance or denial? Are we leading or following? Are we yin or yang?

When I watch great powerful queens dance I know the answer. We're so yin it's yanger than yang. When you crank the yin up to 11 it's this commanding, awesome force of nature which no mortal can withstand. When the great women embrace a man, he feels himself being sucked into her heart, and he longs to stay there forever.  "I have to be inside you, right now," they feel, without bothering to think through what they mean by that, or whether it would be a good idea, or if they're good enough for the job, or anything.  I know because that's what I feel when the great women embrace me and I'm just me, and straight—so for a man it must be earth-shattering.

Just check out my favourite leader, la Bruja Alicia Pons. All she has to do is stand there and I hear her words in my head, for the billionth time, so soft it sends shivers down my spine: “you want the man to feel like, 'come here, just one more step, mmmmm?'” Watch the hapless sailors she dances with. She pulls out of them every step they take. She leads every moment. The men are captives under her spell. And you see how much they love it. People love and need gods. They need quixotic, powerful, magnificent entities they don't understand. This is clearly why men love women.

I have yet to figure out why women love men.

Alicia Pons. (y Luis Rojas)