Ideally, a tanda is a moment of private connection between two people. The outside world be damned. Unfortunately we don't live in an ideal world, and, much as when you hop into bed with someone you're also sleeping with everyone they've ever slept with in the past or the present, when you dance with someone, you're also dancing with everyone they've ever danced with in the past or the present. And sometimes those other dancers are right there on the pista with you. May you live in interesting times.
If a connection is good it blocks out all ambient emotional noise. But the less wonderful the connection is, the more it lets in awareness of one's surroundings, which generally include a bunch of people you know pretty well, and a smaller bunch of people you dance with on a regular basis. In other words, you're having a private moment (of whatever kind, maybe it means next to nothing, but that's still a private next-to-nothing) with someone right next to someones else with whom you have other private moments. Sometimes you'll be having a private moment with someone and you'll bump right up against someone else with whom you have private moments!
It's moments like this that make me realize how unused to this culture I really am.
You can't lie away the dance. You can't say, “oh, it didn't mean anything.” Because if it doesn't mean anything you shouldn't be dancing it, you should be sitting down or dancing with someone else. And the reverse is true: a tanda can come to an end and you're stuck nose-to-nose with someone else you dance with and it's impossible to pretend they're not there, and you all know for sure that their tanda with someone else didn't not-mean-anything either. And no one says anything, ever, because that's the truth of life. It takes some getting used to. Particularly when the private moment you're having with the person you're actually dancing with is of the “just stopping by to say a quick hi” variety and the kind you have with the person one inch away from you dancing with (...there is no other way of saying it...) another woman is of a different nature.
There are men with whom I regularly dance to whom I wouldn't be attracted to in a bazillion years, ugh, no thank you, no way. But they still mean something to me: they have a fun dance, or are entertaining companions, or I learn something useful from dancing with them. (Or, ok, they have flattering crushes on me.) That all counts for something, and they are people too. I may not be attracted to them but they have hearts and feelings and it would be cruel to assume they don't and act accordingly.
I can only hope the men for whom I fall into this category are similarly kind.
The challenge lies in moments when you're having a just-fun-for-you tanda with someone who is keen on you and you've recently had some kind of roiling of the waters with someone with whom you dance the other kind of tanda, and you're all at the same milonga. It changes your dance. No matter how much you don't want it to show, it does. You're aware of that other person, maybe they're on the sidelines and you can see them watching you. Maybe your dander is still up, maybe your pride is injured...it fortuitously comes out in an instinctive shift toward better technique! All that injured pride makes you stand up straighter, move more majestically, take more intentional steps. It makes you own the floor more. And hearts are crazy things. You can think of yourself as the least vindictive or competitive person in the world, but seeing the other person there triggers this reflexive, “oh, yeah?” in you. Your body takes over and decides to make them see what they're missing.
Sorry, Nice Guy who is doing his best to show you a good tanda.
Things get even worse if the Water-Roiler takes to the floor with someone else himself. Because you can see it in his dance, too. You see his “oh, yeah?” taking over. You see his injured pride, rolling out toward you in warm troubled waves. And before you know it, the two of you are dancing what is really a fighting tanda between the two of you, except it looks like both of you are dancing with other people. But you're slinking around the floor like a Panther Queen and he's flying around the floor showing off his most incredible footwork, preferrably stopping and doing it right next to you whenever possible. “You wish you were doing this barrida,” you wince as you feel your foot saying very loudly. “This woman is about to die in my arms from the ecstasy of my enrosque,” he says, right next to you.
It's human nature.
It's as bad as the part in Eugene Onegin when Olga the flirt has had a minor tiff with Lensky and works off her steam by dancing with Onegin. I always assumed her character was drawn flat and that no one could possibly be that shallow and heartless, but I have discovered new depths of shallowness within me.
The worst part about all this is that it tends to have disastrous fallout consequences for the other two people involved. Nice Guy can enjoy dancing with you before, but when you switch to high-octane “Look How Much You Haven't Bothered Me” dancing, he's toast. For the rest of forever, you are going to have to deal with him following you around with sheep-dog eyes, his heart on a string to which he's given you the leading end. So in showing someone else how full-to-the-brim your dance card is, you've accidentally jeopardized your dancing future with Nice Guy, who, let's face it, will never roil your waters. We need people who don't roil our waters. We need a lot of them. And we need regular tandas that are “just” about playing in the sandbox, nothing more. We need to hang on to Nice Guy. Except that there's no such thing as a Nice Guy, there's just guys. Just men. And they hate being categorized as Nice Guys as much as we hate being categorized as Nice Girls. You can tell someone with whom you're buddies “actually I'm Maria Callas,” but if they've already cast you as Fanny Brice, it's your word against theirs and they'll never believe you. (You could always point out that Fanny Brice had her Maria Callas side too, and that the Funny Girl wrote the world's least funny love song, “My Man.” But they'd never hear.)
Eventually you settle things. The water smooths back down, one way or another. But you keep on having to face the other man, who was once perfectly clear on his status and has now perfectly clearly changed his status to “hopelessly and unrequitedly in love with.” This is actually a good state for leading tandas. But it wears on the unrequited lover, and before long, he will stop asking you. And then you'll be screwed.
But the next time someone roils your waters, you're going to do exactly the same thing all over again, and so will he, and once again, your dance-off will leave scorch marks on the pista. And no one will win.