Some fellow tanguera-bloggers and I have been having a wonderful online "conversation" via blogs, Twitter, Facebook and email - about the importance of sisterhood and solidarity. You can find Stephanie's post, here and her follow up here, and then Tangocorazon's here.
I was so bouyed by the idea of women bonding, helping and supporting each other that I took some things for granted. I took for granted that it would always be easy, enlightened as I am /*cough*/ to be the sort of consistently nurturing and helpful tanguera that I am (in my head). The truth? Where the rubber met the road (or rather when the discomfort hit the milonga), I wasn't.
Here's a little background that gave me a better perspective on the events at the New Year's Eve milonga. These guidelines appear under the heading "Behavior at the Milonga" on Vancouver Island Tango:
" . . . The smaller the tango population, the more 'effort' required from each one of the members of that community. Generally, in Practicas and Milongas, there are more ladies than men. Suppose there are 20 ladies and 10 men. Each man 'should' dance with at least 2 ladies during the evening. If there were 5 men then each of them should dance with at least 4 ladies. It doesn't have to be so mathematical ... the numbers are just to be more clear. Most of the time men actually go beyond this proportion. At that point, all of the ladies who have already danced with these men who did their share (or more) need to be grateful whether he danced well or not ... at least from the social point of view. The rest of the ladies, whether they danced or not with these good intentioned men should be grateful with them as well! This hardly ever happens. . . .
As you see, each of these situations is about solidarity, having concern for the group, being aware of supporting the whole. Another external example would be: If a man arrives with a bottle of wine this should be shared since it is a social situation. Similarly, a single lady occasionally should also arrive with a bottle of wine. In that way, also, she should arrive at a Milonga with a man. In other words, all those women who regularly enjoy the partner of other ladies should make more effort (at least once in awhile) to bring a new man, whether he is a good dancer or not, but at least a man. So, when that lady is dancing, the man she brought can be entertaining and socializing with another lady. Ladies who never invite men to go along with them to a Milonga are only thinking about themselves and not the whole situation. Women need to bring men, at least occasionally.
Moral: In each one of the descriptions above there is a common denominator ... tolerance and solidarity. Unfortunately, these two social virtues are not the first seeds to appear, not the most popular ways of being in these post modern times. "
That's the context. Now let me set the stage for our NYE milonga.
- more women then men as usual. No big deal, happens all the time.
- more fairly new dancers than at the regular milongas.
- perhaps most frustrating for tango dancers - as the night wore on there were fewer and fewer tango dancers compared to salsa and other types of dancers. What had been labeled as a milonga eventually turned into a tanda and cortina-free dance party.
Not enough (tango dancing) men + not enough tango music = tango dancers on edge.
I had invited a visiting tanguero from out of state to come to this milonga thinking at this more traditional venue he and his date would get to enjoy a more traditional milonga. This is the second time he's attended a milonga I've recommended and been treated to a large proportion of non-tango music. I felt like I'd misled him again. I was getting bumped, kicked and shoved on the pista by dancers who weren't dancing tango and the unlucky tango dancers trying to dodge these others in the line of dance. There was far more drinking than is usually done at regular milongas of course, because it was New Year's Eve. All of the factors together left me sitting in my chair looking desperately for cabeceos by the gentlemen I felt most comfortable with. In fact, with the increasing chaos on the floor, most tango dancers sought only other dancers they knew to dance with.
I was so intent on scouring the floor for a familiar cabeceo that I didn't notice the beautiful beginner follower behind me (who I had reassured into coming) having to warm the bench for so much of the milonga. I was too busy trying to enjoy what Janis Kenyon calls the Front Row Advantage. When she tapped my shoulder, it finally dawned on me that I had been completely wrapped up in my own discomfort and hadn't paid attention to her's.
I looked around the pista - none of the newer tango dancers were dancing. The leaders looked a bit shell-shocked by the floor. The newer followers, including my friend behind me, were sitting on the sidelines as the their peer leaders sat out, and more experienced dancers looked for other dancers they knew. So, bringing the girl-to-girl network to bear, I went to a woman who's husband I knew was a gentle, thoughtful and very talented dancer, and asked if she would mind steering her partner in my friend's direction. Moments later, the gentleman in question asked my friend to dance. But that was one tanda - I didn't even know how long she had been sitting. So much for putting my money where my mouth (or pen) was.
Soon after that, a few more tango dancers left and even I was feeling urge to give up. But I so much wanted to dance that I kept my eyes on the floor when I should have sat back and had a glass of wine and a chatted with my friend. I was sending the very message I'd just told my readers they would never get from me. By keeping my eyes on the dance floor and not sitting back with her, I was sending the message I never wanted to send to anyone, "You're on your own, chica."
When things got tough, I forgot my own rules. So now I'm here, writing this, to say next time, and every time, "chica, I got your back."