A couple of years ago I was at a milonga, a tanda was in progress, and I was sitting at our big table alone. All my friends—and my man—were out dancing. As I watched the dancers, longing to be one of them, I looked around at all the other people sitting. All but two were also follows—and there were a lot of us.
In that moment, I decided to learn to lead Argentine tango. I made that decision out of a sense of duty toward all those sitting follows and also out of a feeling of desperation and deep depression (how would I ever get the dances I wanted with so few leads?!). If I remember correctly, there was also a touch of anger in there too.
I was angry that I never seemed to get as many dances as I wanted at a milonga or practica. It was a generic, blanket anger at the whole (broken?) system. It was also a specific anger at the two leads sitting, laughing, and talking together. What’s wrong with them, I thought, that they can’t lead one of the many follows sitting watching. It was an anger at Argentine tango, in general. How dare it be so wonderful that I was completely addicted to it?
I felt a type of solidarity with the other women sitting and watching. These were probably mostly single women who had come to the milonga alone.
I thought about when I used to be single and how I would look forward to a dance. Sometimes the preparation involved many days—or even weeks—of planning and anticipation. I might buy a new dress for a dance, maybe new dance shoes; I might even be making my dress by hand. I’d think about how fun the dance would be. I’d take my time getting ready and then drive (sometimes more than 1.5 hours) to the dance.
Then I remembered the depression of being at dances without getting asked to dance. To have spent all that time and energy, hoping for a great night, and to have it end by finally deciding I’d had enough disappointment and leaving early. The long drive home was seldom pleasant.
It went a lot like this: What is wrong with me that no one wants to dance with me? Am I too old, too much a beginner, too forward/bossy, too shy, too ugly, too fat, too skinny, not a good enough dancer, not dressed right, etc., etc.? The questions with no answers never stopped. I always speculated all the way home, depressed and sad, feeling like I had wasted my time and money—time driving, time getting ready, time at the milonga.
The next spring, I began taking all my tango lessons as a lead. Argentine tango is not a dance you can pick up in a couple of lessons. When I began taking lead lessons, I was already 5 – 6 years an Argentine tango follow. And does one ever feel competent in tango? I sure don’t—as a lead or follow.
But I was determined and kept at it. I have been leading tango for over a year now. I have had some wonderful dances, some not so great dances, and lots of so-so dances. And I will continue to lead. I will continue to take lessons as a lead. I enjoy following, and I really enjoy leading.
Last week I remembered the beginning of this tango lead journey. I remembered it because a special tanda was in progress. The DJ was out on the floor walking around, playing acoustic guitar. It was a beautiful tanda with beautiful music. My man, away from our table and on his way back, had been approached by a single woman who asked him to dance, and he was out dancing too. Once again, I was alone at my table, longing to dance.
I looked around. For once, there seemed to be more men than women sitting. I was sitting with only one more woman. She was across the floor, sitting alone at her own table too. I looked at the 6 – 7 men sitting, wondering why they didn’t step up and ask us to dance. I remembered that milonga almost two years ago when this same sort of thing had happened.
I looked at the women sitting across from me. I didn’t know her and had never danced with her. But I recognized her. I knew her. We were sisters in this. Instead of trying to cabeceo her (that might not work, since women lead less often than men in Argentine tango, and she didn’t know me), I got up, took the long walk, and asked her, “May I lead you?” I saw and felt the relief and anticipation coming off of her when she nodded yes and stood up.
I have come full circle, I thought. And I was happy. I have plenty of lessons ahead of me—in both leading and following. But I had accomplished the goal I set for myself over two years ago, and it felt wonderful and right to be able to give us both an adequate—and even fun—dance.