Monday, July 02, 2007

WEIGHT AND THE MILONGUERA: The Good, The Bad, and The Fugly

OK, so did I have problems with my weight before I came to Buenos Aires? No. Did I have a problem with body image before deciding to live here? No more than the usual neuroses women have. Fast forward a few medialunas, plates o' pasta and "damn, people, don't Argentine women have hips?" later, and you've got yourself a weight and body obsession. How I long for the days when "Rubenesque" and cellulite were in style and accepted, when it was a GOOD thing for women to be, as Missy Elliot says, "big bone-ded". It meant you ATE. It meant you had money in the bank to feed yourself and your family.

So, is the Tango Goddess going to go off on a socio-economic rant? No, I'm talking about weight, people. I'm talking about poundage, kilitos, as Argentines say. It's pretty well-known that Argentine women are obsessed with their weight and how they look in general, which is cool. It's nice to take pride in oneself. The TG, herself, likes to groom, but, damn, those oversized sweats and flan look good sometimes.

I, thankfully, do not have a weight problem, but, you know, it takes effort now to maintain my weight now that I'm getting older. Like most women, I battle with those stubborn 2-3 pounds that give me that (loveable) muffin top when I wear my jeans. However, deciding to live in a society that is SO self-conscious (and I have lived LA and the DC area, so I KNOW self-consciousness), has turned my battle into a war (must be all the damn therapists here talking about making the unconscious conscious).

Now, what does weight have to do with the milonga? With tango? EVERYTHING, I have discovered. First of all, everyone--both men and women--are looking, studying, observing you the moment you walk into the milonga. They are looking at what you wear. Is your stomach hanging out? Are you busting out of your Lycra/Spandex dress? Got a new butt-lift? The milonga is a sensual world, and that means you are on display. You are to be looked at. And, hey, let's be're doing some looking yourself, aren'tcha?

Along with the emphasis on the visual, the milonga also emphasizes the kinesthetic. How do you move? How do you feel? You are overweight? You will most likely not be invited to dance if the milongueros do not know you and your dance. You have a body that is "cylindrical," meaning you don't have a waist? Dancing with you will be called a "mudanza" (moving a house). You're feeling puffy from the water weight before your period? Been eating too much asado? Your partner will feel it, too. You don't have energy to support your own weight because you don't work out? Your partner will be hating life supporting your weight during the tanda. I have heard these lines used by milongueros to describe women in the milonga, including me! I once told my dance teacher that I was about to get my period, and he groaned and said, "It's going to be a very difficult lesson." They notice when you've lost or gained a few kilos, and they have no qualms about telling you. It's harsh, man, and I absolutely hate it. Why can't we appreciate inner beauty? Haven't they seen those Dove "real beauty" campaigns?

Unfortunately, in life, it's all about the outer package, and no one can avoid making automatic rash judgements based on the sensual. Sure, you get to know someone and then realize what a fantastic individual that person is, but how much time does one spend in deep conversation on the dance floor? In one of my many arguments with milongueros about this weight theme, one will inevitably bring up the fact that I, too, have my wierd prejudices. For example, I absolutely cannot stand guys with doughy-sweaty palms. It's just gross. It's like sticking your hand in, well, skanky, sweaty dough. I also have a thing about really thin guys. I mean, what do I hold on to? Yes, it is a fact that the woman should not rely on the man completely to sustain her, but, still, I like to hang on to a little meat. It gives me a sense of containment and security (calling Dr. Freud).

Tango is, indeed, a very physical dance. There is very little between you and your partner's flesh. You feel his body. You feel his bones or belly, the 5 o-clock shadow he didn't bother to shave, his hands, his chest, and, yes, sometimes, his trouser snake. When he puts his arm around you, he feels every inch of you. That little bra overhang, the pleasant squishiness of your waist, the softness or roughness of your hand, the silicone breast implants you got 8 years ago that have hardened to cement, your weight. EVERYTHING.

That weight has an effect on his dancing which, in turn, has an effect on the dance you share with him, which, in turn, has an effect on you. I am not proposing everyone should be walking around like Kate Moss clones, god forbid. I am suggesting, however, that women take more responsibility for 1) their own dance and 2) their own bodies. Do yourself a favor and whip your body into it's best shape for yourself and for the sake of your own dance, your own life. Dancers train because it makes their dance better. Their muscles are supple. They have more stamina. They radiate energy and good health. And, yeah, sometimes, they lose weight. Sometimes, like me, they just redistribute their weight, rearrange the furniture a little bit. Skim off a little belly here; add a little booty there.

Dancers don't depend on their partners to make them dance, but dance WITH their partners, adding their own unique signature to the tanda they share. Tango has EVERYTHING to do with the physical and sensual, with how one takes care of and carries oneself. And THAT is beautiful, baby.


Debbi said...

I just found your blog and am enjoying your writing immensely! I know that it is not PC or popular, but you are completely correct. When I started dancing, I was not heavy by any stretch of the imagination, I weighted around 135 to 138, depending on the day. I now weight 127 at 5'6", but it is mostly all muscle and I have had a few leaders comment on how much easier I move, disassociate, and how the dance has improved. I would like to think that it is all the practice I put in, but I know that it is also the fact that I am trimmer and my muscles are better able to move and I am better able to hold my own axis.
Like it or not, in shape means a better dance, for men AND women!

Anonymous said...

Since I'd been to Buenos Aires and danced in the milongas there, I understand what you are saying but I cannot help but think perhaps in addition to being in relatively good shape, women need to learn how to dress properly so that there is NO bra overhang, muffin tops, garish makeups, badly dyed hair and gaudy clothes. If you dress well and wear clothes that actually fit, your chances of getting a dance goes much higher. When I was there, it seemed that almost every older woman wore clothes that were wa-a-a-a-y too tight.
I took great care to wear clothes that flattered my 15 lb overweight body and avoided anything that would highlight its flaws.
And lastly, there are rubenesque women who are incredible dancers like Corinna and Geraldine and her sister Samantha. One can be in good shape even if they've got love handles.

Elizabeth said...

I am forever grateful to an instructor who stopped me cold during a practice drill, took my hand and put it on his stomach and said "like this"....What a shock to realize that the real message was to get some core strength. Now I am much older than he, and have had three 10 lb. babies (not all at once.) However, that is no excuse. I got real busy getting that core together with dance conditiong yoga class. It helps my dancing in huge ways. I am not fat, but it only matters that I was Not Strong enough before, and now I am. Balance, openess in the joints, all of it matters.

Another realization is that clothes matter, fit matters, grooming matters. Finding your own way to project who you are as a vital female person. Good stuff.
It gets noticed in the Tango World.

Tango Goddess said...

Thanks so much, you guys, for commenting. I really loved reading your comments. I'm so glad I'm not the only one struggling with this issue. Take care, and keep dancing, you beautiful women!

Cherie said...

You are absolutely right!

However, you need to write a counter-post about the milonguera panza!

OK so tango is machista, but it is so not fair that the women worry so and take such care of how they look in the milonga, and the men can have huge stomachs that we're just happy to rest against.

Like you said, women like a man with a little meat on him, but that also sometimes includes a lot of fat above the belt! Not fair, not fair!

Tango Goddess said...

You're right, Tango Cherie - I enjoy looking at your blog! I DO find big, round stomachs awfully comfortable. Hmmm....I'm going to have to ask my fellow dancers what they think about men's physiques, or if they think about it at all. Take care, and happy blogging!

Tina said...

I love this blog! :-)
It is true that we really need to take care of ourselves. It's not about being "thin" or "pretty", but if you don't have a strong, healthy core, it can be difficult for men to lead you. I actually gained 5 pounds during my month in Buenos Aires (my Argentine boyfriend's mother made me big lunches every day), but the ironic part was that at the end of that month, I got a lot of comments about how much lighter I was dancing. It was probably a combination of a)I was very physical and had lessons & all that, and b)feeling self-conscious about my 5 freshly gained pounds, I danced more on-axis than ever, so as not to actually "feel" 5 pounds heavier. LOL

Tina said...

I love this blog! :-)
It is true that we really need to take care of ourselves. It's not about being "thin" or "pretty", but if you don't have a strong, healthy core, it can be difficult for men to lead you. I actually gained 5 pounds during my month in Buenos Aires (my Argentine boyfriend's mother made me big lunches every day), but the ironic part was that at the end of that month, I got a lot of comments about how much lighter I was dancing. It was probably a combination of a)I was very physical and had lessons & all that, and b)feeling self-conscious about my 5 freshly gained pounds, I danced more on-axis than ever, so as not to actually "feel" 5 pounds heavier. LOL

tangocherie said...

This theme of women blaming themselves, especially for something like body weight interfering with how they dance, really bothers me.

I consulted my partner, Ruben Aybar, who is VERY particular with whom he dances and has danced with many, many women in the milongas over the past 30 years, and he says that being overweight had nothing to do with how the woman dances. A skinny woman can feel very heavy, and an overweight woman can feel, like he said, "a feather."

Instead of focusing on our weight, I think we should focus more on our technique and our attitudes. And of course, good grooming goes without saying. (I've heard men complain about dirty hair and, of Europeans, B.O.)

I see lots of "overweight" women who dance constantly in the milongas because:
1) they dance very well;
2) they are fun to dance with!

So eat that second piece of cake, but practice your tango--and your friendly attitude--more!

Alex said...

Being the only guy, apparently, to sometimes offer comments on these mostly feminine tango blogs, I feel compelled to say this:

The part about the "muffin top when I wear jeans" caused me to burst out laughing when it dawned on me 3 nanoseconds after I read it. You definitely have a way with words and imagery.

I love muffin tops - it's the best part.

Tango Goddess said...

Hola, Alex - Thanks so much for your comment. Wish more guys would read the blog, if only to have more readers! :-) Yes, I have made peace with my muffin top. It ain't gonna go away no matter how many pilates classes I take, but it can't shrink a little. i'm wondering what guys have to deal with. do they even think about this stuff, their own body image, I mean? Peace, and happy dancing.

Anonymous Male said...

I found it interesting to hear about the weight obsession of Argentine women. My impression from looking at them is that they are much less obsessed than women in the U.S.

I think the U.S. is a country of extremes. We go overboard in every direction. Obesity is very common. Meanwhile, so is anorexia.

When I've visited Europe or Argentina, I have always thought that the women seemed more comfortable in their bodies. There were less swings of extremes, and by and large they just seemed more "roundy" and comfy.

Frankly, I like it!

Another comment mentioned the habit of older women that wear clothes that are too tight. Well, I'm not advocating being careless with ones appearance. Still, I find it attractive when a woman is bold. If she is confident about what she is presenting, it has an effect, even if someone could make reasonable criticisms of taste.

So here is another frank comment. If she likes to just kind of "let it hang out", well, I like that, too.

I don't think I'm alone in this. I think it's pretty much true that we men always like you women more than you ever think we do.

koolricky said...

No Alex, you're not the only male reader and commenter anymore... ;oP
Anyway, if it is true that weight has an influence on the weight of your dance, it's even more true that the weightness of your dance has nothing to do with your weight.
As Tangocherie pointed out I have had my right (dodgy) knee screaming after dancing with followers that had no more than 120lbs and I have had fantastic dances with people that had twice that weight! The secret is to know WHERE to put that weight. Which leads us to the eternal dillemma - is it how big it is or how well you can handle it? My opinion is that the second is where the truth lies most.

koolricky said...

As for good looks attracting more dances, I think it would be stupid not to acknowledge that. It just happens, especially if the good looking girl also dances well. And it's the same thing with you girls, I think. If two men come along the door and they both dance well, which one are you going to be wanting to dance with - the big bellied one or the "gym carved" god?
And, yes, I have added this blog to my tango blog! It's fantastic and I don't know how come I haven't been here before...

Tango Goddess said...

I am just so happy that people--both men (hiya!) and women--have responded to this article. I agree with KOOLRICKY's opinion that what matters more than weight is WHERE to put that weight. Absolutely! But I know that 2-3 pounds on me equals a heavier dance for my partners b/c they've commented on that many times. I feel I can maneuver my body easier...and I rock my clothes, too!

To you guys - I rather like the protruding belly. It makes me feel all comfy. Some women don't. Some guys like the fake boobs; some guys can't stand dancing with women who have them.

Take care, and happy dancing - TG