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 real...you'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.