SOME REFLECTIONS OF AN EX AND EX-EXPAT
A few years ago, after my dissertation defense, my advisor asked me at my celebration dinner, "So, what drew you to Marcelo?" I had danced a tango with Marcelo to illustrate the concepts of tango and the Jungian idea of soul during my presentation, so I suppose that she, like many who meet Marcelo, was intrigued by him. I replied, "I think I wanted a strong lead."
I believe, as many dancers do, that dancing reflects who one is and how one interacts in the world. Marcelo, my now ex-pareja on and off the floor, was the strong presence in my life that I needed around the time I moved to Buenos Aires. He was the charismatic, take-charge personality who made a difficult transition into a different culture and a new chapter in my life, well, a teeny-weeny bit, less difficult. Alright, let's be real. The transition was a bitch, and I never quite got the hang of life in Buenos Aires. Still, I was in love and game for anything.
But was I really in love? Or was I in love with the romance? In love with love, itself? In love with the fact that our relationship began as a tango, each of us seeking each other in a sea of faces across the floor, and finding in our mutual embrace that we responded to each other in ways that were unexpected and exciting? It was the thrill of finding an exotic Other to reflect who each one of us was, or who we wanted to be. That, I believe, is the allure of the tango milonguero and its passionate embrace: the intimate mirroring for a precious 12-15 minutes within the warmth of someone's arms. With the right partner, it's intoxicating. However, when does that embrace, mirroring, and the inevitable shaping of the Other into one's image become dominance and manipulation? In other words, when does a strong lead become suffocating?
The late tango master, Ricardo Vidort, with whom I had the pleasure of taking private lessons before he died, remarked, "Your style is a feather style. Very light." However, he urged me, as did my other teacher, Roberto Canello, to find and develop my own style. Sadly, my tango, as in life, has been to mold myself to the needs and the expectations of my partner within his embrace. I never wanted to weigh my partner down in the tango, or make too many demands on my partners off the dance floor. Consequently, my romantic and dance partners laud my ability to be what they want, especially in the beginning, but what happens to me? What happens to my dance?
Perhaps the larger question is this: Is tango the right dance for me? It takes two to tango, but, if tango turns out not to be the right dance for me, am I going to be dancing solo for the rest of my life? Call me a sappy romantic, but I like being in a relationship. I'm fine as a singleton, but I learn better within a relationship.
Thankfully, as there are many kinds of dances, there are many kinds of couples. Perhaps the ideal partnership for me is one which allows for a delicate balance among freedom, connectedness, and space. Take salsa, for example. The couple can dance apart or together in a larger space that tango allows. In my experience, one is always physically connected to one's partner in tango milonguero, and one has only the space within the embrace to be creative.
Honest to god, in the last year of our relationship, the embrace felt like a trap. I felt suffocated, not only by the relationship, but by the ideas of masculininty and femininity implied in the tango. Forget about Argentina accepting gay marriage; the culture is still unbearably machista. That means that there are certain guidelines for how men and women should behave and look that are even more outdated than those we have in the States. Given the number of people and cultures in the U.S., I believe it's easier to entertain different ideas of masculinity and femininity. Of course, I count among my good friends gay Catholics, theater folk, nudists, art models, those flexible with their ideas of gender and sexual expression, and those who could care less about whom other people love. My perception may be slightly skewed.
The more I remembered who I was and realized that I could never accept these insane rules, the more I imagined myself living a new life without Marcelo in my own country, where I knew I would always return. The possibilities and plans excited me, even as I continued to try, unsuccessfully and increasingly half-heartedly, to be the partner that Marcelo wanted and needed.
So, what is my dance? Clearly, I know what I don't want. "What does Evie want?" the benevolent and radiantly beautiful TG asks. What I want for myself, on and off the dance floor, is a partnership. I've seen partnerships that work, and they look like hella fun. Though my friends admit that they've hit rough patches along the way, they move around each other with the sexy flow that comes from familiarity, a willingness to negotiate, trust, and respect. It's hawt.
Well, I've never been one to wait around for things to happen. I should de-retire my dance shoes now, and slip into something that makes my boobs look perky again.