18 February 2014

Multiple tandas and the art of swallowing a camel

Me: "I only dance one tanda, to make the turnover better."
Local dancer: "I don't give a crap about rules."


In Norwegian, "swallowing camels" means to make a huge political compromise. Tango sometimes feels like politics, too, and there's one tango-politics camel that I find exceptionally hard to chew. This camel is common in milongas, festivals and marathons in Europe, maybe especially in the northern parts.

The particular species I'm talking about is The Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel. Its most common sound is "Let's-see-what-comes-after-the-cortina-shall-we?".

Even though The Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel is bothering some people, he doesn't disappear. My theory is that he survives by camouflaging himself as The White Elephant In The Room - you know, the one that nobody talks about. It feels a bit scary to talk about White Elephants, because people get upset when someone critizises their preferred way of doing things. I don't want to upset people, but I want to get rid of The White Elephant In The Room so we can see this Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel clearly.

During the first years of my tango life, The Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel ruled alone everywhere I went dancing. I didn't see him, though - the worrying he created was a natural part of any milonga, and I thought that this was how it had to be. The Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel gave me a List Of Worries, an intricate self-evaluation system that was based on how I interpreted the number of tandas danced with the same partner. The list looked something like this:

1 tanda = "Oh. He didn't like me."
2 tandas = "Goody. I reached the default. I'm not totally hopeless and boring then, I guess."
3 tandas = "Yay! He thinks I'm the bee's knees! Three tandas! Woohoo!"

This was obviously in the cases when I was dancing with someone enjoyable. If not, the List Of Worries would look more like this:

1 tanda = "Oh no. I guess he's going to be upset, but I really can't take a second tanda."
2 tandas = "I didn't have the heart to say 'thank you' after one tanda."
3 tandas = "Kill me now."

Does it sound familiar?

Over the years, I discovered that there is such a thing as a one-tanda format, and I like it so much that I'm using it all the time now. But it doesn't work so well if everybody else dances two or more consecutive tandas. If people have a List Of Worries, how does one explain that a tanda can be pretty fabulous in itself? I can tell my partners that I'm an one-tanda girl (and why), but how do I convince them that it's not a lame excuse to avoid a second tanda? Maybe it would be easier to swallow The Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel and go back to dancing whichever number of tandas.

It's just that I don't want to return to my List Of Worries. What I would like to see, is a new consensus that it's normal to dance just one single tanda. I'd like to see one, not two, as the default number. The way it is now, saying thank you after one tanda is surrounded by shame and confusion.

It could also be worth seeing if our communities could benefit from trying something else: Maybe we could inject some more buzz and excitement into the milongas - the buzz and excitement that is created when everybody is free at the same time. Maybe more people would get to dance with more people, too. And maybe more people would be less worried.

Update September 2017: It's 3 1/2 year since I wrote this post, and it looks like that dancing one tanda has become quite normal - at least I don't find I have to explain anything when I dance only one tanda (and if I sometimes choose to dance more than one, it doesn't feel compulsory like before).