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Tango Queer

Gender-Bending in Argentina


Sunday, December 18, 2011

In February I came to Buenos Aires to interview palmists for this column. I stayed at a delightful hostel run by artists and social workers in San Telmo who came together as a collective during the crisis. While there, I partook of the free tango lesson.

Afterward, our teacher took us to a milonga.

There we were, a straggling pack of Americans and Europeans with one lesson under our belts roaming the streets at midnight. We landed on a second floor loft just in time to hear an all women’s tango orchestra, Boca Pintada.

To my delight, woman-to-woman couples shuffled across the floor. Then men-to-men. Then there were switches. The women who had led women were leading the men. The men who had led men were leading (or following) new men (or women). Nothing was fixed. Nothing was certain. Women would lead, women would follow. A woman leader would become a follower of a man. There was couple hopping. Role swapping. Gender bending. Everything seemed fluid and playful. A woman in vest and jeans would lead a woman in heels and skirt. The next dance, the woman in skirt and heels would lead a woman in vest and jeans. A woman in vest in jeans would lead a male with high red heels and bows. Next dance, he would find someone to lead. Get the picture?

This happened to be a Tango Queer night. I returned weekly. This year, I returned for the fifth Tango Queer festival in Argentina, which I had learned about in the women’s bookstore.

The Tango Queer festival movement started in Berlin about 10 years ago. The movement itself is about 15 years old. What does it have to do with palm reading, you might ask?

Often, when I read palms, I talk about the demarcation between the Mars and Venus mound. I discuss this as a conflict between masculine and feminine energy. Hold up your palm, either one. If you see a line extending into your palm from where the thumb connects to your hand, that means you have a conflict between masculine and feminine energy.

Often, when I offer this prognosis, people no longer know what I mean. “Well, you have a conflict between your masculine and feminine energy,” I explain.

Still I draw blank looks.

“Or between you and masculine people,” if I am talking to a woman, “whether they be women or men … they just don’t expect you to have masculine energy, because you are so beautiful, they expect you to be feminine, for them to lead, and you just to follow. For you not to have a will of your own.”

By that time, the woman and I have usually come to an understanding.

Then I offer remedies.

To adjust the situation, you can go into meditations about what brought that about — focus with your mind and send a line down there, bring up the story, see what you pull back out. Clean the space until nothing further emerges. Or, simply rub over ’til smooth. Will the line go away? Well, you are sending a message to your brain that you no longer need this conflict, so maybe someday, as the line represents the conflict, I often say.

Or, you can imagine the place where the two mounds join as smooth as an alabaster cliff by rubbing it. You can also Xerox your palm and paint the area of the two mounds solidly with your favorite color. Then meditate on it. Ten minutes a day. Draw it in. Put the drawing above your bed so you see this new shape as you go to sleep and as you wake up.

But you can dance Tango Queer, too. Nothing will dissolve that line between Mars and Venus quicker than dancing with a partner and changing who is leading and who is following right in the middle of a number as I learned how to do and observed in performances and saw on the dance floors this season.

It’s not all LGBT either. The first day, I jumped into the follower role and realized I must have been pretty depressed. But I was a crazy follower, as a male teacher told me. The last round of the day, a man approached me and said, did I lead or follow (can you imagine that, at a tango or salsa class?). I said follow. At the end of the set, he suggested I should try leading.

So the next day I did. At the end of the second day, when another man approached me, I asked if he led or followed. He said he followed. We danced so well together that I made him promise to dance with me at the milonga that night. Then I felt embarrassed and asked whether his boyfriend would be there. The next night — I skipped one milonga due to a strained nerve, a consequence of six hours a day of classes — he showed up with a woman who led. Then, another woman she had been dancing for three years with came, and she followed.

At the end of the week, my line between Mars and Venus had dissolved on the left hand, so my potential to be more gender fluid is there; on the right hand, it still shows, but much less markedly. So I will add Tango Queer to my remedies as a number one prescription. Maybe I will get a discount to return next year!

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