My partner and I started tango classes about a week ago. This was a big deal, me being profoundly rhythm and coordination-challenged, him being hostilely disposed to social organizations of any type and fairly intolerant of learning curves.
Our prior dance experience consisted of an awkward, argumentative two-step that opened up the dance floor at our wedding. And we have been seen dancing the typical free form, no contact bob and shimmy that gay men do at clubs, inspired by a few drinks or out of obligation to the fact that we are, after all, gay men.
He’s actually a quite a good dancer. He can salsa and merengue and his vogueing was admired in certain circles during the 1990’s. I have been occasionally acclaimed, and more often reprehended for my tendency to throw a lot of shoulder action into my dancing.
Tango lessons have leveled the playing field. This was a pleasant surprise, and, as he explains, it’s a lot harder being choreographed than just moving your body to the beat. I, on the other hand, prefer being choreographed. I enjoy rules, proven, trustworthy rules. I need instructions for every part of my body because left to its own devices, it’s not pretty. So, we’re both stumbling through the lessons, quick to accuse each other when we make a mistake, yet each determined to get it right.
There’s still something strange to me watching two men dance the tango. Perhaps it’s a vestige of internalized homophobia, which I thought I had overcome through numerous public displays of affection and tempting disapproval from my sixtyish Romanian hairdresser when I confirmed once and for all that I wear a wedding ring because I’m married to a man and even agreeing to enter my name as the “wife” at the Macy’s bridal registry.
There’s a great line from comedian Bob Smith (also a Buffalo native) which I’ll paraphrase: “As gay men, my partner and I demand our equal right to display affection in public as long as we can maintain the right to avoid affection in the privacy of our own home.” This is something I can relate to though Hunny-Bunny (H.B.) sees it the other way around.
Anyway, my point is that I have to get over this hang-up over watching two men tangoing. I have no problem watching two men do other kinds of intimate things together, not that I’m a voyeur or a porn-addict, I’m just saying I’m being a bit hypocritical.
As long as there are no mirrors involved, I feel perfectly comfortable dancing the tango with other men. I do find it easier to lead than to follow but I think anyone would. It’s pretty tough to remember your steps while trying to keep in synch with your partner. Luckily, due to a decided height advantage, I end up leading H.B. most of the time.
But the cool thing about our tango class is that it’s “open role.” This means the program operates with the mantra, repeated by the instructors with a certain pride and fervor: “Everyone leads. Everyone follows.” This is how it really should be in the world. No one should be stuck in the same role, stressed out by constantly setting the pace or having to politely endure being led by someone who really has no idea what he’s doing.
Which brings me (finally) to my insight of the day. I like being gay because it gives me a right to be flexible with gender roles. There are times when I’m happy being gruff and domineering and others when I prefer to be coy and wouldn’t mind being on the receiving end of a little chivalry.
In the meantime, I’ll work on my same-sex tango-phobia. I think it’s a good thing to push oneself on these issues. Our instructors have invited us to join a queer tango troupe performing at various public venues. That would be the ultimate test.