“Elephants, clowns and dancers, tamers, camels and polar seals, but have no doubt that the bearded lady is the one who sweats to see the circus succeed.”
The bearded lady, at least until early in the twentieth century, earned her daily bread in traveling circuses that went from town to town. Drums and rattles introduced her with: Come, have fun, marvel! Learn about the misfortunes and miseries of our monsters. Enjoy the authentic, genuine, the amazing bearded lady, and if you dare, for a pair of coins you can touch her beard and talk to her.
Alongside the contortionist who played the violin with his foot and the juggler who was doing stunts on horseback, the bearded lady was the cornerstone of a classical circus that smelled of elephant dung and urine of a tiger. She embodied the horror, suspense and monstrosity, she was the main attraction of the circus. The public, watching the stellar show, covered their mouths and eyes, filling the tent with voices of admiration and awe: Ah …Oh …! Yeah…!
Early in the twenty first century, more people outside of Argentina than inside of Argentina are dancing the tango. Those who are not natives of Argentina are confronted with a culture that is not their own, and some are trying to make it a meaningful experience. Regardless of nationality, the tango lifestyle requires great effort and commitment. It is difficult to learn to dance, to learn the music, and to socialize. People should be aware of those who, while outwardly banging the drum for the Argentine dancers, devise ways to remove most things Argentine, the essence that once nourished them. The great majority may not be aware of what they are doing, so a friendly reminder might help.
There is a high standard for dancing Argentine tango. While it is a dance of the people and for the people, it has a level of difficulty that must be reckoned with. There is a structure of the dance from whence improvisation is created. There is a learning curve and a developmental curve that comes from putting in hours that lead to weeks that lead to years of taking classes and dancing socially. Even the uninitiated eye of a newcomer can look at a room full of tango dancers and see various levels of ability. Most important is that those who dance Argentine tango hold themselves to their own standards of excellence. The judgment of self is the most rigorous!
In the world of Argentine tango, sometimes it seems that there are more social dance “teachers” than students and dancers. The odds for a new woman showing up at a tango dance party and being given express tango lessons right on the floor are very high. Nobody can dare tell her how unsightly are her open legs being dragged around the floor by a selfish “teacher.” Why mediocre to average dancers renounce to take the long road to improvement in order to become express teachers of unaware newcomers? Besides the backhanded disrespect for established teachers, some experts on human behavior may suggest that creating a layer of really bad dancers is a way to elevate mediocre to average dancers to a higher perceived level of proficiency.
As newcomers, one of the first lessons we all received for free was the suggestion to going to Buenos Aires, sitting at the milongas and watch for weeks at a time. Believe it or not, we did. Many like us did. The thrill of being able to step on a dance floor like Almagro and Sunderland for the first time, knowing what to do, is indescribable. So, when we go to a milonga, we still expect to be the ones dancing, and the visitors and newcomers to sit and watch. We don’t expect to see mediocre to average dancers taking new women to a dark corner of the room to “teach” them the “advanced” leg wrap taught before the milonga.
As a matter of fact, dancers with good mileage under their feet should expect to be able to move around the floor without having their path blocked by clumsiness and verbal “teaching.” They should expect not to fear for their safety because some clown practices You Tube videos on the floor using some woman as a prop. We would advise women in that situation not to smile as they’re made to look their worse.
Above all, we suggest to new, mediocre, and average dancers to respect the tolerance, effort and dedication of the milonga hosts, who see the attendance to their milonga dropping week after week as the number of circus acts increase infringing into the dancing expectations of those who knowing how to dance, come to dance.
Photo courtesy of Universal Studios, Salma Hayek as Madame Truska