Donna Sue Robson specialises in the communication- and healing-arts. Check out Jamie Natural Health and Healing, her energy-healing consultancy and boutique natural products at www.jamienatural.com
Published November 22nd 2016
Argentine Tango Starts With Respect
Cecilia Gonzalez has just completed her Australasian tour with partner Albano Goldenberg. She spoke to Donna Robson about Tango connection, its manners and her favourite Tango cities of the world. Most interesting was her well-considered perspective on 'lead and follow': Cecilia believes that it is the actual words that cause strife and struggle in the West. Argentine Tango, she explains with ease, is not built on great 'leads' and 'follows' and unravelling the unreal expectations that those labels imply, but more about the very natural relationship between 'man' and 'woman'. Cecilia resounds wisdom gained from her world teaching tours and travels: 'just find what is unique about you and forget about how you think you should behave. Respect yourself, your partner and Tango roles because then you have dance that not only works, but a connection that is truly Tango. Just let it happen.'
Cecilia studied classical piano and violin but was always more interested in studying dance. After more than 20 years on the international circuit, Cecilia continues to be driven to just 'feel more comfortable, to feel better'. Then again, that has been her approach to dance from Day 1- she just lets it happen. Pic: Cecilia Gonzalez
What makes you want to 'connect' when you dance the Tango?
I want to connect with people whom I like. Tango is such a profound yet subtle way to get to know a person without talking too much. You can feel their emotion through body language. If I like a person or find them interesting, I am comfortable to open myself to being read. If I like someone, I want to read them too. If I don't like someone, I prefer to say 'No' to a dance because I think it is more respectful.
Yes, I do say 'No'. Some people may be offended but it would be worse if I danced with them if I didn't want to- worse for them and me.
Do you go by a gut feeling or are there reasons why you would not like someone immediately and refuse a dance?
There are many reasons but it starts with the way I am approached. If they invite me 'with an open window' I can say 'No' and that is respectful. If they ask with authority, in a way that I cannot refuse- then I do refuse because I want to be given an option. Yes, sometimes it is because they don't understand, but it is not so difficult to know if someone wants to dance with you or not.
It goes back to how well you 'read-the-play'?
Yes. I also don't like dancing with someone who doesn't notice who I am. You know, dance like they don't care and treat me like an 'imaginary person'. It makes me feel lonely. Through dance, I can know how the person is and what is going on: I also know when they are not interested in knowing me. If that is the way they feel, why are they dancing with me? There are people who like dancing for reasons other than connection but that doesn't interest me.
Yes, you can pick it. It's interesting to hear you talk about your right to refuse because I have been taught not to refuse unless there is a very good reason.
No, no, no, not me! Every woman has the right to refuse. Otherwise, why would we be asked? There is space- so I take it. Your relationship with Tango sounds very honest. It sounds, too, that you hate pretending…
We will always pretend, but if I don't feel like playing the game, I will not go to a Milonga. I respect that too. Sometimes I go because it is a part of my work but it doesn't mean that I am going to dance with everyone. I am not difficult, but I think we have to respect ourselves. If you do not, then it can create problems.
What has Tango taught you about yourself?
Well, I think many things. It is more about finding the possibilities inside myself. In the body, in the movement, in the music: but again, it comes down to self-respect and respecting another person.
Has all of your dancing taught you respect or is that lesson specific to Tango?
I think the lesson is a bigger part of Tango than in other dances. Just because you want something, it doesn't mean that is more important than what other people want. We all have our desires, wishes and expectations but we have to understand that it may not happen and that should be OK. It is part of the game- you can win and you can lose. That is what we all have to learn in life too.
The Tango connection is based on being open to be read and comfortable being read. This is what Cecilia looks for in the dance, and why she loves Tango. Pic: Cecilia Gonzalez and Albano Goldenberg
That is so central to Tango- there are so many things beyond your control, but you can always be responsible for what you do and how you behave.
Yes, but there are many people who want something and then complain because they don't get what they want. I was discussing this with an American girl: I think culture makes them believe that they all deserve the same and they believe that we get what we deserve. You have to pull yourself together to get what you want, not just pay an entrance fee and sit there. It's difficult and true: we 'deserve' certain things but it doesn't really work like that.
Suppose I want to go out and dance with someone whom I like: if that doesn't happen, I still may have a good time just chatting. You may have another kind of moment with someone else. Tango is just about being a part of it all.
Is it important for any Tango dancer to go to Buenos Aires?
Yes, I think so because it is different from any other place and it forces you to understand things. Buenos Aires is so big and the Tango community is huge: there are so many different people and the city gives you choice. Tango is more natural. In other places, it is more elitist. In Buenos Aires, there are Milongas that are traditional, those that are more chic, younger crowds, older crowds, mixtures- there is more variety. You don't have to deal with situations that you do not like. You just move on.
What other Tango cities do you like and why?
Montreal because it is a big city that has many Milongas. There are differences between groups but they collaborate and support each other's events. I also like Milongas and Tango communities in small towns like Darwin or North California because the people compromise: every person is valued and contribute to make something happen. In the bigger cities, it is left to just a few people to do all the work. If you just act as a visitor, there is no commitment
I also like Turkey and Turkish people because they have a very nice quality to their dancing. There is something very special in the way that they relate to the dance.
Is there something that they inherently understand about Tango?
Yes. They are elegant and natural. The men have some real talent. But there is something else - talent alone is not enough.
What do you think 'that something' is? It is such an old culture…
I think it is something about how they relate to women. There are some things that they do not ask themselves, they don't have issues. They don't ask, 'What a 'man' is?' and how they should behave, they just know and do it. In some cultures, people don't know and are not comfortable in their roles.
Both men and women?
Yes, both - they ask too many things about it. The main problem I think is the English word, 'follower'. In Argentina, we don't have the problem because we use 'man' and 'woman'. If you have 'leader' and a 'follower', you have 'one-on-top-of-the-other'. But 'woman' doesn't mean that- so the translation is wrong.
The word and role 'follower' can be interpreted in so many different ways …
Yes, and then everything starts to go wrong. Women do not feel comfortable in that position. Why do we have these words? A 'man' has to do certain things and a 'woman' also has a certain role. It is for getting an agreement so that you can get things done together, not 'me obeying him' or 'me doing what you want'- No! 'Man' gives me an energy and I act. With that energy, I get it flowing so that there is kind of a fluidity in motion. It is not about one person saying what to do and the other giving him what he wants. No! I don't feel comfortable with that!
Cecilia nominates Turkey as one of her favourite places to visit. 'There is something special about the way they relate to women'. Pic: Cecilia Gonzalez and Albano Goldenberg
It seems like it is a problem with the language and a culture that has translated it in that way.
The problem began when we started switching the roles- for example, when I lead as a woman, they didn't want to call me a 'man'. But when I starting leading I didn't have that problem because the man does certain things and I was in the role of a man. I didn't say to myself, 'I am not comfortable being called a man'. I was in that role, so I did what was expected as a man and it was clear. I am playing the role like it is a character. Other cultures did have a problem with it so they start saying 'leader and follower' not 'man and woman'.
Are you talking specifically about Western cultures?
Well, I first experienced it in the United States, but I think it translates to every place. I am Argentinean and I don't care: the man does this and the woman does that. But I went to a Queer Tango Festival and they did have a problem with gender and called it 'lead and follow' which I thought made it worse. We could just make-up a word that translates differently or more closely to what 'man and woman' means, for example, Yin and Yang. 'Leader and follower' is farther away from 'man and woman'.
Yin and Yang would be closer because it has a masculine and a feminine energy within it: when you say 'lead and follow', it takes the energy out of it.
Yes, but the main problem for people is 'gender': for me, it doesn't really matter who is kicking the ball and who is catching the ball- it is the game, not the role that you take. It is very difficult - we need to find a way to understand what is going on to balance the couple and not to think that one is following the other. We get together, have different roles and these roles should be respected. That's what makes it Tango.
Thanks to Tango Bajo, Cecilia Gonzalez's Melbourne hosts for organising this interview. Tango Bajo recently featured performances by Cecilia Gonzalez and Albano Goldenberg at the recent La Mision, Marvellous Margarita Memorial Milonga and hold regular Milongas in Balaclava every second Saturday of the month.