Thursday, 13 Dec 2018
News

Queer Tango: A dance class that defies gender norms and where everyone can lead or follow


Standing under multicolored lights in a Columbia Heights studio, the tango instructor asked his students to find a partner and practice the basic position of dance, an intimate hug between the leader and the follower. Without wasting time, Dhruv Sharma turned to another student and asked a question rarely asked in a partner dance class – especially by a man. "Do you want to lead or do you want to follow?" Sharma asked her dance partner, who happened to be a man too. "Whatever your choice," answered John Foss. The traditional rules of tango are deeply related to gender – the man leads and the woman follows. But it's the Queer Tango, a class where gender rules do not matter, where students learn both roles and can dance with whoever they want. Earlier this fall, Tango Mercurio instructor Liz Sabatiuk launched the Columbia Heights Bloombars Weekly Queer Tango Course, with the hope of making tango accessible and inclusive for members of the LGBTQ community. But the class has become so much more than that. This has allowed long-time tango dancers to rethink gender roles and to explore dance from a new perspective. He urged men to follow and gave women a space where they can lead. "Rather than being a kind of sex game, tango is really a way to connect with anyone," Sabatiuk said. The class is part of a growing global movement of Queer Tango that seeks to break the gender norms of Argentine dance. But Sabatiuk says his series is the first of its kind in the Washington area. [Lesbian bars are vanishing all over the country. In D.C., two just opened their doors.] Sabatiuk, a ballet dancer by training, first learned tango while studying in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 2005. But she did not really learn to lead until she got the ball rolling. she starts teaching dance in Washington. In the tango dance parties, known as milongas, in the conflict area, Sabatiuk said it was sometimes difficult for a woman to approach a man or other woman and ask her to lead. Yet, there is often a gender imbalance in milongas and tango classes, Sabatiuk said. Now, she says, "I can balance the genre if there are too many women. I can invite them to dance. One of his students, Yiannis Markakis, 23, discovered tango three years ago in a queer tango community in Barcelona and first learned dance as as a disciple. But at milongas and tango classes in Washington, Markakis said, it's often hard for him to find opportunities to follow up. "Most leaders would not come to ask me to dance," Markakis said. Sabatiuk's class may be able to help the genre's flowing dance style spread to more traditional milongas throughout the District, said Markakis. When tango first appeared in Buenos Aires in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was considered an erotic and scandalous dance practiced only by male prostitutes in brothels, said Gustavo Varela , Professor and Political History of Tango at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, or FLASCO, Buenos Aires. Ironically, as it was considered inappropriate for women to dance tango, men often had to teach dance to other men. But the misogynistic roots of the tango are found in some dance movements, the man commanding and advancing on the woman, almost suggesting that he was trying to open his legs and the woman trying to avoid it, explained Varela. Queer Tango "has opened the idea that whoever dominates does not need to be the man," Varela said. "This transformation is radical." He saw the movement take hold in recent years in Argentina, especially among younger generations and in a context of growing feminist tide. Nevertheless, Queer Tango spaces tend to be LGTBQ-centric groups, separate from classical milongas. In traditional milongas, where men wear suits and pointy shoes and where women wear elaborate dresses, even the concept of a woman leader is "unthinkable," he said. [His husband died months after they were able to marry. He’s still fighting for Social Security benefits.] Unlike traditional tango classes, Sabatiuk and her assistant instructor, Olga Liapis-Muzzy, ask their students to change roles between songs throughout the course. They also encourage clear communication. "In tango, we touch each other," Sabatiuk told nearly 20 students at the beginning of the class on Thursday night, reminding them to ask for their partners' consent. Then she asked everyone to circle and share their favorite names and pronouns. At one point in the class, Sabatiuk taught the group parada and pasada, a series of movements that forced the follower to pivot and walk on the leader's leg – a brief moment of sensuality. After practicing with two, one student, José Otero, a 52-year-old lawyer, noticed that the step was much more rigorous for the disciple than for the leader. "This is a perfect example of the technical complexity of the follower's technical skills," Otero told the group. Otero has been dancing tango for over four years. He can enter any milonga in Washington and know half of those present, he said. But until about two months ago, he had only been a leader, dancing mostly with women as supporters. "The minute I started taking tango, directing and following became much better," Otero said. "The dialogue in the dance is so much richer. The connection level is deeper. Other students in the class, such as Antoun Issa, 33, had never danced tango before. Issa learned about the existence of the class through a poster in a cafe and said that the idea intrigued her, especially because it was designed for the homosexual community. "It's an unusual activity for homosexuals in this city," said Issa. "It's nice to have something that does not fit the basic standard of what the gay experience is in DC." during Thursday night's class, the song "La Cumparsita" began to be played by the speakers. The traditional tango song always signals the final dance of the night. But the night was not over for the hardcore tango dancers of the hall. Otero invited all those interested to go to a milonga at Eastern Market that night, where they would continue dancing until late in the evening, whatever their role, with whom they like. .

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