Argentine Tango USA: Observations from the sidelines

Pam&MichelleOkay, so the winners have been announced: congratulations to Ivan Troshhi and Yamila Viana from New York — you make the rest of us now look and feel really clumsy on the dance floor, but for the next year we will work hard on that leg extension! Everyone else has to face up to the fact that they didn’t win. Although they had spent countless hours practicing and a fortune on private lessons, shoes, chiropractors, pilates, and dance studios, and had suffered through emotional rollercoasters and self-doubts, fights with their partners, pain in their feet and in their legs and backs, traveled across the country and spent all the money they had initially saved for that trip to the Caribbean, and basically had put the whole rest of their lives on hold it just wasn’t good enough. Or so it seems.

They may have lost a competition, but they are not losers. Not in my opinion. Everybody who is brave enough to step out on that dance floor deserves respect. It takes guts to expose oneself to the critical observation not only of five judges, but also of a thousand people who all have an opinion, and all of whom are dancers and all of whom are human, and all of whom watched the competing couples with a mix of admiration and envy. And, of course, admiration was as much to be heard as mischievous comments. “He is good, but she is not up to his level,” I overheard someone in the audience whispering to his neighbor. “Watch how they are dancing,” someone else mumbled about another couple, “it’s comical!”

I found it particularly embarrassing and sad when a friend told me about the observations of one of our top local couples in the competition, Pamela and Michelle, who by many are regarded as among the best dancers in the Bay Area. The first ever and only same-sex couple in the competition, they couldn’t help but notice some of the disapproving onlookers. Fortunately, they seemed pretty relaxed about the whole event and danced beautifully. In my opinion, they deserve a first prize just for breaking through limits. I hope that we will see them out there again next year, as we have seen some other dancers who have been competing in the ATUSA now for several years in a row. They like the challenge and they love the experience of competing and performing. And even though the disappointment was visible on their faces when they were packing up and heading home, they were determined to compete again the following year.

But there were also others. Like one of my favorite dance partners who was on last year’s winning formation team. “Why aren’t you competing this year?” I asked him. He shook his head vigorously. “Too much work,” he said. “I didn’t have a life for two months!” I was a bit disappointed at his statement, hoping he would build upon his success of the previous year and compete again. He was a good dancer when I met him a few years ago and the hard training for last year’s competition had elevated his skills to an even higher level. But I understand. Having competed in ballroom competitions on both national and international levels for years, I know what it is like. You don’t have a life. Period.

As for the couple who became champions — Ivan and Yamila — and who are now moving on to compete in the international Argentine Tango competition in Buenos Aires this summer, it seemed to me that they wouldn’t have been destroyed had they not won. They seemed to have a good time regardless of the pressure, and appeared to have enjoyed the whole event, with she laughing and smiling throughout their performances, and both of them appearing quite relaxed. I think that’s the attitude that we want to see. It’s just dancing after all.

Foto by Mary Gulick

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