Fairly recently I sat with a dear girlfriend in a Saturday night milonga popular with solo dancers, for five hours, and managed to be invited onto the floor for the grand total of two tandas (both during the first hour when the place was half empty): one with a guy I knew, and one with a friend of a very nice woman on the next table. Although the dances were divine, it wasn’t really the happiest of nights, at least in terms of number of tandas danced (which for me is not always everything – but even I, self elected President of the Make Sure You Soak Up All Aspects of the Buenos Aires Milonga Campaign Party, struggle a bit with two tandas in five hours and with knocking on for $50 pesos spent: transport, ‘entradas’, cloakroom, ’empanadas’ – excellent at this venue and absolutely required to keep me from falling asleep around hour three, drinks). Actually this particular night looked up in the end because ‘mi amor’ C. appeared and saved me, and although he was given a seat in the far distance and almost behind the wall of the DJ’s booth, we managed to somehow signal to each other when we wanted to dance; and to prove it here we are, thanks to T. another of my gorgeous tanguera pals, dancing merengue in the tropical tanda – and I think I’m smiling.
There were some basic reasons why the night may not have been destined for greatness in the ‘quantity of dances’ regard. Although I’ve lived here for almost two years and however much I love Buenos Aires and the milonga I speak of, the reality sometimes hurts: I’m not a regular at this place and therefore the host (who allocates the seats) doesn’t know me or if I can dance; there is very little space between the chairs so it’s virtually impossible for men to stand up or walk around in order to widen their options in terms of dance partners – that means if the ones sitting near you don’t pick you, then you’re in trouble; the place is so packed and the seating so arranged that if you are in the third row back at one end of the room and you don’t achieve a successful ‘cabeceo’ in the first seconds of a tanda, your view of eligible men is completely blocked by dancers and you may as well give up. However despite these basic realities of milonga life, if I’m honest I know that besides all this stuff that is easy to blame, on the particular night in question my usual confident personal energy was just not there and because it was missing, I missed out.
Instead of energy, I could write power of attraction. I could write magnetism. I could write self belief: these days I recognise it in others and I am realising that I sometimes have it myself. When it’s there, I could probably stomach two tandas in five hours, but if it’s there I probably won’t have to.
Some of my friends seem to have attractive energy all the time: it’s in their eyes, their elegance, the way they laugh, the way they move, the chatter at their tables. When I have it too, I smile, chat and giggle with them; I sit up straight; I make the effort to move my head to get in the eye line of the guys I want to attract, while looking as if I’m ready to set the dance floor alight; I’m relaxed and carefree so I never look desperate, on the contrary I probably look as if I don’t really mind if I never dance at all (in part because I don’t – I’ll have a fun time anyway). On days and nights when my energy is high I can have to work hard NOT to dance, even in some places where I am not known: though I have to say, not necessarily in the one I describe, which can be a tough nut to crack for an unfamiliar face.
The night in question came just after I’d decided not to cough up a fortune for more contact lenses but to go back to my glasses. My energy had taken a serious down turn: I’m ashamed to say I felt ugly for a while and it affected everything. Now in my case it was the return of the specs that set the whole thing off, but it could equally well have been clothes that just didn’t feel right, lack of sleep, writer’s block, not eating before arriving at the milonga… no matter what the cause, the effect was depleted self confidence, and the result was invisibility: potential dance partners looked through me like I wasn’t there, including a man I had danced with on a fairly regular basis somewhere else. God it’s a ghastly feeling. I know I’m not the greatest dancer on the planet, but I can dance OK and when I hear vals followed by De Angelis then Calo then D’Arienzo then Pugliese and I cannot make a single man look my way… need I say more?
In the end I was grateful for this experience. It shocked me a bit, and it made me angry: at first angry with everyone else of course, but by 24 hours later with myself. Sometimes anger is a great motivator if used wisely. It got me off my arse the next night, and out with the same friend to a different milonga, where I decided to flaunt my specs rather than worry about them, and bloody hell, I had to run outside for a cigarette to get a break from gorgeous tandas. OK perhaps there were a few other factors on my side: I vaguely know the host (although not sure if she recognised me in my glasses, so maybe she just liked my gleaming smile) and we got a great seat where we could be noticed; from our prime position making eye contact with the guys was a piece of cake; I’ve danced there quite a lot with C. and so possibly a few chaps knew I could dance OK; my trousers kept slipping down and exposing an inch or two of taut tummy flesh (oh well, taut for a 45 year old) – felt a bit bad about that, but it’s not quite the same as a mini skirt that reveals your knickers, is it? The hours turned into a darling of a night and I knew though that despite all the strokes of good fortune, I was making my own luck in my head, just by believing in myself.
A while ago during the Tour de France I saw this poster on the wall of the subway. I snapped it, and I’ve been dying to use it ever since. Maybe this is the moment. I want to pedal into 2009 remembering that I am a little Sallycat magnet, and I attract what I believe. Beautiful inside and outside with or without specs, a dancer worth a tanda with or without flesh on display, a writer worth reading with or without finished or published books… the bottom line for me is self belief. May I find it, nurture it and use it well.
Roughly translated advert for the 2008 Tour de France
Your toughest rival is in your own head.