I love the idea of a tanda. It’s clear from the outset that you will be dancing with one particular person until the cortina. If it’s good – you never want it to end; if it’s bad – you know that it will end soon and you can stick it out that long. If it’s really, really bad (you should never feel uncomfortable or disrespected) you can leave before your time is up – and everybody on the dance floor will notice.
One night, at Niño Bien, I made the unfortunate assumption that the tanda was three songs long. I was dancing with Raimundo, a very nice friend of a friend who also happened to be my landlord during that time. I was enjoying myself. After three songs we were back at my table and I said “gracias” and sat down. Then came the fourth song. I had committed a major tango faux pas. Saying “thank you” on a Buenos Aires pista before a tanda is over, is seen as a dismissal – a polite way of being rude. I hadn’t meant to dump Rai. I felt badly and hoped that he would excuse my poor manners by chalking it up to the fact that I was a naïve newcomer.
Another evening, at Porteño y Bailarin, I stared across two tables at a handsome man that I wanted to dance with. It wasn’t a typical cabaceo. I probably appeared a little too insistent (blame my impatient North American upbringing). He looked at me questioningly and made a motion that implied he did not know how tall I was (and that this was an issue – fair enough). I stood up. He nodded and we met on the dance floor. He embraced me so tightly I could hardly breathe or move. It was not fun for either of us. After two songs he returned me to my table. Luckily I was able to save face (I thought) because my girlfriend immediately handed me a camera and asked me to film her performance – which was up next. I busied myself getting familiar with the camera and proceeded to take video of Cherie and Ruben’s beautiful waltz. In my frazzled state I had neglected to turn the camera on properly. No matter how composed you think you appear, being dumped can be distressing.
The rules inside a milonga are not so clear outside of Buenos Aires. If your city has not yet adopted the tanda format, you know what I mean. Often, after a song, there is an awkward pause where you look sheepishly at each other, wonder if you should sit down or presume to stay where you are for another. I often say “thank you” after each song, which is still acceptable in North America, rather than stand unappreciatively in awkward silence.
I wish romantic relationships were as straightforward. You never know how long one is going to last. In many of them you wish and hope, and even honestly intend, that it will survive until one of you dies. But, given our actual behavior and the related statistics, we are creatures of serial monogamy. We are, some more often than others, in and out of relationships, and we experience constant highs and lows. Some people enjoy the drama, others wish they could just find one special someone and settle down.
If we could agree to set up our relationships like tandas (with the option to renew) we might be less devastated when they end. Instead we experience a multitude of negative feelings and thoughts, and it often takes us years of healing before we feel safe enough to love and commit again. Some never fully heal from the sting of betrayal and loss, and end up living alone and lonely.
Very few relationships end by mutual agreement – even though that’s how they all have to begin. It’s not always clear who ends the relationship. Sometimes the one who does the final deed is not the one who (maybe unintentionally or covertly) initiated the process. Sometimes things just fizzle into nothing and you never speak to each other again. Sometimes situations result from a simple miscommunication and/or misperception.
Unlike tango, there are no rules in love. There seems to be no good or right way to end a romantic relationship. It always stings. I’m guessing that there are some very mature and compassionate people that have a rational conversation and come to a mutually agreed upon way to move to the next stage of life without each other – or with each other in a different manner. Most of us are not that mature.
Most of us are still in the unfortunate cycle of dumping, or being dumped, and (maybe) moving on ever hopeful that the pain of dissolution will never occur again. Some just become numb and unaffected by what happens next.
And that’s why I love the clarity of the tanda. Whether it’s three songs or four I know approximately how much time I have with that partner and I can make the most of the experience, good or bad, knowing that I will have the opportunity to have a different experience with someone else for the next tanda.