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Tango Panopticon - DC May 2009

Dancing for the Stars, or for ourselves?
A colleague of mine who has long expressed an interest in watching tangueros do their thing finally got her wish fulfilled last Friday, when we left our downtown office building at noon and ambled over to the Martin Luther King DC Public Library. She and her husband are seasoned world travelers, but they had never seen tango dancing in the flesh. Thanks to local dancers who took it upon themselves to organize a DC event for the May Day ¡°Tango Panopticon,¡± she and her husband were treated to the unusual site of tango dancers whirling around the front of the library during the lunch hour.

After returning to work, we talked about the experience. The difference in perspective was surprising. Since I had had the pleasure of dancing in the middle of a work day in the middle of downtown DC, the experience was pure exhiliration. To my mind, there were just enough dancers to make the event enjoyable - about ten pairs of dancers ¨C but in my colleague¡¯s thinking, she thought it a pity there weren¡¯t more people watching us. She thought we were disappointed by the meager audience, but I told her that as social dancers, we tangueros don¡¯t dance for an audience, we don¡¯t dance for anyone watching. We dance for ourselves and our partners, and that this is our focus. Another dancer there that afternoon concurred, writing:

¡°I am with you, in that I just enjoy dancing. For me Friday wasn't about performer and audience. It was about sharing in something unexpected, playful, with whoever was there. The sidewalk world not so impersonal for a moment.¡±

Perhaps this perspective of expecting us to be dancing for, and seeking the approval of, an audience is a symptom of the pervasive strain of influenza otherwise known as Dancing with the Stars and a ballroom culture that exults in and rewards competitive dancing over the less watched, but more intimate, fleeting and personal interaction that happens between social tango dancers. Ironically, the impetus for the ¡®tango panopticon¡¯ was to see and be seen via video and still photography as part of a same-day, global, shared, surveillance of tango. Another friend remarked on the Big Brother meaning of the word panopticon. So that¡¯s why I felt like somebody was watching me...? But, really, I hardly noticed...
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