The Art of Loving Through Rebel Tango

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Words: Anon (she/her)

I have always been excited by the prospect of using the New Year as a time for self-reflection and a fresh start. This year, I believe I am reflecting harder than any other New Year. Described by many as holding up a very unflattering mirror to oneself, I am experiencing the endless minefield that is – The First Breakup. Alongside the usual questions of a breakup (ie was it me? Was it her? Where did we go wrong?), I am also questioning something equally as important to me – how do I define my queerness? My (ex)partner and I have left our breakup on a seemingly classic question mark… can we continue to have a sexual relationship together without continuing the romance? My straight-er friends give me the plain and simple answer – no. They tell me it is not possible to have a sexual relationship with someone you have recently been in love with. I partly believe them, but partly question the legitimacy of the hetero-laced narratives that I am hearing, ones that I have consumed all throughout my life. Meanwhile, after receiving a copy of All About Love in a Secret Santa, I have Miss Bell Hooks telling me that the definition of love is: ‘nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth’. The definition is an undoubtedly brilliant one that I, in theory, want to strive for. But it still doesn’t answer some questions that revolve around my brain on a very camp and flamboyant merry-go-round – how am I meant to measure this spiritual growth, and should I be committed to finding love in this capacity?

And so, two weeks into January, trying to put these questions to the test for a few hours, I am convinced by my flatmate to bring my broken-hearted, but healing, self to a taster dance class at the CCA; Rebel Tango, described as “anti-capitalist, feminist, queer tango in Glasgow”. I had never tried tango dancing before, but the revolutionary nature of this taster session intrigued me. After wondering how many people would actually turn up to this pretty niche dance class as we near blue Monday, the alleged ‘most-depressive’ day of the year, we entered a room filled with people at the CCA. As expected with the queers, there is a somewhat coy atmosphere, but a curiosity that spreads throughout the room. As well as the classic queer youngsters that you might have seen on the dance floor in Bonjour at 2am on a Friday night, the budding dancers are multi-generational, and many of us are strangers to each other.

The Rebel Tango teachers, Carolyn Wilson and Rastko Novaković are a commanding and encouraging duo who offer a friendly atmosphere from the start of the class. The two previously lived in London, frequenting queer dance spaces there and helping to set up Queer Tango London. On their arrival to Glasgow, they noticed a severe lack of queer dance spaces. Wilson tells me ‘I often tell people that I set up Rebel Tango because I want people to dance with.’ She also explains, ‘you don’t have to be queer to come to our classes, but it helps!’. They set up Rebel Tango last summer, beginning classes at the CCA courtyard, and the queer community caught on quickly, suddenly they were hosting over 100 people throughout the sessions. To their knowledge, it’s the only queer tango class in Glasgow, but they both hope to see more queer dance classes in the city.

 They begin by having us walk naturally around the room to tango music. They warn us against holding out our arms and dragging our legs in a pseudo-tango style, explaining that we are probably trying to imitate Ballroom Tango. Instead, they teach us Argentine Tango, a dance that is completely improvised, all about intuition, connecting with other people, and learning how to dance with another body. We then pair up with strangers, beginning to learn the very basics of tango; what it means to lead and follow. As made clear at the start of the class, there are no rules in Queer Tango to who assumes what position. Wilson says you can lead, follow, or switch how you want to – before, after, or during the dance, hinting at the intimacy politics of any queer relationship. In partners, one person has their eyes closed, and the other takes them around the room in their arms. Though at first, it feels odd to be so close to a complete stranger, the dance morphs into an exercise in trust and instinct, which feels like a way of tapping into the core of human nature. After we dance, Wilson and Novaković tell us not to talk, that we should quietly observe the connection between ourselves and our partners. It appears to me like a physical manifestation of Ms. Hooks’ definition of love, ‘nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth’, creating a dance that looks after both parties. Though, of course, verbal communication is a vital part of modern love, there’s something very comforting about boiling the connection between two people down to its very physicality.

Rebel Tango is part of the Queer Tango movement which is making its way into many corners of the world. Some are calling it “Open Role Tango”, perhaps those who don’t identify with the LGBTQ+ community, but still value the importance of breaking down heteronormative roles in dance. Alongside queer dance spaces, many tango-ers frequent Queer Tango marathons, or “festivalitos” in large cities. Berlin is thought to be the Queer Tango capital of the world, which is unsurprising, given its thriving queer culture, and its reputation for being a city where the nights are long and connections with strangers are rife. People usually dance a set of three tracks (known as a tanda) with each partner, so might only spend 10-12 minutes together. It’s quite simple; the first dance is the meeting of two strangers, the second dance is about seeing the connection blossom, and the third, the last dance, is about saying goodbye. Novaković tells me that the dances can be so intimate, they still remember a dance they once had in Berlin 5 years ago. For many queer tango-ers, their 12-minute dance with a stranger is a spiritual experience.

The taster class reminds me of another philosophy of love somebody once told me; we should bring romance into our friendships and friendship into our romance. In the depths of my post-break-up brain, I forgot where I bring love into everyday life. The dance floor felt like a place where I could explore platonic intimacy through the body, without any gendered assumptions. I’m not sure if I am any closer to working out how I can measure my spiritual growth and in what capacity I should commit myself to love, but I think the whole point of being queer is that these things can’t really be measured. Like tango, experiencing queer love, for me, is about understanding the cues in myself and other people that push me in certain directions. It’s about understanding how different dances look with different people, and learning which ones feel good for me. I asked Wilson and Novaković what they thought made a good Queer Tango dancer, to which they responded: ‘you have to be a good listener, you have to want you and your partner to have a good time, you must be invested in mutual aid, and… embrace the dance!’.


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