Q.Talks: Gender and roles

Many of us are asking ourselves what the difference between gender and sex is. Are there more than two genders? Aren’t we just male or female? If I was born a woman, I should be feminine, right? Not a lot of people are taught from a young age that although sex and gender may be related, they are not the same thing. But the questions do not stop here. What about those that do not fit in this woman=feminine, man=masculine pattern? What happens to them?

During the event that took place on 15th of December we talked about this topic and to make it even more captivating, we talked about tango and how this dance manages to see beyond the gender limits. We found out that, in the beginning, tango was performed between men trying to learn to dance so they can woo women. As we can see now, this dance does not focus on the gender, but on the concept of follower and leader.

“In tango things are very simple: you lead or you are led, regardless of your sex. You take on a role, you learn it to the best of your abilities and you share feelings, you give yourself as much as the other persons arms can hold and as much as you allow yourself to do that.” said Maria Tîrtea, from Tango Timișoara.

Participants started discussing if a woman can be the leader and how hard this can be.

“I would say it is easy to be the leader when you are good, after you’ve worn out lots of shoes, after you held in your arms hundreds of people, after you listened to music every day, without backing out and you took on the first pair of shoes.

I did not feel it was difficult, for me, socially, I was not ashamed to show up with a women next to me (quite the opposite!). I was lucky to have the best partner, who loves dance, who was patient to learn together and with whom I have a dance school together and we raised many dancers. We raised men leaders and women leaders, a very good one, our Lalla. We organised many events and we did this together. Two women dancing tango. Doing this together, it was not difficult.

What is difficult in tango is a burdened heart, to not be able to reply to all invitations to dance. There are many women and few leaders. All women want to dance. They look for you, with their eyes in the ballroom, you accept as much as you can, and sometimes you turn your head away, to say no. You know, in tango saying no is acceptable, it is nonverbal – the answer comes from the eyes or gestures. This though does not make it easier.”

But what about men who are followers?

“Men and followers…from what I know, in Romania, there are no men who only do following (I don’t even recommend it, for either role). They do it for fun, out of curiosity, they do it because they like it, but everything just as a “show off”. It might be the fear of ridicule. But I did dance with men who danced better than women and it was a very good dance, with all their heart, living in the moment. Rarely, but there are some.”

It was an open talk. People were asking questions, telling their own opinion on how they see this in the Romanian society from their own experience as tango dancers at Romanian ballrooms and contests. It was a safe space to share your thoughts and even discover things that maybe you had not known before.

“The audience was mostly people from tango. Some interacted with it, even if briefly (just like going out for drinks with someone and falling in love). Everybody heard about tango, this is certain. I am a woman and I lead in tango, meaning I took on the role of the leader and I do it almost all the time. I like to follow too (I prefer to be led), so to be the follower. The interchange of roles as opposed to genders is starting to grow as a trend, slowly though, but in Timișoara this is how we started, and now it is not out of the ordinary anymore. If you are new in tango and see two women dancing, you could be surprised, you do not understand…but we’ll clarify this for you quickly enough. A little patience is required. In Romania, there are a few of us, women who like to lead, you see us with pants and shirt (cause we did take on a role, right?).”

And how can you end a discussion if not by dancing? We participated in a tango workshop for beginners where we disregarded the gender barriers, and everyone took the role of the follower or/and the leader. We saw that through dance we can express ourselves and be free of any social constructs. We listened to each other, it did not matter who you were holding in your arms, we just danced.

“I see tango as a dance that goes beyond gender roles, and surely there are more people like me. I am not dancing with your sexual identity, but with you – body, soul, feeling, memories, this day, the perfume you are wearing – you. It is true that you cannot deny the rapport of sexual attraction, it brings a certain extra in dance, a thing you can accept, or not. You start this journey naked anyway, and with the choices you make, you just follow your heart.

We can hold each other, to lose the fear of the ridicule and the two left legs, which we always use as an excuse. We can give ourselves time to try, to be curious and not judge the dance by what anyone has underneath their clothes. I do not want to ruin the myth of the red rose between the lips and fishnet stockings, which for many is tango. I wish to say that tango is much more than that and you can give it any gender that suits you, as long as you take on a certain role and respect the rules of the game.” (Maria Tîrtea, from Tango Timișoara)

The event was organized in partnership with Tango Timișoara Association and it brought together over 20 people from both the tango community of Timișoara, as allies, and the LGBTQI+ community.