Celia Meredith – photographed in Portland, Oregon – August 2016
I met Celia at Tango Queer in Buenos Aires when she was an exchange student. She was the way-out-there woman with the shaved head. I was intimidated and fascinated but eventually fascination triumphed and I asked her to dance – or maybe she asked me. When we danced, it flowed very easily back and forth: I loved being in her arms and being lead just as I loved switching my energy over to the other side and leading her. I cherished being in that place between the stubble of her shaved head and the softness of her neck. Between songs, we talked a lot.
Even though we are friends now, I look back on that time as a gift to which I wasn’t entitled but which was given so generously.
I learned to both lead and follow because I went to a women’s college. So, if you didn’t learn to lead and follow you wouldn’t be able to dance, because there were like four male-identified people in the classroom. Being able to play with gender expression and connect with people in the role that felt most comfortable at that moment was so playful.
Now I feel I am tainted because whenever I go to a very traditional milonga where there are no women leading or men following, I’m like: What kind of dance is this? What are you dancing? It takes away a lot of the joy that comes from playing around with those gender roles and being able to take what feels right and leave behind what feels wrong.
Tango has grounded me and made me exist in my actual body. I learned to take space when I need to but then also, as a follower, to help my leader become the leader they want to be.
The way I explain tango to people is that dancing a tanda with someone is falling in love with them. At the beginning of the tanda you’ve agreed that for those three or four songs you are falling in love and you’re getting to know this person and it’s passionate and it’s everything you could have ever wished for – and you know it’s going to end.
The fact that it is going to end does not diminish it in any way. If anything, that makes it more bittersweet, more beautiful. There’s something really, really gorgeous in letting something be what it will. Which means sometimes you fall in love in the tanda and sometimes you have no connection whatsoever with the person.
Tango is being able to figure out where you are and bringing that to a dance and then exploring that with someone. Some days you are ready to fall in love, you’re ready to explore intimacy, and other days you are hung-over, you pulled something or you are emotionally unavailable.
Either way, it’s okay.