April 30, 2019 § Leave a comment

But let’s suppose that your husband and a certain dark woman
like to meet at a bar in early afternoon.
Trust. A confidence or belief that something will happen in an expected way. Young children implicitly trust their parents, largely out of necessity but also out of past experience. And they will continue to do so until that trust has been broken or called into question. We trust in the rigor and precision of science and scientific measurements, in the laws of mechanics and electricity. Bridges remain standing and buildings rise skyward, and will remain unchallenged and unchanged unless affected by larger, natural forces—”Acts of God” as they are often called. (The challenges of wear and corrosion can generally be corrected or, at least, anticipated.) We are confident the sun will rise and set, that water will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and that the planets in our solar system will remain in their orbits for the foreseeable future. The dollar is backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury. E pluribus unum. “In God We Trust.”

The singular importance of trust is integral to the training of dancers and the practice of dance. Classical ballet and modern dance alike are unimaginable without it. Like acrobats, trained dancers rely on one another to be where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be. But along with its place as one of the building blocks of the art, its centrality as an essential element of the human condition, an ethical position, crops up repeatedly in the work of choreographers, often quite explicitly.

Pina Bausch “Fall Dance”

Trust, of course, is the linchpin of relationships. Mistrust, doubt, jealousy, betrayal are among the prime movers of classical tragedy and poetry (Catullus being one of the leading exemplars of erotic resentment), opera, and modern drama. Love without trust may not be impossible but can it lead to anything other than doubt and dependency? When we are no longer able to believe in a spouse or a lover, when confidence wavers, cracks begin to form in the foundation of the citadel. So  it should come as no surprise that the lyrics of many mature tango songs are populated with the themes of the dishonest woman and the jilted lover, the man (almost always a man) whose heart has been broken by an untrustworthy or fickle creature, the woman who has betrayed the love of an honest man.

Borges, it should be noted, was highly critical of the sentimentality and maudlin lyrics of the tango in its maturity, which is to say, it’s most glorious expression in the music of the Golden Age. He felt it had strayed far from its origins, mythological or actual, in the culture of the gauchos, in the manliness, courage, and violence of the riders of the pampas. Such men were the forerunners and predecessors of the compadres and compadritos of Buenos Aires, men who had left the open plains in search of work on the outskirts of the big city. To illustrate his point, in El Tango, Borges quotes from José Hernández’s epic poem “El gaucho Martín Fiero.” The lines in question describe the conclusion of a knife fight that has taken place after an altercaton at a rural dance, where Sargent Cruz (who has abandoned the army and befriended Fiero) has been insulted in song by a local guitarist for his rustic gaucho ways. After cutting the strings of the man’s guitar with his knife, he replies:

Ahí lo dejé con las tripas,
como pa’ que hiciera cuerdas.

Live by the chord, die by the chord, so to speak.

An excerpt from the lyrics, chosen somewhat at random, to Juan D’Arienzo’s magnificent Yuyo Brujo (1949) are typical of the focus on loss and jealousy. The translation is by Derrick de Pilar (full lyrics and the song itself can be found here: Yuyo Brujo):

I am suspicious, I am jealous,
I am afraid, so afraid
that you might say “No!” to me…
I don’t know what crazy spell
you put into this witch’s brew
that you poured into my heart.
Or the following from Nostalgias, with lyrics by Enrique Cadicamo (also translated by de Pilar):
of feeling abandoned
and thinking that at her side
another shall soon speak to her with love…

There’s a link to the wonderful Lomuto version of the song here: Nostalgias, 1936

Just how important is this? To dance with someone new, someone whose abilities as a dancer are unknown or unfamiliar to us requires trust. Observation alone provides an intimation of what they may be like to dance with but no more than that. A promise rather than a certainty. Technical skill alone, seen from the observer’s point of view, doesn’t tell us much, little really, about how that person will be for us. We could say that the initial stages of a song, then, are all about establishing a baseline for trust. How does someone feel, how do they move? Am I comfortable in their embrace, can I relax? Do we have a shared sense of the music that we can use to build toward something new? Sometimes the initial stages of trust building are quickly resolved, a matter of moments. At other times we may have to work to convince someone of our reliability, to build confidence, to build trust.

What, then, does this mean in practice? If we are to dance fully and with conviction, trust must be present. This is true on either side of the embrace. The follower must trust that she will be protected, that she will be an equal partner in the dance rather than an accessory to someone else’s technical prowess or a satellite to an untethered solar ego. Likewise, the leader must have confidence that his follower will accompany him fully throughout the dance, trust that his sense of musicality is shared. This assumes that both parties are more or less well matched in their abilities and their understanding of the music.

Watches the dark woman
reach out to touch his temple as if filtering something onto it.
Watches him
bend slightly toward the woman then back. They are both serious.

But we must also trust in ourselves. In our abilities, our openness, our readiness to yield when necessary and recognize the singular importance of our responsibilities. Self-confidence, yes, but so much more than that, including our willingness to recognize our imperfections, our points of failure, our desires. A degree of self-awareness in other words. This idea of trusting in oneself, before trusting in our partner, is expressed, although from a somewhat different perspective, in an essay by Veronica Toumanova. I quote from her article:

You have to understand that in tango the person you dance with is not your primary dance partner, paradoxically. The first person you need to connect to is yourself, then you need to connect to the floor and next, to the music. Only then will you be able to connect properly to another person as well. Toumanova-Alone and in a Couple

A tanda, a series of songs, is a bit like a love affair. We find ourselves attracted or intrigued by someone, often for unknown reasons. This is followed, if we are lucky, by a period of discovery, uncertainty, surprise, delight. Hopefully, we are able to inspire love in turn, are able to build trust. In some cases, this can lead to a relationship that can last for years or decades before it ends; in others, it lasts the length of a tanda.

A cold ship
moves out of harbor somewhere way inside the wife
and slides off toward the flat gray horizon

[Verse quotes are from Anne Carson, The Beauty of the Husband: a fictional essay in 29 tangos]

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