Little Big Stories in Rome: Giulia and Tango

We met for the first time in 2013, a few weeks after she had left Minsk, her hometown in the Republic of Belarus, to come to start a new life in Rome. Tango and mate joined us and, little by little, we became friends.

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In the afternoon of March 22, 2017, as I was returning to La Citta dell’Utopia in the neighborhood of San Paolo in the Italian capital, I heard a familiar female voice call my name on the street. She was on her way to sit for the final examination of a Culture and Linguistic Mediation Bachelor Degree. My name on her lips at the corner of Via Pietro Giordani and Via Gabriello Chiabrera was the very first sign that this trip was beginning as best as I could have expected: with loving people welcoming me, open arms, ready to fully share their life-time with me! What else could I have asked for?

It could be said she is a committed activist. A fervent fighter for gender equality. An English teacher. A translator. A woman who likes to eat pizza on her way to the milonga every Monday evening. A woman who cares about things that most of us overlook, most of the time. Because of her, Rome is even more beautiful and unforgettable and greater. Her name is Yuliya though, to me, she will always be “mi querida”.

This is what she has to say about one of her passions, tango:

“In the beginning you don’t listen to the music. It takes time to put the pieces together. To start feeling your own body. To start enjoying it. It is so stressful and you feel you are at a fiancé market. With time, you start feeling relaxed and enjoying the embrace. Then, at some moment, you get certainty about your movements. You stop thinking that people are watching the way you are dancing. And you start putting your own improvisation inside. You start to feel ‘legitimized’ to interpret the music and to make suggestions. And you begin to feel if the lead dancer is listening to you, and if they are accepting your suggestion or not…”

“It is not so much about what a man or a woman should do. It is more of an animalistic nature, or impulse…”

Tango balanced me. I started to change the way I saw tango at the same time I started to change my views of gender issues, myself and women. I didn’t want to leave tango so I changed my views on it. I don’t think it is something you learn following steps. It is an instrument, a language. Now what do you say with that language?”

“There is always an erotic aspect in the dance, even when you dance with a woman. To me, at least. You can just smell when there is danger, when somebody is just sending you purely sexual signals, or when you can feel safe to talk about something deeper…”

“It did help me a lot for all my relationships in life. How? Accepting my femineity, enjoying it…”

“What I learnt about feminism and the idea of it is that a woman is versatile. You don’t have to negate yourself as a woman to be a feminist. And being feminine, attractive can be as true a part of you as at the same time being a feminist…”

“During my school years I didn’t like my appearance. I was so ashamed of my legs for so long a time!”

“We don’t know how to love ourselves. We have to learn it. And tango helps so much overcome self-acceptance issues… The key is in the embrace. You embrace someone and you are implicitly telling them: I accept you as you are…”

“First you think that understanding your partner’s movements is the essential thing to tango. And when you finally do, you think, click! That’s it. But suddenly you see it is like having learnt the alphabet. Now a whole new world opens itself: you see that tango is a relationship. Now you have to build up a dialogue with your partner…”

“And you choose how the relationship can be. It can be a one-night stand relationship. You will never see that person again. You take everything you can from them. They become part of your life anyway. You make love on the dance floor, basically. You will probably never meet again. Or you can have this stable relationship. You keep on meeting the same person…”

“There is never the same tango. Not just because the partner may not be the same but because you yourself are never the same person each time you dance. Your mood changes, you might feel high, or low. And your partner feels so much everything. It keeps on being a discovery because you never have the same vibe in each instance of dancing…”

“It is art. It requires your whole presence: your mind, your body and your soul have to be there at the same time in order to appreciate the intensity of the immediate experience, which lasts a couple of minutes, and passes away, and never returns…”

“When I am not in my best day, I prefer to sit down and watch people tangoing. I prefer not to dance. Tango can also be a therapy in those days. I push myself to go to the milonga because I know it is gonna change me. This is also a maturity aspect towards tango: how to say no, not to rush into dancing, knowing what to expect, appreciating those days when you just dance one tango, not more than one…”

“You keep on learning how to walk all the time. You share your weight with your partner but you don’t overload them. At any point during the dance, you have to be able to stand on your own. And when you trust someone enough, then you can throw yourself onto them and become one with them, with only just one center of balance. And it comes for the physical pleasure of it. I started to understand that my weight has to be grounded so that my partner understands which my free leg is, which one isn’t, where I am going to…”

“I have my own weight. I can stand on my own feet. And the clearer I can communicate this to my partner, the better we can create together. It does not work when one is carried and the other is the ‘carrier’.”

If you want to listen to Giulia’s voice, click on the “Play” button below (audio in English):

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