I'm not sure if Ms. Engle and Mr. Suvanjieff understand the rarified company they would find themselves in should they win the Nobel Peace Prize. Jimmy Carter, perhaps the most feckless and ineffective American president of the twentieth century, and Yassir Arafat, the father of modern terrorism, both won. Of course, cash trumps any principles they may aspire to; let's not kid ourselves here.
As with many idealistic folks, our happy couple are also rather ignorant of history. Many years before Christ, a great philosopher stated, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." Throughout history, peace, though fleeting, has only been achieved through superior firepower. We pound the enemy until his will to fight is broken. I'd bet anything that the only will Engle and Suvanjieff want to see broken is ours.
"Dirty Dancing," Luke Turf, August 2
Having made myself wait nearly a week to respond to Luke Turf's "Dirty Dancing," I still find myself shocked that a respected editor would publish such a slanted piece full of loaded language. From its opening paragraphs, the article reveals its bias. Chas Gale is a "self-proclaimed king of tango," he wears "expensive dance shoes," his breath has the "odor of cigarettes." In what way does this suggest the objectivity of an unbiased story? In fact, these opening lines prepare the reader for the smear job that is to come. And what a smear job it is.
The slanted view is a remarkably unfair characterization. Chas Gale is a gentle man, loyal to and loving with his life partner, passionate about tango and genuinely concerned about his students. He teaches fundamentals: correct posture, balance and what is called Milonguero style (full upper-body contact with the dancers leaning into each other), which might make women with past "unpleasant sexual experience[s]" uncomfortable. Yes, Chas's language is, at times, "salty," but the last time I checked, using salty language was not a criminal offense.
A more interesting story is the community's rush to judgment. The Tango Colorado discussion list was burning with attacks on Chas from the moment the president announced in an e-mail that the board of directors had suspended Chas's privileges as a teacher for Tango Colorado and listed the Denver County case number so that everyone could go online to read the charges. Neither I nor those so ready to tar and feather him know the reasons for Chas's plea bargain. I do know it's true that after a full-day hearing, a judge found no cause for a restraining order, a fact neatly buried toward the end of Turf's story.
There is an interesting story here. It just happens to be different from the one Luke Turf wrote. Perhaps if he had listened to any of the people who see things differently from "Angela, et. al." (and I know that he spoke to at least one), he might have written a fair and balanced version of the scandal that he finds so delightfully salacious.
Describing the sexual energy of tango, prominent dance critic Anna Kisselgoff remarked, "Eroticism, which could become dangerous, is kept from crossing the line into reality by formal constraints." The line between art and life is crucial and often indistinguishable for those devastated by childhood sexual trauma or paralyzed by problems of physical intimacy. An exaggerated gesture or especially graphic statement used by an instructor to clarify a difficult tango move may trigger, for those so affected, an "experience" of sexual aggression or a gross attempt at seduction. While their pain is very real, they may confuse their reaction with the actual intent of the instructor, who can never anticipate that reaction and who may be unaware of their past history or sensitivity. When this happens, it is, of course, too late.
This phenomenon of projected intent, ignored by Luke Turf in Dirty Dancing, is crucial in reading the self-revealing statements of many of the women interviewed. It is evident that, for some, close-embrace tango is toying dangerously with debilitating emotional memories or insecurities. We have yet to hear Mr. Gales side of the story. Adult women are equal partners in tango, and for those who feel threatened, a definitive No, a resounding slap or a well-placed high heel is still a perfectly acceptable way to end a disagreeable tango, and doesnt require daddy to beat the shit out of an offending milonguero.
"Dirty Dancing" describes the behavior of an obvious sex offender. Many more in the tango community can attest to this. Sexual offense has to do with violence and control and is the most under-reported crime in the United States, according to the FBI's 1990 Uniform Crime Report. Some reasons for under-reporting: fear of the medical and legal systems; fear they won't be believed; fear of reprisals, threats; humiliation and shame.
Sex offenders go to great lengths to set up their victims to not report or to not be believed. Sex offenders are not murderers; they seldom kill their victims. They want them alive. This is done not out of kindness. If their victim is dead or visibly harmed, then there is no doubt that crime has been committed. The best "cover" for a sex offender is a healthy victim. A healthy victim has a much harder time conveying that the invisible damage inflicted is real. And the sex offender will re-offend — who will be next? Will it be someone you know? Will it be you?
What I wish for today is that we know in our hearts that a part of everyone who is sexually abused dies; their innocence dies, their trust dies, their sense of safety dies. They will never be the same again, and the people who love them will never be the same. We want to wake up in the morning and feel that all is right with our world, and that's okay. The sex offender is betting on our not believing the offended.
How long are we going to sacrifice our friends because we to refuse to admit/believe that he will re-offend again and again for as long as he's in the community — even after the sex offender continues to re-offend over a period of years? Shame on us if after knowing all that we know we do nothing different.
Name withheld on request
Does it not speak volumes that a person must hide behind an assumed identity while espousing open communication?
Angela is a professional dance teacher who could have professional and financial interests in running the Tango House out of business. As for the other women who had negative interactions with Chas Gale, I cannot deny their reality — but I do wonder if they, too, might not step up to the plate and take responsibility for their own actions or inactions. If there have been no complaints about Chas in five years and at least some of the women continue to dance with him to this day as well as support the Tango House, then does not some personal responsibility lie with the women? If you are made uncomfortable by a man's behavior, then perhaps you should not dance with him. It might be that simple.
It is amazing to me that our small tango world is a source of discussion for outsiders at all. In any other community, this would not be an issue. In every charge of alleged abuse, we are not speaking of children or teenagers, but rather of mature women who should be taking responsibility for themselves and their actions. The world and the Tango Colorado community cannot offer anyone any guarantees for a safe environment at Tango Colorado events or at those sponsored by "approved" teachers. The Argentine tango world is no different than the world at large; the buyer must beware.
Judith Farkas de Zelaya