IdeaChat #2: Straight Women in Queer Tango with Helen LaVikinga

IdeaChat2: Straight Women in Queer Tango with Helen La Vikinga from Sasha Cagen on Vimeo.

For the second installment of my IdeaChat series, I spoke with Helen LaVikinga, an accomplished Icelandic tango dancer who lives and teaches tango in Buenos Aires. Helen leads and follows (check out her performance in San Francisco this month) and she designs comfortable and elegant shoes. Helen is straight and she was one of the first to organize Queer Tango milongas in Buenos Aires. It’s more common for women to lead and men to follow in San Francisco and Northern Europe than in Buenos Aires where tradition and a sometimes-annoying and sometimes-delicious machismo holds sway. We talked about the growing popularity of Queer Tango worldwide, which could equally be called open-roles tango since it’s not so much about sexuality as it is about openness toward mixing up the roles. We spoke at the San Francisco International Queer Tango Festival, 2011. Helen has an extra-sexy voice because she was recovering from a cold.

Among the highlights:
–advice every foreign woman should bear in mind when she comes to Buenos Aires with hopes of tango bliss
–why women dancers should say no to dance offers from men more often (the men would be forced to learn more, for one)
–why more women are taking up leading worldwide and getting into open-roles tango
–why tango is both cruel and wonderful

The Disposable Dating Syndrome

Note: I wrote this post a year ago while I was still in the United States (and not traveling in South America), but realize that it should have been posted all along, so here it is! At the end is a postscript written from the perspective of my year traveling outside the U.S.

On a recent work trip to New York, the same conversation came up over and over again. People who didn’t know about Quirkyalone kept telling me that dating in New York was brutal. I was sort of shocked. I am so used to complaining about the brutality of dating in San Francisco and have become quite self-conscious about my complaints, wondering if it’s just me complaining or creating my own reality with a negative outlook. I was psyched, in a way, to cede the floor to another legion of people telling me how brutal it was to date in their town.

San Francisco is a city with an embarassment of riches in terms of the dating pool, but somehow, with so many people to choose from, we develop an ADD mentality.

It’s a disposable dating culture. we meet people online or off, go out, make out or sleep together (maybe), and may never speak again. It’s on to the next person without acknowledgment of the conversation or the kiss or the sex, or the promises made of how what we would do in the future. I have been complaining about the brutality of disposable-dating in San Francisco for a while now. I’m not saying that I am blameless in this regard either, whatever that would mean. I am simply pointing out that we have a consumer mentality when it comes to dating.

Perhaps this is just the nature of dating, but I can’t help but believe that online dating, in the way it dramatically increases the possibilities for easily meeting someone new, makes us treat each other more disposably. We operate outside the constraints of a moral community of friends and family, and it’s so easy to disappear into the ether, only to cross each oher when you see each other “online now” on

So imagine my surprise and satisfaction on a recent trip to New York City to hear people complain even more vociferously about the struggle of dating in their own city. Listening to people tell me unsolicitedly how hard it was to date in New York, I thought, Wow, maybe it’s actually worse here! In fact, one man in his mid-thirties, CEO of his own company, told me he was moving to San Francisco because he couldn’t find “l’amour” in New York. (He was French.)

Here’s a snapshot of what I heard. Much of the discussion focused on Manhattan. It’s easy to talk about one slice of New York and think you’re talking about all of it.

  • A married woman who writes about dating for Yahoo interviews singles for a living¬¨‚Ć says that people date differently in Manhattan. She used to live in San Francisco. They’re more driven and businesslike in their approach to dating in New York, she said. They make quicker judgments. (Gosh, I thought people made snap judgments here?) She believe that the New Yorker driven nature makes it harder for people to mate, but it is a fun place to be single because people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s have so much company.
  • An entrepreneur in his thirties told me women judge quickly on the basis of his wallet. He told me they try to suss out his economic status, subtly or not: Does you have roommates? He also thought that women in New York weren’t very interested in sex, only money. I thought New York had more sexual energy than San Francisco. Most people I know in Brooklyn say it’s easy to find someone to sleep with, and hard to find a guy who will buy you a drink.
  • A writer friend concurred that his dating life had slowed down in New York. He said New York can encourage a feeling of inadequacy, that there’s always someone who is more impressive. He concurred that there’s a velvet ropes kind of feeling in Manhattan, people always peering in to find someone more successful, richer, more beautiful. He also thought the geography of the city makes romance awkward. When you end a date, you say goodbye on the street or at a subway stop. You don’t get to make out in a car or a living room!

What to make of all of this?

The common theme in the complaints I heard in New York seemed to boil down to economics. That people are always looking for someone with more money. It made me reflect back on San Francisco, that people are always on a quest for a better fit, but just as often, to find¬¨‚Ć someone who’s a little more extraordinary and genius, an entrepreneur, an artist, somehow visionary and special. I remember a French guy telling me that his American friend who worked at Google felt that way, that women always wanted someone more extraordinary. That might have a ring of truth to it.

What can we do to combat the disposable dating syndrome? One word: acknowledgment. Even if you don’t have the patience or desire to get to know someone, at least you can acknowledge your date’s existence with an email, or heaven forbid, a phone call. You can not simply disappear. You can tell them one thing you liked about them even if you are not a romantic match.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, and frankly, I’m writing this final paragraph now after a year of traveling and distance from San Francisco. I’ve decided I don’t want to participate in online dating at all because of the consumer mentality that inevitably develops. But I’m open to hearing your ideas about how to lessen the brutality of the online dating game. How do you handle it if you go out with someone once and then decide it’s not a (potential) fit? Please share in the comments.

The Sexual Energy Crisis

Where is the sexual energy in San Francisco? I am frustrated. I have recently come back from Rio, which is perhaps the sexiest place on the planet, and now I feel like I am living in a sexless universe. I am not talking about hoochie mamas dressed like Janet Jackson at the SuperBowl or random hookups or even on-the-street-make-out-sessions, though those are nice and there are plenty of those to see while you drive around Rio. I am talking about a sexual energy crisis.

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