How I lost my Tango model (a world champion semi-finalist) one day before my photo shoot and learned how liberating it is to just accept people as who they are. All pictures by the wonderful photographer Marianela Depetro. On the pictures: Geronimo Dorkas, Belen Bonfiglio & Carlos Petignat.
I find photography fascinating. It can totally create a non-existent reality and yet has the capability to reveal the deepest truth. Yesterday I had my first-ever professional photo shoot. The night before, around 11pm, the professional Tango dancer who was to be my "model" and me decided to not do this together. In fact, he backed-out of everything we had worked on over the past four months. But, don't worry: this is not a tragedy. As you will see, this story has a happy end!
We had been having a good time together. We met three times a week; I introduced him to my methodology of Biotango. He has worked as a professional, show dancer and helped me with my technique. We had lots of interesting discussions and developed exercises together. He immediately understood that I am a visionary and was very intrigued by that. Yet, he was concerned about what traditional Tangueros might think about our fringe project. His fear of their judgment eventually led to his withdrawal from our upcoming photo shoot. He expressed his discomfort and his desire for not using traditional Tango postures. He would only take part if he was not the only male dancer involved. Basically, he gave me the impression that he could not support my efforts. He would rather just dip his toe in, but not plunge fearlessly into the water. As long as it was just the two of us experimenting privately - all good. But, going public, associating his name and face with "Biotango" was too risky. This made me feel incredibly awkward. The message I was getting was:
"As a professional dancer I do not want to be associated with Biotango. The only reason why I would help you out with this is because I feel obliged as a friend. The truth is that I would feel ashamed of these pictures and hope that nobody I know will see them. I am afraid this will sabotage my career."
He was concerned about what traditional Tango maestros might think about our fringe project "Biotango". His fear of their judgment eventually led to his withdrawal from our upcoming photo shoot.
He did not use these exact words, but this is how everything came across. Bottom line: "I do not validate what you do." What I should have done after he had expressed his doubts and reservations was to thank him for his honesty and end the entire collaboration - without further discussion. Someone who is not proud to be a part of it should just go his own way. Well, I know that he did appreciate our new approach to Tango Argentino, somehow, but, as a perfectionist, he was still too intimidated by the potential judgments of the "maestros".
I was lead by my fear of losing him
Unfortunately, my reaction was not letting go. The opposite: I clung, grasped, clutched even tighter. I was in a panic to not have anyone for this shoot. For Tango pictures I definitely needed a partner. So, I accepted his conditions and invited a bunch of friends in order not to lose him. Geronimo, Belen & Carlos were the best. They were so excited, happy and grateful that they would get professional photos of themselves dancing Tango. I met every single one of them in order to coordinate the colours of the clothes, choose inspiring music and try out some poses. They even offered to pay for this - I said no, because they were helping ME out in this case and would get the pictures for free as a Thank You. Everyone was 100% on board and looking forward to the big day.
My collaboration partner, on the other hand, was neither available for a meeting, nor for a call. He did not respond to my messages for hours and only sent some clothes pictures late at night the day before the photo shoot. (After I had sent him mine two weeks earlier). With every minute of anxiously waiting for his response, the situation became clearer and clearer. His silence was saying: "I don't care about this. These photos are a pain in the ass. I am bothered by your messages. ". Finally, I texted him:
I do not deserve to be treated like this.
I imagined how we would take the pictures the next day. He is a handsome man and for sure we'd look great together. But whenever I would go through these pictures in the future I would remember how awkward he made me feel; that he only modelled with me because I was forcing him. Because I insisted. But it is nothing he ever wanted to sign up for. And whenever someone would ask me in the future: "Who is this good-looking young man by your side?" I would answer: "We once collaborated for a while and that day he did me a favour with modelling because he felt obliged." Does not sound like a nice anecdote to tell your followers, does it?
So around eleven pm the night before the photo shoot, we had that phone call. It did not last long. It was pretty clear that we were done, we had lost the connection to one another. He had been drifting away after an initial phase of enthusiasm for weeks. He also had been dealing with financial difficulties and got involved in too many projects at the same time. He even said: "I cannot give you the 150% you would need for your work." I listened to his discomfort and when I was about to share how I felt he just hang up on me. I was puzzled. I did not get angry because I understood how he felt: being overwhelmed, dealing with problems and most important: not so skilled in setting boundaries. Something we have in common.
He committed to something he did not want to do and I insisted on his participation although I knew about his discomfort. And therefore accepted to be treated with all this disrespect and carelessness. I thought having beautiful Tango pictures with someone who has made it to the semi-finals of the Tango World Championship is worth it. But it really isn't - if the connection is gone. Everything I do in my work is about authentic relating between people. And even if I could fake this in pictures - it would be against my values and everything I stand for.
My friends showed up
So, late at night I sent a message to Geronimo asking if he could come at 9am instead of 11am. He answered immediately. "Yes I can. Which costume do you need me to bring?".
This is how people show up when needed. This is genuine friendship and companionship. When you decide to help someone out and really mean it. All four of us - Geronimo Dorkas, Belen Bonfiglio & Carlos Petignat & me - met with the amazing photographer Marianela Depetro in the park and had a FANTASTIC day. We played like kids and one can feel all the love, support and authentic connection that was going on among us on the photographs. Today I am happy to say: these pictures are REAL.
I needed to write this story. Not to accuse anyone, but to reflect my own process. I decided I don't ever want to CONVINCE anyone to do anything for me. I want people to interact with me, help me, take my classes because THEY want to do it. Because they trust me, because they love me, because they want to support me or because I can offer them something that serves them. This is what healthy relationships look like - professionally and privately. I am tired of running after people. It is ok to reveal intentions, express desires & needs. But then we (I!!) have to accept how the other person reacts to us. And be ok if this does not turn out as our best case scenario.
We need to be ok if people don't react to us the way we would want them to.
If we take love life as an example: sometimes we want to label relationships, put people into boxes like "boyfriend" or "open relationship". We may want something specific, but then we run into people who do not match our box. So how do we deal with that? If we are very clear with what we (don't) want, it makes sense to let go fast. "Nope, you are not for me."
Or we express our desire and see how they react.
Or rather than trying to violently fit them in our box, we could try to adapt to THEM - and see how we can be with this person. If I try to control, force, manipulate or insist I am not seeing the person as who they are. If I am busy putting a label on the relationship I may miss out on the present moment. Just like I wanted my ex-dance training partner to be my model. Yes, I can express my desire, always. But it is up to the other person to react - and they have all the freedom of reacting however they want. It's very similar to dancing Tango: not each invitation is understood, the "follower" might have their own proposal. They can adapt to us, we can adapt to them or we let go and walk our separate ways. These are the options at our disposal. Let's use them.