14 April 2009


Restored to my equilibrium, and having experienced a very strange milonga (but a very good night) last night, I am moved to contemplate...height.

I have a thing about height.  It cannot be denied.  Pretty much all my life, I've found tall men more attractive than smaller men.  My theory on this is that it's to do with evolution: I'm reasonably short (157cm/5'2"), and a tall man would increase the chance of my children being tall.  None of my boyfriends have been under 5'10" (180cm), and they've usually hovered around six feet (183cm). But then I got involved with Mr. Fallen, who was 5'8" (172cm), and all of a sudden I had to rethink my height preference.  For one thing, when we stood next to each other I could actually see his face, an entirely new experience for me with men I've been involved with. For another thing, when I stood behind him I could see over his shoulder, which made a change from my usual back-of-shoulder view, and which meant that when we walked through a crowd, or stood in one, I could actually see what was going on - also a new experience.  I found I quite liked this, much as I liked being able to kiss him casually without having to tug on his sleeve to get him to bend down.  But then there was no more Mr. Fallen, and my eyes seemed to rise again naturally.  I thus conclude that my height preference is hard-wired, or at least wired.  Ah, but how much height?

I contemplated this for some time at yesterday's milonga, where I danced with a broad array of heights (I was wearing 2.5" heels, which brings me to 5'5", or 165cm).  Height turns out to be surprisingly significant in tango, but not in the way I would have expected.  First of all, really tall is not good:  the VTTT is really tall (obviously) - in fact, he is 33 cms (that's 13 inches) taller than I am.  He's a fantastic dancer, a wonderful teacher, and a superb leader, but because of the height difference I spend all my time dancing with his chest. If I want to see his face I actually, genuinely have to crane my neck, and that doesn't make for a comfortable dance experience. And if I don't crane my neck I end up face to face with his pectorals, not a particularly interesting part of a man's body when you are three inches (max!) from it, and it is clothed.

My lovely friend J. is 11 inches (27cm) taller than I, a full foot (30cm) with his tango shoes on. This is better than the VTT, but presents another problem:  he's tall enough that staring straight ahead offers a rather boring view (if it were a painting, it would be titled, "The Third Button of J.'s Shirt"), but not so tall that there's nothing to see but him (as with really tall people, whom I always find I sort of have to battle way out of and around).  Because I still have to crane my neck, he thus presents me with the temptation to...look at his feet, and this temptation I find (only on him) irresistible.  In tango this is very bad.  You do not look at the leader's feet.  It'll get you in the end.

Okay, so the logical conclusion would be to try the other extreme, and this I have done:  men my own height.  As I've mentioned before on this blog, if you are looking for men my height and you are not in, say, Peru, you will look for a long time.  So I round up: "my height" becomes "5'6" or 7" (the other expression for this in my vocabulary is "short." Yes, yes, I'm aware how this reflects on me.  Sorry, guys).  In fact, there's a guy, R., at the milongae who is just about this height, and I love dancing with him because he's very willing to let me try out new steps on him, and very willing to show me new steps.  But I have noticed before that I have strange balance problems with him.  A very important part of tango (and a part I struggle with) is giving your partner "presence"; you have to rest a certain amount of weight on them, so they can feel how you're moving and what they can do with you, and so you can feel what they want to do with you.  With R., and with The Tiny Polish Man I danced with last night (the TPM), I can't find a way to rest my weight on them.  Because our heights are so even, I feel that I'd push them over - and also, here I suspect familiarity plays a part: I'm used to leaning my shoulders against a man's pectoral area, and thus it feels odd to press them against his shoulders (and to be fair, the male centre of gravity is the chest, so pushing against there is most stable). 

So 6'2" and above is out, and 5'7" and below is out.  This leaves me with a fairly narrow range. Fortunately, I have two home-brewed candidates available:  the FTT and S.A.

And here the complexities of height choice reveal themselves.  The FTT is slightly less tall than S.A. - I'd guess he's about 5'9" (175cm), 5'10" in tango shoes.  He is, of course, a divine dancer, so we can leave that out of the equation. But even leaving that out, there are advantages, all of them connected to height.  First, my shoulders hit his upper chest:  very stable.  Second, my chin comes not quite at his shoulder level, but close enough that I'm not smothered by his chest, so even though I close my eyes I feel free (as opposed to stifled).  Third, I can smell his aftershave, and I relax at the smell of good aftershave.  And, most significantly, I get The Cheek.  I have written about The Cheek before, and I don't want you to think I seek it out fanatically (because then I would get a reputation as a Cheek-Seeker, and I know what people think about Cheek-Seekers...), but I cannot deny that I love it.  If I dance well with him, and he relaxes, he rests his cheek against mine.  It feels so...safe?  No, better would be restful.  He is the only person I dance with who is the right height for this to happen, and it actually turns out to matter not only for reasons of enjoyment, but also because it makes me relax, and relaxation makes you a better tango-er (although, to add a slight sideline to this already-deranged monologue, the whole cheek thing makes me wonder what to do with my hair.  I have a lot of hair, and because of relative heights, I worry that a lot of men who dance with me get a mouth or chinful of giant hair.  So I think of clipping it back, but I look vaguely dowdy and not at all sexy that way [and considering that "just above not at all sexy" is about where I fall, I better clutch on to what I can].  It's a conundrum...).

Then we have S.A., who comes in at 180cm (5'11", 6' in tango shoes).  Also an excellent dancer, but in a different way.  You would think he would present the same problem as J., and in a sense he does:  if I open my eyes, my view is "The Second Button of S.A.'s Shirt."  It turns out, however, that the loss of two to three inches has an invaluable advantage:  my shoulder comes just to his upper pectoral area, which is an incredibly stable place to rest my weight, especially in close embrace.  So I feel most stable with him.  Also, although my eyes don't quite come above his shoulder, I can see over his shoulder if I want to, so I'm not stifled with him, either. Finally, I can't smell his aftershave, but I can smell his shirt, and this smell is pleasant but less strong than aftershave; thus, it's less distracting than yummy aftershave can be.  But he is too tall for Cheekdom!  So I gain in stability, but I lose in nameless restfulness (although because I know him as a person I get some such restfulness anyway - but I wouldn't get this from another, same sized, partner).

So what can we conclude from this?  Well, we might conclude that if I ever leave Cambridge and intend to dance tango wherever I live, I better leave some space in my luggage for S.A. or the FTT.  But this seems slightly impractical.  The rather more practical conclusion is that my optimal tango partner is between 5'9" and 6'0" (175 and 183cm).  But this is the height range I like best in men, anyway!!  Which leads me to wonder:  all along have I been wired not for evolutionary purposes but for tango purposes?  The ways of God or nature are dark indeed...

I include this chart because all male tango dancers should strive to achieve James Bondian suavity:

Although according to this, my Optimal Tango Partner Bond is Timothy Dalton.  I mean, Timothy Dalton?

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