Take Five with Ray Batchelor
Ray Batchelor is a Queer Tango activist, writer and historian. Ray has spoken internationally on tango and, as he details below, is involved in many exciting projects using tango to teach about life and how we as humans being can co-exist in harmony. He, like me, believes that what you learn in tango will serve you well in every area of your life. It will not surprise you to learn that I met Ray on the dance floor where we have shared many wonderful dances and I can assure him, he is never boring and always a joy!
In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do?
I have the privilege of helping people remove obstacles and overcome fears which may lead to their leading fuller, more interesting and enjoyable lives, just as others have done for me - and I thoroughly enjoy doing it! I did it for years, teaching art and design history and theory to design students, student who were scared of history, of theory and of writing, but the same principles apply in my Queer Tango work. People can be afraid of dancing, especially of dancing with other people. The fear can be turned to advantage. I teach Queer Tango to managers to help them become better leaders; in the research project D/deaf CAN Dance!, I teach Queer Tango to D/deaf people with my esteemed deaf colleague, Melanie Parris, providing new ways for them to access music or musicality through the body of another human being; and most recently with the superb football coach, Jack Badu through The Football Tango Project we teach players gender blind tango (the guys dance with each other, as do the women, the women get to lead the men...) and practice some amazing, tango-derived football drills which Jack has devised. In one, each ‘player’ is a couple, two people, locked in a tango embrace, and who, if they let go of each other give a penalty to the other side. Afterwards, we lead discussions about countering homophobia in football. I love doing all these things.
Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why?
Without a doubt, the Argentinian, Buenos Aires-based, Queer Tango activist and teacher, Edgardo Fernández Sesma. Edgardo has been indefatigable, teaching Queer Tango in a whole range of LGBT and mainstream contexts, but always with a view to making a difference to the world. I greatly admire his work. His Queer Tango flash mobs are a brilliant example: same-gendered couples turn up unannounced and dance in public spaces with the names of countries notorious for their homophobia tied to their backs. In 2015, I had the privilege of joining him to teach a couple of sessions for adultes mayores – pensioners – at a former naval base. It had once been a centre for torture and murder under the military, but now it is the Espacio Cultural Nuestros Hijos (ECuNHi). The adultes mayores danced with each other and with us, many with physical ailments and disabilities but none with the least hint of self-pity. They were so kind and welcoming to me. After the recent change of government in Argentina, Edgardo’s classes which meant so much to those who came to them, were axed, an act of social and cultural vandalism and stupidity. They keep in touch on Facebook and are now looking for a new home. Edgardo is an inspiration to me, but I am not Argentinian, not as young, and not as good a dancer! So, as an English academic and historian, I make my contributions to Queer Tango in my own way: in 2015, as part of the Queer Tango Project, with Birthe Havmøller from Aaarhus, Denmark in charge and fellow editor, Olaya Aramo in Madrid, I co-edited and wrote for a free, online international, community book The Queer Tango Book; earlier this year, also under the Queer Tango Project umbrella, Gonzalo Collazo in Uruguay and I co-curate and launched The Queer Tango Image Archive, an online archive of historical imagery from 1890-1995 relating to the themes touched on by Queer Tango; and in September this year, in Paris, Jon Mulholland at Middlesex University, Hélène Marquís of Universite Paris 8 and I are running The Queer Tango Salon: Connecting Bodies of Knowledge, where academics with intellectual knowledge of dance and gender will share a space with Queer Tango activists with embodied knowledge of dance and gender, talk to each other, and dance with each other. (We are still looking for proposals for contributions from anyone interested – practical workshops, papers, seminars, whatever – until 1 June.) Apart from a stellar line up of academics and activists as Keynotes, Edgardo Fernández Sesma himself will join us. I could not be more thrilled.
What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?
Given that each of us is obliged to be effective in imperfect worlds, trust your instincts about what you should and should not be doing and who you should trust and who you should not trust. Do not give in to ‘reason’ or ‘common sense’. Be fearless. Those instincts or ‘inner voices’ are far ‘cleverer’ than anything we might consciously work out. They are there to save us. Never be afraid to refer to them, or heed them.
If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it?
Some would advise stepping away for a while, and that can work, but I would always consider advising you to keep going. Just keep going. In the case of dancing, I hit passages when I think, “I am rubbish. My dance is repetitive and boring, x and y are far better dancers than I am and I will never be as good as they are.No one will enjoy dancing with me so I might as well stop now and go home before my shortcomings are discovered, I am ridiculed and I suffer the humiliation of rejection.” Of course, the reason my dancing may be indifferent is that I am too busy thinking about myself and about how others might be judging me, to think about my dance partner and what I, now, as me, can do for them and how, jointly, we might create a satisfying dance. Intellectually, I know this is true all the time. Emotionally, I have lapses and forget. I can force myself to remember, which usually puts things right. I am pleased to say, most of the time, a great many people seek me out as a dance partner, which is flattering, even if it risks the pesky ego re- emerging...
And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?
A well-worn, men’s dance shoe, obviously, one of a pair, which while they may not always be moving, are always dancing. Or, alternatively, having just returned from “Salida”, a wonderful international Queer Tango event in St Petersburg run by dedicated Queer Tango activists (in Putin’s Russia, where the venues are kept secret so the heavies don’t find us and smash the place up), and seen some men in such circumstances acquit themselves beautifully in high heels, possibly a dancer’s stiletto, size 7...