The Istanbul tango scene is fascinating.
It's grown in the past decade from zero to famous, and is now considered one of the most interesting outside of Argentina. People come here from around the world for several now-legendary tango festivals. Atatürk's passion for the tango may have something to do with this, but there's more going on.
I was working on a story about the Istanbul Tango Ritual this week. I spoke to dancers there about why, in their view, Tango had become so popular in Turkey. One of the students, a young man with an endearingly shy smile, said to me, "If you have a problem with your heart, an illness with your heart, tango helps to cure it. Because you have to feel the dance. It cures everything ... and at the same time, you learn how to interact with the opposite sex."
The problem with tango here is that so few men participate. And yes, it is a problem, because it really does take two to tango. The women who dance the tango tend to be uncommonly beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful women I've seen in Istanbul, which is home to some of the most beautiful women in the world. But these beautiful women cannot find anyone to dance with them.
I asked one of the instructors why, in her view, this was so. "Because men here are lazy," she said, "they don't want to work so much. Tango is very intense. The movements originate from the music's intensity. You find yourself very open, everything can happen. It forces you into so many confrontations. Not many people can deal with that. Not many people can deal with the physical aspect. In dancing, there are no masks."
I was struck by the parallel between this conversation and ones I've had lately with men in the martial arts about why so few women take martial arts classes here. They are just as earnestly persuaded that women are lazy, that they don't want to work so much, that they don't want confrontation, that they can't handle the physicality of the sport, its rawness.
It manifestly isn't so. These women were not only beautiful dancers, but superbly conditioned athletes: You have to be. They have discipline, timing, rhythm, agility, strength, the ability to sense a partner's next move. It does not make them uncomfortable to be close to a man, to do something physical together, even something with an obvious erotic overtone.
These women would excel in the martial arts. And the men would make superb dancers. But men here think dancing is unmasculine, and women think fighting is unfeminine. And so the women stand on the sidelines, waiting to dance with the few men who are brave enough to try, and the men in the martial arts classes -- who are as handsome as these women are beautiful, as a rule -- complain that they are lonely.