Instagram or It Didn’t Happen

I’m convinced it’s the slogan of our time. Thanks to Facebook and other social media platforms, many of us don’t feel real without posting another FOMO-inducing selfie, another strategic who’s-who group pic to bolster our “online presence,” another well-timed video post to increase our visibility. If there’s no evidence, did it even happen? If your favorite restaurant hasn’t posted in two weeks, are they even open anymore?

As an art and photography junkie, I’m well aware of the importance and lasting power of the image, the stories they tell and the memories they evoke.  Gordon Parks, Nan Goldin, Carrie Mae Weems, William Eggleston, Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams are virtually household names.

But with the relentless rise of visual culture, is the image being mistaken for the moment?  As we allegedly trade stuff for experiences, am I the only one feeling the malaise of expertly curated experience glut?

Occasionally I’ll get an alert from Google Photos with a batch of pictures I took on a trip abroad.  “Remember that day you wandered through Prague?” the app inquires, prodding and skeptical, on our trip down memory lane. “Or that time you climbed part of that mountain in Argentina?  Hmm? Maybe that obscenely sunny day in Madrid when you found the Royal Palace by accident?” Generally the answer is, “No.” No, I don’t have the faintest memory, despite having 40 or more photos of that day sitting neglected in the digital cloud, yearning for nostalgia I can’t muster.

And it’s funny, I distinctly recall the ardent desire to buy my first digital camera, the excitement of receiving it by mail from Amazon, the feel of its matte chrome finish, and the thrill I felt upon examining the sharpness of the first images I’d captured. Indeed, that little device would render my best “memories” in the HD:  hundreds – if not thousands – of high-resolution reminders that I was there but not really there some days, not entirely present for stretches of time, completely inattentive to just being wherever I claimed to be.  I allowed the camera to impose itself oddly between me and the thing I truly wanted.

And tango as a movement practice isn’t immune to this dilemma.

Gancho or it didn’t happen.
Sacada or it didn’t happen.
Volcada or it didn’t happen.
Complex barrida sequence or it didn’t happen.
Easily pick up that entire combination the visiting maestro just introduced or it didn’t happen.

In other words, No eye-popping off-axis fireworks? Then you’re not really a tango dancer yet…right?  No brooding tango face captured by the festival photographer? Well …

Certainly, folks have different motivations for starting tango: some come for the embrace, some for social aspects, and others for the myriad possibilities in movement, all of which are legitimate.  And to clear the air, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the moves mentioned above.

As social dancers, though, tango asks that we concern ourselves not just with the dimensions of movement that appeal to the eye, or the accumulation of clever new steps, but also to the phenomenon of touch, of perceiving and being perceived, tactility, physical receptiveness, and kinesthetic communication. Tango asks that we attend to the feeling of being with and for our partners, a process that generally hides itself in plain sight of the camera’s prying eye.