Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating culture, idea, lifestyle, and philosophy. In many ways, tango is a metaphor of life. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit of connection, love, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a species. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. We are humanists. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation and compromise. If you believe in this, please join the conversation and let your voice be heard, which is urgently needed and long overdue.

Together we can awaken the world.




December 23, 2012

Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I)


The tango danced in Argentina reflects a relationship between men and women that is friendly, intimate, loving and harmonious. Since the beginning of time men and women have been best friends. Men like women. They choose women to be their life partner. They treat women better than they treat other men. They are more generous to women than to other men. They fight for women with other men, and they work hard for the women they love. Women, too, like men. They always try to attract men and win men’s hearts. They trust themselves in men, devote their love to men, unite with men, and follow men’s lead. Men and women need, cherish and complete each other. Their friendship has been, for the most part, a love story.

In the milongas of Buenos Aires, I witnessed this love story. I found myself experience a wonderful relationship with Argentine women. On the outside, Argentine women do not particularly strike me as more beautiful than other women. But they surely leave an impression in my heart when I dance with them. They are the most feminine and attractive women that I know. They wear flowers in their hair. They look at you very friendly and do not avoid your eyes. They embrace you intimately and warmly with their breasts touch your chest, and dance femininely and gracefully, waving their skirts. Sentimental, passionate and seductive, they twist their body in your arms, entangle their leg with your leg, and wrap your body with their body. Femininity is not their weakness but strength, and they know how to use it to make you feel special. They may be professors, doctors and CEOs in real life, but in the milongas they are just pure, natural, simple and lovely women. That tango is invented by them is not an accident - it is in their culture. Argentine women are the personifications of femininity and affection. Dancing with them is truly one of life’s most gratifying experiences.

Without femininity, tango will not be the same. Tango requires men to be strong, decisive, dependable and protective, and women to be soft, submissive, feminine and beautiful. Men and women play different roles in tango, as they do in life. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) One is like the trunk and the other the flowers; together they make a blossomy tree. One is like the brush and the other the pigments; together they create a beautiful painting. In Europe and North America, some people reject this idea as sexism and male domination. They want tango to be void of macho posturing, gender inequality and intimate displays. They want tango partners to maintain a distance from each other, keep away from physical contact, and dance in open hand holds to avoid sexual harassment. They want men not to lead but “invite” women to move and respect women’s rights to decline the invitation, to initiate their own steps, and to lead men. They want tango to be danced by same-sex partners as well, women lead women, and men follow men. In short, they want tango to be a gender-neutral dance and the milonga to be like a workplace where everybody conducts in a "politically correct" manner. (See Tango and Gender Equality.)

The masculinization of women in Europe and North America has an undeniable impact on how tango is danced in these societies, where the modern way of life encourages women to put on uniforms, hide their gender identity, and join the work force to fight like men. Many women choose career over marriage, success over family, and independence over relationships. They push legislations to protect women’s rights and equal opportunities, and prohibit men to see women as sex objects. As a result, women, too, see themselves less and less as women, and more and more like men. In order to compete with men, women need to be strong, ambitious and aggressive like men. Many become violent, mean, sloppy and overweight, as they do not care about how men see them any more. And they raise violent, mean, sloppy and overweight daughters, expecting them also to compete with men when they grow up. Violent women produce violent murderers, as the world has just witnessed in Newtown, Connecticut. When women behave like men, the relationship between men and women deteriorates, the institution of family disintegrates, and children lose parents. When women cease to be feminine, they become less attractive to men, who then turn to same-sex relationships for help. You wonder why “marriage equality” increasingly becomes a discourse in our societies? When women lose their soft, loving nature that has been the balance to men’s aggression, the world is becoming a more dangerous place.

What femininity is to the humanity is like what green is to the environment. (See Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes.) I am nostalgic for the missing femininity in our women. I think the world is nostalgic for that, too, which is why people around the globe find Argentine women and their dance fascinating. If you dance enough tango, as do the Argentine women, you will understand that turning women into men just doesn’t work in tango, as it has caused more problems than solving any in other social discourses. That being said, I remain hopeful thanks to Argentine tango, because in tango men and women have to be who they are created to be for their common good - different yet balanced, distinct yet united, divergent yet complementary, and opposite but equal. (Also Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II).)


December 11, 2012

Private Whispers in the Milongas, by Sara Melul


The milongueros, who are the true personalities of the milonga, have the custom of quietly talking with their partner between one tango and another. These whispers sometimes knit a plot that becomes a love story. Others are memories or anecdotes of one night in the milonga. At times they remain just a lovely conversation. The important thing is that, for us who come to dance, these conversations form an essential part of the warm, embracing atmosphere and one of those most important and gratifying moments. Surely there exist many thousands of such examples which different women receive daily in the milongas.

  • How well we dance together! You have eyes that I want to eat. I dance better with you; you awaken the creativity in me.
  • For me dancing tango is like flying, to surrender to you as a dream, and to enjoy it.
  • I am going to tell you something that perhaps you will not like: The brightness of your eyes makes me blind.
  • Do you always come here? Where else do you go to dance? I ask in order to follow you until the end of the world.
  • Goddess, if I were God, I would have you in my kingdom, but I have you in my arms.
  • I congratulate you because with you one can dance very well.
  • How I enjoy dancing with you! Each tanda passes by in a breath!
  • When we dance together I feel your body.
  • You have a tiny waist that I am afraid will break.
  • To dance with you is like a dream…how can I not be very happy, I have the best woman, the best music, what more do I need?
  • I am enchanted with you, you dance like the goddess, beautiful, free, nothing worries you!
  • After dancing the first tango with you, how could I leave now?
  • They made this tango for you. It is called “to the grand doll.”
  • Since I met you there is no other woman for me! I will come next week just to dance with you…
  • You dance divinely…do you understand me? One only would want to know, to touch you and dance all night…
  • You are something unbelievable. One can dance with you all night without being bored.
  • I want to dance with you and catch your perfume!
  • I want only to enjoy you in this dance…we will not talk. I am jealous when you do not dance with me…
  • It is incredible how you dance. You are a monument to femininity.

Contributed by Sara Melul, El chamuyo en las milongas

November 3, 2012

Tango and Gender Equality


There are people who actually think that the traditional tango of Argentina is politically incorrect, and the open-embrace tango of Europe and North America is the distilled and sanitized version of tango that meets the requirements of the modern times. A book I read recently expressed the following opinion: 

“In Europe, the idea seems to be that harmony in dance is arrived at by mutual consent and that men and women are equal partners. I get the distinct impression, however, that even today, in Buenos Aires, the idea is that the man is in complete control; every action has its lead and the progress of the dance is a series of well-established consequences… A recent article from a tango web site in Argentina touched on the relationship between the man and the woman. It used the phrase ‘The woman’s attitude of surrender’… I am not at all sure this notion would find much acceptability with the women I dance with. I can see how it might be interesting to look at the undoubtedly macho flavour in history of tango and perhaps derive some ideas from it for our dance-play today. I am less happy to accept this idea as the essential feeling of tango in the modern world. I am more attracted to the idea that tango evolved out of a lucky fusion of multiple cultures, mostly European in origin. It seems that it received a transfusion of refinement in Paris in the 1920s, and it looks to me as if it is benefiting today from another shot in the arm all over Europe. Tango is growing apace here and is being distilled to meet the requirements of today’s relationships. I believe it may be losing its narrow, even parochial feel and is becoming truly international in the hands of a new and more cohesive European people. We are not frustrated, homesick, stressed Europeans, seeking love miles from home with too few women to share. We are a new breed in a new world. Though the passions we bring as individuals to the dance will be the same basic feelings all men and women have shared since the beginning of time, the intensity must be different, and the balance between the sexes has altered most of all. It may also be the case that our societies in Europe are evolving at a different pace from that of Latin America, though not, I suspect, in a different direction. In the Europe today women have immense power, status and influence and they express their needs very clearly. The modern European woman is unlikely to respond too positively to macho posturing… It seems women like their men to be positive but they also want finesse and thoughtfulness. Women hate to be bullied. They prefer to be invited and to feel that they are in full control to accept, or decline, as they feel. Accepting an invitation is not ‘surrender'... When you think about tango being danced way back at the beginning of the 20th century by earthy men in bordellos, hungry for a woman’s touch, closeness between a man and a woman was the business they were in. It was in the ‘sanitising’ of tango for the more genteel public and the wider world audience that the open embrace evolved.”

The author’s attitude of superiority toward something he apparently has little understanding is absurd. The traditional tango is not bullying. Neither is the open embrace tango all genteel. To suggest that people who dance in close embrace are somewhat dirty and less civilized than those who dance in open embrace is ridiculous and hypocritical.

What concerns me most, however, is his view on equality. I am afraid it could indeed reflect the prejudice against the traditional tango and the attempt to change tango to a gender-neutral dance in Europe and North America. We fight for the rights of those who are uneasy with their sex orientations, and we should, because they are human beings, too. But most of us do not have problems with our own genders. Most men that I know are happy with their manhood and masculinity, and they behave, function and dance like men. Most women that I know are happy with their womanhood and femininity, and they behave, function and dance like women. Men and women are equal and attractive to each other because of who they are. They appreciate, cherish, need, and complement each other. Women bear and nurse offspring. Men protect and provide for them. They play different roles in life and dance, which nobody, certainly no modern men and women, should feel ashamed of. True modern people do not think that women must act like men in order to be equal with men. They can be women, and still equal with men. True modern people believe that the relationship between men and women is love-based and not power-based. They do not regard decent intimacy between the opposite sexes as filthy, and they are not chauvinistic, especially toward a people whose art they are deeply indebted to, and whose culture they may not yet fully comprehend.

As I said in another post, “The idea of tango is to welcome another person into your personal space, to accept that person, to surrender, to let go your ego, to listen to the inner voice and feelings of that person, to be considerate, cooperative, yielding and adaptive, to enjoy the intimacy, to be one with that person, and to give comfort, pleasure and love. It is a different idea from what our culture stands for, that is, individualism, independence, self-interests and aggression.” (See The Art of Love.) Contrary to what the author thinks, the surrender in tango is mutual. It is in surrender that we stop to compete and start to adapt. Tango becomes popular in the modern world because it has the power to sublimate people. It completes us by allowing us to be one with each other in an intimate relationship void of judgmental criticisms of the last century. Tango is the opposite of hypocrisy. In tango we become better, healthier, more natural and cohesive men and women. Those who prefer political correctness to decent humanity, gender neutralization to gender expression, power struggle to love, segregation to integration, distance to intimacy, egoism to humility, and individuality to partnership live in the shadow of the past. They are evolving at a different pace from that of Latin America, and not in the same direction as the author thought. They certainly do not represent the future of tango. (See Artistic Sublimation and Vulgarism in Tango.)

October 8, 2012

How Tango Is Led



The traditional theory on how tango is led is the driving theory. According to this theory, the man is the driver of the dance, who leads the woman in much the same way as holding a baby in his arms and tenderly sways her to dream. This theory reflects the macho culture of Argentina where tango was born. The man embraces the woman with his arm encircles her body. The woman settles into his embrace, rests comfortably in his arms with her breasts intimately touches his chest. She doesn’t need to think, plan and initiate the movement. She simply surrenders herself and lets him drive her. With the torso-to-torso connection the man can easily actuate the woman. He can use his torso to gently propel her, or turn his torso to make her turn with him, or use his torso to tilt her until she has to make a step, or let her walk on his side by twirling and moving his torso to one side, or swing her torso, which will bring along the swing of her leg to form a step, or increase the momentum that, after her leg lands on the floor, will carry her body pass over the center of gravity and lead to the next step, etc. The driving method is used by the feeling-oriented dancers who incline to the feeling of the embrace, the intimate torso-to-torso connection between the partners, and the rhythmic motion of the two connected bodies moving together in sync to the music. For them, tango is synchronization. The word “follow” is an incorrect notion because it implies separation and delay. What makes a good leader is his ability to use his body to effect the movement of her body. What makes a good follower is her ability to synchronize her movement to his, so that unity, oneness and harmony can be achieved. One needs to know the steps to dance tango, but the purpose of steps is to facilitate the embrace so that the two may remain one in motion. The feeling-oriented dancers use simple steps to avoid distractions. They concentrate on the music, embrace, communication, synchronization and feelings. This theory is the foundation of the milonguero style of tango.

Another theory is the la marca theory, which defines the lead as a mark or signal. The mark can be a push or pull with his hand, a pressure on her back, a tapping on her side, a squeezing in her palm, a press with his thigh against her thigh, a body posturing, or any combination of such. It is a secret code used by the man to tell the woman how he wants her to move. “Mastering tango is mastering the making of signals.” (Tango, the Art History of Love, by Robert Farris Thompson.) The problem of this method, however, is the lack of standardization. Every man marks the steps in his own way. Without learning his set of signals, the woman would have difficulties to follow the marks. Due to such ambiguity this method remains not well defined. Nevertheless, it had a significant impact on the development of tango. Using signal to lead makes it necessary for the woman to interpret it. The man then has to adapt to her subjectivity. This changes how tango is danced. The Villa Urquiza style danced in a loose embrace and hence relying more on the hands to lead, is associated with this theory.

The theory dominating Europe and North America is the invitation theory, influenced by their individualistic, feminist and "politically correct" cultures. According to this theory, what the gentleman sends to the lady is not a drive but a suggestion or invitation. The gentleman who has given the suggestion needs to wait for the lady to initiate her movement at the pace of her choice, and then follow her. The sequence is like this: “The leader ‘invites’ the lady to enter a room. She accepts the invitation and, in her own time, enters, and he then follows. In a sense, therefore, the leader has become the follower.” (A Passion for Tango, by David Turner.) This theory breaks away from the traditional tango. It suits the movement-oriented dancers who prefer to dance in an open dance hold that allows more individuality. Without the torso-to-torso contact, the drive, which comes from the man’s torso, becomes less direct and assertive, and hence depends to a large degree on the woman’s choice of whether, when, and how to accept the “invitation”. The man has to wait and adapt to her choice. As a result, gender roles reverse, movement triumphs over feelings, individual performance replaces synchronization, fanciness supersedes simplicity, and tango becomes tango Nuevo.

September 15, 2012

Tango Is a Feeling



It is often said that steps are tango's vocabulary, that is, a tool used to express feelings, just like words are used to convey thoughts. Tango is not found in the steps, but in the heart. As someone famously put it, “Tango is a feeling that is danced.” It is difficult to define feelings, which could be anything from emotion, sentiment, mood, dream, excitement, euphoria, to duende. Simply put, what we experience in tango is a state of mind. As ineffable as it is, we are most exuberant, creative, fluent, eloquent, and satisfied when we are in that state of mind. How this state of mind comes into being is a mystery. It may not come by will or effort. It may not come always. It may not come at all even when we try hard to find it. But everyone has experienced it at some point. We are addicted to tango mainly because we have experienced that feeling. (See The Psychology of Tango.) 

The reason tango can lead us to that feeling may have something to do with the music. (See The Signature of Tango.) Good music is essential to a fulfilling tango experience. It is an inspiration indispensable for bringing our potentials (originality, imagination, ability, and fluency) into full play. Good music, marked by a lucid rhythm and rich sentiment, is not only beautiful and easy to dance to, it also generates a mood, stirs up emotions, lifts the spirit, inspires creativity, and leads us to that state of mind. When we remember a milonga where the music is enchanting and morale is high, what we remember is the feeling and not the steps. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.)

The feeling, of course, is not generated by music alone. The embrace also plays an important role. Tango is unique because of its embrace. (See The Thirteenth Pitfall of A Tanguera.) Unlike what the novices may think, tango embrace is not just a frame or hold. It is the connection that makes us one, the communication that links up our hearts, the intimacy, tenderness and comfort that satisfy our soul. It serves the need that lies deeply in our humanity, giving us a sense of connection, belonging and completion. It takes us back to our earliest memories, to the cradle of our infancy, the nourishment and comfort of our mother’s chest, the support and protection of our father’s arms, and the warmth and safety of our home. Tango reflects our longing for “home.” It reminds us that we are better not when we are alone, but when we are together. In the end, we find home in each other, because we belong to, need, and complete each other. We dance to be one with each other, thus make ourselves whole. Without the embrace, tango is not tango but another ordinary dance. 

If the embrace is important, so is the partner. We cannot find the feeling dancing tango with someone who doesn’t know how to embrace. (See The Affinity and Harmony between the Partners.) The problem of a tango pedagogy focusing on the steps is that it produces just such amateurs. They shy away from the embrace, lean backward, detach themselves from their partner, grab their partner like a shopping cart, and are not emotionally engaged. Such people completely miss the point of dancing tango. Dancing tango is like holding a baby tenderly in your arms, singing a lullaby, and swaying him/her to sleep; or resting safely in your parent’s arms, listening to the hymn, and being swayed to dream. Tango is the warm, safe, comfy and intimate feeling that we experience and share with our partner. Indeed, the beautiful music, comfortable embrace and rhythmic motion of tango have a hypnotic effect, causing us fall deeply into a state of meditation or dreaming, so heavenly that we don’t want to wake up when the tanda ends. (See The Conceptional Beauty of Tango.) One needs to know the steps to dance tango, but the whole point of the steps is to facilitate the embrace so that we may remain one in motion. (See From Steps to Feelings.) Tango resembles the relationship in real life where we face all kinds of challenges but keep on united, connected, supportive and inseparable. It requires love, trust, surrender and commitment. (See Tango Is a Relationship.) If you can see tango from this perspective, I guarantee you that you will experience a totally different dance - romantic, sentimental, sensual, dreamy, poetic, soulful, and incredibly satisfying. (See Close Embrace and Open Embrace (III).)



August 20, 2012

The Tango in All of Us, by Beatriz Dujovne


At the end of our quest, a question remains unanswered: What is the power in the heart of this dance? Why does the tango - born of the angst inherited from the 19th century and the tensions of the 20th - speak so compellingly to people of the 21st century now?

Something in it feeds our hunger for being on a level with others. Something in it understands our rebellion and soothes our longing for “home,” giving us a sense of belonging and a shared communication that knows no barriers. Something in it mirrors our nostalgia. We are nostalgic, each of us, historically: we all have emigrated from the warm, the safe, and the personal. Our feelings parallel those of the inventors of tango, who left their familiar homes to arrive in a city where they saw their dreams for a better future crushed by an unexpected reality. They had to reinvent themselves and adapt to a world of sudden and rapid change. Our world no less than theirs puts us face to face with a grave uncertainty about the future: they did not know if they could survive in the small locality of the Rio de La Plata; we do not know if we can survive in a global world that veers us away from our most precious possessions - our subjectivity and our hearts.

The malaise of our times - the philosophy “any gain is good” - demands that we look outside for direction, that we put our status ahead of our hearts, that we treasure possessions over human connections and subjective fulfillment. What we lose in these exchanges are our “homes,” our hearts, our values. We are irredeemably nostalgic for that. Historically we have arrived at a nightmare of greed and its consequences: terror, endless competition, infinite careerism, alienation.

We are not only nostalgic. The “any gain is good” attitude is the culprit of another malaise: we are developing the uncanny homesickness that descends upon people who are still at home but feel estranged from the place they have lived all their lives. It has been called “solstalgia”: it occurs when ecological changes leave people watching their gardens becoming infertile, their birds disappearing, their crops and animals perishing.

The 19th century-born tango understands our 21st century “algias,” our nostalgia and solstalgia, our isolation-algia, our fragility, our immigrant condition, our anger at human-manufactured threats to life. That’s how this dance of tenderness and connection eases our return to a safe and warm “home.”

Whether as music, dance, poetry, lifestyle, or identity, the tango still fulfills human needs and soothes our 21st century angst. This is its power, but… is this all that propelled it to rise above cultures and to resonate around the globe? As I pondered this question, I flashed back to two experiences. I copy them here from my life notes; this is the first:

I wanted to participate in the miracle of birth, as an observer. The mother had to be someone I did not know. I was allowed into the delivery room, which was the mother’s private hospital room. Decorated in shades of green, everything was impeccably sterile.

When labor began, the “all” of life looked me straight in the eyes. There it was, staring me down. At its rawest. Unedited.

Mother’s ecstasy. Mother’s agony. Cries of joy. Cries of pain. Hard labor. Sweat. Blood. Strange body materials. Malodorous fluids. A mother’s body without will. Nature pouring her insides out. A thunderstorm agitating the ocean.

A mother’s suffering became a baby’s head, then a baby’s body, then a little person who could cry his very own terror out loud with his brand now lungs. This now human being could only calm down when his father’s arms held him securely and tightly close to his chest.

The birthing mother could have been an English queen surrounded by an entourage of caretakers, giving birth in the luxury of a palace. Or a woman from the Argentine pampas. Or a Muslim with a veil. The baby could have been any color. As never before, the basic common experience of all mothers and all babies struck me as being uncannily identical.

In that delivery room, I felt myself made of the “stuff” tango is made of: the beautiful and the ugly, the joy and the pain, the blood and the sweat, the fragrances and the odors. Tango has earth in its soul. It melts down differences by zeroing in on our commonality. Tango is all of us in life’s common places. It is who we are at the core, behind our social masks.

How is it that other social dances do not take us there? I believe that the physical tango embrace is a one-second ticket to emotions so old we do not have names for them, to the moment we enter this world as a creature. In the embrace, we are held in the same exact vertical position against someone’s chest, feeling safe and connected, engaging in a myriad of bodily duets. This ineffable universal “home,” the beginning of our ontology, still matters to us in that zone of the “unconscious,” where present and past are one and the same.

I heard the sound of silence during my visit to the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, in the wildlife that inspired Charles Darwin, in the habitat that remains largely as it was when he studied it. We were not supposed to disturb the animals while touring the islands. When we encountered, on our narrow path, the Blue-footed Boobies with their white and black outfits and blue painted feet, they did not walk away or fly off. We humans stopped in our tracks. Then we detoured so as not bother them.

They owned the place. The familiar differences between urban animals and humans did not exist in Galapagos. In that semi-pristine landscape, it was crystal clear that they had more rights than we did… Detouring around them, we reached the ocean; a sea lion had given birth in the beach. I could tell because a solitary placenta was basking in the sun, waiting to become food for another species. Perfect cycles of nature: one’s discard becomes food for another.

On that beach, for the first and only time in my life, I listened to a new sound of silence. Not the one that results from absence of noise. A silence that enveloped the earth and the skies and everything in a larger dimension, where human and animals lived in a shared space and had equal rights. This zone transcended both our species.

The delivery room and the Galapagos confronted me with something basically human… maybe bigger than human… cosmic perhaps.

In bother memories I encountered a point, as it is at the beginning of life and (I imagine) as it is at the end of life. Between these two points, we do the dance of life that pushes them apart… We grow away from our common stock, from our one same story, believing that our different affiliations to country, religion or ethnicity separate us. We kill for those beliefs. And in many cultures we deny our bodies as inferior to our minds and spirits. Tango bypasses all these camouflages of the self and goes right into the ineffable zone of the cosmic where we were in the first place, to that ineffable story of sameness, those points where our bodily nature screams its existence.

Tango’s power also resides in how it works in our psyches from the inside. The carnal embrace destabilizes our polar tendencies, while giving us a visceral sense of being more complete. The dance is a meeting ground of opposites and synthesis of the extremes that are in our very cores: man and woman, masculinity and femininity, oneness and separation, spirituality and carnality - all of these universally human polarities clash and blend in the embrace. We dance our man and woman to the fullest, in halves that need and complement each other. Yet, in this dance where the polar genders meet, I feel strands of androgyny that we dance, that we hear in the music, that we experience in the poetic text and in the singing. Many compositions insist on the beat; they seem more masculine. Others are melodically slower and gentler; they seem more feminine. Others balanced in their melodic and rhythmic aspects. Men and women singers switch from grave “masculinity” to tender “femininity” in voice and feeling in a fraction of a second. So do poets, who, in a macho culture, felt free to express their “feminine” emotions.

The opposites of oneness and separation do their own dance as well. The embrace summons us back to a wonderful oceanic experience, where two of us become one - for three minutes - until we recover our boundaries. The distinguished psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel used the expression “oceanic” to refer to the blurring of boundaries between self and world (which is uncannily similar to the experience of “merging” reported by dancers in moments of transport). It is a wonderful metaphor for the connection we feel but that others cannot see. In certain moments of the dance we go back to the ocean. In the rhythmic tides of the music we rise and fall; we are waves with a form that merge with the water, but that soon enough acquire individuality again. As dancers directly or indirectly told us, even in nonspectacular moments, we often feel snatches of a vast zone beyond ourselves and a sense of connection to more than what our senses perceive.

Not only does the dance fulfill needs, but it also confronts us with our ineffable nature, with a mystery our minds cannot understand but our emotions do.

Whether as dance, lifestyle or identity, song lyric or alternative culture, the tango has proven itself able to fulfill universal human needs. Most popular dances celebrate the happy side of life and put the tragic off to the side; the tango speaks to our pain and losses without trivializing or erasing them. Instead by in fact confronting and intensifying what is usually left in the margins, it summons us back to our realness.

Its initial spread and its current resurgence around the world show that, despite the disparities of time and place, language, skin color, religion or social status, we find ourselves, we find each other, we find the tango’s strength in strangers’ arms.


August 2, 2012

The Styles of Tango


Many terms are used to describe different styles of tango, such as tango milonguero, tango apilado, tango Villa Urquiza, estilo del centro, estilo del barrio, tango de salon, tango fantasia, and tango Nuevo, etc. 

The fundamental cause of stylistic differences lies in the human psychology. People who are feeling-oriented incline to personal experience and inward emotions. These dancers, of whom many are milongueros, have developed the milonguero style, which is danced in a close embrace with slight leaning (apilado) against each other, using simple and compact steps. Such dancers often dance at the clubs in downtown Buenos Aires where the floors are crowded - hence the term estilo del centro, or downtown style. Milonguero style features the embrace.





People who are movement-oriented incline to the steps and the outward look. Such dancers, of whom many also are milongueros, have developed the Villa Urquiza style, which is danced in a loose embrace with an upright posture, using stylish steps, more pauses and adornments. These dancers like to dance at neighborhood clubs, such as Club Sin Rumbo in the neighborhood of Villa Urquiza, where the floors are less crowded - hence the term estilo del barrio, or neighborhood style. Villa Urquiza style features the footwork.




Milonguero style and Villa Urquiza style are commonly recognized as tango de salon, or social tango. Social tango is a loose term broad enough to include stylistic differences and narrow enough to exclude anti-social behaviors. Social dancers may be feeling-oriented or movement-oriented, but they all dance at the clubs and abide by the milonga codes.

Social tango dominated the culture of Buenos Aires from mid 1930s to mid 1950s. Between 1940 and 1950, some twenty-three dancers, who were more movement-oriented than their Villa Urquiza colleagues, met regularly at the Club Nelson to work on new steps, and they gave birth to a new style which they named tango fantasia. (The names of these 23 dancers are listed in Robert Farris Thompson's book, Tango, the Art History of Love.) Danced in open embrace, tango fantasia dramatized tango with showy figures and fancy footwork, and separated itself from social tango by using choreography and not conforming to the milonga codes. The purpose of this style is to perform on stage; therefore, it is also known as performance tango, show tango, exhibition tango, or stage tango. 




From 1955 to 1983 Argentina was ruled by a succession of military juntas whose policies discouraged social tango. Curfews were enforced and people were under routine checks for their records. Many were arrested or simply disappeared for aligning with the previous Peronist regime. As a result, people stopped dancing socially and tango went underground. The absence of social tango during this period gave tango fantasia an opportunity to take the stage. When the military rule ended in 1983, it was this style that led the revival
of tango. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.)

During the tango renaissance, some movement-oriented dancers went even further to create tango Nuevo, a hybrid style combining tango and non-tango elements, such as exotic music and eccentric steps. Tango Nuevo not only separates itself from social tango, but from tango entirely, in my opinion, because it no longer possesses the essential characteristics of tango and thus ceases to be tango as it was created for. (See The Alienation of Tango).





July 19, 2012

Original Is Beautiful


Tango Nuevo is out of fashion now. The new trend is the competition tango in salon style. When this style first came out, it was refreshing. So, many people copy it. They all walk the same way, pause the same way, turn the same way, and move the same way - with elegant postures and refined footwork, but little originality and personality, like they all come out of the same mold. The following is an example.




I came across some video clips of Argentine folk dances, which, in comparison to the sterile type of the modern tango, I found fresh and original. We can see the connection between these folk dances and tango. Unfortunately, the contemporary tango is more and more stylized. I wish it retained more of such originality, simplicity and freshness.







In the dances of the old milongueros, we still find the same originality, simplicity and freshness. The milongueros do not copy others because they don’t dance for impression, but for pleasure. In fact they don’t care much about how they look, they just dance their feelings about the music. Every milonguero has his own unique style, which may be raw, but never boring.












True beauty is original, effortless, elegant with ease, graceful yet natural, beautiful without pretension. It is the outflow of one’s inner quality, talent, personality and beauty, not an imitation.







July 10, 2012

The Art of Love


One of the most important rules in tango is not to blame, criticize or teach your dance partner. Milongueros follow this code strictly because they know the consequence. Recently, two of my students had a big fight. It started out of perhaps a very good intention to help. She said something about his leading. He defended himself and said something about her following. The conversation escalated to insults and ended up with two broken hearts. They perhaps will not dance with each other again.

Learning tango is like learning a language, and it takes about as long. (See Tango Is a Language (I).) Anyone less than five years in tango is a novice. Novices are the most frustrated people. They want to dance tango well but don’t know how. There are so many things they don’t know, including rules and manners. (See Milonga Codes.) Every one of them has loads of problems, and they all have opinions on each other. Experienced dancers don’t dance with them. So they stick together and blame each other for their own problems. The irony of “the pot calls the kettle black” is that they are two of a kind. When one blames the other for being stiff, the other is likely thinking the same. By the time they have learned the steps, feelings are hurt and relationships broken.

Beginners often don’t realize that, whether you like it or not, the people learning tango with you are the most important people in your tango life. You will likely dance with them for a long time. There are only limited people in each tango community. These are the people called together by fate. It’s better to accept each other and allow each other time to improve. (See 惜缘.) In real life, if you like someone you say how beautiful she is. If you tell her she is ugly, she will not go out with you. You do the same in tango if you want to dance with someone. Always say good things about one’s dance even if you are asked for an honest opinion. How many husbands are kicked out of the bed after giving their wives their honest opinion? Remember, tango is not just a dance. It is the art of love.

Robert Farris Thompson said in his book, Tango, the Art History of Love, that tango “is the dance that teaches the world to love.” The idea of tango is to welcome another person into your personal space, to accept that person, to surrender, to let go your ego, to listen to the inner voice and feelings of that person, to be considerate, cooperative, yielding and adaptive, to enjoy the intimacy, to be one with that person, and to give comfort, pleasure and love. It is a different idea from what our culture stands for, that is, individualism, independence, self-interests, and aggression. Hopefully, tango will make us a better people who treat others with respect, appreciation and attentiveness, accept them as who they are, and put them, instead of oneself, at the center of one’s life and dance. Until then, we are not qualified as tango dancers, and cannot dance well anyway. (See Tango Is a Relationship.)

June 23, 2012

Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts


Buenos Aires is one of the largest metropolises in the world. One thirds of Argentina’s 41 million people live in Buenos Aires. The city was built by the European immigrants. At the beginning of the 19th century, Buenos Aires was only a small town with a mixed population of Spanish and Native Americans, often intermarried. The Spanish brought in slaves in large number with their music and dances from Africa. During the second half of the 19th century, the Argentine government made a conscious decision to reduce the black population and expand the white population, which led to the massive immigrations from Span, Italy, and other parts of Europe to Argentina. By the end of the 19th century the original population of Buenos Aires has been completely swamped by the European immigrants. We can trace tango to 150 years ago to its African origin from which the primitive form of the dance first appeared, but the main inventors of tango were European immigrants of the late 19th century and early 20th century who built the modern city of Buenos Aires.

The fact that tango was created mainly by the immigrants is significant. Far away from home, disproportional in gender, the immigrants were the most lonely, homesick and nostalgic people. They came to the milonga to dance the loneliness, homesickness, nostalgia and grief in them, to find a shoulder to rely on, to quench their thirst for love, and to touch and be touched by another human being of the opposite sex. Tango is their refuge. The intimate, soulful, sensual, and comforting nature of tango reflects and serves their deep, inward, human needs. That’s why tango is danced in a close embrace in which the two partners intimately lean into each other, chest against chest and cheek touches cheek. They communicate through their bodies their emotions, sentiments and interpretations of the music. Like the dance itself, tango music is created to express deep feelings. Its rhythm is crisp, forceful and easy to dance to, but its melody is supple, fluid and sentimental. Every note or phrase is played with a “masculine” effect - strong, sharp and steady, or a “feminine” effect - lingering, submissive and emotional. The two moods intertwine and respond to each other, reflecting the man and woman in the dance. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.)

Tango reached its maturity and dominated the culture of Buenos Aires between 1930s and 1950s. This period is known as tango’s Golden Age. That was followed by almost thirty years of the Dark Age during which tango disappeared. In 1955 a military coup ousted Juan Domingo Peron, the democratically elected president. Peron had actively supported tango. The dancers aligned with him were suspicious to the anti-Peronist juntas, who created a climate that discouraged tango. (See The Styles of Tango.) Most people stopped dancing, and musicians stopped playing for the dance floor. The music produced in the Dark Age is largely for listeners and not dancers. The revival of tango started in the mid 1980s after the restoration of democracy in Argentina. Since then tango has gained worldwide popularity, and is now danced in almost every country in the world and almost every city in Europe and North America.

As one BBC commentator remarked, “Tango contains a secret about the yearning between men and women.” In many cultures, intimacy between the opposite sexes is deemed sexual, and therefore is repressed voluntarily or involuntarily. Men and women cannot be intimate unless they want to have sex. In other words, such cultures do not approve non-sexual intimacy between men and women. But Argentine tango represents a different view, or culture, that recognizes and sanctions innocent intimacy. The Argentinians are a passionate and intimate people. Tango is a product of their culture. The triumph of tango, after all, is the triumph of its idea, which regards nonsexual intimacy as decent, healthy and beautiful. 

But, the triumph of that idea does not come without a cost. Many things have changed since the Golden Age. The tradition has been suspended for almost thirty years. The immigrants have settled down. The gender balance has regained. Many old dancers have died. The entire young generation did not know how to dance tango. The only tango survived the Dark Age was the stage tango. As a result, the revival of tango was led by a group of stage performers, who brought their show, Tango Argentino, to Europe and North America, where they ignited an enthusiasm for learning their style of tango - Tango Fantasia, which is different from the tango danced in the Golden Age.

The tango danced in the Golden Age is Tango de Salon, or social tango. It is a popular dance suited to the tastes, needs and abilities of the ordinary people. It is danced on a crowded dance floor for pleasure and not for show, and is administered by the milonga codes. It is an intimate, feeling-oriented and improvised dance, typically danced in close embrace with considerable bodily contact between the partners. Its steps are simple and compact, allowing the dancers to concentrate on the emotions stirred by the music, the sensation and comfort of the embrace, the communication of feelings through torso contact between them, and the harmony of movements in unison with the music. Dancing Tango de Salon is an intimate, soulful and personal experience. What matters is how it feels and not how it looks.

Tango Fantasia, or show tango, on the other hand, is designed for performing on stage. It is a highbrow dance involving difficult steps and techniques not suited to the common people, but the professionals with expert skills. It is a fancy, movement-oriented and choreographed dance, typically danced in open embrace for broader movement possibilities. Its steps are wide, flashy, dazzling, often dangerous and requiring a lot of space to do. It is not intended to be an intimate, soulful and personal experience, but an exhibition of fancy steps and showy figures to impress the audience. Safety, comfort and user-friendliness are not its concerns. It does not abide by the milonga codes and is not suited to a crowded dance floor. What matters is how it looks and not how it feels.

Without the same historical and cultural background, the Europeans and Americans are more interested in Tango Fantasia than Tango de Salon. They do not have a sudden explosion of immigrant population crowding together in one big city. They do not have a severe shortage of women. (See The Chivalry of the Milongueros.) Their dance floors are not crowded. Their cultures do not sanction innocent intimacy. The open-embrace style meets their taste. On top of that, their teachers are the stage dancers from Argentina. Before long, Tango Fantasia becomes a fashion in Europe and North America.

Despite this, the tango fervor abroad rekindled the pride of the Argentinians for their traditional dance. Milongas are reopened. Portenos return to the dance floor. Tango salons and clubs are packed again. Tango music, tango fashion and tango tourism flourish. Buenos Aires once over becomes the Mecca of tango, where dancers all over the world come to dance tango with the locals. But foreigners quickly discovered that the tango they have learned at home is not the same tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

Having tasted the intriguing close-embrace tango of Buenos Aires, most visitors don’t want to go back to the open-embrace style. Some decide to stay for good. Others return home to spread the message. Their number increases each year as more and more people come to Buenos Aires to dance tango with the locals. Trend starts to shift from open embrace to close embrace in Europe and North America. It may still take years for the close-embrace tango to settle down and become the dominant style there, but that will inevitably happen, I believe. Tango is created to serve a human need. (See Why People Dance Tango.) Its form must meet its purpose. What is external and fashionable may change, but what is internal and essential endures. As more and more people savor the charm of close embrace tango, as milongas become increasingly crowded, people will want to, and have no choice but dance in close embrace. Eventually, what belongs to the stage will separate from what belongs to the dance floor, again.

Here is an example of the tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires.




June 16, 2012

Dissociation and Gear Effect


The woman's weight must be on the ball of the foot so that she can pivot as if on a fixed pin. But she does not pivot her whole body. She only pivots her lower body from the waist down. The waist is like the swivel that joins the upper body and the lower body. Because her upper body is connected to the man who is in front of her, she has to rotate her lower body, letting it face a different direction to enable her movement around him. This is known as “dissociation”.

An experienced woman knows that a small twist of her torso by the man indicates, and must result in a big rotation of her lower body. The man leads her by turning her torso slightly to the direction that he wants her to go. On receiving the signal, she needs to swivel her hips until they are perpendicular to her upper body. In this twisted position she is able to walk on the side of the man while her torso is connected to his. The technique suits the flexible body of the woman and highlights her femininity, as she alternately turns her hips side to side while her chest is constantly facing the man.

A typical figure using dissociation is the ocho, in which the man leads her to draw an S on the floor with one foot, and then draw another S on the floor with the other foot. The two S’s are overlapped in the opposite directions so they look like the figure 8. To dance the ocho, she has to swivel her hips to one side and make a forward step with one leg, then swivel her hips to the other side and make a forward step with the other leg, and then swivel her hips back to face the man. A similar figure using this technique is the back ocho, in which she dances the ocho backwards. She first swivels her hips and steps backwards to one side of him with one leg, then swivels her hips and steps backwards to the other side of him with the other leg. A third example using this technique is the molinete, which is a combination of a front ocho, a side step, a back ocho, a side step in a circular motion. In all three examples the woman keeps her chest connected to the man and rotates her hips from one side to the other side alternately.





The rotation of her hips causes her torso to roll slightly on his chest, generating a pleasant sensation known as “gear effect”. The torso is the center of her attention through which everything, including emotion, music interpretation, intention and seduction, is expressed and exchanged. The woman should not glue her torso on the man’s chest, but should let it roll side to side as she swivels her hips back and forth. At each swivel, the weight of her torso is rolled to one side. As she swivels her hips to the other side, her torso rolls along until its weight is transferred to the other side.

The rolling of the torso is caused by the rotation of the hips. To create the gear effect, the woman has to swivel her hips fully until her torso rolls along. She needs to make the rolling void of abruptness and bumpiness so it feels smooth, musical and comfortable, which is not easy to do and needs a lot of practice to master. A beginner who can't do dissociation often crosses her leg instead. Consequently, her torso remains square and does not trundle. Tango is a dance in which both partners pleasure each other with their bodies. An experienced woman knows how to use her body to seduce the man, just like an experienced man knows how to display the feminine beauty of the woman. (See Revealing her Beauty in Tango.) Gear effect increases the sensual pleasure of the dance - a feature of close-embrace tango that is missing in the open-embrace style. It is one of the things that make the two styles fundamentally different.





May 7, 2012

The Integrity of Tango


The way we dance tango reflects who we are. We are a big, rich and powerful nation. We are used to that small and weak nations listen to us, not we listen to them. We tend to do whatever we want, or have our own way, despite what other people want or value. We launch wars in the name of freedom, overthrow governments that we don’t like, disregard other nations’ sovereign rights, violate their entitlement to their own creations - Argentine tango for example - and treat which disrespectfully at our will. Our politicians fight only for the special interests they represent and fail to balance the interests of all people. “My way, or no way!” is how they do things in Washington and elsewhere within and beyond our borders. We have lost the greatness, magnanimity and humility that we used to have when we were a small, weak and poor nation, and become a self-important, single-minded, inconsiderate, obstinate, and arrogant people.

Rudeness, disrespect, contempt, snobbishness, aggression, disobedience, showoff, self-glorification, endangering others, invading other’s space, blocking the traffic, running into people, and other misconducts in our milongas are examples of how the lack of integrity affects our tango dancing. Tango requires love, respect, courtesy, humility, cooperation, submission, yielding, consideration, compromise, and finesse. A shallow, self-centered, inconsiderate, arrogant, disagreeable and uncooperative person cannot see beyond himself and dance tango well. Tango involves dualities such as form and essence, movement and feeling, beauty and comfort, skill and attitude, exhibition and fellowship, creativity and standardization, individuality and partnership, etc. A superficial, narrow and unbalanced person cannot see beyond the surface and appreciate the depth of tango. Such individuals tend to focus only on the steps and overlook the connection, feeling, teamwork, etiquette and culture of tango. They think that he who can do fancy steps is a good dancer, while in fact that is not necessarily true. We often see individuals so over performing themselves that they put their partners into shame. Are such individuals good dancers? No. The skill alone does not make a good dancer, it takes integrity as well.

Many people think that a beautiful tango is a good tango, which is not necessarily true either. Tango has both tangible and intangible sides. One can develop skills aiming at increasing its visual impression, or one can develop skills aiming at increasing its sensual pleasure. There are people who deliberately deviate from the essence of tango, break the embrace, drift apart the partner, and sacrifice the intimacy, soulfulness, sensuality and comfort of the dance, just so that they can achieve stunning visual effects for impression. I don’t think such is a good tango even if it looks dazzling and striking. A good tango embodies a pleasant integration of all tango elements, including sentiment, intimacy, feeling, soulfulness, sensuality, comfort, elegance and beauty.

Integrity is not only a matter of moral character and sound thinking. Tango fits better a culture that values integrity than a culture that values individualism. In a culture that values integrity, people learn to think beyond oneself and be more considerate, respectful and cooperative. Overemphasis on personal liberty, individual rights and self-interests could cause some people to put “me” above everyone else. When such people assume the position of power, that is often why things become so wrong in our politics and milongas.

Integrity is the ability to see beyond the tangible, superficial and self, to understand the importance of others to oneself, the invisible to the visible, the substance to the form, the whole to the part, the community to the individual, the feeling to the movement, the embrace to the footwork, the comfort to the beauty, etc. Tango needs integrity because it is a comprehensive art that involves many elements. Let’s hope that, as a reader said, “Tango is one more tool to help this culture on its way.”

April 28, 2012

Tango Etiquette: The Pocket-Sized Version, by Mark Word


If you are new to tango, you will find that tango is not like any other dance, and one of the reasons it is so unique is that it has its own culture.  Tango's culture developed an "etiquette" to protect the dance experience from those who would ruin it - those who hurt others on the dance floor, those who demand dances or pester others.  Many do not like Rules and Laws.  So let me introduce you to "Etiquette" the little sister of her bigger brothers, "Rules" and "Laws."   Get to know Etiquette, she will make sure you dance more with the people you want.  If you leave her at home, I promise you are sure to ruin not only your fun but ours too.


Chapter One: Preparation for the milonga

What to Wear:  Dress to impress. Dress to be as sophisticated as the music is and how the opposite sex dresses.  Ladies: Do not wear something that will ruin his clothes or be a knot in his stomach or chest if you dance close embrace. Tangueros: Respect the ladies and dress as if you were taking them out! Would you wear jeans and a t-shirt if you were going to a restaurant with that beautiful, well-dressed woman you have in your arms? I realize that in Europe that jeans were introduced as very expensive imports, and jeans seem okay in Europe, but they are not okay. Blue jeans are work clothes in many parts of the world or casual, and the woman you are dancing with is dressed way above you. This is not a European or causal dance. I can say this as an American: If new tangueos in Buenos Aires have succumbed to the imperialism of American casual culture, then we have all lost the beauty of tango traditions. Is it really so hard to dress up to the lady's level?

Hygiene 101:  Nothing much to say here your mother has not said, other than hygiene is very important and the easiest thing to fix.  Bring an extra shirt if you sweat a lot.


Chapter Two:  Arriving at the Milonga

The Alpaha and Omega Rule: The first tanda after putting on your shoes belongs to your significant other. Likewise, the last tanda is reserved for your special partner. A tanda is group of songs (tango/milonga/vals) that are separated by a short interlude called the "curtain" (cortina).

The Cabeceo:  A nod of the head in Spanish is a "cabeceo." Using a cabeceo is the proper way of requesting 15 minutes of a tanguero/tanguera's time. The idea of the cabeceo is not to ask, which causes the other to be obligated to dance. It is all in the eyes. If someone does not return your cabeceo by looking back at you, then respect their decision (or poor eyesight). 


Please note that most of the problems and predicaments addressed below about etiquette are caused by not using the cabeceo.  

For the Visually Impaired: I learned how even the near blind can do well and use the idea of the cabeceo to enjoy their dance.


Chapter Three:  On the Dance Floor

Lady Leads the Way? I do not believe that woman truly follows the man. Both man and women follow the music first. But one thing is unfortunately true of nearly milonga I have gone to in my life: Women like to lead me onto the dance floor. This is dangerous. (See Chapter V:  To and From the Dance Floor.)

One Tanda at a time: You just had a great tanda with this new guy or gal from out of town. Maybe you can get two in a row? There is a problem with this. First, he may be with someone else, and that creates suspicion because two-tandas-in-a-row is the beginning of true love. Repeated tandas are a sign of tango nirvana and true love. Is that what you want to say - “I am in love with the way you dance”? The other may like or even love the way you dance, but have other reasons not to reciprocate this feeling of tango adoration. It may be nice to be adored but I recommend a bit of caution here. You can unwittingly create a feeling of obligation to “make” his or her night. In traditional Buenos Aires multiple tandas have a special meaning - let's consummate this tango adoration. Some will not believe me (see Chapter VI). 

New meanings for words you thought you knew:

"Thank you" does not necessarily mean what you think it does. It is only said at the end of a tanda. Sooner means: “Please let me sit down; I do not feel comfortable dancing with you.”

"You are welcome" is not the proper response to "thank you" at the end of a tanda. One counters with "It was my pleasure." Otherwise it is as if you were the giver only and received nothing yourself.

"I am sorry" is superfluous except in very small doses, or when you hurt someone. This is a social dance and not a performance. In the same vain, avoid excuses, such as “I am rusty” or “I am not very good.” Just let your soul dance. If the other person realizes you have deficits, you are better off with being just who you are. I never tell someone when I think my own cooking has too much salt. They may not have noticed and saying something makes them taste it. Dance is the same way.  Just enjoy what is happening.

Miscellaneous Dance Floor Etiquette:

Wise teachers are silent at a milonga.  Sure, you know a lot. Maybe you are a teacher. A rocket scientist. No matter! Avoid TEACHING on the dance floor. That is the role of a práctica. This is an often broken rule where I now live in Germany. Teachers that do this are ignorant of this very important part of tango culture. Stop teaching! This is not only for the poor woman who you have decided to bequeath your great tango wisdom. Your silence is most  important for everyone else who must listen to your instruction as we pass you on the dance floor. Go to a práctica or take her home to your "dance studio" and save us all.

Wise Students are silent at a milonga:  Don't ask for advice on the milonga dance floor. Beginners love advice. Ladies, please don't ruin a man who was doing pretty good about not talking. If you must, go to his "dance studio" for instruction, okay?


Chapter Three, Part II:  On the Dance Floor

Floorcraft Basics ...that even experienced dancers sometimes have never learned

Without etiquette tango is dangerous.

Emergency Medicine Rule:  "Cause no harm and protect." This is the basic floorcraft rule. You thought the first rule on a social dance floor was to dance, but rather, it is to cause no harm and to protect. Dancing is clearly second! If you go to the emergency room the last thing you want is more problems than when you arrived. For the medical staff the rule "cause no harm and protect" is paramount. Likewise, when you come to the dance floor with a woman who has sore feet, don't make it worse with cuts and sprains!

Avoid stepping backwards against the flow of the dance floor. A backstep is a poor starting default - even if that is what you were taught in the "basic step." The basic step should be to the side or forwards! Going backwards is basically a bad idea.

Dance in lanes. The outside lane is near the edge of the floor and is usually reserved for the best dancers who keep up a good flow. Men who do not keep up the flow are called "rocks in the stream." The second lane is nearer the center and should be far away enough from the outside lane to avoid bumping or physical harm. No passing on the right, especially on the right of the outside lane - a favorite pastime of some tangueros. 

Fill in the Space in front of you without tailgating. A favorite trick of stage dancers, pretending to be social dancers at a milonga, is to have lots of room ahead of them so they can yo-yo back and forth, using four times the space of everyone else.  Dancing well in a SMALL SPACE is the final frontier of advanced dancers.  Need space to dance?  Time for some Small Space Exploration.

Tango is NOT a race!  Ask the ladies. They like a dynamic of expressive slowness with faster moments when the music calls for it. The dance floor may look like a racetrack, but it is not. The person who veers in and out of lanes is by far the most dangerous person on the dance floor. Lady leads, this rule applies to you as well.

Safety is not just a man's job: My favorite tangueras often have their eyes closed but they sense a change in my body when danger is near and keep their feet to the ground. Ladies, if you do not have this psychic ability, open your eyes. Also, never go first onto the dance floor - that is the man's job for safety reasons. You are not being a wise if you allow him to invite you to walk out into traffic -- in the street or on the dance floor!


Chapter Four:  Near the Tables

When you hang out at the tables, become a sociologist studying people.  You will notice a few kinds of people:

The Bodyguard: After a woman (or a man) has declined a dance, the "body guard" will around with now a secondary job of being his or her bodyguard. Let’s say that he even used a cabeceo, and she responds by saying “not now.”  He might as well read that as “maybe not now, or forever.”  This poor soul should have just taken off to deal with the rejection. Waiting for her to rest as she said she would is just deepening the would or putting pressure on her to dance with a pitiful guy. She does not need a bodyguard. The same goes for women - just leave if he says "not now." 

Time-out: Once you have declined a dance with a little white lie, you are in Time-Out. Just like kindergarten. None of this would be happening if the cabeceo had been used. But let's say she says, "No, I am resting." So now you leave. He or she who has said “not now” is in the "penalty box" for at least that tanda. I believe that the time-out is not in force when the "no" does not contain a little white lie. That is why it is best to simple say, “no, thank you” and not equivocate about perhaps later. If you do equivocate with something like, "I am resting my feet," it is simply not nice to then go off and dance with someone else. Some would say that you are in time-out for the tanda after saying no, but follow your sense of kindness. No lie, no foul or time-out. For the right person and said from a truly gentle person, one can avoid the little white lie. Here are some solutions which you might want to practice to avoid the white lie:
 
The White Flag Technique: 
A way to save only the best dances for the right man is for her to take off her shoes later in the evening. This is body language for "my feet have surrendered." Leave her alone unless you are close to her and you know that she is saving herself for only most effortless dancer.

"No" vs. "forever no" Spouses are remarkably like dance partners: Both cannot read minds. If you ever obviously avoid a cabeceo or even say "no" to someone but really want to dance later, then make this clear.  I have stopped trying to get a cabeceo from women whom I THOUGHT were shunning me. Then later I find out from other tangueras that they think I am shunning them. Requiring others to read your mind is not very helpful in any relationship. Tell the person you like to dance in the future but not now at this moment. You can even add that you have promised a few dances, but "please know that I do enjoy dancing with you!"

The Cortina Silent Prayer: The Cortina Prayer is that you wish you were dancing, ¿obvio, no?  Did you ever notice that people pray in silence?  Let's have a MOMENT of silence during the cortina if you want to dance. Tell your conversation partner, "During the cortina, let's look up and catch someone's eye." Mobile phone text messages, talking with friends and generally being spaced out will have disastrous results for your tango prayers and as well as conversations with Deity. Amen?

Cutting In: Interrupting others in a conversation is perhaps the second most difficult social skill at a milonga. (The most difficult follows below.) I only have seen one person cut in during a tanda. That's pretty rare.  However, what do you do when you wish to dance with someone engaged in a conversation at the tables? Stand back in the periphery for a moment and if you do not get a cabeco from the person, then walk away. Some women will drop a conversation in a moment to dance; others will be perturbed by "lurking tangueros."

The Couple: There are three basic types of couples. The general rule of thumb is that when you approach any couple you will need to engage both in this agreement.

Type A: The couple is talking.  That's all. Do not butt in to ask for a dance. She or he may be working up to dancing together. Try to get his/her eye from the periphery, and if not walk away.

Type B: The couple dances with everyone, but they are sitting together, perhaps resting. If your potential dance partner is looking up, then try a cabeceo but acknowledge the partner too once you have established eye contact.

Type C: The couple dances mostly with each other.  In fact they are  - “the couple” - just sitting there. It is hard to know what is going on with them. They might have high levels of anxiety with dancing with others, or have had fights over jealousy from dancing with others. Perhaps they just love to sit and watch. However, the most likely thing that is going on is that he has a bubble over his head that reads, “My God, I wish someone would ask her to dance so I could go dance with someone else.” And the bubble over her head reads, “He’ll go off and dance and no one will ask me, and I will feel like a fool sitting here.” A cabeceo for either him or her may be the most interesting challenge at a milonga. Really this is not archaic stuff, but social grace. So acknowledge both and also make it known through social grace that you would like to dance with half of that couple! Good luck! This is a task only for the brave and/or foolish.


Chapter Five:  To and from the dance floor

Entering the dance floor: It is the man’s job to get the oncoming man’s attention before entering the dance floor. Men: A woman does not go into a revolving door first. The man does. He pushes and she follows.  Just like revolving door, the “Ladies First Rule” is NOT the rule of entering a dance floor. Both the man and the woman's have their roles here. Ladies, please leave entering the dance floor to the man because he is the one who has to catch the oncoming man's eye and gauge the speed of oncoming dance-traffic.

Oncoming Traffic: So let's say she does not pull him out on the floor, now what? Unfortunately, the oncoming man may be thinking of driving his car in city traffic and not understand tango etiquette. Just let him drive by. You don’t want this guy behind you anyway. A smart dancer will avoid entering where the majority of people enter the dance floor, which is usually the closest place to the tables. The wise tanguero finds a place which is not crowded, and even chooses the two men who will be around him. If the other men know me, we have just created what is called a “train” - and men who dance dangerously will not be allowed in.  Really poor dancers in some communities will even be squeezed off the dance floor by a train of men who do not appreciate their dangerous moves. Both in the US and in Buenos Aires I have heard of this happening.

"It's Curtains for You!": Cortina means "curtain." A smart DJ has a short piece of music that is easily identifiable as not tango as the "cortina." This music is the sign to step off the dance floor (the stage of life), even if the you are going to do act two with the same person. As mentioned above, the best dancers are waiting to hear the music after the cortina before they catch the eye of another dancer. The smartest dancers pay attention to the order of the DJ, which is often three tandas of tangos, and a vals tanda, followed by three more tandas of tangos and finally a milonga tanda.

Escorting the woman back off the dance floor: Treat her like a lady, and offer her your arm. This is tango, and for a moment you are in Buenos Aires. Commentary: I have learned that even though a woman appreciates being treated like a lady, one need not always take her very far because she might be scoping out the next cabeceo. I now try for the edge of the dance floor.


Chapter Six:  After the Milonga

Going for coffee (un cafecito): This is code language for going out and staying up late but not from caffeine intake.

The man waiting for you with a smile at the bottom of the stairs: See? You didn't believe me about dancing three tandas in a row. Now, he wonders why you act surprised when you deny going out for "un cafecito."

This is nothing to do with etiquette, but you stayed with me this far, so let me give you one other late night tango tip:

Your Aching FEET!! Do NOT soak your feet in hot water. I learned this from a woman who was born in stilettos: You soak your feet in the coldest water you can stand. Also, I know this from running many marathons too. Hot water on swollen feet or muscles is only making things worse. Cold water will have wonderful results if you are planning to dance again anytime soon. I used to hate cold water on my feet, but now I love it because I know what it is doing to help me dance again soon and without soreness.

Happy dancing!

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