Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of connection, love, unity, 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 community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

October 28, 2015

The Age Prejudice in Tango

Few years ago a friend, after read one of my blog articles, made a comment in a personal email to me. Though I've kept the content private in respect of her concern at the time, I think it is time to "declassify" it now, because my last post, How to Get More Invitations in the MIlonga, generated a call for discussion on the men's part of the problem as well, and her comment is just about that. The following is her comment.

"I read your blog article with interest and agree with everything you say, but I'd like to comment on one aspect of behavior in relation to tango that you didn't mention. I'm making the comment privately instead of publicly because I know from bitter experience how annoyed it makes men to hear what I think on this subject. It has to do with the attitude that men have at milongas regarding whom they choose to dance with, and men in Argentina are even worse than men in America about this. Most men feel a sense of entitlement to dance only with the women they feel personally attracted to and think will enhance their esteem. I can understand not wanting to dance with women who are bad dancers or nasty people, but this is seldom the case. Men tend to ignore women who are either not sufficiently good-looking or not young enough, even if they are good dancers and even if they have friendly relationships with them. Women can sit out tanda after tanda, surrounded by men they know and who otherwise treat them in a friendly way, but who will ask every other woman around to dance while ignoring those who are deemed undesirable as potential romantic partners or status symbols on the dance floor. And men get very angry when this subject is broached, or even if a woman shows her disappointment on her face while sitting alone, because they don't like being made to feel that anything is expected of them that they don't want to do, or that they've failed in courtesy or generosity of spirit. Then they blame the women for being bad sports and having bad attitudes and being unfairly demanding. We're all taught that milongas are social parties, and much is made of the idea of the tango community, but although most women will dance with men they don't particularly enjoy dancing with just to be civil and not hurt people's feelings, almost no men will put themselves out to help a woman have a good time at a milonga unless they really want to dance with her for their own pleasure. I think that the concept of integrity and social concern as opposed to selfish individualism that you so rightly address also should incorporate more compassionate behavior in the choice of partners. At every milonga I've ever been to, I see women suffering silently as they sit unasked among groups of friends and acquaintances, to say nothing of strangers, while pretty young girls get asked constantly even if they're beginners. My own gray hair has put me in this position all too often, and in Buenos Aires I was even told that if I wanted men to dance with me I'd better dye my hair or get a wig, because guys don't like to be associated with aging women on the dance floor. This chronic macho selfishness is the biggest drawback to tango for women, and it's a huge source of sorrow for more women than you could imagine."

I have to admit the guilt I felt as I was reading these words, because until then I've never seriously thought about how deeply some women could feel because of the way they were treated by men, including myself. Though regarded as a refuge by many, the milonga is a bittersweet place in reality, where men and women come to tango with each other, yet our enjoyment of the dance is too often hampered by our own prejudice, arrogance and selfishness.

I can't argue against the human nature. Men are attracted to young, beautiful and sexy women, just like women are attracted to young, beautiful and sexy men, and we all tango for personal pleasure. However, we should not let our human nature mislead us. A tango partner is not a life partner. She does not have to be pretty and fertile. What she needs are the values, attitude, understanding, taste, musicality, skills, experience and maturity of a tango dancer. These qualities take years of diligent study, training, practice and education to develop - ten years at least, in my opinion. Tango is an adult dance. Most people start tango at some point in their adulthood, and by the time they truly get it, they are no longer young. That is why milongueros and milongueras are not young people, yet in Argentina they are the status symbol. Tango dancers from all over the world come to Buenos Aires to dance with them.

In the US, the first and second generations of tango dancers also are in or reaching their senior ages, since the revival of tango has been thirty years now. But unlike in Argentina, in this country they often are the victims of prejudice. In a recent event that I attended, among more than a hundred participants there were about a dozen older women, who sat there pretty much being neglected. Under the encouragement of the organizer, I decided to dance with them. It turned out to be a wonderful experience because all of them are excellence dancers, most have danced for more than 10 years. This experience taught me a good lesson about how ignorant the bias against older dancers is. I am not saying that all old dancers are good dancers, neither do I promote charity dance. But I believe the age prejudice in tango doesn't make good sense. It is for our own benefit to not be judgmental and mixing tango with courtship. My personal experience told me that women in their forties, fifties and sixties are often the best social tango dancers. Men, especially younger men, should not miss them. Mature women may not look as pretty and sexy as young women, but their embrace, connection, musicality, communication and coordination are often much better. In other words, they have attained a deeper understanding of tango. That is the strength mature women can fully use for their own advantage.

October 18, 2015

How to Get More Invitations in the Milonga

1. Being active

In fishing you need to attract the fish with baits and lure them to bite. If you sit there with an empty and motionless hook, chances are that you will not get many bites. Non-action is a reason why some women do not get enough invitations in the milonga. Men, like fish, are attracted to live baits. They do not reach out without incentives. This is so especially because 54.1% of men are introverts compare to 47.5% of women are introverts in the US, according to a study by the Myers-Briggs organization. If you just sit there passively waiting for someone to come, chances are that you will sit there for a long time. (See Activity and Passivity in Tango.)

2. Being observant
A passive woman does not actively engage herself in the partner selection process. She does not pay attention to how men act, who are her prospective partners, where they are seated, how they invite others, whether they are reserved or outgoing, whether they use cabeceo or verbal invitation, etc. She just sits there chatting, eating, texting, or waiting passively for any volunteer to invite her. In contrast, an active woman is a good observer first. She pays attention to men, observes their behaviors, identifies the proper matches, locates their seats, and familiarizes herself with their invitation styles, so she can take action to catch their attention, or be prepared to respond to their move.

3. Paying attention to men
It is important to pay attention to men not only because you need to know your partners, but also because men are more responsive to women who pay attention to them. Your attention signals your interest. A man can tell who are interested in him and who are not, and he responds much more positively to those who are. If you turn a blind eye to him, that sends a different signal. Be careful about the signal you send. A gentleman does not force his way on you, he acts according to your will.

4. Being available and responsive
Don't occupy yourself with things that may prevent men from inviting you, such as chatting, eating, reading, talking on the phone, sitting with a boyfriend, cliquing, wearing non-tango shoes, being unchanged, etc. Instead, let men see that you are available and ready. Pay attention to men who are watching you, and be responsive to their move. Don't be afraid to show your desire to dance. Many times I ended up dancing with a woman because she stood up and looked at me with a smile when I was just passing her. Oftentimes the woman I tried to do cabeceo with did not get the dance, because she sat there like a wooden chicken, but the woman sat next to her got, for she was positive and responsive.

5. Changing your attitude
Don't assume that initiating an invitation is easy for men. They, too, have egos and can feel rejected, embarrassed or humiliated if you say no to them. Many will not come back again as a result, and you don't want that. It takes courage for an introvert man to ask you to dance, as he is risking being rejected in front of your friends. Don't make it harder by ignoring him. Instead, show your sociability with a warm eye contact and smile. Even if you don't want to dance at the time, responding kindly does you no harm. You could save yourself some potential partners for later that way.

6. Being friendly and smiling more
Women often complain that they don't get enough dance in the milonga, but how many of them search into themselves for why? I don't know how many times women turned a blind eye to me when I tried to reach them, and how many times they avoided me with a vacant look. If you want to be invited, the best advice I can give you is to be friendly. Overcome your pride. Make it a habit to make eye contact with men and let them see the smile in your eyes. I guarantee that you will get a lot more dances that way.

7. Making eye contact with men
The importance of making eye contact with men cannot be overstated because the first thing men do to invite you is looking at you into your eyes. You may think that they walk around you is to fetch a drink, to wash hands, to meet someone or for other reasons that have nothing to do with you. But you are wrong. They are testing your response. If you sit there indifferently, that shows you are not interested. If you raise your head and make eye contact with them, that not only tells them you are looking for a partner, but also gives them a chance to cabeceo you.

8. Overcoming your ego and pride
In the milongas of Buenos Aires, when a man approaches a women's table, every woman in that table will look at him until they find out whom he is inviting. In the US, however, women have a different attitude. They sit there wearing a blank face and ignore the man until he has to verbally ask one to dance. Brought up in a culture that teaches women to be independent, to keep a distance from men, to avoid intimacy, to behave and not give men ideas, to let men chase you and not submit yourself too easily, this kind of attitude is understandable. But if you act like a newbie in the milonga, your chance being invited is slim. Women, especially young women, should not confuse tango with courtship. What the world taught you may not work in the milonga, where men approach you to dance with you, not to steal your heart. In the milonga you need to learn from little children who are not ego-driven but pure in heart and can easily get along with other little children.

9. Being humble
A woman who turns a blind eye to a man may think that he isn't a good enough partner for her. By that bias she limits herself to dancing only with a few men she often dances with. However, this is a big world. If you spend money attending an event where a large group of dancers from different places gather, it would be wise to take advantage of the opportunity and dance with as many men you don't know as possible. The assumption that you are too good for someone is often wrong. Most people seek partners among equals. If you are good and he wants to dance with you, he likely is not too bad either despite his humble appearance. By expanding your horizon, you will enjoy, experience and learn much more.

10. Using cabeceo
Women in this country spend more time on dress than on cabeceo. While dress works to some degree, you will be more successful if you use cabeceo in combination. Cherie Magnus calls cabeceo "the most civilized custom" in the milonga, which I agree. (See Women's role in Cabeceo.) Women must learn this skill because that is the way, and often the only way, sophisticated tangueros use to invite a woman. (See The Issues on Cabeceo.) An experienced tanguero does not oblige you to dance. He watches you from a distance, or walks to where you can see him and gazes at you. If you exchange eye contact with him, he will nod at you to invite you. If you sit there like a dummy, that shows you are unworthy of his time and he will turn to someone else. Only novice men will force their way to your seat to ask you to dance. By using cabeceo, you not only get more dances, but better dances as well.

11. Being brave
Dancing with someone better than you can be rewarding, but you need to be brave and take initiative because chances are that he will not ask. Most experienced dancers use cabeceo to invite a woman, which will not work if you avoid their eyes. You should not let the thought that you are not good enough to intimidate you. Schopenhauer said, "Man is either vulgar or lonely." The better he is, the lonelier he becomes, and he will be happy to dance with you if you are willing. A good dancer knows how to dance with anyone because tango to him is not a show but an expression of love. (See The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey.) You will be glad that you made the eye contact with him.

12. Staring at him longer
Some women do make eye contact with men, but they make it very briefly in order not to seem like they are begging for a dance. Women often think that a subtle cue, such as a quick glance or moving closer, is enough to call a man's attention. However, that's not how men think. A man needs to see you eye-to-eye for a few seconds to make sure you want to dance with him before he makes a move. If you turn your eyes away too quickly, he will take that as a rejection. If you want to dance with him, you need to fix your eyes at him. Only if he doesn't act after ten seconds or more should you then turn your eyes away. (See Tango Etiquette: Talking, Eye Contact, Clique and Hierarchy.)

13. Being moderate
In exhibitory tango you need to be as striking as you can, but in social tango it would be wise to follow the Golden Mean. Our culture encourages individuality and creativity, which is fine if you only need one man to appreciate your uniqueness. In the milonga, however, you want to get as many invitations as possible. Most men are ordinary folks. If your style is too unconventional, if your dance skill is too above average, if your dress is too exotic, if you are too pretty and showy, most men will find that intimidating. The emphasis of social tango is the communication of feelings, not the display of the style. A social dancer must balance being yourself and meeting the tastes of most people. Good dance skills do not have to be superficial. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)

14. Being a woman
Men are attracted to women who are feminine, not women who are masculine. If you cut your hair like a man, dressed like a man, like to lead, like to dance with women, or wear flat shoes, your chance being invited by men will be slim. Some women think it's cool to imitate men. While a few men may like that, most men don't. That's just the nature of being men. If you believe you don't need to respect that, that's your choice. But if you want to dance with men, then you must assume the feminine role in the partnership. Tango is not a showcase for individualism and feminism. (See Femininity and Feminism (I).)

15. Improving yourself
Not getting enough invitations is one of the most expressed frustrations among women. While men may be a part to blame for that (see The Age Prejudice in Tango), I believe women have issues to address also. We all need to recognize that our cultural heritages, such as individualism, feminism, egoism, personal liberty, independence and the focus on the self, contribute to the problem. (See Tango and Individualism and Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes.) Unless we've learned to accept, respect, love and cooperate with others and developed a culture in our milonga that is different from the culture in which we live, we are not able to fully enjoy tango. That is a challenge we as non-Argentinians all have to face. (See The Freedom in Tango.)