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.
December 23, 2012
Since the beginning of time men and women are best friends. Men like and cherish women. They choose women to be their life partner. They treat women better than they treat men. They are more generous to women than to other men. They work hard for the women they love, and they fight and give up their life for them. Women, too, like and cherish 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, complement 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 left an impression in my heart when I danced with them. Passionate, obedient, gentle and seductive, they are the most attractive women that I know. They dress femininely and wear flowers. They gaze at you intently to get your attention. They respond to your cabeceo with a joyful nod. They embrace you warmly with their breasts tenderly touch your chest. They twist in your arms, entangle your leg with their 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 accidental, it is in their blood. Argentine women are the personifications of femininity and affection. Dancing with them is truly one of life’s most gratifying experiences. (See The Gender Expression in Tango.)
Without femininity tango will not be the same. Tango requires men to be strong, decisive, dependable, protective and thoughtful and women to be obedient, gentle, agreeable, 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 leaves, 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 oppose gender differences and gender expressions. They demand tango to be void of macho posturing, gender inequality and intimate displays. They want tango partners to keep a distance from each other, stay away from intimate contact and dance in an open dance hold to avoid sexual harassment. They want the man not to lead but only offer suggestions, and they assert the woman's rights to reject the suggestion and to initiate her own steps. They reassign gender roles by imitating men, playing the masculine role and promoting same-sex partnership, etc. In short, they want to make tango a gender-neutral dance and the milonga like a workplace where everybody conducts in a politically correct way. (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. They refuse to be treated as the weaker sex. As a result, they, too, see themselves less and less as women and more and more like men. In order to compete with men women need to be tough, ambitious and aggressive like men. Many become violent, mean, sloppy and overweight, as they do not care about how men see them any more. 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 the 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 realize 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, divergent yet united, distinct yet complementary, and opposite but equal.
December 11, 2012
- 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.
November 3, 2012
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 age. 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 gender 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 gender. 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 need, support, appreciate, complement and complete each other. Women bear and nurse offspring. Men protect and provide for them. They play different roles in life and dance, which nobody, certainly not 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 accommodating, to enjoy the intimacy, to be one with that person, and to give comfort, pleasure and contentment to him/her. 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, authentic, caring, cooperative and accommodating 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.
October 8, 2012
September 15, 2012
It is often said that steps are tango's vocabulary, that is, the tool used to express feelings, just like words are the tool used to convey thoughts. In other words, tango is not steps, but what the steps express. 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.)
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 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 the partner, grab the 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 comfortably in your parent’s arms, listening to the hymn, and being gently swayed to dream. Tango is the warm, safe, comfy and intimate feeling that we experience and share with our partner. Indeed, the beautiful music, comforting embrace and rhythmic motion of tango have a hypnotic effect, causing us fall 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 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, complementing and inseparable. It requires love, trust, surrender, commitment and devotion. (See Tango Is a Relationship.) If you can see tango from this perspective, I guarantee that you will experience a totally different dance: intimate, romantic, sentimental, dreamy, poetic, soulful, and deeply satisfying. (See Close Embrace and Open Embrace (III).)
August 20, 2012
August 2, 2012
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, tango Nuevo, and tango para exportar, etc.
The fundamental cause of stylistic differences lies in human psychology. People who are feeling-oriented incline to the inward experience. These dancers, of whom many are milongueros, have developed the milonguero style, which is danced in close embrace with slight leaning (apilado) against each other, using simple and compact steps to allow the couple to focus on the inward experiences. These dancers often dance at the tango clubs in downtown Buenos Aires where the floors are crowded, hence the term estilo del centro, or downtown style. Milonguero style features embrace and feelings.
People who are movement-oriented are fond of fancy steps. Such dancers, of whom many also are milongueros, have developed the Villa Urquiza style, also known as the salon style, which is danced in a loose embrace with an upright posture, using stylish figures and more adornments. These dancers like to dance at the neighborhood clubs, such as Club Sin Rumbo in the neighborhood of Villa Urquiza, where the dance floors are open, hence the term estilo del barrio, or neighborhood style. Villa Urquiza style features footwork and impression. (See How Tango Is Led.)
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. (See Milonga Codes.)
From 1955 to 1983 Argentina was ruled by a succession of military juntas whose policies discouraged social tango. Curfews were enforced and people were constantly stopped by the police for interrogation. 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.)
July 19, 2012
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.
July 10, 2012
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.
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 let go your ego, to surrender to that person, to listen to his/her inner voice and feelings, to be considerate, cooperative, yielding and accommodating, to enjoy the intimacy, to be one with him/her, and to give comfort, pleasure and contentment to him/her. 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 person who treats others with respect, appreciation and love, accept them as who they are and put others instead of oneself at the center of one's life and dance. Until then, we are not qualified as tango dancers, and cannot dance tango well anyway.
June 23, 2012
Buenos Aires is one of the largest metropolises in the world. One thirds of Argentina’s 41 million people live in Buenos Aires. But until the beginning of the 19th century Buenos Aires was only a small town with a mixed population of Spanish colonists, native Americans and black slaves from Africa. In 1810, influenced by the French Revolution, the Argentine people overthrew the Spanish Governor and declared independence. The new government made a conscious decision to change the racial structure of the 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. Although we can trace tango to its African roots, the main inventors of tango were the European immigrants of the late 19th century and early 20th century who built the modern city of Buenos Aires.
Here is an example of the tango danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires.
June 16, 2012
The woman's weight must be placed on the ball of the foot in order for her to 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. Since her torso is connected to his torso in the embrace, she needs to pivot her lower body sideways to dance around him. This technique is known as “dissociation”.
An experienced woman knows that a subtle 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 move. On receiving the signal she needs to swivel her hips to let her lower body face that direction. In this twisted position she is able to walk on the side of the man while her torso is connected to his torso. The rotation of her hips does not need to be huge. In most cases a 30-45 degree rotation of the hips will enable her to walk on the side of the man. In some cases, such as gancho and back sacada, overt rotation of the hips is required.
It needs to be pointed out that dissociation is different from CBM (contra-body movement). CBM is turning the right side of the body towards a left moving leg or turning the left side of the body towards a right moving leg, but dissociation is swiveling the upper body or the lower body only. In tango we often need to turn only the upper body and keep the lower body still, or turn only the lower body and keep the upper body still. Both are the forms of dissociation. The former is not difficult to do but the latter is much harder and needs a lot of practice to master. When practicing dissociation in front of a mirror, you should let your torso face the mirror still and swivel only your lower body from the hips down. You should not cheat by turning the torso instead of swiveling the hips.
A typical figure using dissociation is the front ocho, in which the man leads her to draw an S on the floor with one leg, then draw another S on the floor with the other leg. The two S's are overlapped in the opposite directions so they look like the figure 8. To dance the front ocho, she needs to swivel her hips to one side of him and make a forward step with one leg, then swivel her hips to the other side of him and make another 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 backward. She first swivels her hips and steps backward to one side of him with one leg, then swivels her hips and steps backward to the other side of him with the other leg. If she is able to overturn her hips, she can move forward by doing the back ocho and move backward by doing the front ocho. A third example using dissociation is the molinete, which is a combination of four steps, a forward step, a side step, a back step, a side step, in a circular motion. In all these examples the woman keeps her chest connected to the man's torso and rotates only her hips side to side. The technique suits the flexible body of the woman and highlights her femininity as she turns her hips alternately while her chest remains connected to the man.
The rotation of the hips causes her chest to roll on his chest, generating a pleasant sensation know as "gear effect". The chest is the center of her attention through which everything, including emotion, feeling, music interpretation, intention, seduction and flirtation, is expressed and exchanged. The woman should not glue her chest on the man's torso, but should let it roll as she swivels her hips. At each swivel of the hips, the weight is turned to one side of her chest. As she swivels her hips to the other side, her chest rolls along on his torso until the weight is transferred to the other side.
The rolling of the chest is caused by the rotation of the hips. 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 does not know how to rotate her hips often crosses one leg in front of or behind the other leg instead. Consequently, her chest sticks on his torso 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 please the man, just like an experienced man knows how to display her feminine beauty. (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.
April 28, 2012
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.