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

Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I)

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

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 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

How Tango Is Led

The traditional theory on how tango is led is the driving theory. According to this theory the man drives the woman with his body, like it is the vehicle that carries her, or like holding a baby in his arms and gently swaying her to dream. This theory reflects the macho culture of tango's home country. The man tenderly embraces the woman with his arm encircles her body. The woman settles into his embrace, resting comfortably on him with her chest 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 makes a step, or let her walk on his side by twirling his torso and moving his torso in that direction, or use his torso to swing her torso, which will bring 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 comfort of the embrace, the intimate body connection between the partners, and the rhythmic motion of the two intimately 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 affect the movement of the woman's 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 the steps is to facilitate the embrace and allow the two to remain one in the dance. The feeling-oriented dancers use simple steps to avoid distractions. They concentrate on the music, embrace, connection, 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 on her palm with his palm, a pull on her back with his hand, a tap on the side of her body with his fingers, a squeezing in her palm with his fingers, a drag of her hand with his hand, a press on her thigh with his 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.) However, this method has serious flaws. Every leader marks the steps in his own way, without learning his set of signals, the woman would have difficulties to follow. Because the method is not well defined and standardized, it tends to cause coerce, incoherence and discomfort. Nevertheless, the theory has a significant impact on the development of tango. Using the signal to lead makes it necessary for the woman to interpret it, and the man has to adapt to her subjectivity. That changes how tango is danced. The Villa Urquiza style danced in a loose embrace, 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 the "politically correct" ideologies in these societies. According to this theory, what the man gives the woman is not a command but a suggestion or invitation. The man who has made the suggestion needs to wait for the woman to initiate her step at the pace of her choice and then follow her. The process 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.) The invitation theory breaks away from the traditional tango. It suits the movement and impression oriented dancers who prefer to dance tango in an open dance hold that allows more individuality and independence. Without the torso-to-torso contact, the drive, which comes from the man’s torso, becomes less direct and assertive, hence depends to a large degree on the woman’s choice of when, how and whether to accept the “invitation”. The man must wait and adapt to her choice. As a result, gender roles reverse, movements triumph over intimacy and feelings, personal 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, 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.) 

The reason tango can lead us to that feeling may have something to do with music. Good music is essential to a fulfilling tango experience. It is an inspiration indispensable for bringing our potentials (originality, imagination, skills, ability and fluency) into full play. Good tango music, marked by lucid rhythm and rich sentiment, is not only beautiful and easy to dance to, it also stirs up emotions, lifts the spirit, inspires creativity, generates a mood, 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.)

Of course, the feeling is not generated by music alone. The embrace also plays a crucial role. Tango is unique because of its embrace. (See The Fourteenth 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 a “home”. It reminds us that we are better not when we are alone, but when we are together. In the end, we find the home in each other, because we need, belong to 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 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

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, 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.)

Social tango has dominated the culture of Buenos Aires from mid 1930s to mid 1950s. This period is known as tango's Golden Age. During these heydays, between 1940 and 1950, some twenty-three dancers who were even more movement-oriented than their Villa Urquiza colleagues met regularly at the Club Nelson to work on new steps. They gave birth to a 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. Tango Fantasia not only dramatized tango with fancy footwork and showy figures but also separated itself from social tango by using open embrace, 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, stage tango, show tango, or exhibitory tango. (See Social Tango and Performance 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 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.)

The revival was led by a group of stage performers who brought their show Tango Argentino to Paris and New York in 1983 and 1984, where they ignited an enthusiasm for learning their style of tango. Encouraged by that success these professional dancers started to teach the Europeans and Americans Tango Fantasia, which in Argentina is known as "tango para exportar" or tango for export. Some professionals went so far as to create a new style, Tango Nuevo, a hybrid dance combining tango and non-tango elements such as exotic music and eccentric steps to cater to the taste of the Europeans and Americans. 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, thus ceases to be tango as it was created for. (See Why People Dance 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 stereotype 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 and their interpretations of 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 tango protocols and manners. (See Milonga Codes.) Every one of them has loads of problems, and they all have opinions about each other. Experienced dancers don’t dance with them. So they stick together with themselves and blame each other, often for their own problems. The irony of “the pot calls the kettle black” is that they are 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 brought together by fate. It’s better to accept each other and allow each other time to grow. (See 惜缘.) In real life, if you like someone you tell her how beautiful she is. If you say she is ugly, chances are that she will not go out with you. It is 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 a relationship and 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 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

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. 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.

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 close embrace in which the two partners lean into each other, chest against chest and cheek touches cheek. Via such intimate bodily contact they communicate their feelings stirred by the music. Like the dance itself, tango music is created to express nostalgic sentiments. Its rhythm is masculine, lucid, steady and forceful, but its melody is feminine, supple, sentimental and moody. The two opposite 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 mid 1930s and mid 1950s. This period is known as tango’s Golden Age. That was followed by almost three decades 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 to discourage tango. (See The Styles of Tango.) As a result, people stopped dancing socially and musicians stopped playing for the dance floor. The music produced in that period is largely for listeners and not dancers. The revival of tango started after the restoration of democracy in Argentina in 1983. 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, 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 the two sexes. But Argentine tango represents a different view, or culture, that sanctions innocent intimacy. The Argentinians are a passionate and intimate people due to their ties with a largely Spanish and Italian background, and tango is a historical product of their culture. The triumph of tango, after all, is the triumph of its idea, which regards nonsexual intimacy as human, decent, healthy and beautiful. 

But, the triumph of that idea does not come without a cost. Many things have changed after 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 in 1983-1984 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 personal enjoyment and not on stage for show. 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 focus inwardly on the feelings stirred by the music and enjoy the motions of their intimately connected bodies dancing in sync to the music. It is administered by the milonga codes. Dancing tango de salon is a chummy, 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 created for stage performance. It is a highbrow dance involving difficult steps and techniques not suited to the common people, but 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 entertain 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. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)

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. Tango fantasia meets their taste and need. On top of that, their teachers are the stage performers from Argentina. Before long, tango fantasia becomes a fashion in Europe and North America.

Despite that, the tango fervor abroad rekindled the pride of the Argentinians for their traditional dance. Milongas are reopened. Portenos return to the dance floor. Tango clubs and salons are packed again. Tango music, tango fashion and tango tourism flourish. Buenos Aires once over becomes the Mecca of tango, where dancers from all over the world come to dance tango with the locals. But foreigners quickly discovered that the tango they 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 again. Some decide to stay for good. Others return home to spread the message. Their number increases every 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. (See From Steps to Feelings.) It will still take time for close-embrace tango to settle down and become the dominant style in these societies, 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 will 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 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

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!