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 25, 2013

Milonga Codes

Tango is an intimate dance that involves intent physical contact and emotional exchanges between dancers. Such an intimate activity can affect people deeply on many levels and hence should not be taken lightly. One's tango experience relies not only on one's dance skills but also on one's relationship with other dancers and the social environment of the milonga impacted by each and every participant's conducts. With the evolution of tango, codes of conduct have been developed and become an important part of the dance. Learning these codes and mastering the proper way to behave and treat others in the milonga is an essential part of a dancer's education. The following are things you must know when you go to a milonga.

Part One: Preparation and seating

1. Personal hygiene
Tango is danced in close embrace in which the partners touch each other's body, therefore personal hygiene is important. You need to take a shower, wash hair, brush teeth and change cloth before going to a milonga. Smells from the hair, mouth or cloth will make your partner uncomfortable.

2. Makeup
You should avoid using heavy makeup, oil and hair coloring because in the dance your head will touch your partner's head, body or outfit and both of you may sweat. You should select a perfume that has a pleasant fragrance and avoid odd smells. You should be aware that certain scents or chemicals may cause allergic reaction to others.

3. Dress code
Your outfit should enhance the beauty of the dance, not reduce it. Men look good in suits, not T-shirts and jeans. Women look good in skirt or dress - not too long or too exposed. Women should avoid wearing ornaments that may scrap the outfit of the man or rub his chest. Men should wear leather shoes and women should wear high-heeled tango shoes. Sneakers and sandals are inappropriate.

4. Seating
In Buenos Aires, when the guests enter a milonga, they are cordially received by the host, who will then take them to the seat. In a small venue, men and women are seated separately on different sides of the room. In a large venue, men and women sit at different tables, but the tables are mixed to facilitate cabeceo. Unless a request to sit together is made, couples and friends who come together are seated separately to ensure everyone the same opportunity to invite others or be invited by others.

5. Changing
In Buenos Aires, women change shoes in the lady’s room instead of at the table. Men, too, go to the men’s room to comb hair, tidy tie, change shirts, or put on perfume between tandas. This is not only for looking good, but also for showing courtesy and respect to others and the dance.

6. The couple
If a couple are not dating, they would be better sit separately, otherwise people may avoid inviting the lady out of respect and courtesy. A dating couple only dance with each other; therefore they should not occupy seats easily accessible by others. Such seats should be left to people who need to do cabeceo. In Buenos Aires, a dating couple usually sit at a quiet corner. They do not dance with others, neither do other people bother them.

7. Equal opportunity
With the exception of dating couples, all dancers have equal opportunities to dance with anyone else in the milonga. There should not be discrimination and coterie. Cliquing is inappropriate in the milonga because it creates segregation, making it difficult for others to invite members of the clique. Women should avoid sitting with male friends and dance only with them. Separate seating helps to prevent cliquing and create integration.

Part Two: Invitation

1. Active participation
Women should not sit there talking with each other and wait passively for men to come to invite them, but should actively participate in the invitation process by paying attention to men’s eye contact and being responsive to men's cabeceo. Everybody must behave in a friendly, respectful and polite manner and be considerate of other’s feelings. Indifference, arrogance and rudeness do not conform to the spirit of tango.

2. Cabeceo
Dancing tango involves repeated change of partner and hence a frequent partner selection and invitation process. In a place where tango culture has not yet formed, people tend to use verbal invitation, which could put the woman into the dilemma of either accepting unwillingly or saying no to the inviter. The correct way to invite a woman to dance is nodding at her from a distance. The woman may accept the invitation by nodding her head, or she may turn her head away to decline. This way of invitation is called cabeceo. Cabeceo gives women the freedom to accept or reject an invitation without being obliged to dance or causing public embarrassment to the man. (See Women's Role in Cabeceo.)

3. Eye contact
For cabeceo to work, women must participate the process. If women sit there chatting with each other and pay no attention to men, then men cannot cabeceo them. Women need to know that making eye contact with men is crucial because men can only cabeceo those who look at them. In order not to miss the opportunity to be invited, women must stop talking with each other and must pay attention to men who are looking at them, especially at the beginning of a tanda. (See Tango Etiquette: Eye Contact, Talking, Clique and Hierarchy.)

4. Lighting
The light in the milonga, therefore, should be bright enough for people to see each other and do cabeceo. Some milonga organizers set the light too dim, or use the flashing light of a disco room in order to create special effects, which only does a disservice to the milonga.

5. What if you made a mistake?
When doing cabeceo, you need to make sure that a person is nodding at you and not someone next to you or behind you. However, in a crowded milonga, error could occur. Sometimes a man thought that a woman has accepted his cabeceo, only to find that she goes to join another man. In such case he has to quickly cabeceo someone else while on his way, or change direction and go to the men's room instead. Sometimes two women at the same table both thought they have been cabeceoed by the same man. To avoid confusion, the man needs to look into the eyes of the woman that he is inviting while walking towards her and avoid making eye contact with the other woman even if the latter stares at him. (See The Issues on Cabeceo.)

6. Changing seats
Cabeceo could be hindered by dim light, distance, crowd and bad eyesight. As a remedy you may consider rotating seats in different parts of the room if the seats are not fixed. If the seats are fixed, you may temporarily leave your seat and walk to where you are able to make eye contact with the person of your choice, and then do cabeceo.

7. How to invite a woman who is talking?
A gentleman does not interrupt a woman when she is talking. If you want to invite a woman but she is talking with someone – which unfortunately is a frequent occurrence in the US, you should move closer to where she can see you and wait there patiently while look into her eyes until she notices you, and then seize the opportunity to cabeceo her. If she keeps on talking without paying any attention to you, then you should give up on her and search for another woman.

8. Do not oblige a woman to dance
If a man tries to make eye contact with a woman, but she turns a blind eye, what does that mean? "She did not see me, I should go directly to ask her." Wrong. She does not see you because she does not want to dance with you. If she wants you she would see you. You should not force your way to her seat to ask her, as which may put her into the dilemma that she might want to avoid in the first place. Instead, you should stay where you are and wait until she makes eye contact with you, and then cabeceo her to see if she will accept your invitation.

9. Listening to what she means
If a man verbally asks a woman to dance and she replies, "I am resting my feet", what does that mean? "She wants me to give her a few minutes." Wrong. No matter how tactful her words are, so long as she does not immediately join you, that is a decline. You should give up on her for the moment and turn to someone else. Do not linger there waiting, as which, if she is expecting someone else, could make her feel uneasy.

10. Acting in good faith
The woman who said "I am taking a break now" to one man should not accept another man’s invitation right away. She should at least wait until the next tanda, otherwise she could hurt the feelings of the first inviter. Neither should another man go immediately to invite a woman who just rejected someone. You would break her faith with the first man if she accepts your invitation. Or, you would bring contempt to yourself if she keeps her words.

11. Practicing good manner
The way to avoid guessing or misunderstanding is to be honest and considerate. For example, the woman may friendly say, "I am taking a break, may I dance with you later?" Such polite decline gives the inviter a way out without feel rejected and humiliated. Women who are resting may take off their shoes. That way, nobody will bother them.

12. Going all out
Some women have accepted an invitation for fear of hurt the inviter’s feelings, but then they dance perfunctorily without emotional involvement, letting the man feel disappointed. This is also improper. If a woman does not want to dance with a man, she should not accept his invitation. If she accepts the invitation, then she must spare no effort to assume her role as his partner. Declining an invitation is normal. Perfunctoriness, on the other hand, antagonizes the spirit of tango. Of course, all such mistakes could be avoided if cabeceo is used as the way of invitation. (See How to Get More Invitations in the Milonga.)

Part Three: Dancing

1. Taking a detour
The woman who has accepted the cabeceo should sit at her seat and wait for the man come to take her to the dance floor. To avoid interrupting the people already dancing on the floor, the man picking up the woman should not walk through the dance floor but should make a detour around the dance floor to where the woman is.

2. Seeking permission
Before taking the woman into the dance floor, the man should make eye contact with the leader of the approaching dancing couple and get his permission. Forcefully squeezing into the floor is impolite. If the oncoming couple are novices who do not know how to slow down, it would be better to let them pass. Dancing in front of them does you no good because they are likely to cause a rear-end collision. Skilled dancers will leave a gap for you to enter, and it is safe with such people dance behind you.

3. Dancing social tango only
There are different styles in tango, some are suited to social dancing, others are not. (See The Styles of Tango.) A milonga is a social tango party and should be free from styles and behaviors that conflict with its purpose. Dancers should observe the milonga codes and dance only social tango in the milonga. Using the milonga to demonstrate and promote performance tango does a great disservice to the milonga. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)

4. Tanda and cortina
In the milonga, tango music is played in a set of three or four songs, called a tanda. Between two tandas is a short interlude, called cortina. One should dance the entire tanda with the same partner. Unless you have a very good reason, withdrawing in the middle of the tanda is impolite.

5. Dancing only one tanda
You have danced one tanda with a woman and felt very good, could you ask her continue for another tanda? While this is up to the two of you, you should keep in mind that there may be others who are waiting for her, and that her husband or boyfriend may not feel comfortable because dancing multiple tandas in a row with the same woman means you like her, whether that is beyond normal or not. For a woman, accepting such a request signals the reciprocal feeling. It would be wise not to encourage the man if you have no intention to get involved.

6. Brief conversation
The prelude of a tango song often does not have normal rhythm; therefore, dancers usually begin to dance after the prelude. People customarily use this short period of time for a small talk. But this brief conversation sometimes becomes too long. Some people stand there talking even after others all start to dance. As a rule of thumb, when the rhythm of the song becomes regular, or when people around you start to dance, you should begin to move to avoid blocking traffic.

7. Do not advise your partner
Criticizing or giving advice to your partner in the milonga puts yourself in a superior position and may affect the relationship. Milonga is where people come to enjoy dancing with each other. Teaching should be left in the classroom. If you admire a master, attending his/her class is a good idea, but do not ask him/her to teach you there, as which could oblige him/her to do things that they should not do in the milonga. (See The Art of Love.)

8. Complying with navigation rules
The outer edge of the dance floor is divided into two or more lanes, just like the racing tracks of a sport arena. These tracks or lanes are for skilled dancers who can keep up with the flow of traffic. Beginners who want to practice new steps should do so at the center to avoid causing obstruction to traffic. Zigzagging between lanes or moving against the line of dance can easily cause a collision and should be avoided. (See Spot Dancing in Tango.)

9. Keeping a proper distance 
The couple behind should maintain a proper distance and not be too close or too distant from the couple in front of them. Novices concentrating on doing the steps may forget about slowing down or speeding up as necessary, often cause collision with the people in front, or block the people behind. Dancers who like to show off their skills may intentionally keep a large distance from the people in front of them, or stay at the same spot doing the exhibition. These are all inappropriate. (See Cadencia and the Flow of Tango.)

10. Safety first
Novices may think that dance is the most important thing on the dance floor. In fact, that is safety. The man who leads the woman has the responsibility to protect her and prevent her from being bumped, kicked or stepped on by others. For the same reason, he should not lead her dance too close to others and do things that could hurt others, such as high boleos, kicks and ganchos. The woman, too, should be considerate of the people dancing nearby and avoid doing things that may put other's safety in jeopardy.

11. Maintaining a good dance environment
A successful milonga depends on the efforts of all participants. Everybody in the milonga must behave in his/her best manner - friendly, polite, respectful, considerate, cooperative and accommodating. Misconducts should be subject to public opposition. If someone behaved disrespectfully to others, the rest of the crowd need to boycott him/her for a while as the milongueros all do in the milongas of Buenos Aires to let the person feel the public disapproval. This can help to create a healthy dance environment.

12. Evacuating the dance floor
The cortina between the two tandas lasts only for thirty seconds or so. This very short interval is used to clear the dance floor and change partners. All dancers should leave the dance floor during the cortina. Talking without leaving the floor would hinder the preparation of the next round.

13. Escorting the woman to her seat
Some women may be disoriented on a crowded dance floor, escorting them back to their seats after the tanda is a common practice in Buenos Aires. However, the man should not talk with the woman after sending her back lest delaying her being invited for the next tanda.

14. The last tanda
Near the end of the milonga the DJ usually will announce, “This is the last tanda.” If you share a table with a couple, it would be nice to let the couple dance the last tanda and not preempt the invitation to the woman, unless her company is too tired but she still wants to dance. Your good manner will be a blessing to the community.


This post is written in reference to Mark Word 's article, Tango Etiquette: The Pocket-Sized Version. I originally wanted to translate Word 's article into Chinese. In the translation process I felt the need to make some changes to suit Chinese readers. The result is this version, in which I added some contents and canceled some contents that are culturally difficult for the Chinese. Unfortunately, the original American humor is lost as a result. Those who want to read Word's article please click here.

December 8, 2013

Women's Common Mistakes in Tango

1. Refusing to surrender
For two people to dance as one coherent body, one of them must take the lead and the other must follow. Otherwise the two will be conflicting with each other and impossible to reach oneness and harmony. The woman must overcome her ego, surrender to the man and follow his lead. Novice women often have a strong ego and refuse to surrender, just like a young bride still so accustomed to her single status that she needs some adjustment before becoming a qualified wife. It is often more comfortable dancing with a married woman than with an unmarried girl, because the latter is still too self-centric. For a woman, learning tango is much more than learning steps; it is also learning to surrender and be one with the man. Women who focus on themselves and do not surrender cannot dance tango well. (See Tango Is a Relationship.)

2. Leaning backward
A woman not surrendering often tries to keep a distance from the man by leaning back rather than leaning forward into him. This creates two problems. First, in absence of bodily contact the two partners have to use their arms and hands to lead and follow, resulting in communication problems, confusing signals, coercing, discomfort, lack of intimacy, lack of sync, etc. Second, when the woman leans back, the man cannot lean forward against her and has to adopt a vertical posture also, causing a gap between them. The original A-shaped frame thus is changed to an H-shaped frame, and the dance that emphasizes intimacy and synchronicity is transformed to one that focuses on individual performance. (See The Fourteenth Pitfall of a Tanguera.)

3. Interfering with the lead
Individual performance is particularly evident in societies where there is a strong presence of individualism and feminism that advocate the independence of the woman, disapprove her surrender to the man, and encourage her to interrupt the lead and insert her own steps. Such propositions are in clash with a dance that emphasizes unity, synchronicity and harmony of the union rather than personal performance of the individual. In tango, the action of the woman is not initiated by the woman, but is brought out by the man. The woman's job is to beautify the dance, but her movements and embellishments must be in unison and not in conflict with the lead. She should not initiate the steps or interfere with the lead. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.)

4. Anticipation
After a step is made, a novice woman often takes the next step automatically at her own anticipation. For example, she hastily chases the beats and cannot slow down, or makes the second, third and fourth ocho after the first one until the man has to stop her. Although an experienced man is able to lead her accordingly, her initiation could derange his intent. If the man is unskilled, then there could be frequent conflicts. The woman must stop speculating and develop the habit of waiting and dancing step by step according to the lead rather than her own anticipation.

5. Using arms and hands
Surrender means relaxing your body to allow the man to lead you easily. An unskillful woman not feeling at home with her craft often concentrates on the steps, so her body is prone to tension and stiffness. In her nervousness she often grabs the man subconsciously and relies on the help of the arms and hands to execute the steps. Without knowing who has the jitters she blames the man for her sour wrist even though that is caused by her own tension. Dancing tango requires the dissociation of the arms and hands from the body, that is, let the arms and hands be completely relaxed and execute the steps only with the torso, hips and legs without the help of the arms and hands. Using the arms and hands not only causes her own discomfort, but also causes the physical exertion of the man. In my experience that is the most common and disturbing problems in tango. Once the dancers stop using the arms and hands and switch to using the torso, their experience will be greatly improved. Of course, the woman still needs to learn how to follow the lead with the torso in order for her arms and hands to be truly relaxed. (See The Functions of Various Body Parts in Tango.)

6. Spaghetti body
Dancing with a soft spaghetti body is also a common problem among novice women. An inexperienced woman tends to curve her body easily, which looks wilt and inelegant. The correct way is to keep the body tenacious and straight and move the center of the body so the whole body moves as a whole. The man leads the woman by using his torso to actuate her, but she should not just move the part of her body that receives the lead. For instance, when she feels that the man pushes her on her chest, she needs to move her whole body back and not just bends her torso backward. When she feels that the man tilts her torso to his side, she needs to move her whole body to his side and not just bends her torso to his side. She should dance with a straight body, not a curved spaghetti body.

7. Heaviness
Another common problem is heaviness. Heaviness may be related to the body weight but more often it is the consequence of technical errors, such as grabbing the man to put forth her strength, holding on to the man for her own stability, resorting to the help of the arms and hands to execute the steps, resisting or wrestling with him, etc., which not only make it hard for the man to lead her, but also cause discomfort, fatigue and loss of interest on his part. In order for the man to enjoy dancing with a woman, she needs to surrender herself, relax her body, maintain her own balance, be agreeable and nimble, synchronize her movements to his, and not physically exert herself with the help of the arms and hands, clutch him and use him for her stability, or disobey or wrestle with him. A woman who is light and easy to lead is much sought after by men. (See Balance and Lightness.)

8. Breaking the connection
However, if the woman is too light, that is, if her body is too void to be felt, it could cause problems also because in close embrace the man cannot see her movement and must feel it to know where her axis is, whether she has switched foot, whether she has completed the hip rotation or embellishment, etc., in order to decide how to lead the next step. If he cannot feel her, it is easy for him to take a conflicting lead. Novice women often focus too much on the steps that they forget about the embrace. Some deliberately lean back to evade the bodily contact with the man. Others fail to keep the tenacity of the body so it becomes too void. Still others do not follow properly, such as fail to do the cross in position five, fail to swivel the hips in back ocho, fail to return to the home position after a step, fail to change weight when they should or add a step when they shouldn't, etc. due to the insufficient connection that impedes the communication. Women having this problem need to change their attitude, improve their embrace, increase the tenacity of their body and meliorate the connection to allow the man to feel them better and allow themselves to feel the man better.

9. Not returning to the home position
Since the torsos of the partners are connected in the embrace, the woman needs to swivel her hips in order to step around the man. (See Dissociation and Gear Effect.) After she completed the step she needs to turn back her hips and collect her free leg, that is, return to the home position, in order to take the next step in the opposite direction. A novice woman often fails to turn back her hips and collect her leg, which not only causes the delay and rush of the next step or even makes it impossible, but also causes her body to seem loose and miss its elegant line. A woman must develop the habit of returning to the home position in a timely manner after each step to stand ready for the next step in any direction.

10. Unrefined musicality
Tango steps can be divided into two groups: that of featured steps, such as the forward step in ocho, the rock step in ocho cortado, etc., and that of ancillary steps, such as the collection of the leg, the unwinding of the crossed leg, pivot, the swivel of the hips, the switch of the foot, embellishment, etc. A novice woman tends to focus only on the featured steps and overlook the ancillary actions. She may be able to step on the beat, but her pivot, hip rotation, weight change and embellishments are often made off beat. A woman needs to understand that dancing to music is not just stepping on the beat. All movements of her body, including that of ancillary and decoration, must all match the rhythm, tempo and mood of the music perfectly. Cultivating refined musicality is a long-term goal, but it is the most important and fundamental skill of a dancer that she must make efforts to develop.

11. Lacking of agility
Tango music has four beats in each measure. The first and third beats are the downbeats, the second and fourth beats are the upbeats. Dancing tango, one normally steps on the downbeats - the main action is on the first beat, the ancillary action is on the third beat, in the speed of doing two actions in each measure. However, it is often necessary to do two actions, such as taking a forward step and then immediately making a rotation, or stepping back and then immediately crossing one leg in front of the other, or taking a step and then immediately changing weight to the other foot, etc., on two consecutive beats - the main action is on the downbeat, the ancillary action is on the upbeat, in the speed of doing four actions in each measure. Sometimes the main action and the ancillary action even need to be completed on a single beat, in the speed of doing eight actions in each measure. The ability to act swiftly is particularly important in the advanced level that involves very fast leg movements. Skilled dancers are prepared for continuous actions and can move swiftly, ready at any time for the next step, thus can dance at ease and have time to do adornments. Beginners, on the other hand, are often too reluctant to act. Their movement is heavy, and they can only step on the downbeat but not on two successive beats, let alone taking two actions on one beat.

12. Passivity 
Following is not passively responding. It is an active action that requires focus, agility, wit and creativity. The woman must follow with feelings, sensitivity, concentration and responsiveness. She must not follow passively and indifferently. Novice women often are reserved and reluctant to act. Some take a perfunctory attitude, others are not focused or not emotionally involved, still others hold back their originality and personality and become the shadow of their partner. With such passivity it is impossible to dance tango well. A good follower is actively engaged, totally committed and going all out. She fully displays her emotions, musicality, creativity and personality while being in complete unison and harmony with the man in the dance. (See Activity and Passivity in Tango.)

13. Gender neutrality  
Some women are too egotistic and independent in the dance thanks to the influence of individualism and feminism. They replace the embrace with an open dance hold to remain independent, refuse to surrender, deny gender differences, disobey the lead, hanker for individual performance, reverse gender roles and advance same-sex partnership, etc. If that kind of tango is what you are after, then good luck. However, if Argentine tango is what you want to learn, I suggest that you respect its essence of intimacy, oneness and harmony. In Argentine tango, the woman assumes the feminine role. She surrenders to the man, follows his lead, expresses her feelings and femininity, comforts the man with her body and shines the dance with her colorful footwork. By these she will be fully repaid because her efforts will make the man cherish her, care for her, reciprocate the hospitality and fulfill his responsibility as her partner, supporter, protector and leader. In tango, the relationship of the two sexes is only meaningful when they remain who they are as man and woman. Without femininity tango will lose not only its splendor and charm, but also its value of existence. (See The Gender Expression in Tango.)

November 29, 2013

Men's Common Mistakes in Tango

1. Not listening to music
Some men do not dance to music because they do not know how to listen to tango music. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.) Others because they are so focused on doing the steps that they cannot hear the music. The former is a problem of musicality. The latter is that of attention allocation. Dancing tango requires the ability to allot attention to many elements simultaneously, including embrace, connection, posture, partner, coordination, relaxation, steps, adornments, music, etc. Among these listening to music must be the first priority because dancing tango is dancing the music, not the steps. The latter is but an expression of the former. In leading, the man must first pay attention to the music. He must not only think of the steps and forget about the music.

2. The steps are too difficult
Some men like to lead steps that are beyond the comfortable zone, which require so much of their attention that they become heedless of the other aspects of the dance. Beginners often mistake difficulty for beauty. But in fact one has nothing to do with the other. On the contrary, keeping the steps simple will be easier for the dancers to allocate the attention, listen to the music, relax the body, perfect the movement and enjoy the relationship. Unlike stage tango that features performance, social tango emphasizes the communication of feelings; therefore, simple steps are more suitable. Dancing social tango with difficult steps of stage tango could easily backfire. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)

3. Leading with the arms and hands
Many men use their arms and hands to lead due to various reasons. First, this long-standing habit is hard to break. Second, it is easier to lead with the arms and hands than with the torso. Third, beginners tend to focus on the steps and overlook the feelings, and they rely on the help of the arms and hands to do steps. Fourth, many women prefer to dance in an open dance hold, leaving men little choice but using the arms and hands. Finally, in order to teach steps, many teachers encourage students to use open embrace, which reinforces the habit of using the arms and hands. However, using the arms and hands to lead conflicts with the essence of tango, that is, intimacy, comfort, sensuality, oneness and synchronicity. Tango has been from its birth a dance of close embrace and torso leading, which distinguishes it from other partner dances. For the man, learning tango is learning to lead with his torso, that is, to affect the movement of the woman's body with his body, not his arms and hands. Beginners must overcome the habit of using the arms and hands and develop the ability of leading with the torso.

4. Sending mixed signals
The problem of using the arms and hands to lead is that it often contradicts the body. A man who uses the arms and hands to lead usually does not know how to lead with the torso. When his arms and hands put forth strength in one direction but his torso does not move or turn accordingly, that sends mixed signals. Although improving the coordination of the body may help, the final solution is to supersede hand leading with torso leading. The arms and hands must be completely relaxed in leading and used only to form a supportive frame. Unaware of the impact his body may have on the woman's movement, the man often lead with his arms and hands when his weight is not completely transferred from one foot to the other. But, since the partners are connected, the incompleteness of his weight change means that she, too, has not completed her weight change. Asking her to take a step in that position is demanding the impossible. The woman must first complete her weight change before she can take the step, resulting in the incoherence of her movement. Such errors caused by using the arms and hands to lead could be avoided if the man uses his torso to lead. (See The Functions of Various Body Parts in Tango.)

5. Bending over
I stress using the torso rather than the chest to lead because the latter could be misleading sometimes. Which part of the body is used to lead depends on the heights of the partners. If the two partners are about the same height, then using the chest to lead is correct. However, if the man is much taller than the woman, using the chest to lead could cause him to bend over his torso and stick out his buttock, which not only looks bad but also adds pressure on the woman, causing her to bend backwards. A tall man must not bend his body but should keep it tall and straight and use his abdomen rather than chest to lead a short woman.

6. Bowing the head
Tango partners often stick their cheeks together in the embrace to enjoy the intimacy, which is nice if they are about the same height. But if the man is much taller than the woman, that could cause him to bow his head, curve his torso, hold his chest in, stick his buttock out and bend his knees, which not only looks awful but also will have a negative impact on the woman's dance. A tall man and a short woman would be better not tango together because that neither looks good nor feels comfortable. But if they choose to dance together, then the woman may rest her head on his chest, but the man should not bow his head to meet her head. Rather, he should stand tall, keeping his body vertical, head up and knees straight to maintain a good posture.

7. Coercing the woman to submit
An immature leader may think of follow as unconditional surrender and obedience on the woman's part. In fact, the surrender and obedience in tango is not unilateral but mutual. Tango is an intimate and harmonious relationship. The two partners must both be empathetic, thoughtful, agreeable and accommodating. To lead is not to coerce, but to guide, support, collaborate, adapt, protect, and help the woman to unfold her skills and beauty. Just like the woman should submit to the man, the man, too, should submit to the need of the woman in her dance. There must not be any coerce in leading.

8. Self-centeredness
A self-centered leader often fails to take into consideration the balance, axis, time, space and support that the woman needs in her dance. Examples of such self-centeredness include taking care only of his own balance and overlooking hers, leading her to make a step when her balance is not yet in place, letting her rotate on a tilted axis, leading her to move but blocking her path, not giving her enough time to finish her step, leading her do things beyond her ability, and so on. Such could cause her to feel coerced or uncomfortable. The man must think from the standpoint of the woman and constantly adjust his own position, embrace, axis, weight, speed, lead, etc. to adapt to her need and facilitate her movement so she can dance freely. (See Partner-Centered Leading vs. Self-Centered Leading.)

9. Not giving her enough support
Letting her dance freely does not mean letting her dance alone without your support. An inexperienced man often just sends a signal and then waits for the woman to follow, but fails to provide the support that she needs in her dancing. In fact, such support is crucial because she is leaning on you. If you withdraw your support, even if you lean back only slightly, that could cause her to lose balance and compromise the quality of her dance. When she moves away from you, you have to move with her to maintain your support for her. When she moves into you, you have to retreat while not lose the support for her. Otherwise, she will feel falling away.

10. Overlooking ancillary actions
The lack of understanding of the structure of the step is another problem for a beginner. Most tango steps are not composed of only one action, but a combination of several actions. For example, dancing ocho from position five includes five actions: unwinding the crossed leg, taking a forward step with that leg, swiveling the hips and pivoting on that leg, taking another forward step with the other leg, and swiveling the hips and pivoting again. Thus the entire sequence needs to be led with five action steps. If you do not break down the sequence and attempt to bring out two actions with one lead, that will be hard for the woman to follow. A beginner tends to focus on the main action and overlook the ancillary action. For example, he leads the woman to take a forward step without unwinding her crossed leg first, or leads her to step forward when she is yet to complete her hip rotation.

11. Unsophisticated musicality
This is also reflected in the beginner’s handling of music. The musicality of the beginner is often raw and untrained. He may be able to identify the rhythm and lead the woman to step on the beat, but his handling of the ancillary actions is often unmusical. Still use the example of ocho, in which the beginner tends to focus on the main action, i.e., the forward step. Once a forward step is made, he immediately moves on to lead the next forward step. While both steps may be led on the beat, the transitional action between the two steps, namely hip rotation and pivot, often is led off beat. Such lead cannot satisfy a mature follower who expects the leader to handle all aspects of the entire sequence in an exquisite way that every detail of the sequence meets the rhythm, melody, speed and mood of the music perfectly. Only in such a fashion dancing tango becomes a real treat.

12. Self-exhibition
Some men use the woman as the foil to their performance. Such men have invented more and more exhibitory steps for themselves, showing off at the milonga to draw eyeballs to their exhibition. In my opinion that is a bad trend today. In tango, the man's job is to display the woman's beauty and let her enjoy the dance. Instead of drawing eyeballs to himself, he should focus on making her feel pampered in his arms, shining her and letting her be the center of attention. A leader's maturity is measured by how his partner dances, not by his own exhibition. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.)

November 21, 2013

Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes

Part One

A reader commented, "I have enjoyed reading your other thoughts so much, that I am very sad to read about your view of gender roles in tango. In my view, tango, as with any art, is a subjective and living thing. The ability to reassign roles to me is a progression. It affirms that the art can and does live and breathe in our contemporary world, which, for most of us anyway, rejects misogyny, rejects homophobia, and encourages empathy. The art will continue to be shaped by those who choose it and I agree completely that there is so much that can only be considered bastardization. But the exchanging of gender roles, the influence of LGBT, this represents the beauty of the art, not at all some kind of a decay. It shows that it lives in our time of changing gender roles and progress in human rights and understanding. And, in wonderful irony, reflects tango revisiting its roots." (See The Alienation of Tango)

I appreciate the comment and like to give a serious and sincere response to it because, in my opinion, gender roles are the single most important issue in tango dancing. Tango would not be the same if the gender roles are reversed. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) I do not think the transformation of gender roles and the influence of LGBT can be simply seen as a progress. Trend and progress cannot always be used synonymously. Although feminism and homosexuality are fashionable in the Western societies now, following the trend blindly may lead to unintended consequences. That tango is in conflict with the trend may be a blessing to the Western world because through tango it is easier to understand how men and women could live together in peace and harmony, at least for most people. This doesn’t mean that some people may not have their own choice, and that most people should not accept them. But some people should understand that their choice must not be the choice of all people. It is simply not true to say that those who do not make the same choice as they do are all misogynic or homophobic, and that those who do not dance tango the same way as they do are all anti-progression.

The real issue in question is the purpose of sex. Those who think sex is only for pleasure believe one can have sex with anybody including members of one's own gender, which from their point of view is a matter of personal rights and freedom, and they want the society not only to recognize their rights, but also provide means for all people to embrace their view and way of living.

Those who think sex is a responsibility relating to the procreation and upbringing of the next generation, on the other hand, believe the above view and way of living is detrimental to the best interests of the society and humanity as a whole. Individualism is a cracked ideology because we are not just individual beings but also social beings. Absolute personal liberty at the expense of the interests of the society and humanity as a whole is fundamentally harmful to the individuals as well. One's tango is a part of one's lifestyle; therefore, it is not a matter of opening up and trying new things - a persuasion that drug dealers often use. It is choosing a way to dance that is consistent with one's value and way of living. (See Tango and Individualism.)

Part Two

Humans are smart, able to intervene and alter nature. But humans are shortsighted as well, unaware of the long-term consequences of their actions due to their short life span. Modern humans have no recollection of what happened tens of thousands of years ago, hundreds of thousands of years ago, and thousands of thousands of years ago. Monogamy, that is, marriage of one man and one woman who are not blood-related, is the eugenic mechanism suiting the best interests of the mankind. This institution is resulted gradually from millions of years of human evolution through countless positive and negative reproductive experiences and a painstaking natural selection process. The soundness of the institution, however, has been so forgotten by modern people that alternative marriage now becomes a fashion. But, no matter how smart humans are, what is of nature is still the soundest, most proper and most fitting outcome, as it has gone through an extremely slow and gradual process of evolution, perfected little by little in the millions of years of making. Human interventions, on the other hand, are revolutionary and experimental, thus often lead to disastrous consequences.

Modern contraceptive technology is an example of such human interventions. Contraception changes human sexual behavior from that aiming at procreation to that only for sexual pleasure. Once this breach is made, a series of consequences follow. Contraception leads to sex freedom, which leads to homosexuality, which leads to the alienation of marriage, which leads to the disintegration of the traditional family, which leads to the decay of the family-centered moral system, which leads to the fall of civilization. One ant hole could cause the entire dyke to collapse. Since heterosexuals may have sex for pleasure, why should homosexuals not be allowed to do the same? If the ban on homosexuality is lifted, then why not that on bisexuality, transgender sexuality, pedophilia, prostitution, adultery, group sex, incest, sodomy, and every other form of pleasure-oriented sex? In many Western societies, legislations have been passed to allow same-sex marriage, which changes marriage from that between a man and a woman for reproduction to that between gays or lesbians for sexual pleasure and welfare benefits. If sexual pleasure and welfare benefits are the sound reasons for marriage, then why should marriage be limited to non-consanguineous adults? Why brother and brother, sister and sister, brother and sister, father and son, father and daughter, mother and son, mother and daughter, and other close relatives should not form a sexual relationship through marriage for the same reason? And why should marriage be limited to two adults? Why polygamy, polyandry and group marriage are not allowed? In fact, why is marriage necessary at all if it is not for the procreation and upbringing of the next generation? As long as reproduction and children are not involved, a person choose to have sex with whom and with how many people is a personal affair since sex is a natural right of any human being and there is no reason to limit sex to a one-to-one relationship called marriage, according to the logic of liberalism and individualism.

Marriage, however, is not a natural human right, but privilege granted to non-kin adults of the opposite sexes only, because it is related to the reproduction and upbringing of the next generation and hence the well-being of the society as a whole. Various offbeat sexual relationships are in contradiction to the best interests of the human species and, therefore, are prohibited by law - first by natural law in the prehistoric period for at least tens of thousands of years if not hundreds of thousands of years, followed by written laws in the historical period for at least thousands of years in the past. Societies that did not comply with this law were diminished and disappeared. Now, by means of contraception, humans can enjoy the pleasure of non-consequential sex, open-minded people therefore start to advocate the lift of the ban. In the US, the gay rights movement is surging. So far, sixteen states have passed same-sex marriage legislations. Homosexuality, bisexuality, adultery, sodomy and incest, which never cease to exist but previously are done in the closet when traditional marriage is the only legal form of marriage, now start to enjoy some legitimacy and popularity thanks to these legislations. When such radical ideas become the generally accepted norm in a society, sex freedom, the alienation of marriage, the disintegration of the traditional family, the destruction of the human eugenic institution, the decline in quantity and quality of the population, and the replacement of the population by another population that comply with the law are bound to happen. Modern men have completely forgotten about the repeated lessons in early human history that societies and civilizations withered away because of this.

Part Three

Homosexuals are human beings, too. Their human rights, including that of selecting sex partners and forming partnerships, should be recognized. However, we must also recognize that homosexuality is not a normal biological function, otherwise the species would cease to exist. Marriage equality, i.e., treating homosexual relationship equally as heterosexual relationship and thus blurring the distinctions between the two, is not a good idea in my opinion. It is another serious human intervention against nature. As mentioned above, marriage is a eugenic mechanism resulted from millions of years of human reproductive practice. It is a privilege granted only to non-kin adults of the opposite sexes for procreation. For the best interests of the human species, this privilege must be protected by law. Failure to do that will have serious consequences.

The notion of "marriage equality" implies that marriage does not have to be between a man and a woman, that gender is irrelevant in forming a sexual partnership, that every human person is entitled to have sex with anybody regardless of gender and consanguinity, that it is moral to have a homosexual or bisexual relationship with more than one partner, that sex is only for pleasure with no social responsibilities attached, that marriage is not a eugenic institution but only a lifestyle, that procreation and upbringing of the next generation is not the function of marriage, that the healthy growth of children does not depend on the presence and joint efforts of both father and mother, that the welfare incentives intended to encourage marriage between a man and a woman for procreation should also be extended to homosexual partnerships, and that individual freedom, personal rights, self-indulgence and self-interests are the only thing that matters, etc. Can you imagine how such false ideas, if sponsored by the state, enforced by law, enhanced by media propaganda, TV shows, movies, popular literature, school education, workplace regulations and dinner table conversations could influence the young minds and impact the future of the humanity?

We know that introducing alien species may endanger native species, marketing genetically modified food may result in the reduction of natural food supply, promoting tango Nuevo may inhibit traditional tango, encouraging alternative marriage may accelerate the disintegration of traditional family, taking affirmative action may cause reversed discrimination, etc. Instances of this kind are too numerous to mention. It is a human nature to be fond of the new and tired of the old. People rush to follow what is fashionable and despise what is proven reliable. Those who question the new trend are blamed down, as if what has been proven is obsolete and not good anymore, but what has not been proven is instead the cutting edge and progressive. If the distinct status of marriage were not protected and preserved, reversed discrimination, the destruction of human eugenic institution and the disintegration of the traditional family would become inevitable.

More importantly, failure to protect traditional marriage would undermine the family-centered value system on which human civilization is based. The relationship between the opposite sexes, who are mutually attractive, interdependent and cooperative to each other by nature, is the foundation of all interpersonal relationships. From that relationship comes children, family, society, political state, and the consequent moral system on which human civilization is based. The relationship between the opposite sexes therefore is the foundation of all social relationships. In other words, it is through the most intimate reproductive relationship that people learn to love and get along with each other. The decline of family will have, and already had, a profound impact on the society, because it means the loosening of the natural bond between closely related people and the rising of individualism with an emphasis on personal liberty, freedom, rights, independence and self-interests while denying the interdependence and the need for cooperation and compromise among people. (See Tango and Family Values.) Feminism as a replica of individualism on gender issues opposes the interdependence of the two sexes, advocates women’s independence, encourages women to emancipate from family, to fight for their own rights, to be strong and aggressive like men, to compete with men, and not to be outdone by men, etc. Such radical propositions can only exacerbate the antagonism and confrontation between the two sexes and are not conducive to social harmony. (See Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I).) The way to improve the relationship is to be friendly, agreeable, loving, cooperative, yielding and accommodating to each other rather than being rejective, resentful, hostile, confrontational and uncompromising to each other. The recent government shutdown caused by refusing to make concessions serves as an alarming example of the impairment of such extremist ideologies. (See Meeting in the Middle.)

Part Four

Gay rights movement, feminism and individualism have an undeniable influence on tango. Feminism disapproves the surrender and obedience of the woman to the man in tango, advocates that the woman maintains her independence in the dance and keeps a distance from the man, that the man can only make suggestions or invitations to the woman rather than lead the woman in the dance, that the woman may decide how, when or whether to accept the suggestion or invitation, that the man must wait for the woman's decision at the pace of her choice and then follow her, that the woman is free to express herself, may interrupt the man’s lead and insert her own steps, and that the woman may lead the man or another woman, etc. Some authors write books to advertise this kind of ideas. Like-minded teachers also promote such ideas through their teaching, and students naively mistaking radicalism for progress blindly follow the trend, contributing to the alienation of tango and changing tango from a dance in which the two sexes collaborate intimately to achieve oneness and harmony, to a dance in which the two sexes are distant and antagonistic, focusing only on personal performance.

I believe most people are not such extremists. But, living in a society that “rejects misogyny, rejects homophobia, and encourages empathy,” few could be totally immune from radicalization. We often see beginners stick to the attitude that they have obtained over a long period of time, think of oneself as an independent individual rather than being in a relationship with others, regard oneself not as a part of the whole, and think of others as rivals, etc. Most people, after going through a period of learning, will gradually overcome such self-centered mindset and adopt a cooperative attitude consistent with the values of tango. (See The Spirit of Tango.) But there are people who cannot overcome individualistic mentality even after years of learning. Students of the contemporary age need to know that learning tango is learning a new set of values completely different from the values of the world. The world is about competition and winning. Tango is about cooperation and harmony. The world believes that balance is gained through might and fight. Tango believes that balance is gained through collaboration and compromise. Tango is not about individuality, independence, personal freedom and self-interests, but about achieving oneness and harmony through teamwork. (See The Freedom in Tango.) Principles in tango, such as surrender, obedience, agreeableness, love, yielding, collaboration, accommodation and complement, not only help the two partners to dance together in unison, but also provide universal values for people to live together in peace and harmony. (See The World Needs a Different Philosophy.)

Wherever cooperation is involved, so is the division of labor. For example, in a household, the man often does more heavy duty works that require strength, and the woman often does more light chores. Such natural division of labor is based on the physiologies of the two sexes, not at all some form of discrimination. In tango, the man leads the woman and the woman beautifies the dance, which, too, is a natural division of labor based on the physiological characteristics of the two sexes, not at all some form of gender inequality. Do you think it’s natural for the woman to lead the man and the man to beautify the dance? When you see a gal leads a guy, and the guy wriggles his body and swivels his butt, pretending to be feminine, do you think that looks natural? You have seen couples of the same sex dancing together and in them there is only femininity without masculinity, or only masculinity without femininity, do you think that looks beautiful? Tango is governed by laws of dance, not ideologies. I need not to repeat what has been dwelt upon in my other articles on gender roles. Please click the links if you haven't read already: The Gender Roles in Tango, Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I), Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II), Tango and Gender Equality, The Gender Expression in Tango. I believe those who are not driven by narrow-minded ideological extremism will not find such division of labor discriminative against women. Male chauvinists use the division of labor between the opposite sexes as an evidence of male superiority and female inferiority, which is absurd. Feminists therefore want to repeal or reverse gender roles, which is even more ridiculous.

I believe tango is a good thing for the Western world. True progress is not radical, but rational, gradual, moderate and peaceful as nature is. Nature in its norm is not revolutionary but evolutionary, leading to coexistence, harmony, balance, peace, to the recognition of the connections of things and the abandonment of radical ideas like individualism, feminism and power politics, to communal interests rather than self-interests, integration rather than segregation, adaptation rather than antagonism, moderation rather than extremism, compromise rather than obstinacy, love rather than hatred, and peace rather than war. In other words, nature is in opposition to the extremist human tendency against nature. Tango embodies the principles of how the opposite sexes can get alone with each other by the very nature of their being: mutual attraction, collaboration, adaptation, compromise, complement and love, which is the reason of its vitality. Tango can help people to understand the harm of hostility and the benefit of cooperation. It provides useful lessons for us to live together in peace and harmony, thus is conducive to the true human progress. (See The Lessons of Tango.)

May 19, 2013

Tango Is a Shared Moment

"Tango is a shared moment," Carlos Gavito often says this in his classes. This poet-dancer is considered one of the last symbols of the “Milongueros" era, now in extinction. Born in Avellaneda, a suburb of Buenos Aires, Gavito started his professional career in 1965. He is currently touring the world with "Forever Tango". He resides in Florida, and travels frequently to New York, where he guest teaches at DanceSport. A few weeks ago we caught up with Carlos Gavito in a NY coffeehouse.

ReporTango: How did you start dancing tango?

Carlos Gavito: I never really learned tango. Tango was part of the Argentine culture, and when I was a boy it was in fashion. When I was seven years old I used to go to the basketball court of the sports club of my town, Avellaneda, where three times a week there were tango "practicas". In those days, tango was practiced between men. The older men would use boys who were placed in a standing position, mimicking the women, and the men would practice their steps. They would say, "Hey boy, come, stand here, put your foot here, and now there." And they would try new steps and new ways. So at the beginning I was just a body, but I paid attention to the steps and when I was fifteen, I did the same with a younger boy. It was then my turn to practice steps. In those days there were no dancing schools, and no television, so a kid like myself would have soccer during the day, and tango in the late afternoon.

R: So you were not allowed to do any steps before you were fifteen?

CG: No, I was not allowed to do the steps or go to any milongas.

R: What made you come back to those practice sessions?

CG: I was always into music. When I was fifteen, everybody was listening and dancing to rock n' roll, but all the clubs around my town would still play tango. Tango was always there. From the beginning I always liked tango, I found the music so beautiful, and so I always wanted to dance it, not as a profession, not as a performance, but as a social event. By the way, as a professional dancer, I always make the distinction between social tango and the tango performed on stage (See Social Tango and Performance Tango). One has nothing to do with the other. Stage tango is done to sell tickets, while social tango is dancing for your own enjoyment. That's why I've never understood the "ganchos" (hooks) and kicks in social tango. I always make it clear to students that I don't teach ganchos. I would only do it if you want to become professional and you want to learn a specific choreography from me, then I will do that, I will teach ganchos. But not in social tango. I feel strongly about that.

R: What made you decide to make tango a profession?

CG: Well, that happened much later, when I was around 23 or 24 years old. I was dancing jazz and I had taken also ballet classes. I became first a jazz dancer, and then one day a friend of mine, Eduardo Arquimbau (from Gloria & Eduardo) came to look for me. He was putting together a television special and needed guys who danced tango, not just plain dancers. He knew I could dance tango and so he came to talk to me. I will never forget, it was in a coffee place in Avenida Corrientes where we always used to have a coffee or drink. He told me about the possibility to do this show, and I said let's try, let's see what it is about. We started to practice in a club and it was fine. It was a program called "Así canta Buenos Aires" ("This is how Buenos Aires sings"). We then went on doing another one, "Yo soy Porteño" ("I'm from Buenos Aires"). I worked with him for about three and a half years. So, without really knowing it, I slowly went back to my roots, to tango. After that, Eduardo, Gloria and I started working in milongas. At those milongas we would perform four days a week as a trio. Later on, Eduardo formed a big show in which I was his leader. While Eduardo went on tour in Japan and Central America I took care of the show. When he finally came back I decided to go on my own to the Festival of Tango in Colombia with the orchestra of Aníbal Troilo. Before we go any further I would like to mention my teachers, I made a promise to always mention them: contrary to many tango dancers, I didn't have dance teachers, I had tango teachers. One was Julián Centeya, he was a poet and he was my best teacher. If you listen to the tango "Café Domínguez," the one who is talking at the beginning is Julián. He was my best teacher because he taught me tango from the inside. The other teacher I would like to mention is Miguel Caló. I worked with him and his orchestra in Buenos Aires around 1963. He would say, "Listen to the music, now listen to the voice of Raúl Berón, dance the voice, just the voice, now dance the piano." He directed me like I was another musician in the orchestra. He made me understand how to listen to the music and what I should listen to. These were my two tango teachers.

R: Aren’t there teachers like that anymore?

CG: No. Today, when people dance tango you can see every dancer rush to do steps. There should never be a rush to do a step, we should enjoy it while we are doing it and make it last, dwell on it. I often say this, when I dance tango, I enjoy so much the step I'm doing on that moment, that I want to make it last. The same as when we were kids and we would get five pennies to get an ice cream; we would lick it slowly, trying to make the most out of it because we knew that when the ice cream is gone there's no more! So I don't see the rush to finish one step and go into the next one. I think it's much more interesting to do one, stop, without really stopping but more like a pause and just do nothing for a while, enjoying the moment and then go on to do something else. I think most people rush because they don't know how to do nothing, and that's the most difficult. Even if your dance is not choreographed, you learn the basic step: the one that goes from one to seven. Then you think you have to do the whole step. But what happens if someone is in front of you or next to you and you cannot finish the step? In actuality, the step never ends, it's a three-minute step, it's the whole dance.

R: Is this why you make such a big distinction between social tango and stage tango?

CG: Yes, because in social tango you move with your partner and with the music. And that is also something that people should understand: the relation between you and your partner is not personal. What is personal between the two of you is that you are both trying to caress the music with your feet.

R: Can you describe your ideal tango partner?

CG: My ideal tango partner...Well, at the moment, it is definitely my partner in the show, Marcela Durán. We are a good duo, we understand each other without words, we don't need to talk, and we don't need to rehearse. Each one is trying to accomplish his own role, I lead, she follows. Some girls get fed up with following, and they want to dance like a man because they say it's more entertaining. But I say you don't have enough time in your lifetime to learn how to follow well. So I would recommend to these girls to really learn how to follow (See Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II)).

R: Do you think you and Marcela have chemistry, that you share the same emotions when you dance a tango? In other words, do you feel/interpret the music the same way, or you experience a different emotion than she does?

CG: It's a beautiful question. You know, even if we are having a different idea, a different understanding, or a different feeling, we are still thinking alike. What we get is the mood. She doesn't listen to my thoughts, I don't listen to her thoughts, but somehow we communicate the same mood to each other. Marcela and I don't have a personal relationship, we are friends and dancing partners, but our souls communicate, we don't need to talk. So, right now I feel like I'm dancing with my ideal, but really, my ideal does not have a face. She's a dream of something I want in real life, but that ideal does not have a face. You know, when you dance tango, you should really put a little bit of your life into it. If you dance your life, you dance better.

R:  What makes a good tango dancer?

CG: A good tango dancer is one who listens to the music.

R: Is that the only criteria?

CG:  Yes. We dance the music, not the steps. Anybody who pretends to dance well never thinks about the step he's going to do, what he cares about is that he follows the music. You see, we are painters, we paint the music with our feet. Musicians play an instrument and use their fingers, their hands. Dancers use their toes.

R: Has teaching tango been difficult at any point in your life?

CG: Yes, because tango was not always in fashion. To arrive to the point I'm at today took many years. Now I'm very much in demand, and I enjoy that because I've spent a long time dancing tango. I think I deserve it. I had been dancing tango before it became popular, and I didn't become a dancer because it was fashionable. Some dancers start with folklore or flamenco and then when tango became a commercial success they started dancing tango. It was not my case. I danced tango when it was not in fashion, and even when it was politically dangerous. So, I deserve what I've earned. I've earned it trough the years.

R: Is teaching tango in the U.S. different than in Argentina?

CG: At the moment, I think it's the same, because in Argentina it has also become very commercial. Teachers everywhere try to surprise and impress others. They sometimes teach steps they would not even do themselves. They say that if you teach simple things, students get bored. But a good teacher should never worry about that. He should teach social tango, not the tango to impress others. I don't care if there are ten, twenty or a hundred people in my classes, the way I dance is the way I teach, and I teach simplicity (See Simple Is Beautiful). Sometimes, a step can look very easy and simple, but when people try to recreate it, they can't, because simplicity is not always easy.

R: It’s easier to dance fast than dance slowly...

CG: Right. I sometimes see that the person who dances fast is actually trying to hide mistakes. The dancer who dances slowly does it because he's a hundred percent sure that what he's doing is perfect.

R: Most people here don't understand the tango lyrics. Do you think they are missing out by not understanding the meaning of a song?

CG: Look, it's simple. When I was a boy, I listened to Bill Haley. I didn't know any English, but I could tell whether the song was happy, or sad, or romantic. The lyrics in tango and the voice are very clear and you can hear when there's romance, nostalgia or sadness. You can feel it even though you don't understand the lyrics. Once again, the mood of the song, of the music is important to listen to. For instance, I can never understand why a person who dances to Miguel Caló, for example, does ganchos, when the tango talks about love. A gancho is an aggression, why would the woman agree to this aggression when the music is about love?

R: Who would you want to model your dancing after?

CG: The answer is not so much who but what. My model would be the way a cat moves. When a cat moves, you see his paws, and every single muscle. He moves slowly but he's always ready to jump, you can't catch it. I like that when it moves slowly, there's a rhythm to his slow motion, it's something beautiful to admire, and I think all dancers should try to imitate it.

R: What is your favorite tango?

CG: It's tough to answer since I've been dancing for so long. There was a time when it was "Quejas de Bandoneón," another time "Chiqué", "La Ultima Cita", and also "Yunta de Oro". I'm very much in love with Pugliese's music, especially "Pata Ancha". One of my favorite tangos is Café Domínguez because at the beginning you can hear the voice of my "godfather" Julián Centeya. I also love the tangos of Miguel Caló, each one of them. I love the voice of Raúl Berón, also Alberto Podestá. I love Pugliese and Ricardo Tanturi. But I'm not a big fan of Biagi or Canaro. These are not my kind of tango. Biagi is from the 60's, and I don't like the rhythm, it's too sharp on the beat. I prefer the music that goes away from the beat, that is softer, smoother, even looser. I don't like strong marks or accent on the music. I prefer tangos that are more like a dream, like flying.

R: Can you describe your best tango moment?

CG: It's so difficult. I swear to God that I enjoy every single tango I dance. That is why, when I go to a milonga, I don't dance the whole night. I dance a few selected tangos. What is important is that I always dance well. If I get tired, I go sit and watch, because I'd rather do that than dance badly. I dance to the inspiration of the music. I need inspiration. So first, I need the right music, and then I have to find the right partner. If I can't find the right partner, I won't dance. If I don't like the music, I won't dance. So, to describe to you my best tango moment is impossible, because for me every tango is a best moment.

R: I have met some people who think that if you are not Argentine, you can't dance tango.

CG: Well, I think they are mistaken right from the beginning. Tango was immigrant music in my own country, so it does not have a nationality, its only passport is feeling, and everybody has feelings. Passion is a plus. If you are a passionate person, you will be dancing better. There's a misperception that if a dancer knows a lot of steps, he's a good dancer. I think it's a mistake. It only means that that person has a good memory (See Tango and Integrity). I prefer the tango you dance while enjoying the moment, because then I will see that my partner is closing her eyes. That she is enjoying it too.

R: Unfortunately, you can't dance with everybody with your eyes closed.

CG: True. I've met girls who thought they had to have their eyes closed to dance a good tango. That's a mistake too. You close your eyes when you feel like it, when you're comfortable, not because you have to, or because it looks better. Trust is also important. Marcela said that very well in my video; when you dance with a partner you are close and the dance is very suggestive. But as I said before, it’s not personal, it's what the music inspires you to do. The embrace looks personal, but what we are actually embracing is the music.

R: Why do you think some people, get so passionate, almost obsessed about tango?

CG: Well, if you go back to the beginning of tango, tango is defined as a feeling, a "sentimiento" which you dance to. So when you start the dance, you don't start with a step, you start with a feeling (See Tango Is a Feeling). That's why I think we are not like other dancers. Other dancers go through a combination of steps, tango is improvised, improvised all the way, there are no combinations.  In tango you can't be preoccupied with the steps, you need to express your emotions while listening to the music. You can spot a mile away a person who is actually thinking about the next step. On the other hand, the dancer who follows the music will move at the same time as his partner. They will move as one. The American language says it clearly: "It takes two to tango." Why not two to cha-cha, or two to swing?  Why two to tango? Because two makes one.

R: Last question: How would you like to be remembered as a dancer?

CG: Only one way: that I was honest with my dancing.


May 3, 2013

Femininity and Feminism in Tango (II)

When a man and a woman tango together, something mysterious happens: attraction, feeling, connection, romanticism, synergy, etc. Tango's gratification comes from the fact that it is an intimate dance between a man and a woman. The man leads the woman with his body to bring her femininity into full play. The woman surrenders to the man and uses her femininity to allure, comfort and reward him. The two opposite genders complement each other, satisfy each other’s needs and make each shine brighter in the other’s company.

Men and women play different roles in tango. Some people argue that with practice anyone could play either role equally well (see Comment), which I doubt. Men are not good at playing the feminine role not because they are not given the chance, but because they are born masculine. A man does not have the female body of a woman with its softness, lightness and flexibility. Nor does he have the female psychology evolved because of women's reproductive nature, their need for beauty (to attract male), affection, security and shielding. These traits impact how women dance. On the other hand, women do not have the build and strength of men. They do not have the male psyche evolved because of men's hunting nature, their need for taking initiatives, keeping under control, and protecting women. If men and women were naturally good at the opposite roles, tango would have been danced differently.

Not far from my house, a female goose is hatching under a tree, and a male goose is guarding nearby, preventing the female from being disturbed. I have to make a detour when I pass that tree because the male goose does not allow me get close. He is very protective of the female goose. Can the male hatch and the female guard? I suppose they could. But that would not be natural and as fit. Masculinity and femininity are characteristics of the opposite sexes essential to the well being of the species. The male is typically strong, assertive, aggressive and protective, a good father and protector, if you wish. The female is typically soft, attractive, submissive and affectionate, a good mother and caregiver, if you wish. These characteristics enable the two sexes to attract each other and form a sustainable relationship for the benefit of the offspring. People often do not appreciate the way nature works and want to alter it. But, what is of nature comes from millions of years of evolution through natural selection and, as a result, is the best, fittest and most effective way. Messing with nature often leads to disastrous consequences, such as man-made climate changes, environmental catastrophes, mysterious diseases, sterility, babies with birth defects, and the derangement of natural order such as that between the two sexes, the decline of family and family values, etc. (See Tango and the Relationship of the Opposite Sexes.) Those who think they are smarter than God are harming us all with their ignorant interference with nature.

Good human values are based on what is beneficial to the humanity rather than an individual person or gender. The problem of individualism and feminism is that their perspectives are narrowed down to a single person or gender. Consequently, they confuse the good with the evil and the beautiful with the ugly. Greed is ugly, but is being justified as the pursuit of happiness. Selfishness is ugly, but is being beautified as asserting individual rights. Disrespecting others is ugly, but is being warranted as personal freedom. Arrogance is ugly, but is being prettified as self-confidence. Masculinity is admirable, but is being vilified as sexism. Femininity is beautiful, but is being denigrated as female weakness, etc. Such ideologies challenge the traditional way tango is danced, label it as male domination and gender inequality. (See Tango and Gender Equality.) They want tango to be danced in such a way that men and women are undifferentiated, that men do not lead but only invite women to do steps, (See How Tango Is Led.) that women do not surrender but remain independent, that women may choose how, when and whether to accept the invitation, initiate their own steps and lead men or other women, that the two partners maintain a distance from each other to prevent sexual advancement, and that tango embrace is being replaced with an open dance hold to allow more individuality and independence, etc. As a result, tango is transformed to something that is no longer tango.

Tango is based on the ideas that men and women are interdependent rather than independent, that masculinity and femininity complement rather than un-equalize the opposite sexes, that being a masculine male and a feminine female is attractive, beneficial and desirable, that the harmony of the two genders is arrived at through mutual submission and cooperation rather than confrontation and power struggle, and that love triumphs over hostility. While individualism and feminism focus on the individuality and independence of the individual person or gender, tango focuses on the partnership and oneness of the union. It asks us to be friendly, submissive, humble, adaptive, cooperative, agreeable and yielding. Tango proves that the two sexes can form a harmonious relationship by conforming to these values. Despite the challenges that tango faces in the West, it continues to exert positive influences on our societies, I believe, because unless we adopt its values, we are unable to fully enjoy tango and the relationship with the opposite sex. (See The World Needs a different Philosophy.)

Related Reading

Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I)

March 31, 2013

Tango Etiquette: Eye Contact, Talking, Clique and Hierarchy

Many women assume it’s men’s job to invite them. They sit there talking with each other and pay no attention to men, taking for granted that someone would come to ask them to dance. However, in order for a man to ask a woman, he needs to have a sense that she is interested in dancing with him. No man will invite a woman who he thinks is not interested and will turn him down. The woman must give the man some hint that she likes to dance with him before he makes a move.

As a hint, some women move closer to where the man of their desire will notice them, which is not a bad idea in a crowded milonga where people sitting far apart may not see each other. But, changing seats alone is not enough. You may sit near a man and still not be invited if you concentrate on talking with others and pay no attention to the man. Talking prevents the talker from being invited. A gentleman does not interrupt a woman when she is talking. You could lose your critical moment when the tanda starts if you are talking. Even if you sit just one table away from the man, you still need to let him know you want to dance with him by making eye contact with him. If you concentrate on talking and don’t even look at him, how could he know that you are waiting for him? That is why in the milongas of Buenos Aires women do not talk. They try to make eye contact with men.

In the US, however, many women do just the opposite. Some women are too proud to make eye contact with men, they expect men to come to them voluntarily. Others are too shy to look at men, as if that would reveal a secret desire they shouldn’t have. Still others worry if they stare at men, they may give men wrong ideas. When some women do make eye contact with men, they make it very briefly in order not to seem like they are begging for a dance. All these worry, shyness and pride are not necessary. If a woman can’t even overcome such psychological impediments, how can she dance well in tango that involves intense intimate physical contact with a man?

Women need to understand that men have their concerns too. A man needs to know that you are emotionally ready for the dance and will accept him if he asks you. Most men need to see you eye-to-eye for a few seconds before they are convinced of that. If you turn your eyes away too quickly, they will take it as a decline. If you want to dance with a man, you need to fix your eyes at him to give him a chance to cabeceo you. Only if he does not act after ten seconds or more should you then turn your eyes away. The same rule applies to men as well. You stare at a woman for ten to twenty seconds. If she wants you she will notice that. If after twenty seconds she still does not make eye contact with you, you should give up on her for the moment and move on to another woman. You should not force your way to her seat and ask her to dance, as which could put her into a dilemma that she might not want to be put into. In Buenos Aires, most portena women will say no to a verbal invitation because that shows the ungentlemanliness and inexperience of the inviter.

The psychological impediments lead some women to sit with their male friends and dance only with them. By so doing they present themselves as unavailable to the public, thus discourage others from inviting them. Cliquing is inappropriate in the milonga because it creates segregation. In order for a milonga to work it must be integrated so all dancers would have the equal opportunity to dance with anyone of their choice by mutual consents. That is why in the milongas of Buenos Aires men and women are seated separately to prevent cliquing. To honor the milonga code, couples and friends often choose to enter the milonga separately and be seated apart. A smart woman does not sit with the same group of male friends every week, as which may give people an impression that she belongs to a clique and is unavailable to others.

Speaking of the clique there is a related issue. Because dancers of different levels focus on different things, they may not enjoy dancing with each other. As a result there is a hierarchy in tango. At the bottom are students learning steps, who usually partner with their fellow beginners. In the middle, those infatuated with the look tend to partner with those fond of fancy footwork, and those still obsessed with themselves focus on individual performance. Mature dancers who have passed those stages, on the other hand, like to partner with people of good embrace, musicality and ability to dance for others. (See The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey.) One should separate such division of level from clique. The former is indiscriminate, inclusive and encouraging, serving a positive function in the milonga by promoting humility, encouraging growth and rewarding achievements. The latter is discriminate, exclusive and discouraging, infringing equal opportunity and causing segregation. A woman at the lower level should not feel disheartened at the hierarchy, because it allows her to mingle with people of similar levels and still does not prevent her from dancing with more experienced dancers, if she is not too shy or too proud to make eye contact with men. Women must be aware that making eye contact with men is critical in the partner selection process. (See Women's Role in Cabeceo.) Your eye is the key to dancing with the man of your choice. Use it wisely and you can dance all the way to the top. (See How to Get More Invitations in the Milonga.)

March 7, 2013

The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey

If tango to you is only what you can see it, the steps, then you are at the first stage of your tango journey. The intangible part of tango is still beyond your comprehension at this point. But you should not let the step fool you. It is only the tip of the iceberg. Tango is a comprehensive art. Although you need to know the steps to dance tango, there are things more important that you must know also. At this point your main attention should be placed on developing good posture, embrace, connection, balance, stability, dissociation, pivot and walk. (See Tango Is a Language (I).) Many students take lessons beyond their level to learn advanced steps when their posture is still ugly, their body is still stiff and heavy, their embrace is still broken, their walk is still clumsy, and they still need to hold on to the partner for balance and stability. As a result, the fancy steps that they are learning have little meaning to them, only enhance their bad habits. At this stage you need to overcome your eagerness to achieve quick results, proceed in an orderly and gradual way, take time to improve your posture, embrace, connection, balance, pivot, dissociation and walk and correctly learn the basic steps in accordance with the standard of tango. (See Learning Tango: Imitating Steps vs. Developing Skills.) This approach seems slow, but it will lay a solid foundation that promises fast progress.

Once you’ve laid the foundation and started to dance socially, you enter the second stage of your tango journey. At this stage you continue to learn steps, but your attention should be placed on correcting your bad habits and cultivating good ones. If your personal praxes do not meet the tango standard, or if you have picked bad habits during the first stage, you need to fix them now. This stage could be a long and painful period because the wont that you have accumulated in your lifetime is not easy to break. It takes patience and hard work. You need a good teacher to work with you and help you to correct your wrong habits bit-by-bit. You can practice in front of a mirror or videotape your dance to analyze your posture, embrace, connection, balance, coordination and movements. You need to constantly make conscious efforts against your old habits until you have habituated yourself to the correct way of dancing tango and internalized right posture and movements that meet the aesthetic standard of tango.

As your dance starts to have that unique tango feel, you enter the third stage of your tango journey. At this stage your attention begins to shift from on the external to the internal. Once the steps are no longer the obstacle, you are able to work on the intangible side of the dance. You need to improve your musicality, familiarize yourself with music of different genres, rhythms, tempos, moods and orchestras, and learn to dance to different pieces differently. You need to learn to express your emotions, to pause, to adorn your steps, to dance in slow and fast motions and with more advanced techniques aiming not only at the look but also the feeling of the dance, such as cadencia and gear effect. You need to improve the flexibility and coordination of your body and the ability to use your body to affect and harmonize the movement of your partner’s body. You also need to go beyond the techniques and become a socially acceptable dancer. For that you need to learn the philosophy, culture and etiquette of tango. With the growth of your abilities and the widening of your vision, you will start to see beyond yourself.

The ability to see beyond yourself marks a significant change in your dance, with which you enter the final stage of your tango journey. At this stage you start to pay attention to the relationship with your partner, to feel his/her emotions and feelings, to listen to his/her interpretations of the music, to be adaptive and accommodating to his/her dance, and to be one with him/her. You no longer dance to show off your skills, but to give comfort and pleasure to your partner. Tango to you is no longer steps, but an expression of love. Your lead becomes less difficult and forceful, but gentle, thoughtful and suited to the ability of your partner. You want her to feel free and enjoy the dance. Your follow becomes less bumpy and interruptive, but light, smooth and in harmony with the lead. You want him to feel comfortable and enjoy you. You start to understand the essence of tango and see tango as what the milongueros see it. Now, you are at the top of the game.