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.

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.