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 people and species. 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 that all dancers 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. Women at the lower levels should not feel disheartened at the hierarchy, because it allows everyone to mingle with people of similar levels and still does not prevent a woman from dancing with more experienced men if she is not too shy or too proud to make eye contact with them. 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 your 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.)