Few years ago a friend, after read one of my blog articles, made a comment in a personal email to me. Though I've kept the content private in respect of her concern at the time, I think it is time to "declassify" it now, because my last post, How to Get More Invitations in the MIlonga, generated a call for discussion on the men's part of the problem as well, and her comment is just about that. The following is her comment.
"I read your blog article with interest and agree with everything you say, but I'd like to comment on one aspect of behavior in relation to tango that you didn't mention. I'm making the comment privately instead of publicly because I know from bitter experience how annoyed it makes men to hear what I think on this subject. It has to do with the attitude that men have at milongas regarding whom they choose to dance with, and men in Argentina are even worse than men in America about this. Most men feel a sense of entitlement to dance only with the women they feel personally attracted to and think will enhance their esteem. I can understand not wanting to dance with women who are bad dancers or nasty people, but this is seldom the case. Men tend to ignore women who are either not sufficiently good-looking or not young enough, even if they are good dancers and even if they have friendly relationships with them. Women can sit out tanda after tanda, surrounded by men they know and who otherwise treat them in a friendly way, but who will ask every other woman around to dance while ignoring those who are deemed undesirable as potential romantic partners or status symbols on the dance floor. And men get very angry when this subject is broached, or even if a woman shows her disappointment on her face while sitting alone, because they don't like being made to feel that anything is expected of them that they don't want to do, or that they've failed in courtesy or generosity of spirit. Then they blame the women for being bad sports and having bad attitudes and being unfairly demanding. We're all taught that milongas are social parties, and much is made of the idea of the tango community, but although most women will dance with men they don't particularly enjoy dancing with just to be civil and not hurt people's feelings, almost no men will put themselves out to help a woman have a good time at a milonga unless they really want to dance with her for their own pleasure. I think that the concept of integrity and social concern as opposed to selfish individualism that you so rightly address also should incorporate more compassionate behavior in the choice of partners. At every milonga I've ever been to, I see women suffering silently as they sit unasked among groups of friends and acquaintances, to say nothing of strangers, while pretty young girls get asked constantly even if they're beginners. My own gray hair has put me in this position all too often, and in Buenos Aires I was even told that if I wanted men to dance with me I'd better dye my hair or get a wig, because guys don't like to be associated with aging women on the dance floor. This chronic macho selfishness is the biggest drawback to tango for women, and it's a huge source of sorrow for more women than you could imagine."
I have to admit the guilt I felt as I was reading these words, because until then I've never seriously thought about how deeply some women could feel because of the way they were treated by men, including myself. Though regarded as a refuge by many, the milonga is a bittersweet place in reality, where men and women come to tango with each other, yet our enjoyment of the dance is too often hampered by our own prejudice, arrogance and selfishness.
I can't argue against the human nature. Men are attracted to young, beautiful and sexy women, just like women are attracted to young, beautiful and sexy men, and we all tango for personal pleasure. However, we should not let our human nature mislead us. A tango partner is not a life partner. She does not have to be pretty and fertile. What she needs are the values, attitude, understanding, taste, musicality, skills, experiences and maturity of a tango dancer. These qualities take years of diligent study, training, practice and education to develop - ten years at least, in my opinion. Tango is an adult dance. Most people start tango at some point in their adulthood, and by the time they truly get it, they are no longer young. That is why milongueros and milongueras are not young people, yet in Argentina they are the status symbol. Tango dancers from all over the world come to Buenos Aires to dance with them.
In the US, the first and second generations of tango dancers also are in or reaching their senior ages, since the revival of tango has been thirty years now. But unlike in Argentina, in this country they often are the victims of prejudice and neglect. In a recent event that I attended, among more than a hundred participants, there were about a dozen old women, who were sitting there pretty much being left alone. Under the encouragement of the organizer, I decided to dance with them. It turned out to be a wonderful experience, since all of them are excellence dancers, most have danced for more than 10 years. This experience taught me a good lesson about how ignorant the bias against old dancers is. I am not saying that all older dancers are good tangueros or tangueras. Neither do I promote charity dance. But I believe the age prejudice in tango doesn't make good sense. It is for our own benefit to not be judgmental and mixing tango with courtship. My personal experience told me that women in their forties, fifties and sixties are often the best social dancers. Men, especially younger men, should not miss them. Mature women may not look as pretty and sexy as young women, but their embrace, connection, musicality, communication and coordination are often much better. In other words, they have attained a deeper understanding of tango. That is the strength mature women can fully use for their own advantage.