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.

October 28, 2015

The Age Prejudice in Tango

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, experience 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. In a recent event that I attended, among more than a hundred participants there were about a dozen older women, who sat there pretty much being neglected. Under the encouragement of the organizer, I decided to dance with them. It turned out to be a wonderful experience because 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 older dancers is. I am not saying that all old dancers are good dancers, 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 tango 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.


  1. I have noticed the difference between a new male dancer and new attractive woman dancer. The woman will advance very quockly. Plenty of good dancers are anxious to teach the young lady what to do. She becomes use to dancing with best dancer and will not dance with a novice
    This relates to new male dancers who cannot lead and have trouble finding partners. Often if they came with a woman after a couple weeks she shows alone.
    this is tough issue and there will always be this prejudice.
    I never understand why woman cannot ask a man to dance. I think .it might change both perspectives

    1. This gap between male and female beginners is temporary. Tango is not just a skill, but also a culture, history, value, attitude, understanding, taste, experience, etc. It is a growing process. In the long run, the so called "ten-thousand hours rule" makes sense, which holds in any area of learning, whether it is dance, music, sport, science, medicine, it takes ten-thousand hours of study and practice to achieve excellence. Any average person if can put ten-thousand hours on whatever field he/she is learning will become among the best in that field. Ten-thousand hours is equivalent to 4 hours a day for ten years. That is why age discrimination in tango or any field of study doesn't make good sense.

  2. I have heard that a lot and initially felt a bit guilty as well. But I do not agree with your friend. I was in my early 40ies when I started dancing and in the beginning, to spare myself the most humilating experiences, I mostly adhered to women who signaled that they wanted to dance with ME. I was as charming as one could be and everyone danced better anyway. Usually, I ended up with quite experienced dancers, ten to fifteen years older than me. I must have been an attractive bait - a comparably young man, socially easy and eager to learn. You see the analogy with the pretty female beginners getting all the dances? Works the other way around as well.

    Some of these ladies are still among my favorites, but many are not. The attractivity of a dancer is made up of several ingredients. First and foremost the dance skills. But what makes here a pleasure to dance with is more than that. Sympathy is important, that young sparkle in her eyes, an empathic connection aside from tango. A tasteful dress and a personal attitude that matches her age doesn't do harm, either. These are the same things that make a women attractive in general. I am not talking about romantic thoughts, I mean character and identity. It's the very same for men, by the way, although they admittedly have the minority advantage in tango.

    Their dance skills, however, are often over-estimated by the very same dancers. Very few of us will make it to the 10,000 hours in this lifetime and 10 years of experience doesn't make a good dancer. The years of striving to become better make a good dancer, one that is a joy to dance with. Those women who fell back on my personal hit list, are not. They have long stopped improving and the very moment one stops improving, skills deteriorate. This should be no offense to your friend, as I don't know her at all, but all of those ladies that I know think of themselves as fairly to very good ("experienced") dancers. They sit and wait with a dire look on their faces and I no longer feel guilty for ignoring them.

    What a joy in comparison, to dance with an attractive young beginner, socially easy and eager to learn! Some of them are over fifty and some have been dancing for years and "beginner" to them means, that they are long-time learners, young at heart. That, for me, makes them attractive. They simply dance better.

    1. I agree with your points that time alone doesn't make a good dancer, that one has to remain humble, young at heart and eager to learn, and that good attitude is more important than good skills in terms of one's attractivity as a social dancer. A good social dancer is not just a skilled dancer. In fact, a skilled dance could be a lousy social dancer, as you rightly pointed out. Which is another reason we should not be deceived by any bias.

    2. Well... when I think about my comment above, it is my own point of view and for many women, it is probably a mixed bag. Staying with mediocrity is not a female phenomenon, on the contrary, the tendency is more male than female, because of the the minority advantage.

      Many women start out as ambitious young dancers. Some really quickly build up their skills and are very attractive dancers, which stirs amition in return. Until... they become noticably better than their male peers. Then some dance partners are not so desirable anymore, they grow out of this level, which leaves them less choices. And, I think, at this point a lot of men, who made it to a mediocre but "acceptable" dancer, rather look at weaker dance partners, who they can impress more easily. So the good female dancers are somehow trapped: further improvement just adds fuel to the fire. Stalled ambition makes it even worse.

      I have no solution for this dilemma. After all, many people just want to go dancing on Saturdays and do not plan participating in the mundial. It's reasonable. The only thing I can imagine that would help is to build a community with several very good dancers, people to look up to, a community where dance skills and the ambition to always improve are valued social assets. In a climate that dancing is fun, less commercial. Charity tandas I don't see helpful.

  3. To the author of the email declassified on Oct 28, 2015: You describe a milonga where women dutifully dance with unpleasant partners, but selfish men don’t dance with anyone that doesn’t feed their ego in some way. Please, slip off those heels for a moment, and walk a mile in my oxfords. Men get avoided and turned down for dances because of their age, grey hair, appearance, height, skill, clique membership, position in the hierarchy, etc. We don’t know why we’re refused; it’s uncomfortable for everybody if we ask why, so we don’t ask. Sometimes our invitations to dance are turned down, and then we see our invitee on the dance floor with somebody else thirty seconds later. This is very unpleasant. We too endure tandas with followers that are not very enjoyable. Personally, I don’t keep asking those followers out of a duty to the milonga, or responsibility to see that people are having a good time. I just do it to keep dancing. Some people believe a mediocre (or less) dance is better than sitting. Other people, leaders and followers, don’t feel that way. To say that it is only men that are selfish, indifferent to your suffering and sorrow, prejudiced, superficial, arrogant, angry, lack integrity, irresponsible, base, egotistical…….this is only a partial list what you said….while women endure their emotional abuse is unfair. I only have 4K characters for this response, but I could write pages about cold, rude, and sometimes bizarre treatment I’ve received from Followers. I don’t hate women because of some of these negative instances; some of these instances involved Followers that are now my favorite partners.
    They say more than half of communication is non-verbal. In tango it’s got to be in the high ninetieth percentiles. If you’re sitting at the milonga feeling wronged, hurt, and holding a long list of grievances against men, I’ll bet it’s being communicated whether you know it or not. One time at a milonga I was sitting directly behind a follower who was pulling and tugging on her cardigan sweater so that the lapels overlapped. She was seated on the edge of the dance floor, her shoulders square to the floor. She didn’t look back, or otherwise engage any prospective partners. She looked very frumpy and unattractive. I didn’t think she wanted to dance. I thought she was just cold and uncomfortable, stuck waiting for her girlfriends. A new tanda was starting, nobody asked her to dance. When the music of the first song began she turned her head so that I was in in her peripheral vision, and said kind of angrily, “so do you want to dance or not?” All this tugging and fidgeting wasn’t about the temperature and impatiently wanting to leave. It was frustration and anger at not being asked to dance. Did I fail to get the signal, or did she fail to send a comprehensible message? I said yes – I’d love to dance. As I walked around some tables to meet her on the floor, she put her sweater on the chair. I was shocked. Ms. Formerly Frumpy was gorgeous. She was wearing a beautiful velvet tango dress with spaghetti straps that revealed her feminine shoulders. When I offered my embrace she moved in very close in a way that made me feel I was being taken to heart. As I pressed my palm onto her bare back it was an exquisite moment of connection. Thirty seconds ago this woman was almost barking at me, now we were connected. We weren’t sitting-out because of her hair color, insufficient attractiveness, or other superficial reason. We were sitting because of a communication problem. It turned into a tango moment. This isn’t a story of sexual titillation or seduction. It’s a faithful husband’s story of a tango moment. Sometimes we catch the perfect wave, Mona Lisa smiles; the music comes into our ear, transfers through our core to our partner, and we move together to the music. There’s really a lot of hope in tango. That’s why we dance – not so that we can complain that the opposite sex is our brutal oppressor.

  4. Its not so much age as the lack of beauty and isn't this just the story of life? We all seek beauty in various forms and tango is no exception.

  5. It is a sad spectacle. Role imbalance, which seems to be globally endemic to the tango experience, doesn't help either. I am yet to see a large venue where there are more leaders (typically a straight man) than followers. While there are events that seek to establish role balance through enrollment tracking, a stuffed venue means more revenue. It is just business.

    Personally, I haven't experienced rejection at all in a milonga. Granted, I'm not what I call a serial dancer, a guy who cannot stop dancing for even a tanda or two, so becoming one one of these days could tilt the lopsided statistics in the future. But many women go through a lot of pain in milongas, no doubt. I was in a venue in Spain last year, and one night I decided to dance specifically with a good number of followers who appeared to be ignored regularly. I'm married, so I don't have to go around chasing women. In all honesty, that would change my approach. The next day, I did the exact opposite. It was ridiculous. Most every dude probably felt like a million bucks, and in the end I understood that you may not only may be hurting the feelings of many women, but also the feelings of people who love you.

    In my opinion, role imbalance and how easy it is for a guy to secure as many dances as he wants in a milonga also impacts the quality and level of dancing. I'd even chance that it is even biologically absurd to have women competing for men. Historically, tango started reaching great levels of dance creativity when the situation was the exact opposite.