Category Archives: Etiquette

Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!

Regardless of the city and customs, it is safe to say that in every Tango community, the man appears in front of the woman for a dance.  Whether it be by cabeceo – where the woman waits at her seat until the man arrives in front of her in order to avoid any mistaken acceptances – or by direct verbal invitation at the woman’s seat, the man has made the trek to the woman’s location.  How nice and brave of him to have done so!

Fred Astaire the gentleman

What ensues may or may not be a delightful dance.  Perhaps both of you cannot wait for the songs to be over.  On the other hand, you may be experiencing a wonderful embrace while moving delightfully to the music.  The last song of the tanda will end, you will thank each other, and then the leader will leave the follower high and dry on the dance floor to find her own way back to her seat.  What?!

How has the simple tradition of  walking a woman back to her seat after a dance – which exists in many countries around the world – not made its way into North American Tango culture?  Although we assume it did exist in the past with other dances, it no longer exists in our ultra modern society (sarcasm).  Being from Finland, Jorge has never known to do any differently until we began Tango in Canada.  Besides observing how men leave their partner from any place on the dance floor, Jorge has actually had difficulty bringing women back to their seats.  Some women are so used to the complete lack of gentlemanly courtesy that they are virtually running off the dance floor after the tanda, leaving Jorge to follow in their wake.  The expression “Wham bam thank you ma’am” feels very appropriate here.

Men, after sharing your body, mind, and spirit with your Tango partner, have the decency to walk women back to their seats.  If you haven’t already been practicing this concept or it doesn’t exist in your community, now is the time to start!

Women, after sharing your body, mind, and spirit with your Tango partner, have the decency to allow men to walk you back to your seats.

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Chicho This. Chicho That.

The topic of the month seems to be Chicho and the interviews he had with the ATDRC and El Tangauta magazine.  Personally, the interviews irk us on so many levels – starting with the fact that Chicho refers to himself as a milonguero!?  However, there’s no point in discussing that.  What we did want to bring up deals more with Chicho’s floorcraft and that of Nuevo Tango dancers (although Chicho claims to dance straight-up Tango).  It’s been said that Chicho dances “properly” like the other dancers in a traditional milonga.  Anyone who has been to Sunderland Club in Buenos Aires has most likely seen Chicho show up to dance towards the end of the night.  This means they’ve also seen how he goes into the middle of the floor, claims his space, and dances there for most of the night.  He may move around, but what you will definitely see is people making space for, or steering clear of, him and his partner’s flying legs.  It’s true, you can see he’s aware of the people around him and ready to adjust his movement, but nonetheless, he’s taking up more space than any other couple on the floor and he’s not following the unspoken rules of the milonga such as keeping your feet low to the ground.

All this to say that Nuevo Tango dancers may be very aware of the dancers around them and ready/able to adjust their dance, but it doesn’t change the fact that the very dance they’re dancing is not conducive to a small or crowded dance space.  Simply by being in an open hold, you are taking up almost twice the space of a couple in an embrace.  And when the most common nuevo move (the boleo, or volcada, or colgada, etc.) is inserted into an open hold dance, you are taking up a load of space and infringing on someone else’s space.

By the way, there’s also a fantastic example of Gustavo Naveira’s questionable floorcraft on Tango and Chaos.


Sweating and Tango; Something is Wrong

After reading an excellent post on My Tango Diaries about odors and sweating, we were inspired to write about sweating from a different perspective.

Unfortunately, we cannot remember where we heard or read this:  Argentine Tango is one of the most efficient dances that exists.  We tried googling it to no avail.  Regardless, we agree with this (possibly imagined) statement completely.

In our pre-Buenos Aires times, we were quite the profuse sweat-ers.  Jorge insists that K doesn’t really sweat at all, but that’s only in comparison to him.  Don’t do it – don’t believe that sweating is only reserved for larger-bodied individuals.  When Jorge el Flaco sweats, he drips it and it doesn’t take much for him to do so.  For this reason, it never seemed strange that we used to start sweating after only the first song of a tanda.  We had heard the “efficiency” comment, but we didn’t know how that made any sense.  That was until we began learning (from our maestro) in Buenos Aires.

Our pre-Buenos Aires Tango was a muscular affair.  Our backs were tense, our legs and butts were flexed, and most of all, our arms were tight and ready for all the leading that was supposed to happen through them.  When we finally learned to relax our bodies, activate our core and arms rather than flexing them, and in other words: to lead/follow properly, we finally stopped sweating.  That combined with relaxing the legs and making room between them, putting our weight in, and thus our hips over, our heels instead of the often taught idea of having your weight on the balls of your feet (weight in the balls of your feet = flexed toes and legs), and using our bodies to lead/follow rather than arms, resulted in our understanding of Tango being the most efficient dance.

If you are sweating easily and feeling tired after a couple of dances in a cool room, you are without a doubt using your body incorrectly in Tango.  Clearly, other circumstances can create sweaty situations and a bit of moisture is only understandable.  Pay attention to your body and attempt to feel what your muscles are doing – from the tips of your toes (ladies, are your toes gripping the floor?) to the top of your head (is your neck stiff and your head stuck in one position?).  Tango is all about the embrace.  You cannot possibly enjoy a beautiful embrace if you are flexing muscles and have tension throughout your body.

As as aside… whether or not you sweat, remember to be showered and wear deodorant EVERY TIME you go out to Tango.


Old School… “May I Have This Dance?”

After spending 8 months in Buenos Aires and experiencing the intelligently invented “cabeceo“, returning to Toronto’s way of requesting dances was quite difficult… to say the least.  One lovely milonga here in TO is encouraging it’s attendees to use the “cabeceo”.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed that our community will “accept this dance” and be transformed.

Without the “cabeceo”, the somewhat accepted norm is that men ask women to dance.  Not surprisingly, as a feminist, K never hesitated to ask men to dance in the past (this was before the term “cabeceo” had entered the vocabulary of the Toronto Tango community).  We are not in the 1950′s.  These are modern times and IF a community does not want to fully incorporate all the codes and traditions of Argentine Tango, then we do believe that both men and women should be asking for dances.  That said, men have a harder job in the dance (with leading and floorcraft).  For that reason, we are tempted to say women shouldn’t ask men to dance.  Either way, women and men must both learn how to say “no” AND how to be ready for and accept rejection.

We both have difficulties saying no.  The ability to say “no” truly says a lot about one’s personality.  K needs to mentally prepare herself to do so.  After surveying the dance floor and its dancers, and making personal I-will-NOT-dance-with-him notes in her head, she is more prepared to say no if any of those men approach her.  K is the list-maker… the organizer.

Meanwhile Jorge keeps repeating to himself and to K that he will NOT dance with such-and-such a dancer, but when that dancer comes and asks him, “yes” is out of his mouth with barely a hesitation.  Jorge is a people-pleaser (something he hates about himself) and has difficulties dealing with conflict.

What an absolutely ridiculous situation to deal with when the “cabeceo” exists.  However there have been comments in our community that the “cabeceo” is archaic.  Sorry… what?!  Archaic is the idea that women are supposed to sit in a milonga looking pretty while they wait for a man to come and ask them to dance!  That or they can stalk men, corner them, and practically force them into a dance (unfortunately, that tends to be the extreme that women who do the asking choose).

The point is, IF individuals or communities do not want to use the “cabeceo”, and women and men are asking one another for dances, remember this one simple rule: Never NEVER stalk your potential dance partner.  Both of us have been the victim of this.  K’s stalker sat only a few seats away and attempted to “cabeceo” her.  Instead of understanding that she did not want to dance with him when she ignored him, the stalker continued to sit and stare through 2 tandas and only stopped for the third tanda when she got up to dance with Jorge.  However, upon her return, stalker decided that since the “cabeceo” didn’t work (that girl must be stupid or blind!?), he would just go straight up to K and ask for a dance!?  K politely declined, but was left to wonder if it was the stalker that was stupid or blind.

Jorge dealt with a similar situation when a female dancer, rather than coming directly up to him to ask for a dance, sat down a couple chairs away (twice) to “cabeceo” him.  Obviously there is a huge misunderstanding of how the “cabeceo” is used if the situation is still causing discomfort and awkwardness for one or both parties.

This may be Toronto, but we are dancing Argentine Tango.  There is enough difficulty in our Tango community embracing our partners and so the least we could do is embrace the culture of Tango.


Learning to Dance Again: Floorcraft and the “Buffer”

We’re back in Toronto after spending a year in South America – 8 months of which were spent in Buenos Aires.  There’s so much to write about still… our observations and experiences of Tango in Buenos Aires, how it feels to be back “home”, and everything in between.  Let’s see if we ever get around to it.

While away, we were happy to hear that floorcraft and navigation skills had become issues that teachers and milonga organizers were more frequently addressing in our Toronto community.  The reason for this?  The Tango floor is a sad site in Toronto.  We did not fully realize this until we experienced the milongas of Buenos Aires and saw for ourselves what it’s supposed to look like.   Generally, Toronto dancers move anti-clockwise in a somewhat homogenous group… at best.  There rarely exists and inside and outside track, and dancers are constantly passing each other in a zigzagging fashion.  Teachers are rarely teaching their students floorcraft skills and etiquette, and IF they are, the milongas do not reflect this.  In addition, learners/dancers actually fight against dancing with proper floorcraft skills.  No one wants to wait behind the “slow” dancer… no one knows how.

Before leaving for Buenos Aires, we did our research and knew the rules of the milongas.  We understood the seriousness of it.  Dancing in milongas where people respect your space and understand the movement of Tango was fantastic.  Dancers stayed in their own lanes, they didn’t try to pass one another (although there were exceptions – the infamous Tete being one of them), their feet stayed on the ground when there was little space, and couples were hearing and moving to the music in a similar way.

One of the biggest “lies” we heard about floorcraft was the no-steps-backwards rule (or the no-steps-against-the-line-of-dance rule).  We’ve observed this rule to be incorrect… or rather, inaccurate.  HOWEVER, there are two conditions that apply:

1) You cannot take more than one step backwards.

OR

2) You can only take more than one step against the line of dance if you can see the space and people in that direction.

One important fact we never heard about was the existence of the “buffer”.  This is the space that encircles a couple and always exists if you are dancing around good dancers.  This buffer allows dancers to move one step in EVERY direction (at a minimum and of course, depending on the crowd density of the floor).  Many tourists are not aware of this buffer and are usually the ones crowding the couple ahead of them.  They are also the ones getting mad at other tourists (or even locals) for going against the line of dance.

There is a mistaken belief that you are responsible for ALL the dancers around you on the dance floor.  However, our experience in Buenos Aires has taught us that you are only truly responsible for the couple in front of you.  When you are following all the other rules involved, the floor will take care of itself if you take care of the couple in front of you.

Take downhill skiing as an example.  If you are skiing straight in one track, you do not worry about the people skiing behind you.  You pay attention to the skiers (and the hill) in front of you.  The people behind you will keep their eyes on you.

Without all these “strict” rules and codes, leaders would be left in a man-eat-man world defending his territory.  If you have to worry about every person around you on top of listening to the music, feeling your partner, AND dancing, you would have a stressful situation on your hands.  It has not been fun having to relearn how to dance in the crowds of the Toronto milongas.  Believe it or not, it actually takes a special type of skill to dance in TO!


Waiter Hand Hold

Waiter Pose

The waiter hand was observed numerous times in Bueno Aires… and there were numerous times that we heard teachers (of Argentine Tango) mock this kind of hand hold in classes. We have never liked this hold and have never understood why any man would want to hold his hand this way. On a purely esthetic level, it’s visually ugly. On a male ego level, what are you trying to say?

In a culture that prides itself on its machismo, we came to understand why this hold is disapproved of and we were given this explanation: The man’s left arm represents his virility. What are you saying, men, if you let your hand flop over into that “in-fashion” waiter hand? Is your manhood not functioning properly? Similarly, if some of you men are raising your left arm far above your head… Keep dreaming. No one believes you ;)

In addition to this, we were told that the positioning of the man’s hand speaks to the equality between the man and the woman.  That is, the arm should be in a comfortable position for both the follower and the leader.  When a man places his left hand folded over the woman’s hand, it makes you wonder what he thinks of women (i.e., lesser than?) because he obviously does not want to provide her with comfort.  Perhaps one famous exception was Gavito who was known to say that the woman plays an equal part in the dance and yet he had an “I’m-Above-You left arm hold and he was famous for putting women in back-piercing leans.


Comical Compliments x 2

We have been struggling a great deal with a big faux-pas here in Buenos Aires.  We do not enjoy dancing in the milongas.  Yes, everyone take a moment to gasp and shake their head in disgust.  We definitely didn’t see that one coming ourselves.*

Here is a brief overview of our reasons.

Both of us:

1) don’t enjoy having to sit apart in order to dance with other people – we miss out on enjoying each others’ company

2) we don’t like the lack of space to dance – dancing Tango in busy downtown milongas is akin to shuffling forward in a grocery line (there is a contradiction in the fact that the walk is one of the most important elements of Tango given that there is NO space to take one normal sized step in a milonga)

K:

1) has not been impressed with the level of dancing (we were both convinced this would not be an issue here, but it is)

2) although she may enjoy some wonderful dances with some wonderful dancers, she does not care if she dances with any of them again (were there some exceptions? yes, but few and far between)

3) she grows tired of the same old steps and patterns found on the crowded milonga floor

Jorge:

1) hates how his dancing is dictated by space and the couples around him rather than by the music and his creative energy

2) finds it difficult to dance with the Porteñas of the milonga that are used to dancing the same old steps and patterns found on the crowded milonga floor because they assume the steps rather than follow

This last point leads to the title of this post.  K received the most comical compliment from two different men on the same night.  In Castellano, she was told by surprised men, “You follow everything!” This compliment really shines light on the difficulties Jorge has with the dancing of the Porteñas.  Meanwhile K was flattered but couldn’t help laugh to herself.  Isn’t she supposed follow everything!?

*As a post-script: We learned to love dancing in the milongas once our Tango movement became appropriate for crowded milongas AND once we unlearned/released the muscle-leading/following we were accustomed to.