By Beth Anne Osborn, 2008
If you are new to tango or just new to Portland ValenTango, follow these simple guidelines and you’ll double your chances of getting Danced.
- Attend Classes at your ability level. Don’t make the mistake of taking classes that are beyond your grasp expecting to meet the “Good Dancers.” By choosing the right level class you are most likely to make friends with the people who are most likely to ask you for a dance.
- Good Connections begin by establishing a friendly rapport with your fellow classmates. Make a good impression with the other dancers in class by being friendly, helpful and never critical of their dancing abilities. Leave that to the instructors or their spouses! Never, ever talk while the instructor is speaking or teaching a step.
- Take advantage of the Free Practicas at the end of the day. This is the most likely place to meet other dancers at your skill level. Practice with as many different partners as possible. The Practica is a safe and non-threatening environment for new dancers. Use this atmosphere of goodwill and camaraderie to arrange for a Tanda or two at the evening’s Milonga with your favorite practice partners.
- Arrive at the Milongas early and get a table/seat adjacent to the busiest part of the dance floor. Ladies, remember you catch more flies with Honey than with vinegar, so SMILE and Look like you are having fun. A good attitude is your best marketing tool. Try to make eye contact with other dancers, “Cabaceo.” Remember,Tango is about the quality of the connection between you and your partner not the quantity of Bare skin you are sporting or the flashy clothes you are wearing.
- Respect and observe Milonga etiquette at all times. Attention Leaders: on crowded festival floors good NAVIGATION and FLOORCRAFT are the Keys to your popularity. Other dancers will be watching your moves on the dance floor. Make a good impression on your partner and the other dancers.
Comments and your reply to the above article and the poll below are encouraged. ( To include a profile picture in the Reply section, click on gravitar. To see results of earlier polls, go to Clay’s Polls.)
Very practical and helpful article by Beth Ann, and still valid after 6 years. Many good follow-up comments, too. I’m going to refer my newsletter readers! Thanks for publishing it, Clay.
I consider myself a progressive male, supportive of gender equity and the empowered female in our society. Thankfully, I live in a community that generally supports this value system as well. I think that my local tango community reflects this too, (though I also tend to think that most all tango dancers are progressives in general).
However, in this month’s poll, I voted that it is “NEVER” OK for a woman to ask a man to dance. Really! How can that be? Here is my reasoning.
For quite a while I’ve felt that the freedom of a question is created by the freedom of the answer: If both “Yes” AND “No” are legitimate answers, then the question is legitimate by definition. Any Question: “Would you like to dance?” “Can I take you to dinner?” “Do you want to have sex?” “Will you marry me?” “Can I have one of your french fries?” Whatever the question, it’s validity and appropriateness is mostly determined by the questioned person’s freedom and empowerment to answer honestly…whether “Yes,” “No,” or even “Maybe, it depends on….”
I have felt that with our society’s ability to empower women to feel confident in their permission to answer “no”, we not only give the man more permission to ask the question in their first place, but we also actually give the woman more permission to answer “yes” because she feels empowered to voice, and act, on her truth.
In a truly progressive society, that permission of honesty would work both ways. Men would feel permission to voice their true answers, and women would feel more empowered to ask the questions.
Then came tango. At first, I tried to exercise my theory of “if ‘no’ is a legitimate answer, then the question is legitimate” in the tango scene. But it gets tricky. As I became an “advanced intermediate” dancer in our smaller community, I also became a desirable lead to many followers, of many levels (my own, and more beginner). Both practicas and milongas became a situation where I couldn’t satisfy everyone who wanted to dance with me (out of pure lack of time). At first my ego really liked this; I was appreciated and in-demand. But eventually I realized that I wasn’t satisfying myself either. I wasn’t dancing with my preferred partners, including my significant other, as much as I would like (that would have meant sticking to a small group of followers to the exclusion of many other dancers). My dance ability was actually being stunted by spending so much time compensating for the lessor abilities of many newer followers (I know it sounds harsh). And I was still disappointing people by not dancing with everyone who wanted to dance with me.
People’s feeling were being hurt, and I felt like it was me who was hurting them. I was starting to feel guilty. Eventually, women started asking me to dance, to have their chance. Then they started trying to reserve tandas early in the evening to be sure to get a dance eventually. Of course succumbing to this technique tends to reward the bold and entitled personalities, and thus encourages more of that behavior in the scene. Eventually I began to feel less guilty, and more guilt-tripped, by being asked to dance. I was accepting dances I didn’t want and wasn’t enjoying, at the expense of dance partners I did want. And I was still disappointing the followers who didn’t get to dance with me…often because they weren’t pushy enough. Where was my empowerment to say “no?” Smothered by by the guilt and pressure of the scene.
Now before you argue that the solution to this problem is to keep to the traditional etiquette of “The man asks the woman to dance.” Here is the counterpoint: My sweetheart is also an “advanced intermediate” dancer in our small community, and she’s pretty too (If I do say so myself). That means she has a lot of men who want to dance with her (for all the typical reasons). Now, she’s a bit shy, and is still practising finding her voice of confidence, especially when “No” is her truth. That means that as many men asked her to dance, she often found herself having bad dances, either technically, emotionally, or both. She too found herself guilt-tripped onto the floor, and thus missing dances with the people she’d prefer to be dancing with. Her lack of ability to say “no” confidently was actually promoting the behavior. The less aware a leader was of etiquettes, social queues, and boundaries, the more likely he was to come up and ask her to dance. She found herself dancing with less and less desirable partners.
Neither of us dance tango much any more. But when we do happen back into the scene spontaneously, it feels like our absence has increased our mystique and desirability. Sure, it feels great socially to be welcomed back so vehemently. But the frenzy to dance with us feels pushier than ever.
Wait, you say, then how is my vote for “Never OK for a woman to ask a man to dance” going to help my sweetheart’s situation in the tango scene? And if her situation isn’t helped, then how can the scene be considered balanced, progressive, safe, and fun like we all want it to be. If it’s not OK for a woman to ask a man to dance, then why should a man ask a woman to dance? I say…He shouldn’t!
No, men should not ask women to dance for the same reasons that women should not ask men to dance: It creates undue pressure, guilt, competition, stifles our inner truth, and encourages further bad behavior from otherwise good people when they see it working for someone else. But if neither gender is allowed to ask the other to dance, does tango go away?
No, on the contrary. In fact tango has had an answer to this issue for generations. It’s a solution to the problem that is almost as old as tango itself. It’s called the cabeceo.
it was my sweetheart who first realized that while she was fielding (and succumbing to) in-her-face verbal advanced from leaders who she’d prefer not to dance with, she was at the same time missing potential cabeceo from the skilled, advanced, traditional dancers in the room. Basically she was encouraging poor tango etiquette, discouraging good etiquette, and getting bad dances as the result.
That made me realize that cabeceo isn’t really ask/reply situation. All my best cabeceo experiences have felt mutual and seamless in their success. There was no direction of communication (Q&A), instead it was two-way, simultaneous, mutual consent. I believe that women/followers have just as much role in a successful cabeceo as men/leaders. Cabeceo is the agreement that you want to dance with each other. It only happens when the feeling is mutual. There is no rejection to a cabeceo; there is only cabeceo or not.
I challenge all tango dancers (of either role or gender) to stop “asking” for dances. It’s more than about saving face, or avoiding rejection. It’s about promoting a consensus communication technique that is good for leaders, followers, and the community as a whole. Whether we want to dance with someone or not, I suggest replying to a verbal invitation to dance with, “Thanks for asking, but I prefer to use cabeceo.”
Really enjoyed reading this. Your writing is very clever, so much so that I have reversed my judgement on those who insist that cabeceo is an essential part of tango etiquette.
I like this. Bravo, Tango Kid!
This is a perfect answer!
Another way to say it is, “In the spirit of promoting good tango etiquette in our tango community, I only cabaceo.” And if you think you might want to dance with this person at some point during the milonga, you can follow up with a smile and, “Maybe we can lock eyes later this evening.”
I feel that we need to make a conscious effort to establish tango etiquette in our communities.
I do think that ladies choice mixers are a nice way for people to get to dance with people they may not otherwise even get to meet. Since there are so many more follows than leads typically, I think its a nice opportunity, every now and then.
I look forward to locking eyes and new embraces when I’m in Portland!
There are 1,000s of ways, some subtle and some less so, that women invite men into action. As far as I’m concerned, demands have no place at a social dance, but invitations? Absolutely and all over the place. The art of turning down an invitation along with a thank you that leaves both feeling good is something I wish we practiced more.