I have been in the tango scene for 3 1/2 years now, and have been asked several times to explain certain behaviours displayed, and to interpret the meaning of certain exchanges in the dance arena. So, after delivering my theories innumerable times, I have decided to assemble the most popular ones here. This was prompted by my last encounter one week ago at a practica here in Buenos Aires.
I encountered a woman who was sitting with arms folded, looking quite forlong while her ‘host-friend’ was merrily dancing and drinking. She was trying to figure out why he had invited her to the dance. I consoled her by explaining that it is as common as it is vacuous. The short answer is: so that he can have options, plus appear studly and desirable to others, men and women alike. Below is the long answer accompanied by two of the more worrisome issues in the tango scene.
The milonga invitation
Don’t accept it. Whether you are male or female, do not accept the tango invitation. It means simple this: ‘I would like for you to come to this milonga so that you can be an available dancer for me. In other words, you are my spare wheel just in the event that the chosen ones do not show up, or if they are busy, or if they are snobbing me or playing hard to get, I can make them jealous by dancing with you a lot, and laughing and giggling as though we are having so much fun together! But if he/ she/ or they show up, and all is going fabulously well, then I will give you the obligatory tanda and then I must toddle off to circulate. And oh, by the way, the more people I invite and grace with my one obligatory tanda, the better it makes me look, as I appear so much more rounded, social, popular. Moreover, it gives the illusion that I am a great dancer. And if you have the nerve to become upset, then, oh dear, now we will have a fracas on our hands as all of these men/ women are fighting over little ole me!
It’s a no-win situation. Here is the solution: decide if you are going to the milonga, but don’t let your decision be influenced by your ego being flattered by the invitation. If you do attend, understand it for what it is, plan on having a good time ‘circulating,’ and be courteous enough to give your host two tandas – one because they invited you, and the other because you enjoy the dance with them. But what if you don’t enjoy dancing with? Well! You’re an adult, you know what to do! And by the way, the invitation has the same connotation in Buenos Aires as it does in the USA.
The misunderstood and labile cabaceo
Okay, this one is amorphous and can change its definition and interpretation when it crosses geographic borders, and more so when it enters different buildings, especaill here in Buenos Aires.
In El Beso, there is a structure of seating arrangement, almost like a segregated jury. The men and women are seated across from each other in a large, dimly lit room, so one has to be a cabceo expert to lance the distance and defy light with their ‘look’ in order to hook the intended. Once, the connection is made, with an almost imperceptible movement of the head, the agreement is secured between two people, with no-one else in the room ever having a clue, until the two parties arise and walk intentionally towards each other to meet halfway on the dance floor. But then also at El Beso, men will actually stand directly infront of you and ask for a dance. There is little room to escape that! Unless, of course you have taken a page out of my book, and you return the affortery with an equal gusto of ‘No!’
In other places, such as Nino Bien, the room is so large with so much obstruction that the cabaceo is not always possible if one is sitting across the room. The seating is a mixed arrangement, so, to indicate an interest, one has to give the eye while dancing, so that once they return back to their seat, there other interested party (if interested) will look across to that person so as to secure the idea of interest. The next tanda begins, glances are exchanged again, and with a slight indication of the head, the deal is made. For many, however, this is not always as easy, as a variety of variables can interfere with the effluence of the communication.
As regularly happens, there are many men who find themselves without a partner at the beginning of a tanda, so, they must then ‘walk the aisle’ hoping to catch the eye of a seated woman. It is well known that movement attracts attention, so very often (happens to me sometimes) you look at someone just out of an involuntary response to someone approaching you, then, click! You are locked in, and the head nod comes with the slight raise of the brow, and you are off to a tanda, because you do not want to be down-right rude and say ‘no.’
Unless, of course, you are me, and you don’t worry too much about the reprisals. Every time I feel guilty about refusing, I always remind myself of two things (1) that if their ‘chosen’ person were not already on the dance floor, they would not be parading the hall hoping to catch my eye, (2) that the only reason why they are asking me is because the other eyes they encountered before mine were either admiring the architecture, focused on transferring, kinetically, their intentions on another fellow, or expertly digging in their purse for nothing in particular.
Take 2 in Tango
What exactly does it mean when your partner says ‘Can we take a break?’ An especially troublesome one, as it really is subjective. I cannot be sure from a man’s perspective, and I will certainly not try to speak for all women in my response, but here is something to consider. Over the years of dancing, I have noticed certain distinct patterns emerge, and form those I am learning a lot about myself and also about the human element. I have come to realsie that after one tanda with a man, I have figured out his pattern, and he has now become predictable for me. Predictability is a comfort area for the majority of people, however, for me, it is a danger zone. Why? Because I bore easily, therefore, if you have become predictable, then our dancing has an expiration date. My limit therefore for dancing with a man is 2 tandas consecutively; after that, I will ‘need a break.’
A break then is defined as that period immediately after our last tanda and the end of about 4 tandas with another person; after this period has elapsed, I can dance with the first partner again. Sometimes, as luck would have it, as has happened on a few occasions, one tanda rolls into the next set which happens to be a milonga (a change in style) or a vals, then, wallah! I can perhaps go into the beginning of the third tanda with the same man. However, if we make it to this third tanda and his material is just a regurgitation of the last two tandas, then sadly enough, it’s a no go. I cannot get beyond the first song in the third tanda. No offense meant, I just need to ‘take a break,’ not from the man, but from his repertoire; yes, even if it is a repertoire and style that I enjoy.
In all of my years of dancing, there has been only one man in Seattle with whom I could dance consecutive tandas and wish the songs would never end. Although I have travelled and danced all around the USA, and now have resided in Buenos Aires for more than a year, that feeling has never been replicated.