Please don’t do this at a Milonga

I decided to venture outside of my usual stomping grounds to attend a milonga known for attracting great dancers. I barely had my shoes on before I was approached for a dance.

The dance begins. I soften into his embrace. I notice the people sitting alongside the floor. I see them watching me. I’m new here; they don’t know me nor whether I can dance. I feel proud of my long strides and extensions on my walk. And then this happened.

My lead began doing moves that he hadn’t fully learned yet. One move pulled me way off axis and left me teetering. Another caused me to make an awkward stumble that almost led to a fall.

The faux pas was not that he led moves not yet mastered. The greater sin was creating a situation that made me look bad and feel awkward*. I felt embarrassed by our mistakes. I looked like I had no idea what I was doing. For me, this was the worst possible first impression to make at a new milonga as other men were watching (probably to decide whether to cabeceo me later).

In the lindyhop world, mistakes happen and people laugh and forget about it. In the tango world, people seem to watch other dancers intently. They might watch you for hours, weeks, even months before deciding to ask for a dance (or accept an invitation). When I first started, I would go to a milonga and pay $15 to sit and be eyed suspiciously for 3 hours. Tango dancers can be hesitant to dance with you until they see that you are legit and can dance well.

If a good lead thinks you are a sloppy, unskilled follower, he will probably pass you over in favor of those who don’t stumble their way through a tanda. What I’ve learned is that looking bad can cost you tandas with other dancers. And good tandas are precious!

Tango is an elegant dance. So, please do the classy thing and make your partner look good. Take advantage of practicas for experimenting and practicing moves. When you can execute a move solidly with a variety of people, then bring it into the milonga.

The guy mentioned above made mistakes throughout the entire tanda that led to many awkward moments for me. Not only was it embarrassing, but it left me feeling very uncomfortable as I observed others watching this fiasco with amusement. That’s not how we take care of our partner. If we are going to do a partner dance, we need to act like a partner.

Great partners make each other look good. They don’t show off at the expense of their partner. They cover for one another’s mistakes when needed. They highlight what the other person does well. They play to their strengths and skills. They work within the scope of their partner’s boundaries. And most importantly, making someone look good guarantees that they walk off the floor feeling good. And that’s a level of connection we all need more of these days.

* Not all mistakes are equal! It’s one thing for a move to not go as intended or led, it’s another for the move to be so poorly executed that the dancers appear to be awkwardly stumbling through it. And I’m perfectly fine doing an entire tanda of basic moves that are solidly led!



About Epiphany

epiphanies on life and spiritual living as I chase wisdom - one insight at a time.

Posted on February 24, 2016, in Dance and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. A good follower is does not stumble or fall as a result of the leaders moves. The truly good follower keeps her own balance no matter what. You are putting all the blame and all the “mistakes” on the leader, while your attitude is the mistake. Furthermore, I mistakes happen, and the hell with the leaders who want perfection.


    • Actually, I do agree with you about good followers – and at this point, I was clearly not good enough to maintain my own balance! 🙂 There were situations where the lead pulled me off axis (like for a volcada) and didn’t quite execute a smooth ending on the move, so I may have been at the mercy of being off axis. However, excellent point that followers need to learn to take responsibility as well.

      The one thing I would add is that if he saw that I was struggling to follow what he was leading, I would have liked him to have simplified the moves to adjust to my level and what he knew he could lead cleanly.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Like learning the violin, the first year is all nervousness and plenty of missteps. But by the second or third year, with luck suddenly everything will click, and you will make music. BTW do post to /r/tango in addition to /r/dance.


    • Will do – thank you so much for mentioning that! I was hoping that leads would use practicas to work through the kinks instead of doing it on the social floor…. But then I also realize that not everyone utilizes practicas or works with practice partners – and I’m not entirely sure why that is… ?


  3. Don’t worry about looking bad. Good dancers looking at you dancing know who’s fault it is when a stumble happens especially when you’re pulled off your axis.

    I’m curious to know if this tenda cost you other tendas that night.


    • It happened early enough in the evening that many people hadn’t arrived yet, but it did occur right on the periphery of the floor so it was impossible to miss especially since the floor was fairly light. I still danced a lot that evening, but I wondered if that impacted the first impression other skilled leads had of me.


      • In my opinion, it’s the lead’s fault. If it was the first time you two danced together, there was no reason for him to do anything but the simplest movements until the two of you had found your comfort spot, or even if you were both comfortable dancing together. If I dance with someone who is not experienced or not that skilled, I adjust to accommodate her. If a leader doesn’t want to do that, which is his prerogative, he shouldn’t ask her to dance. In your case, maybe it would have helped if you had waited a while to see how he danced with other followers before accepting. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.


  4. Christopher neville

    What’s you describe is one good reason why people spend so much time observing the dancers on the floor. It doesn’t take too much experience to see who will treat you gently and graciously and who will abuse you with their tango. It’s not like you have to reject the cabeceo, but it’s a good idea to have some idea of what you’re getting into and adjust your dance accordingly.


  5. Dear Epithany, I find when people are approaching very close to ask for a dance we can still say no or maybe later and that is why I find the Cabeceo is the safest way …
    Also one is entitled to walk away at the next opportunity even after one track.


  6. I would advise followers who experience this to immediately break the embrace and walk off the floor without saying a word. Everyone, including the offending leader, will know that he just screwed up big-time. Anyway, that’s me/my opinion. I’ve only seen it happen once. To the same leader. Three times in a row. In the same tanda.


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