An Awkward First Year of Tango

When I first got interested in tango, I would go to a milonga and pay $15 to sit and be eyed suspiciously for three hours. I knew about the cabaceo, tandas and why I shouldn’t say “thank you” at the end of every song. But there is so much more…. Here are a few things I wish I had known in my first year.

#1. Your hair style matters. Fluffy, voluminous, 80s hair isn’t going to help you get dances. It’s a dead giveaway that you are new at this. Pull your hair back or away from the right side of your face. This is due to the head positioning you will have with the lead in close embrace. He doesn’t want to visually navigate the floor through a tousled mass of your hair.

#2. Tango is not a forgiving dance. Don’t bank on being able to fake it, especially if you are coming over from another dance style. Don’t expect your partners to happily compensate for your lack of tango technique all night. Tango dancers take their dance skills very seriously and will invest tremendously in private lessons, classes and workshops. If you want to dance with good dancers, invest in classes and private lessons to get your basics down solid. People will engage you when they see your dedication and development in advancing your technique and skills. Some may pass you over until they see you making real progress.

#3. People may watch you for a while before they ask you to dance. This could be hours, weeks or years. If you’re sitting out a lot, use the time wisely; study the people on the floor. Even better; start socializing.

#4. Attitude matters. Leave entitlement at home. You are not entitled to dance with the best people in the room simply because you showed up and have a general idea of how to dance. Be gracious. Stay humble. Don’t hound people or dominate them. Don’t start off with a reputation for being aggressive, rude or desperate.

#5. The outfit matters. It’s another clue on how legit you are as a dancer. If you decide that tango is for you, invest in tango shoes. Your flats/dance sneakers/Jessica Simpson heels say you are brand new at this. While advanced dancers can get away with wearing jeans, Pumas, tiny shorts or midriff baring tops to a milonga, a beginner is probably better served by going with a more traditional, elegant look.

#6. Don’t rush into the embrace immediately upon hitting the floor. Before you embrace, engage your new friend with some light conversation. You might chat for 30 seconds before the lead initiates the embrace. What do you talk about? “Is this your first time here?” or “How are you enjoying your evening thus far?” or “I love the music tonight!”.

#7. When dancing, don’t talk. Followers, just close your eyes and be in the exquisite moment of that embrace. Immerse yourself in the dance and focus entirely on your partner (not the mirror, not the rockstar dancer 10 feet away and not your feet). This is the time to dance and connect, not entertain your partner with engaging conversation.

#8. Love nuevo? Awesome. Just dial it back at the traditional milongas. Big, showy, flashy nuevo moves will definitely get attention – namely, scowls and frowny faces. They may even get you kicked out of a traditional milonga, so don’t go there to show off your fancy stuff.

Lastly, I feel like the social environment in tango is kind of like going to a party… walk in, greet the people you know. Say hello to the host, find your table, introduce yourself to new people as appropriate. When I leave, I do my best to thank the DJ (especially if I loved the music), the host and to say good-bye to friends (old and newly met).

Treating people kindly and warmly, and with gratitude, respect and interest goes a long way – whether it’s inside or outside the milonga.

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This is what I felt like inside during my first year of tango, praying that I would get at least a few good tandas in – instead of just politely watching them. 

About Epiphany

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

Posted on May 2, 2016, in Dance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. love, love love, namely because I think I’ve done just about everyone of these things too….my 1st year will end in June, looking forward to what I will learn the 2nd year 😉

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    • Thank you! I did most of the things on the list too. Good to know that I wasn’t the only one! Would love to hear anything else that should be added to the list. 🙂

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  2. x_cronos@yahoo.com.mx

    ” Don’t expect your partners to happily compensate for your lack of tango technique all night. Tango dancers take their dance skills very seriously and will invest tremendously in private lessons, classes and workshops.” – Regarding this, it occurs at a certain point with a dancer with few years dancing, if you dance with someone with experience and ambition you will notice the difference, since one of the things you focus later on is to respect and understand your partner’s dance and be patient in order to comprehend the space and response of your partner. “The outfit matters” – Completely depends on the milonga type, since there are milongas where you can dance without caring about your clothing style. Don’t rush into the embrace – Depends on the partner, usually there is a waiting for 2 musical phrases, since the orchestra usually uses a musical array in that way so the dancers can prepare for the music and listen the style of the song. One thing I should say is that “ego” is one of the hardest things to fight when dancing tango, try to think on that every time you dance.

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  3. Hi Epiphany! What’s wrong with saying “thank you” after the end of dance? Some tango-community custom/habit?
    From balfolk (and renaissance) I’m used to say that – sometimes it’s just bow with “thank you”, sometimes it’s with a hug (depends on how close friends we are) but I don’t see nothing wrong to thanks after a dance…

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    • It’s a protocol specific to tango… in Argentina, dancers will dance a “tanda” which is basically three songs in a row. It’s perfectly fine to say “thank you” at the end of the tanda (at the end of the third song of the tanda), BUT if I said, “thank you” after the first song of the tanda, this basically means you don’t want to finish the tanda with them and no longer want to dance with them. You would only do this if the person was injuring you or being extremely inappropriate with you. Therefore, people are very careful not to say “thank you” until the end of the tanda because doing so basically means that you did not enjoy dancing with them and want to “break the tanda”. I hope that makes sense…. tango has all kinds of “codes” that make it tricky. 🙂

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  4. I would like to read more posts like this 🙂

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  5. If you are a beginner don’t be afraid to announce it as you introduce yourself at the first embrace. Any leader who is experienced will know it within the first few seconds of embrace or movement anyhow. It would be worse if you said nothing because he might assume you are simply a very bad Experienced dancer. If the leader is also a beginner, he will probably be happy to hear that he is about to dance with a peer and be more relaxed himself.

    re: “Thank you” – A good time to say that is when you smile and accept the invitation to dance. I usually say that as soon as we walk towards each other. Pardon the pun, but it does get both of you off to a good first step in the right direction. You are actually thanking each other for the offer and acceptance of the invitation regardless of any good or bad outcome. A “thank you” at the end of the tanda is not necessary if you make a sincere or positive comment that would lead to a future invitation…. eg. “I enjoyed that” or “Let’s do that again sometime” or “That was nice” or the best >>> “You’re a great leader”

    Your outfit has to do with your showing that you have respect for tango specifically. If you are dressed too casually, it will be assumed that you could be purposely dressing down with the intention of appearing to be an experienced rebel, but that is usually viewed as an inflated ego problem.

    About the hair – If you cannot tie it back then, at least, do as suggested above by keeping it off the right side of your head. If your hair is very long, it’s best to drape it to the front of your body over your left shoulder (in a braid if possible). Long hair down your back is covering the part where us leaders hold you.

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  1. Pingback: Ένας άχαρος πρώτος χρόνος ενασχόλησης με το Tango! | ocho.gr

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