Why tango is snobby

When people really get into tango, it becomes fairly evident that group classes and a few private lessons aren’t really enough. Tango is a technique driven dance. Without solid technique, people spend a lot of time sitting out, complaining about the snobby people who won’t dance with them.

When people get serious about learning tango, they embrace technique. Learning technique isn’t quick or cheap. It means finding a master-level teacher and studying regularly with them for months or years. Therefore, many instructors offer packages of 10, 25, 50 private lessons. Consequently, serious dancers usually drop big money on private lessons. 

Would you spend $2500 on photography classes to learn how to use your high-end Nikon and then go out to take photos with an iPhone? Probably not, because most of the stuff you learned with the camera can’t be practiced or applied with an iPhone. Sure, you’ll get some good shots, but you’ll feel unfulfilled, knowing that you have the ability of doing much better work with equipment that supports your new knowledge and skills.

Most dancers aren’t snobby – they simply want to use what they paid to learn.* They are seeking a return on their investment because they spent a big chunk of hard-earned money learning it.

Learning has a catch:  Use it or lose it. To truly learn it, you gotta use it.

What’s the point of learning new things if I spend my evening adjusting for (or struggling through) other’s wonky technique instead of practicing what I paid to learn? Some people invest thousands of dollars so they can do amazing things with other skilled dancers – not so they can do basic moves with people who think technique is overrated.

Tango is a technique driven dance that isn’t for everyone (depending on your expectations). I don’t say that to be elitist; I say that to be honest. If you are sitting out a lot or getting passed over by people who you want to dance with, find a pro with extensive expertise in correcting and teaching technique.

If you won’t work on your own technique, then stop complaining about what other people “should” be doing (i.e., asking you to dance anyway or learning how to lead/follow better). If you refuse to rise up then get used to sitting down. 

If we want to dance with better dancers, let’s get serious about our art and become better dancers… develop the skills under the right pro and people will seek YOU out.  We all have to earn it – just like the “snobby” people did. 

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There is a difference between seeking to dance at one’s level versus being overtly rude or denying others of basic courtesies. Honestly, I have found nearly everyone I have met to be incredibly warm and kind upon getting to know them a bit. And please don’t mistake shyness, introversion or intimidation as snobbery or rudeness. Give the benefit of the doubt and get to know people first.

For the serious dancers: there is no harm in taking care of your own needs first. Just remember to  reach back and help someone else along the way (just as others likely did for you). Community and karma matter in this world.

About Epiphany

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

Posted on November 6, 2016, in Dance and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 49 Comments.

  1. Tango is a technique driven dance.

    You seem to be confusing what’s often called tango dance in the UK with what’s called tango dance elsewhere, including Argentina.

    The so-called tango dance of UK classes is driven by instructed technique.

    The tango dance of the wider world is driven by the music.

    Learning technique … means finding a master-level teacher and studying regularly with them for months or years.

    Nonsense. Just take a look at the Buenos Aires milongagoer who has never taken a technique class in his/her life.

    serious dancers usually drop big money on private lessons.

    Seriously gulled dancers usually drop big money on private lessons.

    What makes good dancers is simply good dancing to good music.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many of the bad executions of leads are because of poor technique. You would be amazed at how a tiny adjustment in technique (maybe just retaining the connection) can make the execution of a sequence easier and less arduous.

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    • It’s exactly as saying that you can write a masterpiece/book without knowing grammar …🙂. Not really. Of course, you can write but don’t expect people to read it; because after the first few mistakes, nobody will read the rest.

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      • Ona wrote “It’s exactly as saying that you can write a masterpiece/book … ”

        Only if you think social dancing is like writing a masterpiece/book.

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    • Eleanor fabrizio

      Agree totally

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  2. Incorrect; music is only one element of dance. Dancing is movement, with another person, to music or rhythm. (“it takes two to tango”)

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  3. This article is only partially true. Yes, tango requires a certain technique and yes, taking group and private lessons and practicing is the way to get better and to enjoy dancing more.
    However, just being a good dancer or even a very good dancer will not prevent snobby dancers from turning you down.

    In tango as in every other dance and facet of life, there are many more factors than skill alone to make one accepted or popular. Age and appearance alone are far more important for being sought after. That and charisma will go very far even if one is only a mediocre dancer.

    Yes, do try to learn and perfect your dance. Do learn to dance to the music and with your partner. Learn to navigate successfully too. But forget about dropping big buck on private lessons with professional stage dancers. While it’s true that they dance very well and can probably teach you to emulate them, you don’t need to learn to do any of their acrobatic and showy moves to dance tango well. A good tango dance needs very little more than a good embrace and a mastery of the basic three steps of the turn to right and left and good musicality.

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    • Completely agree that there is more to the perceived snobbiness, such as the natural desire to stick to people around one’s age, or seek out younger, attractive, charismatic dancers. I would never recommend anyone to work with professional stage dancers unless performing was their goal, but I do feel that a veteran pro who can teach social dancing technique is invaluable to get the basics down solid.

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  4. “Would you spend $2500 on photography classes to learn how to use your high-end Nikon and then go out to take photos with an iPhone?” You obviously are not a photographer. Most iconic photos in history are taken by cameras MUCH worse than an Iphone.

    I bet you are mostly a neuvo tango dancer.

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    • Definitely not a serious photographer!🙂 I was looking to convey that when one invests a lot of time, money or effort into learning something, they want to use everything they are learning. A lot of pro dancers probably wouldn’t say their most “iconic” dances were with beginners (although it does happen). Curious… what makes you think I am a nuevo dancer?

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      • From my observations, most nuevo dancers love fancy steps and thus a greater focus on techniques (the physics of movement).

        Overgeneralisations/ stereotypes aside, I agree with Chris and Klaus Kloeser mostly. I think you can definitely have a beautiful dance with a follower who is a beginner (say 6months of classes). Technique is the necessary foundation (up to a point, maybe a year of classes), but beyond that, an amazing dance is mostly about the emotional connections, the intimacy of an embrace and feeling the music.

        On the other hand, I can understand that as a follower, it would be frustrating as hell to be led by a leader who doesn’t know what he is doing, as many leaders have neither technique nor musicality nor connection, and try too hard to impress the audience rather than being present.

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  5. Without the right emotional connection, you will never be able to dance Tango at the top (or any other dance); it is all about the feeling you can express, while improvisating your dance with the steps and moves, which feel right at the moment.
    Appearance and expression come with the personality you show, not with the number of “iconic” moves you can do. Tramping to all those moves doesn’t make a dancer, as someone above said, it takes a few moves to do an excellent tango.
    Artful dances come from artists, not from technologists.
    Best tangos are done with emotionally connected couples, if you change a lot, technique is your only way to communicate to that foreign dancing partner; – that shows.
    So, sorry, I completely disagree.

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    • Absolutely agree on emotional connection and expression, however, when it comes to physical connection and successful execution of partner based movements, I absolutely believe technique matters. I do believe this is a layered process… learn the art of partner connection and technique of fundamental movements, learn to connect with the music, then build upon that with emotional connection and expression, and so forth.

      Someone may have amazing emotional connection and may be an artistic expressive dancer, but if they have no frame, a hunched posture and a clunky walk, I doubt people will be chasing them down for tandas.

      I do believe that it all starts with good technique – and I don’t believe that should be dismissed. I absolutely believe in creating an experience with your partner (instead of just executing movements). But some people seem more interested in the expression and gloss over technique… others are all about technique and don’t embrace emotional connection and expression. I think we need both.

      Thank you for adding to the conversation – always good to hear all perspectives!

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      • I think that sometimes we get trapped by words.. Connection is the essence of tango, but without the skill (technique if you will) it’s not possible to have and maintain a connection. The confusion might rest in one’s idea of “technique”. Many people are sadly confused by the terminology. “Technique” is a rather clinical sounding word and the “technique” or skill that tango dancers must master is not clinical at all. It’s a little bit pointless to try and educate or discuss these things in a blog or forum because to understand the discussion one must already possess this “technique” so one already knows. OTOH, if one does not have the technique, it’s impossible to grasp the meaning of it. This is the province of the tango instructor. You cannot learn by reading about it. You must learn by doing it…

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  6. Hmmmmm… Agree with the others.. Partially true.. A great dancer one that also has solid technique, usually has the flexibility, to dance with ppl of different levels, style.. And another thing … no two ppl have the same “embrace” or walk.. Its about adaptability.. And that’s what makes a great dancer.
    When I hear ppl complain about bad technique in others (yes if its bad to the extent of causing injury to you, tat valid).. You know they aren’t solid dancers..

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  7. You had some good ideas. Worth to study technique, but also work on the musicality, learn how to embrace, and worth to throw away extra expectations…

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  8. It occurs to me that the relation of technique and expression is the same in partner dance as in other arts. Expression without technique doesn’t work; technique without expression is sterile.

    No matter how much you have to express, without technique or skill, it’s like trying to draw something beautiful without knowing how to draw. It cannot be done. The better your drawing skill, the better you can bring out what you’re trying to express. Technique without expression is like being able to draw really well, but using this skill to draw things that are completely uninteresting and uninspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beautifully stated… thank you for sharing the perfect words to describe this. I very much feel that technique is what empowers us to effectively convey that emotional connection and expression. Really love how you expressed this!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Forgive my intervention in this perilously indulgent discussion. The preoccupation with form and content, technique and emotion, artistic expression versus objective intellect is missing the point. Imagine the first time you saw Tango danced and you fell in love with the craft. Remember how little you knew about what was going on then. Because that is when you really knew what the “total experience” was all about. That was when you understood the pure art of the dance: when you knowingly felt the “unknown” in its totality – without dissection, without analysis, without the infectious arguments about the superficially isolated fragments ofTango. When you arrive on the dance floor and give all of this up and respond intuitively to all of the experience before you – then you will know that you are a Tango dancer.

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  9. How do you lead or follow w/ “emotion”. More importantly, how do you teach people to do it w/ “emotion”?

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    • Shayma Argentina

      Emotion cannot be taught, but u can meanwhile teach to be there. Be present, with your fears and virtues. And teach the other person to be also there as a support, to feel what the other person also need from u. And Im not talking about following or leading. There is no perfection in this dance. Neither mistakes.
      Therefor I understand the point of the writer here, but not fully agree…

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    • Stage performers do this all the time in a manner that allows them to “turn it on and off” or get into character even when their emotional state is contrary to what they need to convey on stage. So apparently there is “technique” in being able to do so. I’d like to think that in social dancing, we dance the emotions we feel in that moment and don’t perform, but I believe there is a method to tapping into one’s own (and one’s partner’s emotional state) during a social dance that can be taught and learned.

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      • Epiphany wrote: “Stage performers do this all the time in a manner that allows them to “turn it on and off” or get into character even when their emotional state is contrary to what they need to convey on stage.

        Comparisons of show (stage) dance and social (milonga) dance are often based on the difference moves, objectives etc. but your point above highlights the more fundamental difference. The best show dance is an act. The best social dance is genuine.

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  10. I take issue comparing the human being with whom I dance to a piece of equipment, and I should hope that the people whom I embrace wouldn’t consider me a capital good either.

    To be sure, tango today exists in an economic framework. Lessons (private or group), workshops, entrance fees at milongas and practicas do require investment– but so do the hours of time organizers spend renting spaces and teachers take honing their technique as dancers and pedagogues to be able to impart their philosophy and skills.

    If you approach tango, or any art form for that matter, looking for what you can mine from it and not what it can teach you or your community, it seems like you are sorely missing out.

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  11. Tango is about connection. Thank you Klaus, I completely agree with you.

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  12. Why is “connection” important? What is the purpose of “connection”; what is “connected” ?

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    • The connection is a physical connection between two people, also it’s an emotional connection as well as a connection to the music and to the rest of the people on the dance floor. No connection?, no tango dance.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Why is “physical connection” necessary? What is the purpose?

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  14. In the sea of comments that don’t agree (or only partially agree) with the points expressed in your article, I’ll be the odd one that agrees 100%. And based on a little research I did in my own (small-ish) tango community, there are more of us who believe the same. Problem is that those who agree are mostly silent, while those who don’t agree will feel compelled to answer (this is generally true in the online environment). Nonetheless, it was a good read.

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  15. I like the article and the comments/discussion very much. At the first sight, I had a problem with the focus on money: “they simply want to use what they paid to learn”. Some people do not have enough money to afford private lessons, some do, but the critical thing is not the money. It is the effort, the hours, days, months, years that one spends to improve the “technique”. We invest our lives (spare time) to be “technically qualified” to offer a nice, functional, comfortable embrace and walk/movement on the pista. If we do not get it in return, we are frustrated. We cannot enjoy the embrace, the music if we are pulled/pushed etc.

    It is tricky to find proper words to express the thoughts about the topic (“why does technique matter”?), particularly if our focus is not on how to better understand each other. The same when we dance focusing on showing-off instead on making our connection more profound.

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  16. I think everyone has their own motivations for dancing and so I disagree with “Most dancers aren’t snobby – they simply want to use what they paid to learn.” but in my opinion the posters discussing/protesting the $ issue are missing the point. I think the overall theme of the post is saying I should look at my own dance before putting things down to other people being snobby. The key part of the post is: “If you won’t work on your own technique, then stop complaining about what other people “should” be doing (i.e., asking you to dance anyway or learning how to lead/follow better).”

    I think everyone has their own motivations for dancing and so I disagree with “Most dancers aren’t snobby – they simply want to use what they paid to learn.” However

    In my local tango community most leads, especially the better ones have no problem dancing with beginners. We need to do this to get new blood into our communities and keep them alive. In dancing with beginners I accept that they do not know technique yet so just dance to their skill level and focus on my own musicality and connection.

    That said there are a some followers who are uniformly avoided by leads. These followers have been dancing for years and do not attend classes or practicas. Discussing them with other leads the consensus is that they have extremely uncomfortable embraces to the point of leaving some leads with back pain. As they do not attend classes and practicas there is no way to give them feedback in an appropriate setting. It is these followers that are most vocal about not getting enough dances, yet they put it down to snobbishness and will not admit their own dance could be the problem. To me this post discusses this type of dancer.

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    • Mike wrote: “These followers have been dancing for years and do not attend classes or practicas. Discussing them with other leads the consensus is that they have extremely uncomfortable embraces to the point of leaving some leads with back pain.

      You sure they aren’t attending classes?? Because in my experience the dancers with the worst embraces are on average the ones that have done the most classes.

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      • I take you at your word, but I’m incredulous. Unless these people have taken lessons with the worst possible teachers, they have to understand the tango better for having taken more instruction rather than less… Unless I’m missing something here, your comment does not make sense to me.

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      • Definately not attending group classes. I assume they are not taking privates as the local teachers put a lot of focus on the embrace and would be trying to fix this.

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    • I see this issue where instructors don’t give their students honest feedback or the technique corrections they actually need. So then people have delusions of competence and are baffled as to why certain dancers avoid them. I just don’t understand why an instructor in a private lesson would not address a death grip hold or a clunky walk and instead teach them colgadas and volcadas. All it does is hurt the student when the pro focuses on moves instead of basic technique that is glaringly problematic. But I see it happen!

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      • Epiphany wrote: “I just don’t understand why an instructor in a private lesson would not address a death grip hold or a clunky walk and instead teach them colgadas and volcadas. All it does is hurt the student…

        “All it does is hurt the student” No. It also pays the instructor’s rent.

        The commercial tango dance instructor’s proverb: Sell a man a fish and you’ll eat for a day, but sell a man a fishing net and you’ll soon be out of a job.🙂

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  17. See :”Tango Secrets-Chicago” on Facebook. It`s about the importance of the Brain in dance & especially Tango. It`s best to read the earlier posts first.

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  18. Manuel wrote:Unless these people have taken lessons with the worst possible teachers, they have to understand the tango better for having taken more instruction rather than less

    Lots of presumptions there:

    1) That only the worst possible teachers give bad instruction
    2) That instruction necessarily increases the instructee’s understanding of the dance
    3) That increases understanding of the dance necessarily means a comfortable embrace

    In my experience, all are false.

    Mike wrote: “Definately not attending group classes.

    How do you know?

    Mike wrote: “I assume they are not taking privates as the local teachers put a lot of focus on the embrace and would be trying to fix this.

    That seems to presume no private teachers exist except your locals.

    And that your locals’ “trying to fix this” is guaranteed effective. A bad embrace acquired from years of classes can take years to wear off.

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    • Chris, with all due respect, I don’t presume. My opinions are based on experience so although it’s quite possible that the reverse is true, only a very inexperienced “teacher” who himself or herself does not know how to dance tango reasonably well would fail to convey the importance of the embrace and a modicum of technique.

      I have taken innumerable lessons from a number of teachers and I have taught tango as well for over 20 years. I personally have understood and learned a lot from my instructors, and have seen many others also understand and learn.

      As a teacher I’ve had a modicum of success teaching people to dance tango in groups, and a lot of success teaching private lessons. Many of my students are themselves teachers now and they dance very well.

      It’s true that some people just cannot “get” the dance, the ones with the “bad embrace” are those who took a few lessons long ago and presume to be good dancers. They never take any more lessons and naturally, they don’t have a good embrace and do not have good dancing skills, floor-craft or musicality. They would benefit greatly from private lessons from a good teacher (there are many of those).

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      • Manuel I’ve got to wonder which planet you’re writing from.

        Because the planet earth I know is not populated by people who start off with a bad embrace, such that those who choose to dance tango have first to have their embraces corrected by dance instructors.

        Anyone can take a look at a typical BA milonga full of dancers that started with what nature gave them, and from there progressed by dancing.

        The embrace is natural. Its application in tango dance is natural. And the kind of tango dance instructor who thinks bad embrace is the result of insufficient lessons is the kind that, in my experience, is the cause of most of the problems suffered by a few unfortunate newcomers gulled into thinking learning to dance is possibly only at the hands of teachers.

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    • I live in a small city with a small tango community. We have only 2 teachers offering group classes and 3 who take privates. I am attending both sets of group classes and do not see them there so I am confident in my statement that they are definitely not attending group classes.

      With regards to privates there is more to it than my assumption but I feel I can’t go into it without identifying people, which I would prefer not to do in an open forum.

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  19. I am in agreement that good tango dancers have invested Time + Money + Practice – with the end goal of being a better Tango dancer. Thats nice, good and great !. . . .

    However, a much more loftier and difficult goal is experiencing that so rare, intimate, almost orgasmic moment of – – connecting with your partner. And T/M/P is worth the effort of trying to reach that moment in time.

    So yes, its not about being snobby, thought, it may look like it to the outsider – but, oh well – its just hard to explain. 😉

    Whatever level – its fun!

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  20. I enjoy the comments here. It’s so interesting to see on the one hand the many who believe in doing what some self-aggrandizing authority (+ herd) tells them they should do – which, in the the interests of tango business is “technique”, steps, so-called musicality and my perennial favourite “this is how to embrace someone else”.🙂

    On the other, it’s nice to hear those few with common sense, who think independently, who are not taken in by this and who realise that class stops people feeling the music and their partner in their own way, which is where everything starts.

    Technique is nothing more than the habit, gained from time and experience on the dance floor of making dance comfortable, easy and pleasant for your partner and hence for the couple.

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  21. Chris, I wonder why your response is so insulting and hostile? I’m in planet earth as everyone else here. You are entitled to your opinion and beliefs, but you make some specious statements. First, I never stated that the earth is “populated by people who start off with a bad embrace, such that those who choose to dance tango have first to have their embraces corrected by dance instructors.”
    Second, I never said “bad embrace is the result of insufficient lessons”, but I disagree that tango and the embrace of tango are natural. If that were so, this whole discussion would not be taking place.
    In my planet earth, I’ve encountered many people who for whatever reason are just not comfortable with the close embrace and can be helped to adopt it by learning. And to reiterate, tango is anything but natural, it’s not inborn. While most people have the natural capability to learn to dance tango, they do not have it until they learn (are taught). Some need very little instruction and many require a lot.
    Dancing tango requires a skill like any other couple dance or any other activity like playing a musical instrument or a myriad of other activities.

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    • Manuel wrote: “I never said “bad embrace is the result of insufficient lessons”

      .. having previously said ” the ones with the “bad embrace” are those who took a few lessons long ago and presume to be good dancers. They never take any more lessons and naturally, they don’t have a good embrace.”

      Looks clear to me.

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      • When I go to a ballroom dance I never hear the word “no”. When I go to a milonga if I don’t hear the word “no” at least once, something isn’t right. Tango is more challenging and interesting than ballroom, swing, or salsa, but it remains the most “unsocial” of all the social dances.

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  22. Steve wrote: “When I go to a milonga if I don’t hear the word “no” at least once, something isn’t right.

    Then that ‘milonga’ is not not what’s normally called a milonga.

    In a milonga, a guy never hears no — because he’s not so rude as to walk over to a girl and ask her to dance. Instead if she’s not looking back at him, he waits until she is, or looks for another.

    When I go to a ballroom dance I never hear the word “no”.

    The ballroom and milonga are very different kinds of place. As you’d expect from the fact that ballroom dancing and milonga dancing are very different kinds of dance.

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