Tango solidarity when it counts . . .

Some fellow tanguera-bloggers and I have been having a wonderful online "conversation" via blogs, Twitter, Facebook and email - about the importance of sisterhood and solidarity. You can find Stephanie's post, here and her follow up here, and then Tangocorazon's here.

I was so bouyed by the idea of women bonding, helping and supporting each other that I took some things for granted. I took for granted that it would always be easy, enlightened as I am /*cough*/ to be the sort of consistently nurturing and helpful tanguera that I am (in my head). The truth? Where the rubber met the road (or rather when the discomfort hit the milonga), I wasn't.

Here's a little background that gave me a better perspective on the events at the New Year's Eve milonga. These guidelines appear under the heading "Behavior at the Milonga" on Vancouver Island Tango:

" . . . The smaller the tango population, the more 'effort' required from each one of the members of that community. Generally, in Practicas and Milongas, there are more ladies than men. Suppose there are 20 ladies and 10 men. Each man 'should' dance with at least 2 ladies during the evening. If there were 5 men then each of them should dance with at least 4 ladies. It doesn't have to be so mathematical ... the numbers are just to be more clear. Most of the time men actually go beyond this proportion. At that point, all of the ladies who have already danced with these men who did their share (or more) need to be grateful whether he danced well or not ... at least from the social point of view. The rest of the ladies, whether they danced or not with these good intentioned men should be grateful with them as well! This hardly ever happens. . . .

As you see, each of these situations is about solidarity, having concern for the group, being aware of supporting the whole. Another external example would be: If a man arrives with a bottle of wine this should be shared since it is a social situation. Similarly, a single lady occasionally should also arrive with a bottle of wine. In that way, also, she should arrive at a Milonga with a man. In other words, all those women who regularly enjoy the partner of other ladies should make more effort (at least once in awhile) to bring a new man, whether he is a good dancer or not, but at least a man. So, when that lady is dancing, the man she brought can be entertaining and socializing with another lady. Ladies who never invite men to go along with them to a Milonga are only thinking about themselves and not the whole situation. Women need to bring men, at least occasionally.

Moral: In each one of the descriptions above there is a common denominator ... tolerance and solidarity. Unfortunately, these two social virtues are not the first seeds to appear, not the most popular ways of being in these post modern times. "

That's the context. Now let me set the stage for our NYE milonga.

- more women then men as usual. No big deal, happens all the time.
- more fairly new dancers than at the regular milongas.
- perhaps most frustrating for tango dancers - as the night wore on there were fewer and fewer tango dancers compared to salsa and other types of dancers. What had been labeled as a milonga eventually turned into a tanda and cortina-free dance party.

Not enough (tango dancing) men + not enough tango music = tango dancers on edge.

I had invited a visiting tanguero from out of state to come to this milonga thinking at this more traditional venue he and his date would get to enjoy a more traditional milonga. This is the second time he's attended a milonga I've recommended and been treated to a large proportion of non-tango music. I felt like I'd misled him again. I was getting bumped, kicked and shoved on the pista by dancers who weren't dancing tango and the unlucky tango dancers trying to dodge these others in the line of dance. There was far more drinking than is usually done at regular milongas of course, because it was New Year's Eve. All of the factors together left me sitting in my chair looking desperately for cabeceos by the gentlemen I felt most comfortable with. In fact, with the increasing chaos on the floor, most tango dancers sought only other dancers they knew to dance with.

I was so intent on scouring the floor for a familiar cabeceo that I didn't notice the beautiful beginner follower behind me (who I had reassured into coming) having to warm the bench for so much of the milonga. I was too busy trying to enjoy what Janis Kenyon calls the Front Row Advantage. When she tapped my shoulder, it finally dawned on me that I had been completely wrapped up in my own discomfort and hadn't paid attention to her's.

I looked around the pista - none of the newer tango dancers were dancing. The leaders looked a bit shell-shocked by the floor. The newer followers, including my friend behind me, were sitting on the sidelines as the their peer leaders sat out, and more experienced dancers looked for other dancers they knew. So, bringing the girl-to-girl network to bear, I went to a woman who's husband I knew was a gentle, thoughtful and very talented dancer, and asked if she would mind steering her partner in my friend's direction. Moments later, the gentleman in question asked my friend to dance. But that was one tanda - I didn't even know how long she had been sitting. So much for putting my money where my mouth (or pen) was.

Soon after that, a few more tango dancers left and even I was feeling urge to give up. But I so much wanted to dance that I kept my eyes on the floor when I should have sat back and had a glass of wine and a chatted with my friend. I was sending the very message I'd just told my readers they would never get from me. By keeping my eyes on the dance floor and not sitting back with her, I was sending the message I never wanted to send to anyone, "You're on your own, chica."

When things got tough, I forgot my own rules. So now I'm here, writing this, to say next time, and every time, "chica, I got your back."


Tango Therapist said...

Men appreciate a woman taking care of her friends. It's kind of like the middle school moment: "I think Susy would like to dance with you." But let me add a man's perspective: It is frustrating when the girl networking appears more important than dancing -- even at a practica. Put it on pause between songs, ladies, or put a sign on your table -- "please interrupt me if you want to dance with me."

Anonymous said...

In the milongas of BsAs, women are aware that they outnumber the men, so it's even woman for herself. Their attention is on dancing, not on chatting with others. On rare occasions, there are more men but that usually changes in an hour.

It's very difficult for Americans to understand the milonga culture in BsAs. It's not about greeting everyone with a kiss or making certain you dance with a quota of newcomers and regulars. It is being in the moment and taking whatever comes; being inspired by the music when you connect with the right partner. The milonga is like life -- you don't always get what you want.

Frances R said...

I could not help but wonder what kind of dance is described in the VancouverTango article. It is definitely not Argentine tango as I know it. Tango is not about numbers and quantity. In a milonga no one has a social obligation to dance if he or she does not feel like it, no matter how many people are present, and what the gender ratio is.
And I do not want anyone to "stir leaders my way". If I see somebody I want to dance with, I know what to do. :)

Mari said...

UTT - yep, I've been guilty of chit-chatting and being nearly impossible to cabeceo - I'm working on that - I promise. :)

Jantango - I should have been more clear. I was not at any point referring to milongas in Buenos Aires. Milongas in the US are vastly different - in fact milongas in NYC are very different than the ones in LA. We will never replicate the milongas in BA because the context that those grew from don't exist here. Communities are always going to adapt any inherently social activity to their own community's needs. Maybe if I had 120 different milonga venues to choose from - I wouldn't care one way or another about anyone else's experience. But my community is small - and we all do a lot to be supportive of one another. And of course people don't always get what they want (or the Stones wouldn't have written a song about it) - but that shouldn't preclude being kind to one another.

Frances - the milongas that I attend aren't as strictly regimented as they appear to be in Vancouver Island where, if I don't bring a man, I need to bring wine. Nor are they as "cut-throat every woman for herself" as Jantango describes. We're somewhere in between.

And you may know what to do to get the dances you want, but a beginner like my friend, does not. I had her approval to give her a little help, so I did. Like I said above, our community is small and if we want to keep it healthy and growing, we can afford to go a little out of our way to be kind to one another.

tangopassionista said...

I really like your ideas on sisterhood at milongas, but solidarity is something we think we exercise until our own needs get in the way. Having read your post I'll certainly make a concerted effort to foster my friendships off the dance floor while still seeking connections on it. A bit too late for a new year's resolution, but it's never to late to learn.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I am a great believer of social networking at the Milongas here in London. After all, you gotta talk to someone in between dances. I also think you get a more intelligent conversation with a woman and they have been very good at recommending (or not) leaders.
Saying that, I always was available to dance. It was early days.
Now when I go out, I am still sociable, but my priority is dancing as I don't go out so often. Mi Amor would happily go with me to a milonga, but I really don't want him with me as he doesn't dance and a part of me feels responsible for him even though he is ok with it. It hampers my style on getting dances. I have generally gone alone and come home alone. When I briefly dated another Tango dancer, the rules of engagement were that we danced the first and last Tandas with each other and maybe some in-between, otherwise we did our own thing. As there are no allocated seats in the milongas in London (not enough), people tend to flit around and will blag an empty seat when someone gets up to dance.
People should take responsibility for getting their own dances, but there is no reason not to be friendly.

Anonymous said...

Those rules are appalling. So basically what they really mean is, unless you have a partner or male friends who dance tango (but clearly not at that venue on a regular basis) you are not welcome?
If I was a guy turning up to a place like that and expected to be a Tangeisha I wouldn't go back.