People will talk

A rare stellar alignment resulted in far more men at the last milonga than women. While I enjoyed dancing nearly every tanda (though my feet are now less than impressed by that fact), it brought other things to light that I would have preferred not have had to deal with. When there are far more men than women, it can feel particularly obvious (I'm not sure that's the word I mean, but I can't think of a better one) when certain men don't want to dance with you. When there are 5 or 6 men that appear to rather sit out than ask the one woman left sitting (me, in this case) to dance, it stings. I know appearances can be deceiving - and I have been known to be airheaded and miss cabeceos from leaders. But when it's the entire evening - and the same leaders, it's hard not to take it personally.

Still, I've learned to try to make peace with that and not make too many assumptions about it. However, the situation was made far worse that night when another dancer suggested that I wasn't trying hard enough to circulate. At the time, and maybe still, it felt like insult added to injury.

At one point there were three men at my own table I would have loved to dance with and none of them cabeceo'd me. But again, I've been known to be oblivious. I tried to make eye contact with each one of them, but after a few short remarks - no invitations, no cabeceo. So I had a second tanda with a few of the previous leaders I had danced with. When I sat down again, I tried again to cabeceo the three previous gentlemen, and a fourth who had just arrived. Again, nothing.

Now, there were a few leaders there that almost never ask me to dance - and so I don't get especially offended when they don't ask. They're often the more advanced leaders that dance more open and lean almost more toward a nuevo style. They're beautiful leaders and I would certainly accept their invitation, but I might have trouble following some of what they lead, and they probably know that. Or they might think that because I dance primarily "estilo milonguero", that's all I want to dance. Whether that's what puts them off or whether it's my ranting in my blog about boloe/gancho craziness, or something else entirely - who knows. I just don't hold my breath for their invitations. So just to be clear, the men that I was trying to make eye contact with were leaders who I've danced with before, and dance more close embrace generally.

I wanted to circulate and to dance with gentlemen I hadn't danced with - but failing that, I still wanted to dance. So a leader I had danced with twice already cabeceo'd me for a third tanda. Another leader made a stern comment to him about noticing that this was our 3rd tanda and then told me I need to circulate. I was even surprised at how irritated I was by his comment.

First of all, I had just finished dancing with the leader who was criticizing me. Second, I had tried to be available and cabeceo other men, but I can't make them ask me!

Here were my options as I understood them.

1.) Turn down leaders I'd already danced with - in which case, I'd have to sit out that tanda anyway, or
2.) just get up and dance.

Will people talk? How the heck should I know? Ultimately, this is a man's game. I had, I thought, done what I could to try to let them know I was interested, but I'm not going to turn down invitations and sit out tandas, to try to work out if someone else is going to ask me. Usually I have no problem abiding by milonga etiquette and occasionally doing something (or not doing something) because of how things might appear but that night, I'd really reached my limit.

When there are far more followers at a milonga, than leaders, I admire the gentlemen who make such an effort to get around to as many of the followers as possible. The gentleman who was criticizing me, was actually one of those men who makes such an effort. But the rules of the game are not the same for me as they are for him. I can only decline invitations, not make them - or I risk getting negative comments about being too pushy by asking.

In the end, I danced with the leaders who asked me and, focusing on them, tried to push all the other nonsense thoughts out of my head. I had to take my own advice. The milongas, and life, are too short for me to concentrate on the men who aren't asking me to dance.


Stephen Shortnacy said...

I agree with your sentiment about life being too short for people who do not cabeceo (ask).

However, we should improve our chance for a successful cabeceo and tips from Tango and Chaos (see all of them at the bottom of page) could help:

1. Have a plan and be disciplined. Know ahead of time who you want to dance with for each type of music.

Perhaps the guys are oblivious or perhaps they are waiting for the right music. For example, I know some ladies like to valz with me (and I with them), so I put those ladies to the top of my valz list. Unfortunately some ladies are unable to follow my milonga traspie, so I am less inclined to send an invite and try looking for them for another tanda.

2. Have a fallback position. Pick a second and a third choice ahead of time, and keep them in mind.

3. Try to quickly identify the music of the tanda, and then immediately begin to stare intently at your first choice for that type of music.

This is where many women fall short of the cabeceo. There are soooo many times during the same milonga that I will glance across the room to find no one staring at me and then I would be quizzed later as to why I had never sent an invitation to dance. If you want a dance shoot em with laser beams from your eyes.

4. Do NOT take you eyes off that person, even for one second. (If you have a history, the rest is easy, because he or she will probably already be looking back when they hear the music).

At times it is a primal urge is to glance away if being stared at. Give them about 10 seconds to register the cabeceo if they look away. Again think supergirl with laser vision.

5. If no eye contact is returned, wait a bit. If you sense the person is aware of you, but is looking elsewhere, immediately switch your stare to choice number two, and repeat the process.

6. If eye contact is made, any sign of recognition will work. Among the milongueros and milongueras, this is usually nothing more than a glance of a second or two, or maybe a slight nod, or a cutting of the eyes toward the floor.

I would suggest being very obvious. One of my favorite dancers uses the prairie dog technique. It works quite effectively.

Anonymous said...

meh- I think your choice was the right one. I think you have to have a balance between the extremes. After all, you are part of the equation as well in a room.

For me, having someone suggest that I socialize to the point where it is no longer enjoyment is just not right. It seems you found yourself in that postition as well.

I go out to dance to socialize, but socializing doesn't mean I run through the room filling all the lines on my dance card in a night- then it's just work. Although there is some general "circulation" I do on any given night, I only ever do as much as I feel like at that time. Maybe there's 3 people in my comfort zone I dance with all night, maybe it's 8. And maybe I dance 2 or 3 times with one person. Well, what if I like dancing with them? Should I limit myself to 1 or 2 tandas? Or is the world going to think there is "something going on between us" or "I'm unfriendly".

Is the person who criticized just trying to show off their "knowledge" of codigos? I have a book with an entire list of them if you'd care to borrow it...:) And if you go to BsAs, I think you should know them and be prepared to utilize them, but we aren't there and some codes just don't really seem relevant here.


Anonymous said...

as they say about can be focused on the ones you want to love you and totally miss the ones that do love you....such with cabeceos...we can be attentive and maybe hope to dance with a fantasy, however planning? sounds like a type A wrote those rules....every milonga is different meaning all the variables such as what kind of day each dancer had,wine etc....embrace it all!!

Anonymous said...

People will always talk so i say "Be your beautiful,sweet self and if you want to dance six tandas with one man then do and women both have their favorites partners...yes be noble and kind and isn't this supposed to be enjoyable and for some (like myself) very theraputic. My whole life revolves around dancing tango and is that so bad?

Anonymous said...

Hi Mari,
Once I started not caring about what other people said or thought my time at the milongas improved. I have sat out many an evening either because there weren't men that I wanted to dance with or the ones I did want to dance with were busy or weren't interested. It goes both ways. I still enjoy the music.
Also, who cares how many tandas you do in a row with a person? You are not in BA. It happens here all of the time and nobody says anything. I used to have a particular favourite and we would dance many tandas together. Sometimes you need your fallback dancers when all else fails.

@Stephen, interesting plan you have and I suppose necessary when you are a man. Not so easy to have a plan when you are the woman and wanting to be asked.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it shows my disconnect from your community, but I would be all for the woman asking once the gender imbalance reverses. Then again, it's not so horrible beforehand either, and we put it all out there without cabaceo, so there you go. Stephen's suggestions sound painfully passive, but maybe they are the best medicine available.

My own best advice for minimizing "missed connections" is: don't rub your feet.

Mari said...

@Stephen - Thanks for the link to Tango and Chaos - I'd forgotten about that page. I think the biggest problem is that even though I would much prefer that tangueros listen to the music first, use the cabeceo to invite, etc - when they do that, they get beat out by the all the leaders that don't and have already walked up and asked their next prospective partner as soon as the cortina started. I don't envy the minefield leaders have to navigate.
PS - I love the prairie-dogging, it is indeed very effective. :-)

@bastet - you're right about comfort zones - ir really does vary from night to night. I forgot to add that the gentleman who criticized me actually retracted some of the criticism when I told him I had tried to be available and make eye contact etc. But, of course by that point I was already irritated at having to defend myself at all.

@anonymous#1 - agreed.

@anonymous#2 - life revolving around tango being a bad thing? Never!

@Londontango - I don't mind sitting out either - like you said, the music is frequently enough to have a good evening. I only draw the line when someone says I'm not trying hard enough lol.

@anonymous#3 - lol - I've been guilty of missing cabeceos due to feet rubbing, shoe-strap adjusting, "ooh, a shiny object" and other completely random occurances. Balancing cabeceo usage and an excedingly short attention span is very tricky. A work in progress. It seems that the cabeceo only works if the majority of people use it - otherwise the sitation I mentioned above occurs, and the best-intentioned laders get sidelined.

AlexTangoFuego said...

Cabeceo is important, but it's still slow to catch on in the U.S.

I'm with anon3...when the gender balance swings...ask away...

If you get a weird/bad vibe/energy from the askee, then move that lead to the bottom of your list...

It's extremely rare that I will say no to a direct invitation.

If I've danced myself to refusal, I'll usually just head for the hills.

Quality over quantity...always...and your tootsies will love you for it...

Margo Romero said...

This is all so new to me... Cabeceo is non-existent in Chile... Anyway, your choice rocked, I was nodding my head in agreement while I read! With a big smile...



Anonymous said...

I think the main problem I see with the "Tango and Chaos" page is that he is writing from a particular perspective.

It is clear form the story that Alej is acquainted with the people she cabeceos, and I think that probably in the story he related, it would be fair to say that among a "peer" group it would be ok for ladies to cabeceo guys (though I do think ladies should always be attentive).

And though I think the Tango and Chaos example is probably correct for certain instances (peer groups), it probably wouldn't be the working model for ladies to use that are not acquainted withm the leads they are looking to dance with...then it would probably be more like the ones listed in the book I have that says ladies don't do the asking (but should certianly be attentive).

Both probably have correct applications but my guess is neither one or the other is the only way.


Anonymous said...

@Marge- thanks for the info and for letting us know that even in Sth America, cabeceo isn't the only way things are done, even down. I respect that it's used but it's also nice to know it may have developed as more part of a specific culture, and not necessarily specific to tango itself.

Sorry for the highjack Mari...


James Elrod said...

I was one of the men who were there Saturday night and did not get a dance with you, Mari (yes, we talked this out later), largely due to my own tendancy to enjoy the social and chatty aspect of a "social dance" and, certainly in this case, to neglect to actually ask you to dance. Needless to say, my one shining opportunity vanished quickly...I have learned from this experience!
I believe both leaders and followers can learn from experiences such as this...and I am growing to like the cabeceo more and more the longer I am learning this wonderful culture. What a "simple" and effective technique for establishing connection between could only wish that it worked away from the dance floor nearly as well.

Mari said...

@Alex - Unfortunately I've seen a follower get ridiculed for asking a leader to dance, not by the gentleman she asked (who accepted) but by his friends sitting in the vicinity after they left for the dance floor. To me it sounded like sour grapes. In general, I've never needed to ask directly to let someone know I was interested in dancing - there are many other ways that are more comfortable for both parties. And also, generally, I've never been offended to not get asked - it wasn't until someone said I wasn't trying hard enough that I got a bit pissy about it lol.

@Margo - Thank you for your comment. it seems like the pressure is off a bit when communities are mostly one way or the other (with regards to cabeceo.)

@bastet - I agree it tends to work best with the people I know well. How much people use which method depends so much on the venue (lighting), other dancers present etc.

@James - Thank you for your comment - and for our conversation on Sunday. We've missed other opportunities to dance because we both got too busy, too tired etc and since we're pretty much at every milonga lol - there's always been the chance for us to catch up. :-) But as I mentioned to Alex above, it wasn't until I felt I had to defend how much effort I was putting in to circulating that my feeling got hurt. Tango in our community is, like you alluded to, a social event and while dancing is my favorite part of that event, it certainly isn't the only part. I like to see my friends and visit and catch up - sometimes (ok, many times) to the point of missing some tandas. That's just the nature of our group. On nights that are extremely lead or follower heavy, it seems to get a bit tricky and people feel the pressure a little more on both sides. I think that's all the criticism I received was really about. Several factors seemed to come together at one time that night that just made it a little more uncomfortable than it would otherwise have been.

Frances R said...

People who sit and do not dance (leaders or followers) might have their reasons that are totally legitimate, and have nothing to do with not liking prospective partners available at the moment. For example, the music does not inspire them, they prefer to watch the floor, they need to take a break, they feel "done" for the evening, they are expecting a phone call, they feel "off" etc etc.
There is no obligation to dance at any given moment with anyone. No, you do not need to "circulate", either. Milonga is very different from a cocktail party.
And I think you have to cut short all the attempts to tell you who and when you should dance with as absolutely unacceptable. It is your personal matter. Those advising gentlemen should mind their own business!

msHedgehog said...

I think you did the right thing too. Also, sometimes when this kind of thing happens it's just that the DJ is having a dodgy night.

Triman Beaumont said...

Mari, welcome in men's world... :-) do you know how many times is a man ignored or his asking for dance rejected? 1/4? 1/3?

anyway, I think you dramatized the situation. when there are less men than women (or equal) in milonga, men can't talk together. To talk about women, about tango etc. They can mostly do it only when they have some "free time" :-) and once they start, it's a pitty to stop/interrupt it for some (yours, sorry) cabeceo.

for me the milonga is no only place where I can dance but also a place for entertainment, chatting, laughing, talking, drinking.