The Sensual Conversation

From a previous post's comments (thank you Happyseaurchin for the post topic):

"In the post, you mention the distinction between sensual and sexual. I have that distinction too, and I was wondering if you could elaborate on some future post. Many people I speak to don't seem to be aware of this, and I was wondering how that was "wired" into your being...? I presume your partner is not threatened by your tango exploits, precisely because of this distinction? Whether I have been in a relationship or single, the experience of this distinction is ever present. Your observation of your own experience in this matter would be most appreciated."

This will be my fourth draft on this topic. It's such a difficult thing to write about and feel like I'm conveying what I mean to convey. I've tried twice before, here and here. And I still don't think I've done the topic justice.

I have told people this frequently, but until they experience it for themselves, it won't make any sense. Tango, the music and the dance, is both intimate and universal. Tango asks us our secrets, but not our name. We can reveal so much, certainly at times more than we intend to, that there is almost an understanding that crossing lines without invitation puts the freedom to express ourselves at risk.

Ninety-nine percent of the time the overtly sexual aspect is simply not relevant whereas the sensual aspect is absolutely everything. Does that make sense? I suspect that the fact that I'm married makes my situation different than if I were single. (And you are correct in assuming my non-tango dancing husband is very supportive of my dancing, and thankfully not threatened by it.) There is nothing to prove to me - I'm not looking for more than the dance. I've been told that takes some of the pressure off. Maybe that's the case and it changes things. It's really hard for me to know from my side of the embrace.

To me, in this dance we are constantly communicating with one another. There is a line that, once it's crossed - when the feeling goes from sensual to sexual, creates a very different conversation.

And this is only my experience, which is limited of course to where I dance, how long I've been dancing, and with whom I dance. My tango world is quite small, and maybe naive.


happyseaurchin said...

Sorry I missed the previous articles on this topic, will check them out :)

Yes, having a husband means there is no sexual vector entering the dance. I have only had a couple of women flirt with me after a dance, and so if anything does happen on the other side, I am oblivious to it. I wonder what the percentage of "sexualise" tango is going on? Are we two rare exceptions, or examples of the main mass...?

Also, I tend to think of salsa as being more obviously sexual, what with all those swinging hips, and yet... hmmm I wonder if one of the attractions of tango is precisely this "sensual" side of such intimate, public dancing, that if crossed, ruins it? Then again, I remember seeing a performance once and this guy was clearly "****ing", or rutting, it was almost embarrassing.

There is a particularly aggressive dance space in London, and I wonder if it comes down to a predatory sexual nature, or if it is fired by competing teachers?

Marika said...

happyseaurchin - Of course I shouldn't suggest that people crossing the line doesn't happen. I remember one of my teachers have to pull aside a beginner leader and remind him quite vehemently, "There is *NO* [hip]grinding in tango!" He gave up on tango a couple of weeks later and went over to Salsa. :)

I wish I could explain it better - why and how the feeling is so different. The very few times I've danced salsa, it felt far more sexualized than tango for some reason.

Matthew J Brockwell said...

For me, I think sensuality comes down to knowing that you are enjoying the presence of another human being, which is an inherently physical thing, but in a way that absolutely respects the boundaries that each of us set around sexuality, which of course include commitment and marriage. There is a sense in which coming close to the ocean, and contemplating its beauty, can be as much an act of devotion as swimming in the ocean itself, and that, to me is the distinction. The paradox, to me, is that the feeling of devotion, can sometimes feel very much the same. And - I'm glad your husband is not threatened by tango. He must be a very open-hearted man.

Marika said...

Matthew - Your description (regarding the ocean and acts of devotion) feel quite appropriate. That's very close to what I experience.

My husband is openhearted, but from his point of view, probably more pragmatic. Two and a half years ago, when I started tango, I was in so much pain that I worried if my walking was soon going to be impaired. He watched me transform from fragile and afraid, to confident and well-bodied. For that reason he is incredibly supportive. Of course we had to negotiate terms. For awhile I was dancing almost every night of the week and that just couldn't be maintained. He asked that I spend more time at home and we worked out a sort of schedule. That helps a lot - respecting each other's needs and expectations.

Elizabeth Brinton said...

I don't agree that "having a husband means there is no sexual vector in the dance." We're married, not dead!
But anyway, I agree that the feeling I am after, that I want to convey and to feel, is sensual. If someone dances in an sexual way, I don't dance with them again. It happens. I know some gay people like to dance at the hetero milongas, because they can dance without being hit on. But being married is not a protection. E

wlobatto said...

Interesting conversation...I like Matthew's distinction between different acts of devotion - contemplation and taking the plunge, as it were. It raises the question of the meaning of the distinction between sensual and sexual - i guess we recognise the difference internally in our bodies but they're pretty close, perhaps more related to our own perception and intention than anything else...

Anonymous said...

During lunch with a milonguero yesterday, he said he doesn't want to dance with women half his age because it's like he's dancing with his daughter. He can't embrace a woman of 35 years in the same way he does a woman of 65.

There may be a sensual experience for a young woman of 30 dancing with a milonguero of 80, but it's definitely different for him.

I wrote on the sensual conversation previously in

Dieudonne said...

I am getting from this conversation that somehow Sensuality and Sexuality are The Same. Even though you all seem to be stating that they are different. The unwritten thread of the conversation opposing these two elements seem to presuppose that they are the same, and therefore need to be kept separate, “if someone crosses the line…”. Matthew’s beautiful analogy speaks of a possible choice of devotion in front of the ocean between contemplating the ocean and/or swimming in it. I am of the opinion that we are talking about two different oceans here, and the only association between the two is the stuff that they are made out of. One can swim/contemplate either one of those oceans independently of the other, and I dare say without the need for the other. Culturally speaking, at least in the US, the distinction between these two is not always made (sexuality seems to be the only and or obvious resultant of any measure of expressed attraction between people) which can lead to misunderstandings.
I think that sensuality and sexuality are separate and distinct, and Tango proves it. Tango is sensual in its essence, and we who practice this beautiful art (musicians, dancers, lyricists, collectors, music listeners…) choose to swim/contemplate the ocean of sensuality using all our senses.
We also know that at any given point in time, we can choose the other body of water, and so in my opinion, it heightens the pleasure (how fare can I swim in this ocean? how large is it? are the other dancers swimming as well?...) knowing that I can, and choosing not to, in respect for Tango and everything that it represents, my lovely partner, and myself.
Dancing Tango for me is a “selfish” pleasure, I dance to make myself happy, and as I am happy, I transfer that to my dance partner who feeds it back to me for greater pleasure.

Tangocommuter said...

It's a topic other blogs have tried to fathom. I suspect a whole thesis could be written about tango and sensuality although nothing ever quite says it. 'Tango asks us our secrets, but not our name' – is a great way of putting it! Sensuality is usually a prelude to sexuality, but the public nature of social dance cuts off that progression. So we enjoy the sensuality, and the deep gratification of the embrace with the music and movement, and we can enjoy it comfortably knowing that it's in public, and ends with the end of the tanda. The embrace and the music, the two wonderful features of tango.

A Tibetan teacher I knew told me there's nothing wrong with enjoyment, but that desire is a real problem. Let's continue to enjoy it!

Terpsichoral said...

@Happyseaurchin I am currently in London and have noticed that the tango scene is rather more sexualised than I am used to Buenos Aires (where I live). I think this is partly because there are three groups of people who are largely missing from my favourite London milongas: older dancers (who have their own separate milongas), professional dancers and tango geeks (who are only interested in the quality of their dancing -- there's not that much geekiness in the London scene). People don't tend to go to the London milongas in couples and, although the milongas are a little grungy in feel and the men are in jeans, the women are very dressed up. And I've had a few experiences of very heavy flirting and a case or two of wandering left hand syndrome. You can read about this at If you know the London scene, I'd be interested in your feedback.

I also write about tango sensuality/sexuality here: and, for those who speak Spanish, I recommend this blog entry on the topic:

My personal experience of tango is that it is primarily sensual -- and it is a sensuality which has nothing to do with whether or not you would find your dance partner attractive if you met them outside of the milonga. On two occasions, I felt something distinctly sexual. One of these was just before the beginning of my relationship with my ex-boyfriend (also a dancer). I'm not really afraid of tango evoking sexual feelings, though. I think you can have very strong chemistry with someone on the floor without wanting for a second to continue that relationship after the cortina.

Anonymous said...

I'm a male (and thus leader). Almost all married women and those in a relationship love to dance with me.why?
1. Because they know I won't getting between husband and wife bf-gf relationship (no matter how good looking they are) and
2.i know the difference between sexuality and sensuality. My dances are sensual never sexual.
It's about the illusion of passion...not. Passion itself.
There are some girls who felt sensual = not for me..and that's fine...I can respect that not every chick will allow a guy to get within an inch of making out with her. The open embrace works for that. I'm genuinely surprised by how many females absolutely want me to be in a close embrace and dance sensually despite them being in relationships.
Regarding a the article on salsa.. Yes.. Salsa is more sexual than tango and that's why salsa attracts a much younger crowd than tango. For a fair number of participants, salsa is to show off and hopefully pick up..not tango..tango is a deep connection and conversation between participants.. Generally more mature crowd as a result.