Sitting out

At the milonga . . .

Our out-of-town visitor sat almost the entire milonga, dancing only three tandas all night. I was disappointed not to get to dance with him, but I knew he had taught workshops all day and likely just wanted to unwind. In this Texas heat, I don't think anyone has the stamina they have at during the Fall and Winter.

When the milonga was over we gave each other a big hug and he suddenly, and emphatically, apologized for not dancing with me, which was really unexpected - and very kind. He went on to say that the music he prefers to dance to simply didn't get played very much, so he sat and listened. He only wanted to dance to the music that really moved him. I thanked him for choosing to sit rather than dance to music he didn't care for - and I meant it.

Reflections . . .

This is one of those things we hear about in North America, the milongueros who sit and wait for the music that they love - even if it means sitting all night, but it's not all that common here where milongas are a very social event. It's simply a different experience here, and mostly I can accept that. Especially since I know that it can be very difficult for leaders to sit out tandas, when there are more women than men, with all of those (perceived) accusing eyes asking, "why won't he ask someone to dance?"

Yet for me as a follower, there are few things more disheartening than dancing with a leader who clearly doesn't like the music that's playing. I've had more than one leader tell me, as he was walking me to the dance floor, often for a milonga or vals tanda, that he really disliked that particular song playing. Another gentleman told me that he felt completely bored by the music that had just started, yet still stood there with his hand out.

Then why ask me to dance to it???

When I've suggested that we wait for the next tanda instead, I get a wave, and a "no, no, let's give it a try."

I'm sorry to be blunt, but "give it a try" during practica or class. Milongas are for dancing to music that moves you. If it doesn't move you - if you really dislike it, sit down. Milongas are social events and many times we dance with people simply because we're good friends regardless of the music that's playing. But when you don't feel any connection to the music, is it really fair to your partner to subject him or her to dancing with no connection to the music - especially if you feel like you have to suffer through it?

I would like to draw a distinction here between not knowing what to do with the music, or how to interpret it - and not liking it. There's a big difference. I know that appreciation for the complexities and possibilities of tango music can take a long time and a lot of listening and walking to the music. Often it does take dancing with people who *do* love it, to really feel it. I'm specifically talking about dancing to music one doesn't like out of a feeling of obligation or duty.

For example, I love milongas. I almost can't contain how much I love them. I spent a year being completely afraid of them and sitting them out, so now maybe I am making up for lost time. I seek out leaders who love them too so that I can share that experience - that love for that type of music.

Here's the tricky thing - I learned to love milonga by dancing with people who loved milonga. Makes perfect sense right? But I danced with them at practicas and in classes - not at milongas. I encourage people who have a difficult time with a particular orquestra like Biagi or Pugliese, or other types of music like milonga or vals, to seek out the dancers who love it and ask for their help. Most of the time dancers are more than happy to share their love of a particular type of music. Practicas are fantastic for this. At the milonga however, I really believe a dancer should not be expected to dance with a partner who, at that point in time, simply doesn't like the music.

Have you ever danced with someone who felt like they'd rather be doing something else than dancing to what was playing? Do you ever dance to music you really don't like just because you feel you should?


Anonymous said...

I can't imagine actively seeking out a dance when I don't like the music. I have danced tandas (reluctantly) when I am not fond of the music, but usually it is with someone who is so enthusiastic that I hope their excitement transfers to me.

Actually, I have been teased for being so picky about the music I dance to. However, my community has more men than women, so I've found that I have to be the picky one. Sometimes the men are so antsy to dance that they will invite a follower before the cortina has even ended!

My biggest problem with music I'm not fond of is that I feel very disconnected. Even when I like the leader, I can't completely get into the dance. I have felt the same disconnected feeling coming from leaders from time to time, but I'm not sure how much of that comes from a lack of interest in the music and how much is just being preoccupied with other things and/or not knowing the music very well.

Keno said...

From the stand point of a leader I will say this. Some of the music I hear at a milonga does not move me that much, until I see that one follow that the music is moving her in her seat. Then I will dance to it. I have my favorite pieces of music, and I have my favorite follows that each type of music I enjoy dancing with her. When I sit out of the dancing is when you have a DJ that is really playing what he likes and not playing for the crowd. I was at one and was told he only played cortinia's during the up songs. (I still have not figured that one out) but imagine you are dancing and after the 6th song you still have not heard a cortinia, I did what I always try not to do, and have only done less than 2 times in my life, leave in the middle of a 12 song tanda. Yes there are times I am not inspired to dance with the music playing, and I have left the milonga early because the music did not inspire me. From talking to numerous DJ's I hear the same thing, good ones will play to the crowd and bad ones will play a list, and even though you can not please everyone you have to inspire the crowd. So as I journey along in my Tango Adventure I cherish the tanda's full of heartbeats, and I'm cherishing the people that make it possible. Each milonga has wonderful memories, it's finding that moment that makes you just jump out of your seat and dance that makes it all worth it.

Anonymous said...

Here in London, the custom is to always dance two tandas in succession. This means that, while you choose the music for the first tanda you dance, you then stay on the floor during the cortina and, for your second tanda, have to dance whatever they happen to play. I'm not keen on this, but as there not that many good dancers in our community and I am one of those followers who simply LOVES to dance I never refuse to dance that second tanda (unless I dislike my partner's dancing).

On a slightly different note (I hope not too much off-topic), I tend to refuse a lot of dances for an entirely different reason -- because I am a very advanced level dancer by the standards of the place where I currently am (in BA I am just one more reasonably competent follower) and I am picky about who I dance with. We had a long and interesting debate about this in the comments section of this entry:

And Melina also has some interesting words to say about this in her blog:

ghost said...

The main problem for me is when I like the first song of a tanda and all is going well and then for some unknown reason the song the dj puts on for the second of third song makes no sense whatsoever in context of a tanda and had it been the first song I wouldn't have looked for a dance.

Causes all sorts of headaches. Do I politely ask that we sit this song out? (Depends how well I know them) But then I also have to be careful of the message I'm sending out. I danced one dance with this woman and then didn't continue the tanda. That could be taken as danger signs for those watching that one of us is a really awful dancer. And frankly if it's the last song of the tanda it's often a difficult choice to continue enjoying being in that tango zone or call it quits and not ruin it.

I tend to be guided by the woman and how bad the song is.

happyseaurchin said...

Ah, guilty, finally, of something you frown upon. :)

I learned tango unusually, with gotan music, Piazzolla and electronic music i liked. I found the traditional music didn't move me in the slightest. My way through this, in the early years, was to dance with women, they were primary, the music secondary. However, as the years pass by, I find too many women are following moves automatically, which loses my interest, and the music does not inspire me to jolt us both out of recognised and mindless patterns.

I am sorry. I have spent evenings just watching. And the longer I sit, the more I get despondent. And I don't have the money to throw away. I risk dances hoping that the women has the inspiration of the music moving her.

It's a tricky one. But I admit dancing with partners when the music does not inspire. I went to the lisbon tango festival: five nights, not one diaz, which I find very raw, gutteral, and can't help but move me.

ghost said...

@ Terpsichoral

"Here in London, the custom is to always dance two tandas in succession."

Huh?! Someone's been fibbing to you. Granted there's a few places that don't play cortinas and there's certainly nothing stopping you dancing more than one tanda.

But having to dance two - nope.

Anonymous said...

@ghost Sorry, I didn't mean it was obligatory. But after the first tanda, most leaders hang around on the floor during the cortina and say "Let's see what they play next, shall we?" Since I'm fussy about who I dance with, if I'm dancing with a guy at all you can bet I'm enjoying his dancing, so I'm pretty much always happy to stay with him for a second tanda.

ghost said...


Ah gotcha :o)

What also happens a lot is at the end of the second tanda wait and see if either of you pulls away. If not, just stay in embrace and keep dancing tandas for long as you want :) Which obviously means that going to places where you like what the DJ plays is a big plus.

The other common response to the DJ starting the next tanda with something truly awful is to comment on how awful it is but agree (sincerely) to dance with them again later. Alternatively friends will often just go and sit down and chat (since neither of them wants to dance to that tanda) and then quietly pray for decent music on the tanda after that!

Litzo said...

I really enjoyed reading this.

For me, it's pretty obvious when I really want to dance, because I simply light up when I hear the music that I want to dance to. There's not so much I don't like now. Used to have the same fear of milongas, but I'm learning to keep it simple and especially enjoy the slower ones.

Sometimes though, it's fun just to watch how different people react to the music that I don't find so ispiring. I find that quite educational, and on occasions, I've learnt to like some music more too because of how I've seen others react to it.

@Terpsichoral - I didn't know about this 2 tanda custom in London. I don't dance often in London, and it doesn't seem to be the custom here on the South Coast. I often dance 2 tandas with a partner, but haven't felt obliged to do so. Perhaps this is exclusive to London(?)

Anonymous said...

@Richard Slade I don't think it's an obligation at all. More of a custom. It's pretty common at the European marathons, too. Personally I quite like it. If I am enjoying dancing with someone one tanda isn't enough for me!

One thing I don't like very much, though, is when a leader says "Ugh! I hate this music." So, of course, I say "Well, let's dance again later." To which, many of them reply "No, no, no, it's OK, we'll dance it." That doesn't feel so nice.

Litzo said...

Hi @Terpsichoral - I agree - that's not so good. Perhaps this though sometimes comes from unpredictability in the music. If on hearing the first song in a tanda, one is invited to dance, then it should be easy to predict the other songs, at least for tempo, orchestra and so on in the following songs in the tanda. Maybe this happens if the tandas arent predictable, or if tandas arent being used? Just a guess.

Anonymous said...

@Richard Slade It usually happens at the beginning of the second tanda.

ghost said...

@Richard Slade

My take on it is that as you get better at tango in London, the number of people you'll enjoy dancing with at any milonga drops off (it's not just a matter of skill, it's also a matter of the diverse ways people express tango, tastes in music etc).

Say there's literally only 3 people you'll enjoy dancing with, it makes sense to dance multiple tandas, either consecutively or spaced throughout the evening.

A lot of the good dancers tend to come in couples.

Litzo said...

@Terpsichoral - Ah, ok - not so good then. It only really works (for me at least) when both the follower and I are inpired by the music.

@Ghost - Interesting to hear about the London experience. I've hardly ever danced there (not counting Eton, which I love - and where there are always lots of great people to dance with)

Anonymous said...

@RichardSlade People keep recommending Eton to me. I suppose I should try it.

Actually I am already so fussy about who I want to dance with in terms of level of dancing (I've found only 7 or 8 leaders I enjoy dancing with at the London milongas so far, and I have made a search) that I would be crazy to restrict myself further by only dancing with people who dance a specific style or to a specific type of music. I would end up not dancing at all! And I really, really LOVE to dance.

I find that when I say that I like to dance with good leaders they think I mean I want to dance a specific style (many people think this is code for "I dance milonguero style and don't like to open the embrace", while others think I mean "I only dance tango salon, abominate tango nuevo and would never put a gancho between a leader's legs").

But for me it's not code at all. It's quite literal. I am single at the moment and don't have a dance partner here, which makes things difficult. I am just happy when I get good dances, of whatever stripe.

Anonymous said...

Milongueros have told me about "sitting out" when the deejay programmed inappropriate tandas for the milongas. The deejay's job is to get people up to dance. If he doesn't do it, he's out of a job. Alito told me that in his younger years that if a deejay played DeAngelis at a milonga he would have been taken out to the street to suffer the consequences.

Men shouldn't feel obligated to dance every tanda simply because there are more women in attendance. Then dancing is about quantity, not quality. I've gone home satisfied after only two or three tandas during several hours.

I refused an invitation last week because I wasn't familiar with the recordings of Di Sarli, my favorite orchestra. The music has to inspire me to dance.

Anonymous said...

Two tandas in a row? This may be the easy way out for some, but it's not the case in BsAs. It may have been started by women who didn't want to change partners and convinced their current one to stay around.

Women have to understand that men will assume the man is your regular partner and won't bother looking at you for a tanda. It's about respect in the milongas in BsAs.

The CORTINA music(curtain) tells everyone it's time to sit down and wait for the next tanda to begin. You don't stand on the floor with a partner.

ghost said...


"Two tandas in a row? This may be the easy way out for some, but it's not the case in BsAs."

Well obviously London isn't BsAs. Some things work differently here.

Also you're describing BsAs now. In an interview with Jorge Dispari, he explains that things were once rather different.

CL: You would dance with the same woman for one tanda?
JD: Ah No No. For the whole night.
CL: The whole night?
JD: Yes the whole night. There were no tandas back then. It was very much disrespect to dance with more than one person in the course of an evening.

:shrug: Do whatever makes you happy. But personally, dancing multiple tandas with a good dancer on the same wavelength is something I enjoy with no strings attached.


Sorry if this is drifting away from your post's original intentions

Anonymous said...

@Jantango In Buenos, I always leave the floor during the cortina. And never dance two consecutive tandas with the same guy. But here in London the customs are different.

I love your comment about De Angelis. It's pretty much the only one of the classic tango orchestras I dislike.

Iain said...

Terps, don't you like dancing vals to De Angelis? Soñar Y Nada Más, Pobre Flor, Flores Del Alma - I think they're divine.

Anonymous said...

@Iain OK, I'll make an exception for the waltzes. And I must confess that if a good leader asks me to dance and it's De Angelis I'll still dance and enjoy myself. What can I say? I'm a tango slut.

Anonymous said...


I know London isn't Buenos Aires, but tango is from Buenos Aires. People need to learn the customs and culture that are an integral part of tango.

Jorge Dispari interview - one partner all night and no tandas?Jorge isn't past 60 and hasn't been dancing since 14 like most milongueros. There may be something lost in the translation. He is married to Maria del Carmen and doesn't "escape" to the milongas like most milongueros who are married to the milonga.

Anonymous said...

De Angeles recordings were used for the carousels in the parks around Buenos Aires. It wasn't an orchestra of the milongas.

Today it's another story.

ghost said...


"I know London isn't Buenos Aires, but tango is from Buenos Aires. People need to learn the customs and culture that are an integral part of tango."

When tango came to London, the customs and culture of London also became an integral part of it and it changed. The only way to get around this would be to have some BsAs equivalent of Chinatown where they hold milongas that only people from BsAs are allowed to attend.

So in Terpsichoral’s case, although she clearly already knows the customs and culture of BsAs, she needs to know the London ones too. (Well ok technically she doesn’t have too, but things will go a lot smoother if she does)

And so people are given the same choice as you. If they want to dance tango as it’s danced in BsAs then they have to go to BsAs. If they’re happy to dance it the way it’s danced in London, then they can come to London. If they want to do both they can travel to both.

Chris said...

Terpsichoral said: "Here in London, the custom is to always dance two tandas in succession."

I'm mystified to read that. I've been dancing/DJing in London for over a decade, and never noticed such a custom. Nor heard any previous report of it.

And I can't imagine how it would work effectively. You'd not know even whether you'd be dancing all tango, or some vals and milonga too. The guy would be unable to pick a girl that the music suits.