Tango Bitch Strikes Again

Tango Bitch Mode  (image courtesy of Morguefile.com.)

Warning: This post is ranty This may be due to lack of cookies and coffee or it might not. 

I want to question a few things that tango dancers have been posting on blogs, Twitter and Facebook comments, surveys etc.. There seem to be a few declarations of would-be tango community solidarity, that don't seem (to me) to be all that much about community and solidarity.

"We need to attract more dancers," when they really mean, "we need to attract more dancers that I want to dance with and who will dance with me."

What makes me think this? If a dancer posts how disappointed, even cheated, they feel when there are too many of their role at a milonga and they don't get to dance, but then rejoice when the gender/role imbalance works in their favor -- I question how badly they really mean "attract more dancers."  Attracting more dancers to the scene because it's healthy for the community is one thing. Wanting more dancers so you get to dance more is a different thing. 

There is a generalization/stereotype that followers are looking for skill and leaders (usually men, in this instance) are looking for young women, regardless of skill level. I have not experienced that to be true generally - but it is something vocalized quite a lot. I'm sure it varies by community as well. Learning both roles addresses that to a degree - but not if men are really only looking to dance with attractive, young women. (That and women are generally far more comfortable dancing with other women, than men are dancing with other men.)

This or that community is clique-ish" when what they really mean is, "there are dancers I want to dance with who won't dance with me." 

I agree wholeheartedly with Terpsichoral Tangoaddict on this - friends who enjoy dancing together are not a clique. They enjoy dancing with each other, they're friends, this is a social activity - what's the problem?  A clique implies conscious exclusion of others - in general, that's not what's going on. For example, if you go to a party where you don't know everyone, don't you tend to gravitate to the people you do know? It's human, not an affront.

That doesn't mean that there aren't common divides in milongas - there often are.

The skill level divide:  When I was a beginner I didn't get to dance with very many dancers - particularly many leaders of high experience level. I am deeply grateful for the experienced leaders who did dance with me and traveled with me on my tango journey -- but I don't fault the leaders who didn't want to take a chance on me early on. I was painful to dance with, as many beginners of both roles can be. (I was even worse when I was a little more experienced because I thought "I knew stuff."

I also don't "punish" (by not dancing with) the leaders who didn't dance with me early on for not "being supportive." I know many dancers who do. Who is really hurt by that attitude? It's not another dancer's job to dance with people they don't want to dance with. It's wonderful when they do, and good for the community overall of course, but it's not anyone's obligation to put their comfort at risk. 

How can this be addressed? In other communities, experienced dancers (more than 5 years usually) are given free milonga or practica entrance for coming and dancing with newer/beginner dancers - or participating in beginner classes. At festivals and workshops, taxi dancers are hired outright (not only for their experience but also for gender balance.)

The age divide: I have been in milongas that were very much age divided. The twenty-somethings danced with each other and wouldn't even make eye contact with the older dancers who were trying to engage them. So the older dancers (of which I was one of course) gave up and danced with one another.  Is it disappointing when that happens? Sure. But I got to thinking about it from their perspective. Don't most twenty-somethings usually want to hang out with other twenty-somethings? (I didn't, but I was weird.) If you were new to dance, and twenty-something, how comfortable would you feel dancing with people your parents' age? It's not all that difficult to understand at that point.

What those shy newer twenty-something dancers don't realize is that dancing with older dancers - with a wide variety of embraces, experience, musicality, etc., makes one a better dancer. But it's not something you can force.

The solution? Be patient and understanding. Make the effort to be welcoming and friendly, even with the dancers who don't prefer to dance with you. When given the opportunity (for all ages and experience,) dance outside your social comfort zone.

The Teacher/School Divide: I have seen cliques form around certain teachers and their students refusing to dance with the students of other teachers. While that's sad, and certainly limiting for one's dance experience, it does offend me on some moral ground. It is what it is. I believe teachers should discourage that kind of attitude rather than encourage it -- but you can't force people to look at the bigger picture.

Other random comments that make me crazy (and bitchy):

(From leaders) I don't like the cabeceo - followers never look up.

That may be true - dancers can get very engaged in conversation. But honestly, if I'm deeply engaged in conversation, that is the reason I'm not looking up. The conversation at that point is more important to me than dancing. It's not for you to decide when someone else should be dancing.

Or, I'm sorry to say, they may be looking away for a reason. I always feel bad when a leader says "I can never catch her eye." Very likely, she sees you. I'm sorry. For whatever reason (and it may have nothing to do with you personally), she isn't looking for a dance with you right now. Maybe she's tired and she just looking for 2 or 3 of her friends to dance with before she heads home. Maybe she only dances milonga with a certain dancer, or vals or whatever. You can't know. Don't make assumptions -- just move on and try again in a few of months. Focus on the people who do want to dance with you.

What is he/she doing sitting when there are so many (dancers of the opposite role) sitting down?!

Shut it. You don't get to decide when people dance or with whom. FFS, maybe people are just tired.

She/he won't look at me - they must not know how to use the mirada/cabeceo.

Sorry, but they probably (though not always) do and are using it just fine.

He/she only likes dancing with the younger girls/older guys (or vice versa).

So? I like to dance with guys in vests, or who have beards, or who sing along with the lyrics - and I will probably dance with anyone (male or female) wearing a Doctor Who shirt if they invite me. (Fair disclosure: the Doctor Who thing only works if you actually like Doctor Who.) I danced with a guy because he smelled like lemon cake. We've all got stuff we like. So sue me.

He/she only likes dancing with the hot shot dancers.

Because wouldn't it be terrible if you only got to dance with hot shot dancers? Again, so?

I paid (the entrance fee) to dance, not sit all night.

No, you paid for the venue. If you'd paid to dance, you would have paid for a taxi dancer. That would be the only person financially obligated to ensure that you dance. It's great when organizers are able to facilitate this but they can't always do it.

Visiting teachers should make it a point to dance with as many people as possible at the milonga.

I thought that until I was a teacher. 

My partner and I gave a class at a high school one day and I was completely knackered by the time the milonga rolled around. When I used to give training sessions for dancers, I was useless the same night at the milongas.  I still went to the milonga because I wanted to see my friends and visit, but frequently got 'shamed' for not dancing more. Jesus people, the teachers are human beings. They're allowed to be tired and risk averse when choosing who they do dance with in that state. They likely have workshops and privates that they'll be teaching the next day. Let them have a night off. If they're not being paid to be at the milonga, they are off-duty. 

That said, yes, teachers are more likely to get more participation and more private lesson bookings if they dance - it's just not always possible. There was a teacher visiting that I had taken a couple of privates with (and all his classes) and when he didn't dance all night (except for the performance) I was disappointed of course. He came to me at the end of the night, gave me a huge hug and said he hadn't danced because the dj played almost all vocal tangos all night. This teacher far preferred the instrumentals, so he sat.  He was disappointed too. He didn't owe me, or anyone, any explanation but it was nice to hear his insight for perspective.

Final thoughts . . .

So essentially any sentence that begins with these, or similar words, irk me:

"Why does he always . . ."
"Why does she always . . "
"He never . . "
"She never . . ."

Frankly, what other people want from their dances, who they dance with, how they dance with their partners, how they dress -- it's none of our business. (Unless they kick you - then it's totally your business.) Stop guessing at other peoples' motives, intentions, preferences and attitudes, and "brighten the corner where you are," as my grandmother says. Focus on your own dance and the experience you can give to your partners. It makes for a happier night for everyone.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Mari for posting this. I agree with most of your points. We need to improve as a community and learn to greet new people.

tangogeoff said...

Don't be shy, Mari, just tell us how you feel. :-)
Well said.

Terpsichoral Tangoaddict said...

I completely agree with this, of course! Just two comments I'd add: there are quite a lot of younger dancers who dance with older dancers. I actually think there's a lot more mixing of the age groups in tango than in most other social activities. But, as you said, you can't force it.

And one of the side effects of friends-dancing-with-friends (what some people call "cliques") is precisely that it can mix the skill levels very effectively. If you have made friends with someone and you are personally fond of them, you're a lot more likely to dance with them, even if they are less experienced/less advanced. Again, zero-pressure, zero-expectation socialising and friendliness is the way to go if you want this to start happening. And remember that you can't force friendship and that people are quite sensitive to fake friendships -- e.g. people who only want to be your friend in order to pressurise you into dancing with them. That is not cool. Be someone's friend if you genuinely like them, whether or not you enjoy dancing with them or want to dance with them. And if you dislike them and show it or, worse, accuse them of being snobbish or cliquey -- don't be surprised if they are reluctant to dance with you.

And I second the point about teacher exhaustion. Though I've mellowed on this and I do regard dancing with regular private students as part of my job, for the most part -- and I enjoy that. But dancing with anyone on demand as a teacher, that's something I try to avoid.

franco pinto said...

Really cool post and hey, I dance a little like Harry Potter too lmao.
Do you have any idea for a good dance related christmas present for my wife I'm thinking some shoes and makeup. Looked up some shoes here http://salsashoesonline.com/ and some make up on dance shopper but i don't really know what to buy, any help would be appreciated, thanks.

mytangodiaries said...

Franco Pinto - I'm sorry to take so long answering this - I'm so far behind this season. Getting shoes and makeup for anyone is tricky. Shoes are tough because style and fit are so subjective, and well, makeup is rather the same problem - matching style and complexion etc. is tough when you're getting it for yourself, let alone someone else. It might not be very personal but a gift certificate might be a better way to go for those particular items.

I'm not familiar with the shoes on the website you mentioned, so I've no idea as to their quality or fit. It might be best to ask around with local dancers and see what they have had good luck with. Again, the problem with fit will be an issue. Comme Il Faut for example makes exquisite tango shoes and I recommend them often - but they don't fit my feet very well. *shrug*

Good luck and thank you for your comment!

Endre said...

This article is soo cool! I share it immediately!