Tango Topics | Exploring Your Dance

(note: this is my opinion of how things should work, take it with a grain of salt.)


She walks into the room, kisses, and hugs her friends on her way to putting down her shoe bag, and then finding her seat to put on her shoes. It seems like she’s kissing and hugging everyone in the room for cryin’ out loud. Finally, she finds half a chair at the crowded milonga, and slips off her street shoes into what appears to be brand new Madame Pivots, all sparkly and shiny new. Just as she finishes her right shoe hook, she looks up and is immediately whisked away out of her chair by a favorite Lead. One tanda, two tandas, three tandas, she comes off the floor to get some water, and no sooner does her foot hit the carpet, when another Lead takes her by the hand, and off they go. One tanda, two tandas, and off the floor to head for water, and a chair! She’s looking a little disheveled after that last Lead. He was a bit rough on her, but she smiled through it, he had some nice qualities. She sits for the first time in 45 minutes, drinking her water, and finally catching up with a friend. Legs crossed and eyeing the room, and avoiding it at the same time.

Gentlemen, how do you ask this Follower for a dance ?

Well to be honest with you there are many ways of asking a woman to dance as there are stars in the sky, and they all basically involve the same thing: Being a Gentleman, and not an asswipe! However before we can ask this follower to dance, we need to at least acknowledge a few things: You and your technique, and/or the lack therein. 

Before you go out social dancing: You want to address your issues. More than likely you have issues, we all do, we are all not perfect dancers. However, the issues that are being referenced here are the ones that you can’t see. They’re structural in nature, and quite honestly you don’t necessary have the training to suss them out. Not kidding. No joke. It is for this reason that we suggest the following: Get thee into some private lessons, and focus on your posture first and foremost, your walk with regards to that posture, and last but not least > your posture, with your walk, with the embrace. Dude look, its not about the steps and the patterns. I know you think you can ‘dance’, I know you believe that you’ve taken a few classes with (fill in the blank), and they’ve taught you some really cool and fancy moves that god him/herself would deem as ‘Yup! That’s pretty cool!”. The fact is, that your posture is more than likely the source of 40% of your issues with followers, and the other 50% is your embrace!!! which is being generated by a poorly executed and unstable walk which you are thereby blaming on the Follower for following your lead which is incomplete at best! Put simply, your embrace is probably like a vice grip and you just don’t realize it. Perhaps you use your left arm as a metronome (bouncing up and down in time to the music). Or on top of that, you’ve been told that you must have ‘resistance’ from her, she has to push into your hand, otherwise you can’t feel her or what she’s doing. There are some teachers that teach ‘Resistance’ Based Dancing, and there some are some that don’t. Most men, when they have the tables turned on them and the ‘resistance’ based dancing mirrored back to them…they never want to do that again, ever! It’s frakkin’ work!!! What we’re wanting is ‘Intention’ Based Dancing.

There are many things to work on before you ask this Follower to dance, but these things are very important to creating a lovely experience for the Follower, not you, the Follower. Believe it or not, contrary to what you might believe or have been told, the dance is all about the Follower. Without them there is no dancing! Got it ? So it stands to reason that we want to create a quality experience without ego, without arrogance, and without being an ass, but rather a humble but clear lead. Doing all of these things, private lessons (not group classes), focusing on your embrace, your walk, and of course the music (more on that later), and then focusing on the Follower’s enjoyment will create the desired results that you’re looking for on multiple social levels and dancing levels. This isn’t about fancy moves, or steps/patterns/figures. It’s about generating an experince that makes the Follower say one singular word at the end of the tanda: “Another ?“.

So with all that said and done, can you ask this Follower for a dance yet ? Ummmm not quite….

Before you can go down the road there’s a list of 9 don’ts and 5 do’s that you want to do, sort of like a check-list, before you can ask this Follower to dance: 

The Nine Don’ts!

1.) Do not walk up to her and extend your hand and expect to get a dance! Not…not!
2.) Do not stalk her around the room. This video shows the follower version of the idea.
3.) Do not cross a dance floor to get to her.
4.) Do not walk up to her, stop 5 feet from her, and then Cabeceo her!
5.) Do not verbally ask her for a dance (there are exceptions to this).
6.) Do not stand outside the ladies room and get her as she’s coming out. (can you say “awwkward!” ?)
7.) Do not sit 2 chairs away from her ‘eyeing’ her and expect her to dance with you. (“creeepy!” ewww!)
8.) Do not come up behind her and tap her on the shoulder.
9.) Do not sit down next to her and then talk her to death waiting until she does accept.

The Five Do’s!

1.) Make certain that you are reasonably dry, and not dripping sweat. Nobody really likes to bathe in sweat, so for this reason always, always have a change of shirt if you’re the profusely sweaty kind of man. Think of it this way, do you want to go home smelling of perfume ? Probably not. Well then she has absolutely ZERO desire to go home smelling like a gym locker! So keep the sweat to an absolute minimum.

2.) Have a pleasant ‘odor’ to you. This doesn’t mean aftershave but some deodorant is a good choice. Preferably one that doesn’t REEK!

3.) Make certain you are well manicured. This means that your nails are clipped, hands washed, or cleaned with soap BEFORE you dance with her!

4.) Have pleasant breath. Two words for you: Breath Mints! Need I say more ?

5.) Get a towel or something to use as a handkerchief! Place it in your suit jacket pocket, you are wearing one…right ? And at the end of each song, wipe the sweat from your hands, and from your neck, nose, and forehead. Keep your sweat to yourself…let’s not share it, shall we ?

Ok, so now that we’ve read you the riot act about what to do, and how not to engage her…can you ask her for a dance yet ? 

One more thing…and it’s kinda imporant: It is strongly suggested you actually know the music that you are asking her to dance to before you ask her to dance. Meaning that just because there is music playing, and you want to dance with her, it is actually rather helpful for you to have some understanding of what you’re listening to, and then dancing to. A fair amount of the time, most lead/ers (and men in particular) quite literally wander around the floor, no where close to the walking beat of the music, not engaging the natural musical pauses that exist in the music, nor picking an instrument to dance to, or even dancing to the singer along, not even an accent note. They wander from vocabulary choice to vocabulary choice without an eye towards what it looks like, what it feels like, and most importantly how it relates the music that they’re ‘dancing’ to. So it is for this reason that you a.) learn what you’re listening for. b.) learn what you’re listening to. c.) then practice that (pauses & then phrases) religiously with an eye towards creating structure from your Musical InterpretationStructure ? What’s that ? Each piece of music has a very particular lattice work of how it is played and then laid out to you the listener. There are 4, sometimes 5, movements in 2 to 3 minute song, depending on whether or not there’s a singer involved. Those movements, if you will, are the structure or latticework of the song itself. You want to structure your dance around that latticework so that it enhances what you’re listening to and thereby shows anyone that’s watching you dance with your partner that it matches what’s going on, musically! Unfortunately that’s not what happens a good 90% of the time, and we end up with wandering all over the floor! 

thoughts about tango ?

Now to the QUESTION: HOW ????

The right and proper way to ask her for a dance is to stand or sit approx. 30 to 40 ft from her, and make concerted, direct eye contact with her. It’s her choice at that point to accept or deny your invitation. Give her lots of space my friend. This is elegance in practice. There is a code of operation here and you want use it. Now mind you, sometimes its a little dark in these rooms, and the milonga organizer just doesn’t set up the room in such a way that you can actually send a cabeceo and actually have it seen. In BsAs its a little challenging in some rooms…but it does work.

Understand something else, that if she says “NO”, that does not mean that you get up from your chair, and walk over to her and perform one of the 9 don’ts. No, no, no! Bad form. You simply move onto the next follower that you would like to dance with. “NO” means “NO”. It unfortunately means NOT EVER, IN THIS LIFETIME. DON’T EVEN THINK IT! Now to be fair, that’s not entirely true, “NO” sometimes means NOT RIGHT NOW. How do you know the difference ? You don’t! Again, her call my friend, not yours. You’ve made your interest known at this point….move on. She’ll either pick up the ball later, or not. However, don’t sit there and be all mister pouty face, that’s not going to get you anywhere! This also means don’t ask again that night, again, at all. That also means that you don’t eyeball her all night long either! Once and let it go. Got it ? Trust me, she got the message.

There are a few Exceptions to the Rules:

1.) There are women out there, that a.) can’t see 10 feet in front of them, (furthermore neither can you my friend!) and/or b.) Do NOT understand what cabeceo is and how it works. I’ve heard stories of women that go to BsAs and don’t get that men are literally throwing spears at them in terms of cabeceo, and these women are completely oblivious to the practice. And yet when you ask them later, they’re like “Huh ???? What ? Cappa-what ?”. I’ve seen it happen, been party to it, not surprised by it, its just a lack of understanding of the codigos. Now in some cases these women are saving you face by being socially deliberate as to feign ignorance. How do you know the difference ? You don’t. You have to take people at their word until proven otherwise. Which is to say, if she declines your invitation, and then accepts someone else’s and then later on claims to be ignorant of the codigos…draw your own conclusions from there. To be fair there are some men who will not take ‘no’ as an answer, and will walk across the floor and extend their hands to her and get ‘the’ dance. Think nothing of it. Let’s just say that if you watch her face while she’s dancing with him, that should tell you everything you need to know about what she’s enduring at that juncture!

2.) If you know her fairly well, are on better than speaking terms with her, and have hung out with her, then you can verbally ask for a dance.

3.) If you’ve just been introduced to her, you can verbally ask her for a dance right then and there, but it is a little awkward.

4.) If you’ve been seated at her table, you can ask her for a dance, and truth be told I believe you’re expected to dance at least one tanda with her, it would be rude not to do so. There are even exceptions to this ‘suggestion’.

5.) If you have a friend that knows her fairly well, you can ask for an introduction but that’s about it, and then employ rule #3.

Having said all of that….breathe, smile, cabeceo.

See what happens!

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Milonga Madness with Detlef Engel & Melina Sedo

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So, please, go right ahead, go watch all the presentation videos on youtube all you want. Because that’s what they are ‘Presentation’ videos. The couple’s that you’re used to seeing are performing for the 15th row for a room full of people, they’re not social dancing. Whereas this website is all about ‘Social Dancing’. So please, go spend your time, trying to infer, and figure out how things may work in that situation. Bend your body this way or that, twist and force this position or that. Place your foot here or there and figure it out.  Which can be a lot of fun, but more than likely it won’t help you, because you’re missing something: The explanation from an experienced teacher! (ahem) ME!  The goal of youtube videos is to entice you to go study with those teachers in person. The goal of these videos is allow you to work at your own pace, in the comfort of your own space, so that you can play them over and over again to improve your understanding of the vocabulary or technique being described to therefore better your dancing experience. The goal of classes and workshops is to get you to come back over and over and over again, thereby spending more money with that teacher. This website and the videos under it are here to act as a resource for you to help you to improve your dance. Pay once and be done with it.

Eventually, one way or another you’re going to pay for this lesson, either here and now, or with them. TANSTAAFL! The difference between that lesson and this ? Is that you get to play this lesson over and over and over again. Further still, there are supporting materials (other videos) that help to explain the language and the underlying technique.

In an hour-long class, with the blind leading the blind through rotation of partners (uuuggggh!), you may glean a piece of the information you need and not get the whole thing, and you’ll miss important pieces that you’ll end up having to take a private lesson for to get the finer points. This way, you can watch over and over again, and get all the supplementary materials, and if you want you can still go take the class, only you’ll be better prepared to do so!

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