Tango Topics | Exploring Your Dance

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

Asking A Man To Dance

For those of you who are just arriving at the party…or even if you’ve been dancing a while…or if you’ve come to the party from another dance, the question of “How do you ask a Man to dance in Tango ?”. Or as you learn why can’t you ? (we’ll deal with that one later in the article). In Ballroom, Swing, or Salsa, you just ask, and no one would ever think of saying “NO” to your polite request. Tango, on the other hand, is another ball of wax entirely! So how do you ask ? Well, that’s what this guide is all about: A safe, and a ‘Tango’ correct, way of going about the process that offends no one, and furthermore actually helps you to dance more frequently!

A few things need to said, before we get to the ‘how’ part…these are a few  requirements before you ‘ask’.

1.) There is nothing wrong with asking a man to dance in the United States and/or Europe. Everywhere else, it’s a little different. However, ladies you must understand that doing so anywhere may not get you the desired results that you’re looking for. The reason is because so many of the Leads adhere to one of several older codigos (codes of the dance). So for that reason, try not ask a man to dance ‘verbally (there is an exception to this suggestion). Otherwise you may end up sitting all night long. You will be, seemingly, punished for doing so. Why ? There are some men that see the idea of a woman asking a man to dance as absolute heresy. And there are a greater number of women that feel the same way by the by. There is an order to things and doing so is a violation of that ‘order’ in their minds. At the same time, there are some men that actually appreciate a women when she asks, however those men are few and far between. So if in doubt, just don’t go there unless we invoke the exception below.

2.) A woman’s role in the dance has traditionally been to be the ‘follower’, and while I detest the use of this word because it usually isn’t about following per se but rather about being ‘submissive’.  In today’s Tango world the idea of a submissive Follower is changing slowly, but it is changing. In any other dance, especially in the United States & most certainly BsAs, a woman is trained to be an active participant–this is not so in Tango. It wasn’t until very recently, and we’re talking up until about 20 – 30 years ago and even that’s a stretch, that the dance has started to relax some of its ideas, but this one, unfortunately or fortunately (depending on your point of view) is not going away any time soon. In short, you have been trained to be ‘submissive’ and may not even realize it.

3.) Understand that while you are asking someone to dance, or wanting to dance with someone, they are not obligated to accept your invitation.

Facts You Need To Understand: 

1.) The better the Lead, the less inclined he is to dance with you, if they don’t know you or haven’t seen you dance. And while you may believe that you’re up to the challenge, more than likely you are not and you need to accept this fact until you change certain things about your embrace, about your walk, about how you respond to certain types of kinesthetic movements (leads – the action, not the person).

2.) It’s not fun. In the case that you’re operating under the (de)illusion that Tango, as a dancing form, is just ‘fun’. Yes it is, but only if certain things are present. The less you know, the more ignornant you are of the form, the more fun it seemingly is. However, as you discover just how much you don’t know, this is where ego comes into the equation, the more you realize that tango requires some work.

3.) Skilled Dancing. Tango requires that the dancing pair be very skilled in a variety of areas, not the least of which is body kinesthetics, the vocabulary of the dance, the vocabulary of a particular style or ‘flavor’ of the dance, and of course the music!  In specific, a deftness of touch that far exceeds what you believe possible, a level of kinesthetic movement that is far more subtle than you will ever experience in any other dance, and a level of technique and attention to detail that is absolutely insane on the surface.

4.) Painful. You may not realize this right now, depending on where you are in your tango journey, but you may in fact just be ‘painful‘ to dance with. Painful in the sense that you are generating tension, pressure, force, compression, resistance, with your embrace. Coupled with that usually comes instability and using your lead for a whole host of things, most notably stabilizing you everywhere in turns, crosses, and ochos! Even micro-stabilizations.

5.) The other facts. It doesn’t matter how pretty you are, and/or what you are wearing, and those nice ‘Tango’ shoes that you just bought are virtually worthless!

This stuff is not here to not to put you in your place, or to make you feel bad about yourself, or to elevate the Lead/ers (see the ‘notation’ at the end) in the room to ‘god’ like status, their egos are big enough as it is. No. These points refer to the ‘better’ Leads (the person, not the action) in the room, not the run of the mill ‘push’ and ‘pull’ Lead/ers that populate every milonga within a 1000 mile radius. These points are reminders about the clean, clear, haptically (level 1 – 3) sensitive Lead that does employ feather-light touch, that does not use compression or restriction to achieve their goals, that does not use pressure, resistance, or force as a means to communicate any message to their follower in any way, shape, or form.  Most Followers, unless they’ve led, will not understand what it takes to lead at this level, conversely, most Lead/ers do not understand what it means to lead this way either. It’s called Intention Based Dancing and it is a level above what you’re used to dancing with and once you have a small taste of it, you’ll want more of it. At the same time, a Follower at this level must also not wobble, generate instability in their walk or use their lead for stability in any way, shape, or form. Why is this relevant because this type of Lead demands that you are deft and sensitive to dance with, that’s why.

The Exception. There is an exception to asking a man to dance, and it should be at the top of the list below but is left out because the list below assumes that you don’t know someone personally. That you haven’t already danced with that person several times previously! So what’s the exception ? Just that, if you know someone personally, or that you’ve been introduced to them by a trusted party there’s no reason in the world not to suggest that you dance together. Note the language there, ‘suggest’. Not ask, but suggest. How should you suggest ? “Hey I’ve got my new _________ (shoe brand) on, want to help me try them out ?”, “Gosh that was a less than desirable tanda with _______, I need a gentle Lead like you _______ (name of Lead you’re speaking to), would you care to do the honors please ?”, or “MMMmmmm Milonga! Gosh I would love to dance to this”…etc. Note that there is no direct askance here in these ? Note that he has the choice here to decline. The notation here is that if you know someone than a simple verbal request of an indirect nature will achieve the desired results. Yelling “HEY BOB, LET’S DANCE!”so that the whole world can hear it, not so much with that. Discretion and decorum are important here!

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Milonga Madness with Detlef Engel & Melina Sedo


1.) Mirada. This is a socially acceptable way for a woman to ask a man to dance and no one need know that you’re doing it! If you don’t know what it is, in short, a Mirada is making direct and clear line of sight eye contact with an intended dancing partner while they are not dancing with someone, and once contact is established, you indicate with a nod of your head or your eyebrows that you would like to dance with that person (note: walking up to someone and nodding your head, indicating you’d like a dance, is considered poor taste, this is better known as the “Stalker Cabeceo).

2.) Conversate. Walk around at a milonga. Put your shoes on and walk around and engage people in conversation, not just the men…but the women too. Remember this is a ‘Social’ dance and while you are there to dance, you’re also there to be social. That means to engage in conversation, chat, drink with, and be friendly with people. However if you spot a Lead that you’d like a dance with, do not ask directly, but rather engage him in conversation.

Here’s the Trick: Near the end of the conversation, employ the following line any way you’d like to word it: “At some point, and if you’re interested, I would like to dance the last song of a tanda with you if you are free”.

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Why this method ????

  • 1.) What you’re doing is indicating that you’re open to a dance with him later!
  • 2.) You’re also putting the onerous task of deciding when that dance happens clearly in his lap. Notice you used the word “Later”, not “Tonight”. Later could mean a few weeks from now. The important part is that he’s clearly deciding IF and WHEN that dance happens, not YOU.
  • And 3.) Lastly note that its the last song of a tanda…not a full tanda! Why the last song ? Because if he doesn’t like dancing with you, he’s not obligated to go any further. But more than likely he will! Also note the last word, “free”. What you are doing is making it very clear that you are a last resort, when he thinks of it.

Now here’s the hard part. Finish the conversation and then walk away! Do not look back, do not go bother him again, do not engage in further discussion of the topic. Move on to other people. Talk it up, girl!

3.) Circulate. That means to place yourself where every Lead can see you, typically on the corners of the room and change placements once every 30 minutes. Do not hide, do not sit slumped or hunched over–sit upright in the damned chair, legs crossed (show’m if you’ve got’m), head up, and smiling! No one wants to dance with a frown. When you do get up and move, be obvious about it. That means that as you are changing your placement and going to a new spot, smile, make eye contact with everyone as you do…don’t just look at the ground. This is work girl and it takes active work to do it well.

I feel I must; you must do all of these things to have the desired affect you want…which is to dance consecutively all night long, preferably with the guys you want to dance with and not with the men that you don’t want to do dance with. However, doing this once and then stopping is not going to have the desired effect. It is cumulative! It also goes without saying that it helps to dress the part, meaning put on that slinky dress you’ve been dying to wear–you know the one that is skin tight in all the right areas…men do like curves…sadly, it’s a sad truism. But it does work to a limited degree, but not with the better dancers in the room, they really don’t care what you’re wearing, they only care about one thing: dancing well!

thoughts about tango ?

Going to group classes once a week is all fine and good, however, that’s not going to improve your abilities. What will improve them ? Private lessons on your walk and your embrace! Lots and lots and lots of practice, practice, practice, practice, practice…and more practice! I am not kidding. Every day. You must improve beyond just getting around the floor and not looking like an idiot! If you’re there to socially chat up your friends that’s one thing, and you should not expect to get the dances you’re wanting and this guide is nearly useless to you. However, if you are actively improving your dance, by practicing, taking lessons religiously, and traveling to other cities to dance with other people on a regular basis, this is one of the only ways that your skills will leapfrog over everyone else in the room! If you don’t practice, then you shouldn’t complain that you’re not getting the dances you want. If you don’t put in the time to improve, then you shouldn’t complain that so-and-so isn’t dancing with you. There’s a reason so-and-so isn’t dancing with you, its mostly and probably because you feel like a ton of bricks to dance with, you’re hanging, and/or are highly unstable.

Lastly, there is a cumulative effect here, you must do all 3 of these things with 10 or 15 guys in a night, and you’ll almost never sit at a milonga again! It takes time and concerted effort to do what I am suggesting, however, I’ve done this myself when I was out following socially only, and I know many men and women use it, even on me, and it works. It takes time and dedication to get this to work, but it does work.

Good luck!

Notation: See the definition of the usage of the word “Lead” and all it’s variations before reading any futher.

The distinction of the descriptive nomenclature of leading language is rather necessary when trying to discuss this stuff in a verbal or textual way without the visual in front of you. Further still that without the distinction the terms themselves can be rather confusing if just using ‘leader’. Further I, as a teacher, make the distinction between an Intention Based Dancer (in the role of…) and a Resistance Based Dancer (in the role of) and one way that I can make that distinction is through the nomenclature. You may disagree with it but it does create, in my mind, a level of granular clarity to further the distinction of resistance dancing vs. intention dancing.

This is a Free View of Today’s Tango Topic: It’s Free, you don’t need to register, but to see the rest of what Tango Topics offers you do need to register and then consider becoming a subscriber. Registration is Free, Subscribing will cost you a few pennies. 🙂 This free view is an example of the kinds of information and the detailed information that you will find if you subscribe. This view is one of hundreds of videos and articles on the nature of Argentine Tango and really Social Dancing as a whole. 

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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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