Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Common Sense

An excerpt from a pretty good post on Tango-L today by Melina Sedo (partner of Detlef Engel, their website is here):
I find it so very important to make everybody understand, that you
need to respect the codes of polite behaviour, when you're in a
Milonga. It's not even about Tango-Codigos, it's just basic
instinct. ;-)

-You do not invite someone to dance, who avoids eye-contact to you.
-You do not sneek up from behind and surprise him or her.
-You do not interrupt a serious conversation.
-You do not assume, that every person will love to dance with you,
even when she has never had the chance to see you on the dance floor.
-And, if you happened to "break" this rules: You do not insult
someone, if this person declines politely to dance with you: nobody
is OBLIGED to spend time hugging you.

Unfortunately all of this happened a lot to me during our recent tour
to the US, even in the "very traditional" Milongas:

I am used to being invited by the Cabezeo/Mirada and I rarely accept
a direct invitation out of several reasons: Very often I am just
tired after a day of classes or I have not seen the person dance yet,
so I avoid eye contact. Or I am doing something else, like resting
between two tandas and drinking a glass of wine or talking to
someone. Or of course, I just don't want to dance with this person.
So, if I get invited in such a case, I decline very politely and
always with a smile. I do not want to hurt anybody.

But: Apart from being forced to decline direct invitations of
stangers so extremely often in the US, I got some real rude
reactions, like an omnious "You made a big mistake", uttered in a
threatening voice.

Sometimes, things like that happened MULTIPLE times at the same
Milonga, once even with the SAME person.

And one man (an Argentine!) did something real strange: I was just
avoiding eye-contact with everybody as I was very tired and this man
came to my table and asked me. As I had declined already declined
three (!) direct invitations during this one Tanda, I told him very
nicely: "Excuse me sir, I'm quite a traditionalist, so I don't accept
invitations at the table. I'm so sorry." He smiled and stepped some
meters away and looked at me in a Cabeceo-like-way. I was so stunnd,
that I accepted his invitation, but later on I was even more surprised.
He told me, that he was an Argentine and uses the Cabeceo on a
regular basis. But: I had not reacted like the argentine women do:
they look, if they want to dance with you! So, I asked him, WHAT DOES

Unbelievable, but true.
Sometimes, truth is stanger than fiction... ;-)
Dear leaders: I am not being shy when I turn my head and look away when you are trying to get my attention. I simply just don't want to dance with you.

If I really, really wanted to dance with you I guarantee I will make you know it. Not only will I fix my unblinking basilisk glare on you in order to elicit the cabaceo, I may even do as some other ladies do to get dances - i.e. offer to take as many private classes with you as possible, plead and whine and grovel and beg for a dance while you are getting a beer at the bar, or perhaps even ambush you right as you are leaving the washroom.

So, until the day you find me waiting to pounce on you on the other side of the washroom door, please just ask my friends (who are not only much nicer than me - they are also not completely tired out by the dance stylings of Man Yung) to dance, ok?



Anonymous said...

Irene, do you think common sense and Tango are mutually exclusive?


Valentin said...

It's fine what you write about Melina's opinion. I know her (and Detlef) well as they give often workshops in my region (it's in France).
However, there is now a long dicussion in Tango-L about the codes and (almost) all agree with the opinion that we have to accept the BsAs Traditions when dancing the Tango Argentino.
But there is also another post on the same day (by Brick Robbins) :

The LOCAL codes of polite behaviour.

And "basic instict" in social settings isn't really instinct, it is learned behaviour, so what is acceptable in Germany may not be
acceptable in America, probably won't be acceptable in the Middle
East, and might not be acceptable in BsAs.

Many try to abide by the codigos from BsAs in local US milongas
(especially the better and more traveled Tangeuros) and that may work well in some places, but not so well in others.

Argentine Tango in the USA does not exist in a vacuum.

It exists within the context of American culture, and more specifically American Dance Culture. American Dance Culture teaches that if someone attending a dance, they want to dance, so it is OK to ask them. It teaches that it is acceptable for women to ask men. And it teaches that it is rude to refuse a dance, after all "it is only 3 minutes."

Americans may be unpopular around the world, though less so this week
than last, but there is nothing wrong with Americans (or anyone else)acting like Americans while in America.(End of the quotation)

Without writing a big comment, my opinion is that a Tango Argentino transformed under the conditions of the American Ballroom Dance is no more a Tango Argentino, but smething we can call "American Tango". The same is when you apply the European Ballroom Dance conditions.
The Tango (for me there is only ONE tango) is more then a dance - it's a life philisophy. And the cabeceo is an essential element of it, unfortunatelly not adopted also in Europe.
Even "it is only 3 minutes" - the life is short to do something you don't want to.
In her mail Meline promised to integrate now the topic of Milonga-codes in her future classes. We will see if this would help to overcome the "local codes" ...

I found your blog after the advice of Janis Kenyon (you know her well) some weeks ago and I appreciate a lot all your post about the behavior you observed in the milongas outside BsAs (like the post from April 11, from April 28 - "Laughter.But mostly tears" and from May 19, 2008). We have the same points of view.
Certainly there is more similar post, but as I don't have much time to spend in Internet I still have not finished to read all in your blog.
My regards to Man Young.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Valentin,

Thank you very much for your comment and the excerpt from Brick Robbins' post. I totally agree that Buenos Aires traditions of behavior should be an integral part of our education in the Argentine Tango.

As you said "However..." - I hope I haven't misled you to think that I will be really waiting to pounce on unsuspecting leaders on the other side of the washroom door! Not even the "God of all Tango Dancers" with a big suitcase of money would entice me to indulge in that, or any of the other methods employed by some of the tangueras I have observed to "get" dances.

Best regards to you and Caroline,

Irene and Man Yung

toronto argentine tango associates inc said...

I wonder how leaders in North America really feel about followers asking for dances. I could suppose some leaders may find these requests pleasant, especially if asked by a follower who may be very desireable in the eyes of the particular leader who has been selected. Even though some leaders may not be acceptable to some followers, that also applies to some followers. I've heard of some followers almost "begging" certain leaders to dance, or interrupting conversations, or waiting by the washroom, or catching the "victim" as he walks around the floor to ask another follower to dance. Both followers & leaders should be able to politely refuse a request & if the person becomes very insistent, then be very explicit in their refusal, without any repercussions.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if there were a logical reason for human behavior, especially in the arena of tango.

I have very often gone from being the favorite to the invisible by leads who have progressed from good to better, even though I am considered an "excellent" dancer. As their popularity increases, leads start choosing partners based on qualities other than, well, quality. Often in spite of it.

In addition, there are "advanced" dancers who do not ask me to dance for whatever mysterious reasons. It is irrelevant that they can see my abilities and hear very positive things about me and my dancing.

Anonymous said...

Buenos Aires is where all the rules were established for tango decades ago. Dancers in other cultures are not always willing to accept the way things are done in BsAs. The codigos are an integral part of tango culture. To many, the end justifies the means, i.e., do whatever it takes to get a woman on the dance floor. Forget the cabeceo because it doesn't get immediate or the desired result. This shows a lack of respect for the culture.

The Argentine who later invited Melina by the cabeceo miss the point entirely. Just because a man nods to a woman, it doesn't mean she is obliged to accept. That's the beauty of the cabeceo which is a private communication across the room.

Valentin said...

No, you didn't misled me to anything. I appreciate a lot the opinions in your blog (the end of my previous comment). And a discussion concerning a common passion is always a pleasue. But I would prefer the private e-mails. I have my personal opinion how wide a blog should be.

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