Ask Arlene…About Personal Hygiene Issues

The Tango Christmas Party Season kicks off this weekend and I thought it would be nice to remind everyone about the true meaning of holiday spirit.  People will be going to parties for work and for Tango – some may experience both in the same day – and before you venture out to have a good time, I would like you to think about how you would like to be remembered on the night.  Think about the impression that you will be making on others.   After all, it isn’t just your party – other people will be there too – so be thoughtful and considerate.

I’ve been approached personally and via e-mail and have been asked  to raise the importantce of good personal hygiene – a topic dear to my heart.  Some people have recently had unpleasant experiences and really didn’t know how to discuss it with the offending parties.   I have set up a check list of sorts to make things easier for everyone – and if this still doesn’t do the trick, you can print off a copy and hand it to the repeat offender and avoid dancing with them until they make a better impression.

Basic Personal Hygiene: Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and if you want to be a Tango God or Goddess, please have a shower or bath before you go out – and think about your hair too, it absorbs smells.  Use deodorant.  Brush your teeth and tongue and use mouthwash.  These are the basics.  If you have issues with foot smells, use a spray on your feet and in your shoes.  Use the scent sparingly.  It is very distracting dancing with a partner who has overdosed on the perfume, cologne, or Lynxx.  A little goes a long way.

If you are already out or coming straight from work, be prepared and bring a wash bag and freshen up in the facilities at the Milonga.  And I don’t mean just change your clothes, spray on more deodorant and brush your teeth.  Wash first – baby wipes are really useful.  People can tell when smells are just being covered up when they are up close.

You can buy mini items for travel – so there is no reason why you can’t be clean and fresh smelling at all times.  There are people who are prepared and carry a kit bag of some sorts with them.  I always carry a bag of makeup, deodorant, mints/gum, toothbrush, toothpaste and a few other essential items if needed.  It is a habit I have from working in an office – keeping spare items in my desk for emergencies or going out in the evening at short notice.  If  you honestly think you won’t need to freshen up, brush your teeth or use mints in a 3-4 hour dance session after eating the crisps, nuts, cake, drinking coffee (makes really bad breath), tea or wine or smoking – think again.   And if you have forgotten or need something ask someone.  You now know at least one person you can ask.

Dress: For those of you who think that you should be able to wear whatever you want, as it is the dancing that really matters – well think again.  How one is presented is really important and may be what gets you the dances in the first place.  Our vision is our first sense that we use in deciding with whom to dance   We use  our eyes to see who is in the room.  Who do we know?  How are people dancing?  Oh, that one looks nice, interesting, etc.

It is the party season.  That means make an effort in your attire.  I have noticed that the ladies generally make a considerable effort in this area compared to the men regardless of the time of year.  There is no excuse not to look your best – after all, you are part of someone else’s scenery.  It is not fair to the woman who has been waiting all week for what may be her one night out and who may have spent a considerable amount of time doing her hair, nails, make-up, paying for the baby-sitter, etc. for this event.  So if you do decide to go casual, don’t expect the glamour puss to be overjoyed with your request for a dance if you don’t look the part.  If you don’t have any smart clothes, invest in some.  There are nice clothes for every budget.   I have found some great bargains in charity shops – it is amazing what some people give away.  Don’t forget to make sure your clothes are clean and pressed.  There is no point in making all that effort being clean and groomed in order to wear something even a little stinky or stained.

The same goes for the women – if you don’t normally make an effort, try it.  There are men who like to dress up and no doubt would like to have a well presented lady in his arms to complement him on the dance floor.  Another thing – even though it is thought that Tango may have originated in the ‘brothels’ of Buenos Aires – there is no need to look like a ‘lady of the night’.  Keep your private bits private.  A bit of cleavage is nice to show off if you have it, but keep it contained.  Same goes for a nice pair of legs, we just don’t need to see where the top of your leg meets your backside and the rest.  The men might like it, but you will never make many lady friends – and since there are more of us than them…

Perspiration:  There is a perpetual problem with effective ventilation in most of the London venues – and combined with the body heat and breath of all of the people attending a Milonga, things tend to heat up.  We all have a tendency to perspire – and some people perspire more than others.  So rather than going into how to avoid it, I think it is better to work out the best way to deal with it when it happens.  It is really unpleasant dancing with someone who is soaking wet unless you are both dancing in the rain.  Keep it dry.

Men:  If you know that you have a tendency to perspire when you get hot, please wear a light T-shirt with a loose shirt over it.  Now I know that you might think that will make you perspire even more, but I can assure you that you will be doing the ladies a big favour.  Firstly, the perspiration will be soaked up by the T-shirt leaving the shirt relatively dry, and then you can just replace the T-shirt a couple of times before you may need to change your shirt.   I fail to understand the men that know they perspire a lot and still do not bring enough clean shirts, if any, to a Milonga to change in.  A towel is not enough.  Even if you need to bring in your whole wardrobe, you will be doing us ladies a favour, as we like to be dry and the smell of perspiration rubs off on our clothes.  Primark sell really cheap white T-shirts.  They are not a fashion statement – they are to be worn under your shirt where no-one will see it.

Ladies:  If you know you have the same problem as above, then maybe wearing a dress isn’t an option for you.  It might be better to wear a really nice skirt and bring along a few extra tops to change into.  Wearing backless dresses or tops are a no-no.  I have heard a few men describe the icky factor of touching a woman’s sweaty back.   It is a real turn-off.

So, if perspiration is a real issue for anyone, please bring extra clothes and a towel.  There is no reason why you can’t use the facilities in the Milongas to tidy up and cool down.

Bad Breath:  My sense of smell is extremely sensitive – even more so now I need to use my glasses more.  Considering that dancers of Tango usually dance very close together, this is one area that needs particular attention and delicate handling.  How do you tell someone that they have BB?  Well firstly, the men would be doing everyone a favor if they carried a packet of Smints, Tic-Tacs, gum, etc.  in their pockets – ladies don’t usually have pockets.  If their dancing partner had BB, they could have a mint and offer their partner one as well – and all offers of mints or gum should be accepted whether you think you need it or not.  If a lady asks for a mint, it could be a subtle hint that the man has BB – then they could both have one and no-one would be offended.  Win-win.  I know a few men who regularly carry a supply in case I run out and need to score some.  One of my friends even carries Cardamom seeds that he chews on – he always smells good.

Food and Drink to Avoid: What is obvious to me may not be for others – anything with garlic or onions.  You cannot get rid of the smell by brushing your teeth or using mouthwash.  It is a repeat offender and the smell keeps coming back.  So if you are tempted to have a curry, kebab or anything else with garlic or onions in it before you go out – think twice and don’t give into temptation.  That also goes for anything else that you know might make a repeat entrance.  For the weak-willed, I then recommend that you follow the suggestions in Basic Personal Hygiene and hope for the best.

Drink:  Unless you have personal issues with alcohol, there really isn’t much to avoid apart from coffee.  It may be hot and keep you awake, but it doesn’t do your breath any favours – stick to the tea – or better yet, herbal or water.  We all know that alcohol should be drunk in moderation regardless of the occasion and it is particularly pertinent for dancing.  You are not a good dancer when you are inebriated, even slightly, no matter what you may think.  Also beer and wine give you a sour breath smell, so maybe after having a couple of glasses, you may want to excuse yourself and give your teeth and tongue a good brushing as the breath mints and gum do only so much.

So, if you are still not getting any dances or forming social bonds with others after doing all of the above, Ask Arlene and we will try to sort it out.

Happy Dancing!

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sophie
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 16:49:40

    THANK YOU Arlene,

    for the definitive article on personal hygiene in a social situation.

    You mention milongas, but let me stretch that to classes, where a day’s sweat is not desirable, nor is a wino breath because someone’s downed a couple of glasses or pints a the pub to either wait for the class, build Dutch courage, or both.

    Most people are polite and if their partner smells bad or feels icky, will just excuse themselves after a dance or two (that generally won’t have gone down very well due to the discomfort), leaving the person unsure as to why things don’t work out and they have such a high turnover of partners.

    Don’t also underestimate the gossip factor, with so many ladies standing by for dances, word goes around of any issue that a friend should be made aware of: steps on feet, bashes you into others, skunks, is really lovely, does a fabulous lead on giros, etc.

    Cleanliness is tangodliness… definitively!

    Warm wishes,

  2. Arlene
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 18:25:30

    Pleasure to be of service. One can never be too clean unless you have OCD.

  3. AJ
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 21:15:34

    About DRESS,

    My approach to tango is that “how it feels” is far more important for me than “how it looks” – of course it can be made to look good without compromising the “feel” all the better.

    I have sometimes danced on party nights with women wearing dresses that look great but feel awful to touch – sequins or other fabric that feel artificial to touch (my right hand and forearm)

    When I am looking to ask a woman to dance, I believe the dress itself would quite low down in the list of factors.

    Do some women refuse dances with men who are not dressed smartly enough? Clearly Arlene does but what proportion think in that way?

    And are there really men for whom the dress worn by the woman is a significant factor in the decision of whether to ask a woman to dance? As opposed to factors such as how well she dances, how good looking is she, is she a pleasant person to interact with etc

  4. Arlene
    Dec 14, 2008 @ 09:57:53

    Dear AJ,
    I think you lost something in translation. I addressed what is a big issue for women . It is about cleanliness and about men not making enough of an effort in their personal appearance. Maybe its a cultural thing or a generation thing for me, but making an effort in the way one presents themselves is an issue that constantly rears its head. Especially in job interviews.

    And what may be clear to you may not be to others and is not a rule. I choose to dance, or not, for a variety of reasons.

  5. Jill
    Dec 14, 2008 @ 16:57:37

    Hi Arlene,
    I don’t know who you are but saw your link on Tango UK.
    I’m so glad you raised the issue of personal hygiene at milongas.
    Yes it’s definitely an issue for many people, and also in classes as Sophie mentioned.
    There are so many things to say I hardly know where to start.

    I was recently asked to dance by a man I’d never seen before (at Negracha).
    His dancing was OK but his body odour was so strong, stale and unpleasant that despite
    dancing with him at arms’ length, I had to stop after 2 dances. He looked surprised and a
    bit disappointed. Should I have told him why? I didn’t. I didn’t know him, and we hadn’t even chatted before dancing. Isn’t BO something your best friend is supposed to tell you about?
    I guessed (from his clothes) that he had come straight from work, or, perhaps worse – he had put on a stale smelly shirt.

    I discussed this incident and your post with tango friends last night and the night before.
    Yes says Nikki (who has no trouble being forthright) you should have told him his shirt smells a bit stale.

    Yes! I thought – that maybe would be a tactful way to put the message – YOUR SHIRT IS A BIT STALE, rather than YOU SMELL.
    Will I be so bold next time?

    It can be done. I remember many years ago a tango Maestro who lived in London telling me that a lady who took regular private lessons with him had terrible breath. It took him a while to broach the subject. He was wondering whether to suggest perhaps she might have a dental or even a stomach problem. He did eventually tell her. The lady carried on taking lessons. And the rest is history, as they say.

    I thought it was mainly a male problem – I dance with women too and have rarely noticed a woman with BO (though bad breath I think is more of a unisex hazard). But a male friend I was discussing this with at the Carablanca Xmas party said there were two or three women he used to dance with who regularly who smelt so unpleasant that he had decided not to ask them any more. Obviously he had hadn’t said anything to them, so they may be none the wiser. Hurtful though it may be to be told, surely not as hurtful as being shunned by someone you know or spending evenings sitting out, and not knowing why?

    A while back I gave a series of private lessons to a group of four – two men and two women. After the last one, one woman told me she didn’t want to book any more with that group, as one of the men had terrible breath. She asked me if I could tell him. That particular man gave up tango so I never had to face up to that task, but ever since then I have placed a basket containing mints, gum, mouth freshener, tissues, etc., in the bathroom whenever people come to my place to dance. They get used, although whether by those who most need them I have no idea.

    I think we’re too reticent about bodily matters in this culture. I used to live in New York where people are much more up-front about most things – in the (huge) dance school where I gave tango classes there were big posters up in all the toilets and changing rooms saying things like “Dancing after work? Don’t forget your toothbrush and a change of shirt!” Americans are much more conscious (generally) about cleanliness and breath, and most chew gum before and even during dance classes. I found the constant chewing a bit off-putting at first – especially in tango when you dance with your cheek against one that chomps and grinds all through the dance – but after a while I decided it was much less anti-social than bad breath and did it myself (trying to remember to keep my mouth closed!).

    Regarding dress, I agree largely with your comments – I do wish that more men would take the trouble to present themselves well for dancing that most women do. Especially on a Saturday night. However, if a man can dance well, I would want want to dance with him no matter what he was wearing. The one exception is that if I am in my best silk dress and he is in a singlet and dripping with sweat I won’t dance with him (OK if it was Pablo Veron I might consider the dry-cleaning bill worth it, but for any ordinary tango mortal or even demi-god – no way!).

    I don’t think AJ’s comments missed the point- after all you did include a whole section on “dress” in your post, and he chose to respond to that section. Actually I think that section dilutes your message about hygiene- it’s a somewhat different subject and a different order of issue and might be better as the subject of another thread. If a man, squeaky clean and pleasant-smelling, dressed in freshly laundered jeans and T-shirt, asks you to dance, surely any feeling you might have about whether he should have worn a jacket is nothing compared to dancing with the man with BO? He might be 100% compliant with all your advice about hygiene, and that is surely so much more important? After all, the man in the freshly-laundered jeans with changes of T-shirt in his bag has taken the trouble, in his own style, and that’s good enough for me. Yes I do prefer the style and panache of the Argentine milonguero who puts his jacket on to take me to the dance floor, and takes it off when he sits down, but I don’t expect to be able to convert all men to that particular style. If only all men could dance well and were clean and wholesome I’d be in heaven.

    By the way, I’ve arranged the information I have about tango parties over the Xmas and New Year period in a calendar on my webpage. I hope you find this useful:

    Best regards,

    Tango en el Cielo

  6. Arlene
    Dec 14, 2008 @ 18:29:49

    HI Jill,
    I like that: YOUR SHIRT IS A BIT STALE, could be generic, YOUR CLOTHES ARE A BIT STALE.
    I am American and have issues about hygiene. We were raised to be clean and make an effort with our appearance. My father worked in the construction industry and he always showered and shaved when he came home and took care of his hands and always had on a clean shirt and trousers before sitting down to dinner. My mother always looked lovely.
    When I first came to the UK over 20 years ago, you could easily tell who the Americans were. We laugh about the Californians, they are even more groomed, if possible, than those on the east coast. Must be the tan!
    I appreciate AJ’s comment apart from the personal remark. I was being flippant in my post. I am happy to dance with anyone as long as they are pleasant, clean and dry, and if I enjoy the way they dance. I appreciate it even more if someone makes the effort in their appearance. Sometimes in a crowded venue one might get asked to dance by someone you don’t know and might take a risk. If it doesn’t work out, one can always say thank you very much. If the dancing is bad that is another issue, but if they are not clean or have BB then now we know what we can say. Breath mint anyone?!
    The weekend is a special time for most people and may be the only time they get to dress up. In the dressing up department, some people can go a bit overboard and what they think makes them look great may not be so practical for dancing. There are some ladies that think less is more. I personally don’t think so.
    People should think about presentation and consideration for others. If they take umbrage about any of this, well that speaks a lot in itself.

  7. The voice of reason
    Dec 17, 2008 @ 00:52:26

    Dear Arlene
    I hear what you say.
    For many of the ladies I dance with, perspiration is an unavoidable part of the dance. This is especially true when our bodies are in close proximity and the temperature is rising.
    The milonga’s are all so warm and in the Winter the windows stay closed. Therfore compounding the problem. I don’t mind as long as its fresh sweat and I am sure that is the case for many of the ladies.
    My pet hate is stale breath and tobacco odour. This is usually disguised by popping a mint or chewing gum. Usually there very are few women I notice suffering from this.

  8. The voice of reason
    Dec 19, 2008 @ 15:04:38

    Hi Arlene

    On a different subject; who are the best male dancers around? Are they all South American or do some of the Limey’s get a look in? What makes a good lead apart from the hygiene issues and attractiveness? In short is there really a market for the less aesthetically blessed? I am afflicted with a bald patch and I am over forty. Also my six pack has now become a party pack. Is there any hope for me in tango?

  9. Annabel Kaye
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 14:09:01

    I have had some lovely dances with men who dont look like film stars – I tend to dance with my eyes closed particularly when I am enjoying myself! A man who dances with me (not at me) and who holds me tenderly will always impress me more than an athlete wanting to show off…. A man who dances on his axis (and does not knock me off mine) with feeling and gentleness will always impress me, particularly if he dances with the music.

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