Men Only Tango Classes?

The following is in response to an e-mail I sent someone and ties in  with a couple of my recent postings and what had been mentioned about the Boxing Day floor and lesson on the Tango UK group.  It seemed appropriate to post it here with the kind permission of the author.  I think it provides food for thought on moving forward with Tango in London and the rest of the country.  What do you think?

My two sons learned tango, my ex husband and my current partner.  I guess we need to figure out how to get men on the dance floor and keep them there.

I have started a number of other tango newbies (all male).   I am not a gifted dancer but I do try to find something nice to say about new dancers and try to be encouraging.   We don’t want the arrogant ones to have a monopoly on the dance floor so we have to find some way to make the new men feel comfortable and stay as they go through the learning process.  Many new men are literally terrified and get a ‘learning block’ which does not help at all.

They believe they must produce steps to keep the women interested and a whole Frankenstein tango thing kicks in if we are not careful!

All the men I have danced with took private lessons early on to avoid embarrassment,  They felt more comfortable being awkward in private!  Group mixed classes are a difficult environment for leaders since most of the time they can’t see the teacher.  I think the old way of men only tango has much to commend it – the male ego is so fragile – they prefer to begin on the dance floor with the confidence they know what they are doing!  Then they can dance with more experienced women who know how to follow and finally when they know what they are doing the men can dance with women beginners – who are the worst possible partners for beginner males since they anticipate and often cannot follow whoever is leading!

I took two beginner men to our local milonga Christmas party – gave then half an hour in my kitchen before we went and they did fine!  I told them forget steps and a tricky routine – cuddle up, keep your weight forward and walk.  If you step on your partner both of you must lean further in = enjoy yourself and don’t let anyone mention a gancho or an ocho to you – just enjoy the music and your partner of the moment.  They did really well and may well go back  – they did not ‘fail the basic eight’ because we had a basic two (left leg followed by right leg!)  Es un tango…..besos

Interestingly enough, I had a conversation with a young man at a Milonga I had been to recently, and he mentioned that although he knows he should keep his moves simple, he can’t help but notice what moves other men are doing and at times he feels he should be doing the same.  I wonder if this has something to do with the competitive nature of the male species.

I think the idea of men only workshops is a brilliant idea – and I don’t mean as a one-off.  It should be a regular thing.  After all, single sex schools are very common in this country.  Maybe if  men only classes were available, my friend might not have given up Tango so easily.

So who is going to be the first to offer this on a regular basis I wonder?  Watch this space.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Game Cat
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 22:58:26

    Arlene,

    Interesting topic, thanks for posting it.

    I agree that learning to follow is helpful as it allows us men to better appreciate what women need from a leader to follow well, thus helping us lead better. I would argue it has nothing to do with the unfortunate fragility of our egos. Obviously we would want to start out on the floor only when we feel we know what we’re doing….and I would guess women would not want it any other way either (would you trust a learner driver who is also a stranger to drive YOUR car?)

    Re your conversation with the young man, I would argue that men-only classes won’t stop him thinking like that. I think it has nothing to do with our competitive natures. Being competitive is in fact great…it motivates men to become better leaders, which I presume is what you’re looking for. What instead will surely get him and all us other men focusing on the things important to you (good leading, floorcraft, musicality, etc.) is for women to give good feedback on what they liked/ disliked and why. Not doing so at best leaves us believing we’re doing the right thing when we’re not, and worse forces us to speculate on what it is you want (hence the young man thinking he has to be more flash by observing others). In fact, I would guess that he had thought that way because the women being led flash steps looked like they were enjoying themselves. Remember – we can’t see you smiling/ grimacing while we’re leading you…only when you do so with other leaders.

    In a way, don’t worry about us men….our competitive natures will makes us good leaders in the long term. We’ll always look for ways to become better. However, if women don’t send the right signals, we won’t get there. If you even look like you loved that triple-backward-gancho whatever in double time, then next week you’ll see more men doing it.

    Bad leaders will eventually improve themselves or leave tango if they get the right feedback. Women who don’t give good feedback on the other hand will give bad leaders a reason to keep going (we men can be self-deluding too, it’s a self-defence mechanism to keep the egos intact).

  2. mavis
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 01:10:25

    “…right feedback”

    I’d like to find out how you think that feedback should be given?! After a tanda? During a tanda?

    And how should we say “stop trying to impress me and anyone watching. I’d rather you took the time to try to understand how I dance, what I can do, to move with me rather then throw me around the room in your favourite most complicated sequence that I actually can’t do/don’t want to do”..?

    I think the idea of men/leader only classes is brilliant. I also think that when leaders learn to dance they should all be learning to follow as well; practising with each other in couples as they did in the, much harked upon, Golden Years. It makes sense that if you want to know how to lead, you need to know what it feels like for the follower accepting your lead.

    I wish that happened more. I really enjoyed my class at 33 Portland Place tonight (I’m learning to lead there) because the leaders and followers swapped round. I hope that will happen throughout the beginners course there, and not just at these early ones. But it would be great to have the leaders dancing with the leaders so that they get a real sense of what all the different moves feel like, and when they’re being led, what they like in a leader because then they can try to emulate that.

  3. Charl
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 10:03:01

    Jenney Surelia (A Taste of Tango) did a number of men-only classes more than a year ago. According to the men who attended those classes, it had helped them to become better dancers and leaders. However, the courage to dance in public might be a different thing but I suppose that if one is feeling more confident about the steps, it won’t be long before they ask women at milongas.

  4. Game Cat
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 22:58:35

    Mavis

    Re your first question – ignoring any conversation with a leader when not on the dance floor, I think there are 3 opportunities for a woman to give feedback effectively to him. I am assuming he is genuinely listening to you and is not an idiot (a necessary caveat I’m afraid).

    1) When he asks you for a dance: you can say No if you know that he is experienced but still does things you cannot forgive (e.g. no respect for LoD, no floorcraft, more interested in his own dancing, whatever). If enough women do this, he will either learn and improve, find and stick to appreciate partners or leave tango…all are upside to you. Saying Yes when you know what he is like (e.g. he’s seen you around enough to believe you know what he is like, or you’ve danced with each other before), is an explicit “I approve of the way you dance and am currently happy to give it another go”. Either way, it is very powerful. If you’re complete strangers , Yes/No is feedback neutral.

    2) End of a song / tanda: Most people expect (but it is certainly not an obligation) to dance for a minimum of one tanda, based on my limited observation (others reading this…pls correct me if otherwise). If you say thanks and leave before a tanda ends, the leader may think he has done something wrong (unless of course you have a credible excuse). If you keep going for a tanda or more, it tends to suggest you’re happy with proceedings. If you end it during a SONG….that sends an even stronger negative signal to him as he will feel even more visible to onlookers. Please choose proportionately to the transgression.

    Notice so far I’ve not said you need to explain yourself if you said No. It is your right, as they say, to remain silent. If he’s smart, he’ll observe other men and women, and he’ll learn, otherwise….upside too.

    If he asks and you choose to tell him why, I suggest you keep it succinct, clear and courteous. Don’t lie (e.g. “I’m tired”) or soften the message. He asked for it so it’s his problem if he can’t deal with it. It’s okay if he’s upset…that shows that he cares. If there’s good in him, he’ll reflect, improve and ask you again when he thinks he’s ready. Else….yup, upside again.

    Of course, I also strongly urge you to give positive feedback when you think it’s due….even if you don’t want to go into specifics. A simple “thanks, that was nice!” or “shall we do the next vals if they play one?” is good enough feedback. Remember we care more about specifics when we need to fix something.

    3) When you’re dancing with someone else: this is the easiest. If you look like you’re enjoying / not enjoying yourself, he will ask himself why. I’m assuming he is observant and thoughtful. No need to pretend. Be yourself and it will broadcast the message.

    Happy to hear comments from others if any please.

  5. Game Cat
    Jan 13, 2009 @ 20:15:41

    Mavis,

    Apologies I just realised I didn’t answer your second question. Essentially I think it is fundamentally the same as the first. I.e.

    1) Accept dances only from those you believe will lead the way you like, from observation or past experience, or for whom you are willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

    2) Tell them if you’ve enjoyed it or not after the tanda. You may want to say why. Word will eventually get around, which will help leaders self-select when considering whether to invite you.

    Slightly off topic: Will this lead to “cliques” which I loosely describe as distinct groups of people dancing with the same people? Probably, but that is no bad thing in the current state where there is considerable variation among dancers of what is important and styles. I would speculate that in BsAs most people are happy to dance with most others as there is a strong consensus on what is important and how to do it. Far more than in London. One could argue if that is right or wrong. Nonetheless that is what it is.

    Hope that helps.

  6. mavis
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 19:05:19

    Hmmmm… I have never had a man ask me why I’ve said no or finished dancing with them early, but if they did ask why, I’d certainly be happy to explain.

    However I would be a little worried the comments being reported and thus ripples spreading round the cliques and maybe not being asked to dance by anyone else again! “Oh, that’s the woman who knows nothing but thought *she* could criticise me!”

    Likewise though I’d appreciate feedback on my dancing. If its a case of I don’t know lots of sequences, well that will change over time with more experience, and I actually think then its up to the leader to judge that and adapt the dance to suit my level (which they don’t!). But if there’s something I can do to change a little, other then just learning more moves, I would appreciate knowing. Learning a little bit of leading has helped with that – suddenly I could really feel the difference a follower with too tight a hand grip or stiff shoulders, which has made me more aware of my own dancing.

    What men usually seem to do in London though is to do a move and then tell me what I should have done. During a dance. Which isn’t feedback, that’s about showing off. And I don’t think that should happen *during* a dance. Which, having spoken to other much more experienced dancers on the scene, is something particularly specific to men in London.

    Winge over…if men asked women why we don’t want to dance, and we felt we could say openly without risking bruising their ego, maybe we would. But I’m not sure that feeling able to, exists.

  7. Game Cat
    Jan 20, 2009 @ 20:13:44

    Mavis,

    I agree with your expectations that a leader should lead what is appropriate to the follower (which has been mentioned by posts here and elsewhere on Arlene’s blog). I think you also have the right attitude towards what’s important to learn.

    I would suggest, just my pov, that what leaders look for in a follower firstly is the ability to connect….followed closely by landing your reaching foot toe-extended and only as we land our forward step…so we won’t step on your toes.

    Re thwarted men spreading negative comments about you….I would suggest that if his friends are anything like him, you may not want to dance with them either.

  8. severnyproductions
    Aug 02, 2009 @ 15:10:03

    sounds like a great idea

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