How do we choose someone to dance with?

Finding someone to dance with whether it be for one tanda or a lifetime is the most difficult part of tango after learning to dance.  Remember that first milonga you went to?  You sat there and wondered, “Will anyone want to dance with me?”  How many years have you been dancing and now maybe you think “Does anyone want to dance with me?” Or worse, “Is there anyone I want to dance with?”

In the tango culture outside of Buenos Aires the amount you dance is just as important as the quality of the dance. Sometimes I think the quantity is more important. People want to justify getting dressed, getting there, and standing around.  Time is money. You don’t want to waste your time.

Here in Buenos Aires, tango is a more social event.  If we equated time with money, then we would be a very rich country.  Anyone who has ever been here knows that Argentines run on their own time schedule. The concept of wasting your time waiting to dance is a foreign one.  If you are not having a good time you leave.  It is that simple.

How do people pick the people they dance with?  Good question.  One night in January Club Gricel was fairly empty on a Friday.  I was bored.  I looked around the room.  There was no one I really wanted to dance with.  The man sitting at the table next to me NEVER invited me to dance.  I stopped looking his way long ago.

That night he happened to catch my eye.  I was rather surprised.  I made sure it was me he wanted to dance with.  He nodded.  We got up and moved to the floor.  After the first song I made a comment to him that this was the first time we had danced together.  This is not an uncommon thing to do.  He in turn said to me “Yes, none of my other amigas are here.”  I know he didn’t mean it that way, but that was what came out.

I laughed at him and went “Pobrecita, your friends are not here, so you are forcing yourself to dance with the Rubia.”  That was when he realized what he had said to me. “No, no.”  and as he started to explain I cut him off and continued to tease him.  Although he was very complimentary to me after our dance, he has not asked me to dance since.

The point here is that he dances with his friends.  People have their favorites.  We all do.  Then for some reason or another we take a chance and dance with someone new.  Maybe we continue to dance with that person maybe not.  I have had men say to me they don’t know why they don’t dance with different women.  They just get used to dancing with the same women.  My women friends say the same about the men.

Too often we look for things that don’t matter.  Women think they are too short, too fat, and too old.  Men decide they cannot dance well enough.  Tango brings out all of our insecurities.

Is there any reason?  No.  One man who doesn’t dance that often with me told me that after each time he dances with me he even questions himself why he doesn’t dance more with me. “You are a good dancer, your are beautiful.  But I guess I just forget to ask you.”  My comment to him “Viejo, don’t forget me.”

Deby Novitz

©Deby Novitz 2009 TangoSpam all rights reserved.  No parts of this may be reproduced without permission of the author

25 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. winslie gomez
    Apr 27, 2009 @ 08:44:51

    Choosing someone to dance with is just as fraught an experience for a man! I am speaking from the UK Salsa scene. Always been fascinated by Tango but I need to get good at Salsa before moving on to anything else.

  2. Game Cat
    Apr 27, 2009 @ 23:01:56


    I agree that whoever we would really like to ask/ be asked by, sometimes it just never happens for reasons which are not malicious (and sometimes whimsical).

    What strikes me in London is that the people are diverse and therefore dance for diverse reasons. Some prefer quantity, others quality. All have to be accepted as valid. There are no real outsiders as people are diverse (at least imho). Differences in opinion are common and multi-polar, unlike BsAs where there appears (from your blog) to be a sharp porteno vs foreigner divide.

    Personally, I want to dance with someone who loves the music (okay the same music I love to be precise), is competent enough to express it, and is looking for someone who can and wants to help her do just that. If not, then I’m happy to sit and listen, watch and have a pleasant chat with friends. Tell me if that’s being a dreamer.

  3. Arlene
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 14:29:06

    @ Deby and Gamecat
    I have a friend in Buenos Aires who explained the way he chooses someone for a dance: He explained to me that in real life the woman chooses the man and in Tango life it is the man that chooses the woman. (which I still don’t get as the woman could always refuse, but nevermind) He is happy to believe that he is in control of his evening.
    Then he went on to explain that he may like to dance with a particular lady for DiSarli, and another one for D’Arienzo, etc. This one for a Vals or that one for a milonga and so on.
    He has his favorite Milongas and goes dancing every evening.
    He is a man of habit.
    He is happy.
    He has been dancing this way for 20 years.
    Sometimes he dances with new women, but not often.
    He is happy. Why should he change?
    Gamecat, your last paragraph sums up how I feel about dancing. There is nothing wrong with what you want. And when you get what you want, you will be happy. That is not being a dreamer. Sometimes we just have to wait.

  4. Mr Milonga
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 16:21:37

    I’ll often go to a milonga and spend half an hour just watching the floor to assess who can and who can’t dance.

    Generally I won’t ask a beginner to dance for purely selfish reasons. I want to try and fill my evening with as many quality dances as possible. Dancing with a beginner would not fulfil my basic need. Also, there are enough tango vultures who prey upon novice dancers, I don’t need to add to those numbers.

    Even though I usually dance with the same six or seven women, I will dance with anybody who can dance competently.

    I will also dance with anybody who asks me -regardless of how good they are, how long they’ve been dancing, what they are wearing or how they smell.

    The only people I won’t dance with are those women who have refused me a dance in the past.

  5. El Chupacabra
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 23:04:06

    I thought about this and it comes down to one thing: I try – but often fail – to create a perfect dance which means a dance where my follower is getting into the same groove as I am, expressed through her music response, her movement, her breathing, her very being.

    As I say, it often fails, but sometimes gets close.

    I am guilty of doing what Mr Milinga does (though he may see no reason to be guilty) – I don’t ask followers who have been idiots in the past.

  6. jantango
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 19:19:42

    One thing men should always know in dance: It’s always the woman’s choice. If a woman refuses, she has her reasons. Don’t take it personally by holding a grudge or calling them idiots. Once she says “no” that means no forever.

    This is understood by men in the milongas in Buenos Aires.

  7. El Chupacabra
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 22:35:52

    jantango said: “once she says “no” that means no forever.”

    forever? is this true?

  8. jantango
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 03:29:56

    In Buenos Aires where a man invites a woman with the movement of his head from across the room, the word “no” is never spoken. It is inferred when his invitation by cabeceo receives no response. Men don’t have to invite a woman more than once to know whether or not she is interested in dancing with them. No means not today, not tomorrow, never. Once is enough. Not looking in his direction sends a pretty clear signal across the room that a woman is not interested. If she never makes eye contact (indicating her interest), he can never initiate an invitation. A tanda last only ten minutes, but it begins with a mutual agreement by both parties with the cabeceo.

    Take my word for it, that’s the way it is done in Buenos Aires. Milongas are for dancing and listening to the music, not for socializing. If someone is bored or isn’t enjoying the music, they are in the wrong place for the wrong reason.

  9. Keno
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 03:35:04

    So here is one for you, I always try to dance with someone I have never danced with when I am out dancing. I ask this one woman who I knew had spent several years in BA, we had never meet face to face, we each talked about what we both liked and disliked about dancers, I did see her at one of the venues I like to attend and ask her to dance. I was shot down with a no thank you very much. I did noticed through out the evening she did dance with a wide group of leads. She did get up during the part of the evening to give all the people a bit of advise, Don’t turn down a dance with a no thank you very much saying because it might have been the best dance of the evening, I had a little chuckle about what she said, I guess she saw my little chuckle because after about 15 minutes she walked by and ask why I always seemed to be happy and what was the little chuckle I had earlier. I explained to her what she said to me and how she gave the advise she gave to the crowd. I wish I had a dollar for the look on her face, priceless. She did ask me to dance, and I said thank you for asking, but I am leaving to pick up my daughter from a gathering, maybe next time. I don’t know if I will ever run in to her again, But I would enjoy a dance with her. Have fun dancing and enjoy each tango as if it’s your last.

  10. Mr. Milonga
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 21:51:48

    Jantango I read your messages with much interest. ‘No’ forever eh? If that’s the case there should be a lot of worried women out there. Todays clumsy oaf is tomorrow’s tanguero. In the long run there will be a lot of women out there who would’ve shot themselves in the foot for a multitude of ridiculous reasons.

    One thing the London Tango scene will never be is Buenos Aires. Hooray! Even though BsAs is the home of tango, it is not London. We have a chance to develop a scene which takes inspiration from the Argentine capital, but without some of the small minded traditions. Just because something happens in BsAs it does not instantly make it right.

    Iam fed up of the ridiculous way some people conduct themselves after a trip to BsAs, or when a visiting teacher/performer turns up at Negracha/Crypt/Tangology and they are treated as if they sneeze gold nuggets.

    Some of those dancers deserve the adulation, but too many see London as a easy payday, teaching classes at inflated prices without making any effort whatsoever. I’ve been to classes with Pablo Veron and Miguel Zotto, both great dancers but their classes are conducted with as much gusto as root canal.

    London is arguably the most cosmopolitan city in the world. We celebrate diversity and respect what foreign cultures have to offer. It would be great if we stood up against some of the more ignorant traditions our South Americans cousins practice in their own backyard.

    Jantango I agree the word ‘idiot’ is harsh to describe someone who refuses a dance. But what do you call someone who openly discriminates for no GOOD reason?

    Is a woman’s perogative/choice a good enough excuse for small-mindedness, bigotry or even racism?

  11. El Chupacabra
    May 01, 2009 @ 00:49:30

    I once asked a follower to dance. Again, she was not talking, she was tapping her feet, looking eager to dance. Anyway, I asked. She looked me up and down, and finally said: “mm ok, one dance, then we’ll see”. If this is not “idiotic” then I don’t know what is.

  12. jantango
    May 01, 2009 @ 03:31:35

    Mr. Milonga,

    You owe yourself a visit to Buenos Aires for an immersion in the tango culture.

    I don’t have to give my reasons for not dancing with someone, but for your benefit, I will list a few examples: too tall for me, don’t like his embrace, he sweats and doesn’t use a handkerchief, he can’t find the beat, etc. Women have their own reasons which remain private. We don’t want to have sex with every man we meet, neither do we want to dance with every man who wants to dance with us. It’s a woman’s prerogative. We decide with whom we want to dance.

  13. Mr. Milonga
    May 01, 2009 @ 10:10:03

    Jantango I agree that a trip to BsAs would be an education in tango culture.

    I have seen men (and women) refused dances many, many times and more often than not I understand or can deduce what the reasons are.

    As I said in my earlier post refusing a dance for no GOOD reason is the problem I have with this issue. I am not going to list what I consider to be a good reason to refuse a dance. Everybody will have their own reason for saying ‘no’, but the reason may not always be a rational one.

    That is why people get so annoyed by this topic. Even though I would never ask someone in a milonga why they would turn me down for a dance, some men will ask for a reason. I think the least any woman could do is be honest and say why.

    Before anybody adopts the ‘I answer to no one’ defence, what have you really got to lose? The person asking may be able to learn something from what you have to say. This should not be a problem for those women with valid reasons, the bigots might have more of a problem.

  14. Game Cat
    May 01, 2009 @ 12:29:49

    Mr M,

    I agree that Londoners (or anybody else) do not have to adopt any BsAs tradition they do not like. Some are worth adopting, while others would be less suitable. Which ones would be worth debating.

    Re your question “what do you call someone who openly discriminates for no GOOD reason?”…. my answer is “just like anyone else”. I don’t understand what can be defined good/ bad and why what one person thinks is good/bad should be the same for others. People can dance happily together for different reasons. What matters is that they have mutually agreed to it. Would you be bothered if a woman accepts your invite not because she thinks you’re a good dancer but because she thinks you’re cute?

    I have no problems with women declining me a dance in preference for another man. I don’t ask for a reason – it is irrelevant. I have the right to ask any woman without having to tell them why I chose them, so it’s perfectly fair they have the right to accept/ decline any man unconditionally and on their terms.

    Finally I don’t understand how it is possible for London to “celebrate diversity and respect foreign cultures”, while judging those very same cultures to be “small minded” and choosing only the bits we like – that is not respect. It’s like being proud to be British for all the good it has done for the world without feeling sorry for all the things it has done wrong to others.

  15. Flor de lino
    May 01, 2009 @ 16:15:43

    As a follower I can only hope that more leaders share Game Cat’s attitude as opposed to Mr Milonga’s. Why take a refusal so personally, why ask for reasons, why hold a grudge? When I’m asked to dance, am I supposed to make a decision between now or never, because, as you say, you’ll never ask again? And why do I need to explain myself? Talking about the fragile male ego! Mr M, you talk about women’s narrow-mindedness – may I suggest you consider your attitude first?

  16. Voice of Reason
    May 01, 2009 @ 17:19:41

    Flor de lino

    The fact is that Mr Milonga has a point. If someone shuns you publicly,why would you give them another opportunity to do so again. It may be that our ego’s are fragile or perhaps we just can’t abide the thought that someone has power to make you feel bad. Why bother with them. Tonight if I go to Negracha I will try and gather up the courage to ask a woman to dance who has previously refused me. So for all you ladies out there think about the poor fragile ego’s of the men you knock back with a cursory dismissal.


  17. tango totty
    May 01, 2009 @ 20:27:27


    I am not understanding why No means No forever ? Is this a Buenos Aires thing ?

  18. Planeo
    May 01, 2009 @ 20:42:20

    Flor De Lino, Jantango et al

    OK Lets not all kid ourselves here. If you do refuse a dance with someone for NO GOOD REASON it IS rude. It may be entirely your own prerogative but lets face it you are basically telling the other person that for whatever reason they are not up to scratch in some way. And of course its personal if its not obvious to the person you are refusing. If its something like the person is too tall or short for you I think thats fair enough, but just tell them and stop leaving them guessing if theyre just an inadequate daner !

  19. Voice of Reason
    May 01, 2009 @ 21:22:38


    “Once she says “no” that means no forever. ”

    Forevever? Forevever? I’m sorry Jantango are you for real? adapted from Outkast “I’m sorry Miss Jackson” For all you old folk.

    In the context of tango just behave in a manner that exemplifies good manners and stop promoting poor behaviour from either gender. Just stop being so snotty or no-one will dance with anyone in the end.



  20. jantango
    May 02, 2009 @ 00:32:42

    Good point. Mr. M. could use an adjustment in his attitude.

    Here is a good example of an actual scene in a Buenos Aires that was filmed for the documentary El Ultimo Bandoneon. This was unrehearsed. You will see Pedro Sanchez (wearing glasses) invite a woman across the room. Take note of the expression on her face. It’s easy to see that she wants to dance with him and that she is looking forward to it. The filming was done in Centro Region Leonesa and Lo de Celia (that’s Celia Blanco being interviewed).

  21. Mr. Milonga
    May 02, 2009 @ 04:37:05

    Game Cat, please don’t get the wrong impression, I accept that all cultures have their negatives and positives. There is a lot that happens in London I am not proud of, so I am not going to celebrate or defend those negatives like a badge of honour – e.g ‘no means no forever’.

    Flor de Lino, every time a man asks a woman to dance his pride is at stake. Do you think we have no feelings, so that women can treat us like something they’ve scraped off their shoe?

    A refusal often offends, even if there is no malice behind it. I guarantee no one feels good about themselves if they’re refused a dance. It does not have to ruin someones evening but I’ve seen the confidence ebb away from both men and women who have asked and been refused dances.

    If you want to question my attitude ask me do dance in a milonga. Even if I’ve watched you dance like a pantomime horse I’ll dance with you.

    I don’t hold a grudge against any woman who has refused me a dance, but I’ll make sure I remember her and act accordingly. I stand behind the mantra which says if I ask you to dance and you say no, more fool you. If at a later date I ask you again and you say no more fool me.

    We’ve ascertained that women do of course have the right to say no. But in answer to your question as far as I’m concerned if you make a decision and say ‘no’, then it’s never. It may be different for other guys but for me ‘no’ is the final word.

  22. Colatango
    May 02, 2009 @ 20:03:03

    Jantango Idon’t understand why Mr Milonga has to adjust his attitude.

    Just because he’s spoken up for a more utopian milonga and stood up against rudeness, as Planea expressed so well.

    What has a documentary got to do with Mr Milonga? Is he in it?

  23. jantango
    May 02, 2009 @ 22:19:20

    Mr. Milonga,

    No man’s pride is at stake if he uses the cabeceo. That’s why it has been used since the 1940s in Buenos Aires. No feelings are hurt.

    Try it, you may like it.

  24. El Chupacabra
    May 03, 2009 @ 01:06:55

    Mr Milonga said:

    I stand behind the mantra which says if I ask you to dance and you say no, more fool you. If at a later date I ask you again and you say no more fool me.

    Exactly. So I recommend blokes to not bother down the path of pain and take the easy path – ask the followers who have a habit of dancing with you. Otherwise its a big big bag of pain …

  25. Mr Walker
    May 04, 2009 @ 23:55:48

    I love to dance with partners who feel/hear the music…Who dance with their heart.And it’s hard work trying to spot them when i’m out at the milonga’s.And when i do, it is really worth the wait…If i’m really lucky there will be conversation before we dance then the dance itself and conversation after, before we part.

    When trying to attract a follower for dances i use cabeceo, But not everybody understands this…So sometimes the direct approach is used..If i’m refused a dance i simply move on and i would still ask that follower for a dance maybe not that night but another time another place …..And if she declined to dance with me again it just means she has seen me dance and doe’s not wish to dance with me….

    If all the followers declined to dance with me at every milonga all the time then i would consider that maybe i should dance differently or get better but i’m always trying and learning to dance better without the added incentive of being refused dances…

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