Ask Arlene… How good do I have to be for a good dancer to want to dance with me?

From Sara

Hello Arlene,

I have recently been to a milonga where I found all the typical milonga things and people you have described before. Partly out of choice, I have been sitting out quite a lot, which did not bother me that much because I enjoy listening to the music and watching people dancing, but still that has led me to wonder how invitations are made. I know that familiarity, approachability, prettiness and level count but I am still puzzled. I am also disheartened as to how good classes can really be. I am told I am going to be a good dancer but I am inexperienced. Although I am not in a hurry I really do not see how I can improve in a reasonable amount of time if good dancers will not ask me and if classes do not teach me much. I feel like I am in tango limbo, and worse still I feel that it could not be so. I realise this can sound winy and trite, but my question is this: provided that I am a friendly, average looking girl, new in town, and that I do not dress to kill, how good do I have to be for a good dancer to want to dance with me?

Dear Sara,

Your question ties in with a recent post: Fear of the Milongas.  I think Sophie summed up in her recent comment what I have been saying all along.  It isn’t always about how good a dancer you are, but about how nice a person you are and how sociable you are.  You need to put yourself out there at the Milongas and make friends.  Take the classes before the Milongas and make friends with the men and women.  On occasion, you might actually even learn something in those lessons to improve your dancing.  Go to the practicas and practice.

Smile, a lot.  If you put your attention on being sociable rather than on how much you are dancing, the dancing will eventually come.  Oh, and PLEASE be selective with your dance partners.  Listen to what the other women say.  We have all been there.  In fact, I am pretty much back to where I started on the dancing front, but that is by choice now and I have a lot more people to talk to if I want to.

If you are not getting what you really want out of your evening, then that is the time to leave.  I leave when I am tired, or when I know that I won’t be getting any more dances or good conversation.

I have seen the so-called good dancers dance with women that were not good dancers.  So what goes on in a man’s mind when they ask a woman to dance is sometimes beyond my comprehension, unless the woman is so obviously attractive or seemingly available. 😉

I have danced with some of the so-called ‘good’ dancers and have been left feeling cold afterwards.  In my opinion, the good dancers are those that dance with feeling, and that isn’t something that one can always see on the dance floor.  I recently accepted a dance with a young man I hadn’t danced with before or seen dancing.  I took a risk and was glad I did.  It doesn’t always work out like that.  It was my choice.  When I watched him on the dance floor afterwards, I didn’t notice anything special, but I remembered how it felt.  Please keep that in mind, the feeling, when you have a dance with someone.

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mari
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 19:55:35

    I’m so glad you’ve addressed this Arlene – what great answers to a really good question. I’ve only been dancing about 5 months but I can say that I don’t take classes so much to improve my dance as to meet people and improve my chances of being asked to dance at milongas by my classmates. It’s true, they’re the same level as me – but we won’t be beginners forever. We form strong connections sometimes at this ground level. We support one another, exchange information and opinions about the experienced dancers who tend to be more patient and kind.

    To really improve my dance, I go to practicas. The leaders at practicas are the leaders that tend to go to the milongas and so I want to practice as much as I can with them, to become familiar with their individual styles. Once you are familiar with each other in practica, it’s much easier to be approached at the milonga. It’s also an ideal place to make friends, exchange ideas, talk about music etc.

  2. jantango
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 16:05:51

    Sara,

    I feel you are off to a good start. It’s not about quantity of dances, but the quality that matters. If you love and know the music, that will be your reason to dance rather than socializing.

    I have danced ten years in Buenos Aires where I live. I don’t dance as often as other women because I don’t feel the need to dance constantly. I sit alone at my table and don’t engage in conversation. The milonga is for dancing in BsAs, not socializing.

    You don’t have to wait to be invited. Watch the dancers. You decide with whom you want to dance. Then look at him across the room so he gets the message. That’s the way it’s done in BsAs–with the movement of the head.

    If you really want to jumpstart your dancing, plan an extended visit to BsAs. I feel that too much emphasis is put on lots of classes and levels. Your partner makes you dance; it’s his responsibility. You follow his lead.

    Continue showing up to dance and waiting for the right partner to make you fly.

  3. Sophie
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 15:30:04

    Interesting comment that Jan made, in Bs-As “the milongas are for dancing, not for sociolising”. In London at least, and it looks the same in Berlin where I am now, it’s a lot about socialising: people enjoy meeting friends and acquaintances, sharing the tango gossip, discussing shoes, outfits, music, partners, moves, performances… plenty to keep you busy an evening. It takes a while to build up the connections but if you put yourself out there, and become known for smiling and nodding hello, it’ll go faster than if you stay aloof. Tango is a funny little world, where you need support to get dances so relax, intend to make some friends or at least acquaintances and you’llbe having such a good time you might not even have time to dance!

  4. Mari
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 17:26:06

    I wondered too about the socializing aspect. as I have several friends who either currently live in BsAs, or grew up and lived there, who have said that socializing was one of the things that brought them out to the milongas even when they didn’t especially feel like dancing. I know here in Austin, it’s highly social – so maybe I see/hear from the perspective that I’m used to. There is a video that a teacher recommended to me (she teaches social tango for small/crowded spaces)

    There seems to be a great deal of socializing as well as dancing. But again, every milonga is different.

  5. tangototty
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 23:22:37

    Dear Sara

    Unfortunately becoming a ‘good’ dancer in a reasonable amount of time is one of the main frustrations we all face when we start Tango. Essentially it is just down to tango economics. There are generally a lot more competent women dancers than men. This puts the men who are just competent in much higher demand than women. Not only do we need to dance well but we have to compete out there with lots of young, attractive and eager women who are queuing up to dance with the few ‘moderately’ able dancers who have been elevated to tango gods in London. The rest of the women mainly get the scraps – a few tango crumbs that will keep them going till the next time. And moreover the better you become the more fussy you get and you are then no longer satisfied with whats on offer.

    In my book if you are serious about it, the quickest way to becoming a good tango dancer is the Direct Action approach. This is where you go to Buenos Aires and find a milongeuro who will tutor you in all aspects of tango and if you pay his plane ticket you can bring him to London with you and set up your very own dance school and milonga. It has been done before and I am sure will be done again in the future!

    Alternatively I offer a more practical but rather more longwinded approach. This is normally a four to five year project – for the lucky and pushy ones. If you are a confident and charming type, you can actively work the scene by engaging in a ferocious period of self promotion. To do this you first need to spend a couple of years dancing with all and sundry, creating a network for yourself, until eventually you get known by all of the good dancers. After a period of time this self promotion\illusionist approach may require a little more consolidation – for instance, setting yourself up as a tango DJ – this seems to give credibility – even though its just working a laptop and banging out a few of the old favourites not forgetting to finish with La Cumpasita. You have to of course not forget the fickle nuevo crowd and play some Kung Fu neo-tango tunes in the middle somewhere.

    Somewhere along the way you may also get to assist a teacher although this may involve rather more than just putting on some tango shoes if you catch my drift. Eventually you then set up your own website and lo – you are a tango teacher for beginners who will automatically think you are a tango goddess. Its all part of the process of illusion and self elevation necessary to fulfil your tango ambition.

    Otherwise I am afraid the road to becoming the dancer you want to be is a long and rocky one and even when you get to that elusive place you may have surpassed whats on offer in London. Then you go back to dancing with the shit you used to call good and now you just call it being sociable. Really you just have a select few you would prefer to dance with thats You – and the rest of the women in London. Good luck Sara. I have a few friends who will dance with you – Try Carlton, Bob, Steve, Keith or tall Roger.
    And don’t forget to only wear Commie shoes!

    Happy Dancing

    Totty

  6. voice of reason
    Aug 14, 2009 @ 00:15:39

    Sara

    I would be very interested to know how you rate a good dancer. Are you diligent with your technique or do you expect to get better just by dancing? It is possible, I know loads of women who have never taken a lesson. Two weeks in Buenos Aires and they think they are Sally Potter unfortunately many of them dance like Harry Potter. I think Arlene is quite right to say that you should smile and be sociable. Don’t forget that you are entering a new world that is generally judgemental about everything. I personally do not subscribe to the quick fix in tango. You can quickly learn to fake it but there is no substitute for the real thing. Focus on the embrace , the music and the rythm. Steps while important, are not the be all and end all although you will find it necessary to learn them do not be a slave to them and above all avoid gancho’s if possible. They are the beginners give away.

    If I meet you when we are out I will certainly dance with you even if you have only just started to learn.

    VOR

  7. jantango
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 07:16:58

    Mari,

    I viewed the video you posted. I saw one group seated together at the beginning who were conversing, but the rest was dancing. Nino Bien on Thursday night tends to be more “social” because the majority of dancers are foreigners. I think of socializing as going from table to table to be introduced to others and have conversation. That is not done in the milongas. Two people don’t have to be introduced or know each other beforehand in order to have a mutual agreement to dance together. It just happens making eye contact.

    I have sat for hours at a milonga without saying anything to the woman seated at my table. It’s not considered rude–we are there to dance. The music is the focus whether one is dancing or not. Conversation is brief between dances.

    It’s unfortunate that the tango world has been led to believe that BsAs milongas have always been and are social havens, and the music and dance are incidentals thrown in for good measure.

  8. El Chupacabra
    Aug 16, 2009 @ 22:18:15

    I agree with Jantango on the “social” apsect of milongas.

    Personally I bemoan the loss of formality at these things .. I see people changing shoes at their table… yuk!

  9. Captain Jep
    Sep 11, 2009 @ 20:29:36

    Hi Sara

    You dont say directly whether you are dancing in London, but for some reason I assumed that you must be! Ive been dancing tango for a while now, and I would still say : it’s *not* easy in London. Not at all! Why dont you consider trying some of the venues outside? There are great weekenders in the New Forest (Tangkademy), Devon (Tango Mangoes) and elsewhere. You’ll meet a lot of generous people there, and for my money, the overall level is usually better . That’s to say, they dont have as many stars there, but they do have beginners and intermediates who have much better fundamentals than many you see in London.

    As for getting dances , well, as far as Im concerned, the woman doesnt have to be drop dead gorgeous and/or an excellent dancer. For me , it’s much more important that they are charming and approachable. That way, even if the dancing isnt great, you can still have a lovely time with them. So I echo Arlene and Sophie’s comments : go out to the classes, be sociable, enjoy the journey!

    ps I dont understand the comments about BsAs milongas. Most of the locals I observed were there to meet their friends/family and to do some dancing on top. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule : Maipu 444 for instance. But personally if I were living there, I would revel in the idea of going somewhere to have dinner and then do a little dancing. Heaven knows how difficult it is to go and do that in the UK…

  10. Sara
    Sep 21, 2009 @ 15:16:55

    Thank you so much for all of your comments, advice, warnings and encouragement! It is heart-warming to know that there are people out there with whom I can share these things and who will understand.
    I would like to answer to some questions: yes, I dance in London where I have been living for the last 6 months more or less.
    I cannot say how good my technique is. All I can say is that I am at a level where I am aware of how important having a good technique is, as opposed to steps and figures. In more tangible terms, until this summer I tended to go to two classes/practicas a week as well as practising with a generous, if demanding, friend once a week for 3, 4 hours. My feet hurt. So far I have danced at Negracha (the most unfriendly venue in my experience), Portland Place, the Dome and Spitafield (similar crowd compared to Negracha, similar atmosphere), Balham, Cara Blanca (the friendliest crowd in my experience), the Langham Court Hotel, the Latvian House, the Welsh Centre… I have not been to Corrientes yet, having been put off by warnings about ‘the good level’ of dancing there. I love to listen and sing tangos, I love tango, in fact love tango so much that the thought of becoming a musicalizador had already occurred to me (btw, Totty, your DA approach made me laugh out loud, and I think I understand what you mean).
    Milongas in the New Forest are indeed friendly in my experience and will try the Tango Mangoes ASAP.
    Since July I have been feeling diffident about my dancing (and my desire to dance with a certain types of leaders who seem to thrive in London) and haven’t been back to dancing yet. My friend has turned to more skilled dancers (he has a thing for followers with a ballet background). Age may be an issue: it seems to me that the younger the crowd, the easier it is to see patterns of insecurity leading to ostentation. Hopefully I am past that sort of age, which may be both a consolation and a cause for not pushing my dancing harder. But, VOR, I look forward to going back to milongas now 
    As for being sociable, I am painfully aware of how important this is. Although I am quite friendly when approached, the thought of doing things like actively seeking somebody’s gaze across a milonga is daunting. Also, I agree on the value of becoming known in a milonga, maybe I just need to select one and stick to it… mm maybe la Viruta 😉

  11. Sara
    Sep 21, 2009 @ 17:13:18

    ah and of course I rate a dancer ‘good’ by the connection and how warm is his embrace

  12. Arlene
    Sep 21, 2009 @ 17:19:35

    Dear Sara,

    Thanks for the bit of background information. Seems you have been to quite a few venues. As for Corrientes, I think you should give it a try. There are dancers of all levels that go there. I might have a bit of a soft spot for it as it was one of the very first Milongas that I went to when I was a beginner, when it was at Tavistock Place. You will see some of the same faces there that frequent the other venues and some you won’t recognise. They are open this weekend. All the best.

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