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.

Ask Arlene…How Many Steps Does a Good Leader Need?

I have received two questions from men covering the same topic, so I will address them both here.

From:  Mr Walker
Hi Arlene


(for a follower to enjoy the dance)


From:  Claus

Dear Arlene,

Have read your Ask Arlene with great interest, but did not come across this one. Thanks in advance!
Having taken classes for almost a year and attended practicas for 6 months, I am at a quandry: all the advice is to dance away at the practica as this is the best way to learn, but my step/movement repertoire is small. So I need to learn (to lead), yet there are expectations for me to lead with something interesting. Come the practica and I am at my usual catch-22. What is your advice?

Dear Mr. Walker and Claus,

I am of the less is more camp.  KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetie).  As long as one is in touch with the music and can walk in time (not too fast, and not too slow), then sometimes (or most times) that can be enough.  For a leader, I think it would be worthwhile to look at videos of older milongueros and watch what they do.  They do NOT use ganchos or make their follower do voleos.  They tend to use smaller steps and dance around in a smaller space.  They follow the line of dance.  They do not use show moves.  By focusing on the music, rather than on fancy moves, the dance ends up being enjoyable for both parties.

Learn how to do a giro well.  Most men think they know how to lead it, but they usually don’t.  Lead with your upper body, not your arms.  Focus on the embrace.  It is little things like this that make a dance enjoyable. Remember, sometimes the most significant part of the dance is what is felt between the parties involved, not what can be seen by others.

Claus, are you sure your followers are expecting something more in the fancy footwork department or do you feel unsatisfied with what you are doing?  All women want is a really lovely dance and to be transported by the music and their leader to a different place, which is not really possible if one is trying too hard to impress.  The idea is for the woman to close her eyes and enjoy the experience and not to have to wonder what fancy moves she is going to be made to do.  If the women are expecting fancy moves, then maybe they have been watching too many show clips or going to classes where they teach dancing large and the fancy steps that go with that.

When you are truly comfortable with how you are dancing with the music, I am sure you will find a way to make the dance more interesting.

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