Don’t Talk to Me, I’m Trying to Dance!

Invariably, when I go out to dance these days, I am always asked a lot of questions by the men I dance with, usually while dancing.

Most Tango men know better than to talk when dancing.  Most Tango men save conversation for in-between dances or when having a rest.  I am saying most, because there are some that don’t – I have heard you and I have seen you.  I am talking to you, and to all you dancers of other styles that insist on trying to get my life’s story in the first minute of being on the dance floor.

Here are my top 5 questions that I am usually asked:

1)  How long have you been dancing? – What do you mean?  Sometimes I have only just arrived or it could be about 10 minutes or more.  It usually depends on the time you came to ask me to dance.  Really!  That question is irrelevant, especially where I am dancing Modern Jive at the moment, or even Salsa.  In most cases, it is longer than you have, so what is your point? If you are unsure about my dancing skills, maybe you should watch me dance before asking me and make up your own mind.

2) Do you have a dance partner? – Is that a euphemism for ‘do you have a boyfriend/partner?’  If so, then it really isn’t any of your business.  I dance pretty much with anyone that asks me at Modern Jive.  I don’t when I go to a milonga.  I go alone, and I leave alone.

3)  I love your accent, where is it from? – London.  I’ve lived there for over 20 years.  (smile sweetly) Ha! (No, really I’m from New Jersey, but if I say that I get totally bombarded.)

4)  What other dances do you do? – My goodness!  Can’t you just focus on the one we are doing?

5)  I haven’t seen you here before, is this your first time? – Uh, actually no!

Guys!  The dance hall is not a singles bar, even if it may have  a bar.   A lot of single people go dancing.  Some just like a bit of company and some may be looking for a life partner, but basically, the dance hall is a place to dance and that is why most of the people are there.  If you ask a lot of questions because you don’t know what else to do or are being polite, well here is your permission to stop asking.  Just dance, as that is why you are there.  If you want to chat, save it for after or when resting.  I can’t concentrate on the music or what you are trying to ask me to do if you are asking me a lot of questions that I really don’t want to answer and are really none of your business.  If I want you to know more about me, I’ll ask the questions.

A lot of couples go dancing where I go on Wednesdays and especially on the Saturday events.   They also tend to sit together in groups.  The men look scared when ladies they don’t know ask them to dance and their women give the evil eye.  Puhleese!  Trust me, we are not interested in your men for anything other than dancing.  I know, that’s a bit shallow, but it’s true.  If I sit alone or near the door, it is because a) the music is not so loud near the door, b) I can get a good look at the dance floor, c) the men know where I am if they want to ask me and d) none of you in couples has ever asked me to sit with them, let alone tried to have a conversation with me (unless I danced with one of your men and then I got the 3rd degree on the dance floor).

I have done my own little survey of the women I have managed to talk to and the consensus is that it is OK to ask the other person their name after thanking them for a dance.  Other than that, just shut up and dance.

So, ladies, what are your opinions on this and what interesting questions (or not as the case may be) have you been asked?

Oh, and not to seem sexist, I am sure there are women who do the same, so if there are any men that can contribute, please do.

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jessica
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 16:19:43

    Agree that someone who talks during dancing is a pain… but as questions to ask in between songs in a tanda some of these seem natural to me. I often ask about people’s dancing history (of tango and other dances) not because I question their expertise but because I’m interested to hear their story – how they heard about tango, what they brought to the dance. Fishing to find out if someone is single on the dancefloor is not on, though.

    I’d be interested in everyone’s techniques for getting back to just dancing… I’ve tried the “[silence]… oh, I was listening to the music, didn’t hear you….” approach but some people just repeat what they said. If I can find an appropriate physical and musical space, adornos and/or delaying responding to the lead can sometimes make the leader focus on what I’m doing. I’ve sometimes resorted to humming/singing along – which I’d generally regard as antisocial but can sometimes have the desired effect! Any other ideas?

  2. Irene and Man Yung
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 16:20:00

    Dear Arlene,

    Great post – how I hate the inane questions too! The milongueros I’ve danced with in Buenos Aires have got this down pat. If it’s the first time we’ve danced and we don’t know each other well, they might ask me “Bien?” after the first or second tango in the tanda (and I’ll smile and nod “Bien!” in a positive manner – no need to go overboard!). I think this is just to make their partner feel comfortable and not awkward. Otherwise they are perfectly fine with not saying anything – in fact, Luis Cordoba, the co-organizer of Milonga de Centenario in Viejo Correo has told me he prefers to concentrate on the dance – no chatting during the tanda please! It’s only when we have danced a few times and got to know each other – that’s when I get asked where I’m from and where I learned tango etc. and get introduced to their friends!

    Arlene, if we ever encounter each other at a milonga, I promise not to give you or any other single lady the evil eye – in fact, I’ll be eternally thankful if you will dance with Man Yung so that I could get my feet a rest and have some quality time with my iPhone!


  3. Arlene
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 16:55:40

    Hi Irene,
    I agree, asking if everything is ok in-between dances or after the cortina is ok. No talking during dancing! You are a great lady sharing out Man Yung!

    @ Jessica,
    Questions in-between is good, during is bad. In Tango, I just tend to ignore the questions, which is easy in a close embrace and humming is good. Trying to get too personal the first time you dance with someone is not good and I think bad manners.

    Anyone who knows me knows I like a good chat, but not when dancing. 🙂

  4. Cherie
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 17:13:03

    This chatty habit comes from, I believe, ballroom dancing when it’s ok to make small talk as you do the box step.

    In tango, I just say, I don’t speak while dancing. And that takes care of it.

    In BsAs the questions “entre tango y tango” of a local to a foreign woman generally comprise:
    Where are you from?
    You like Buenos Aires?
    How long you dance?

    The “codigos” specify that nothing personal be revealed, so there is much talk between tangos of the music, the weather, how many people are in the milonga.

    It is completely inappropriate to speak of marital status, jobs, last names. Often I remember when it was easier to not understand what they were saying. Some chattered on anyway, and others just stood in a companionable silence until the music started again.

  5. Chris, UK
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 17:30:51

    > I am sure there are women who do the same, so
    > if there are any men that can contribute

    OK! 🙂

    The questions I most dread are “Who is your teacher?”, “What’s the name of that step?” and “Could you repeat that step so I can learn it?”.

    Everything I do want to hear from her is better said without words.

  6. Nick
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 17:45:09

    Not a lady (last time I looked anyway), but I couldn’t agree more…and this certainly does apply to the ladies too!

    How am I supposed to concentrate on leading my partner in the best dance I possibly can, if I’m also trying to listen to and answer her questions? Most ladies I have ever danced with have worked out that we have a much nicer time if we are quiet while dancing. I do have a phrase I use amongst friends about exactly this, but I’ll spare the delicate amongst us from my profanity.

    In short, to everyone, save it until you’ve finished dancing 🙂

  7. jantango
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 19:17:30

    This is an important topic to discuss, so thanks for bringing it up. I would like to pass around a copy to all the dancers in the milongas of BsAs.

    I learned two things from Miguel Angel Balbi: (1) a milonguero does not initiate a conversation with a woman during a tanda; it is her choice to do so; and (2) the topic of any brief comments between dances is about tango, and nothing else. Conversation is not face to face, but close to the ear so it is kept private.

    There is too much noise in the milongas of BsAs these days. Look around and you’ll see arms waving, laughing, etc. that only takes time from tango. For some, the milonga is their only social contact. Others who go to dance have a social life outside the milonga, so they aren’t interested in talking about their personal lives while dancing. There is nothing wrong with standing without talking between dances and listening to the music. I have told some men that I do not wish to talk while I am on the floor. If he wants to sing the lyrics in my ear while we dance, I enjoy it.

    The talking isn’t only done between dances. Many continue long conversations while dancing that can be heard by those seated at tables. I ask why they even bother to pay the entrada at a dance when their main interest is to have conversation. It’s disrupting the milongas.

    Teachers need to talk about this during classes. The environment of tango is attracting people who want to meet someone, rather than those who want to dance. The milonga isn’t a social club, it’s where people go to DANCE, just like those who do other ballroom dances. People who like to dance, go out to dance, and don’t talk while doing it.

  8. jantango
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 19:22:19

    A man who has danced with a woman for the first time may ask her, “bien?” to know if she enjoyed it. One word question requires a one word answer without any followup. The expression on her face says it all. Women shouldn’t feel any obligation to engage in conversation with partners either on nor off the floor.

    As a rule in BsAs, men do not approach a woman’s table nor invite themselves to sit down. That obligates the woman. Alas, these codigos are disappearing from the milongas with the milongueros who respect them.

  9. Sezley
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 08:14:41

    Ha hah, I agree with this, and imagine what it’s like holding a conversation in French while dancing, when your level of French is barely GCSE (or shopping) standard!

  10. Tina
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 12:31:19

    Talking when dancing, eeeeeek! When that happens I politely say that I’m not very good at talking while dancing and and they get the message.

    Right now in Lecce we have people from all over Italy, as it’s Italian tourism season, so the common questions between tangos currently are “where are you from?” “Oh I love it there!” etc. etc… which is really just fine. Sometimes we might talk about the orchestra currently playing. Otherwise I don’t like to chat about much more.

  11. yabotil
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 21:30:17

    I find talking between songs okay – and I often use that quick moment to find out about other milongas or events. But I really dislike when there is talking during song, I just can’t concentrate on the dancing and talk at the same time. And I really really dislike it when the talking is in a song I like! But I don’t know how to nicely put an end to the talking so that I can enjoy my dance … any ideas? Sometimes I just don’t answer and melt into the dance but sometimes I feel thats a bit rude not answering …

  12. Evaldas
    Aug 27, 2010 @ 07:07:04

    I believe talking during dance is inappropriate because of simple practical reason: quality of interpretation of music always drops as there’s not enough information processing power in the “dancing part” of your brain if you load it with social talking also.
    For those, who are looking for deep and intense communication between partners in a dance it is unacceptable, while for those who are more social-oriented than music-oriented it can be OK.

  13. Mr TangoWalker
    Aug 28, 2010 @ 13:31:07

    I never talk when dancing. Maybe one or two words when i escort my partner back to her seat or table, i try to never talk between songs, But some people can see this as being snobbish or distant.. It’s nothing to do with being distant or unfriendly i just love the music and i need my mind body and soul to fully enjoy it and share it with you and if i’m talking to you i’m ignoring the music or not giving it my all it’s that simple in my case…I should say that i have lovely conversations at milonga’s with my friends..

  14. El Ingeniero
    Sep 28, 2010 @ 21:12:55

    Fanstastic topic! I always tend to get into the awkward situation between songs, when after we have exchanged a couple of words and I want to get back into embrace for the next song, and the woman I’m dancing with is still talking …. What I end up doing is not interrupting her and saying ‘Oh I want to dance etc.”, but I’ll just get into back into the embrace … They get the message pretty fast 🙂

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