Ask Arlene…About my views on dancing to non-Tango music

What are your views on dancing tango to other than tango music (such as  swing, blues or zydeco)?
I enjoy dancing to most tango music (I have always felt a fraud with Piazzola and Pugliese!);  I find tango lends itself to improvisation and love dancing to more simple, regular rhythms.  I don’t understand most of the Spanish lyrics and love to interpret  Cole Porter and Van Morrison in tango.  Their songs  have a much stronger resonance for me.  I like taking a pause, which other dances don’t allow.
I need to persuade tango followers to come to Jitterbugs!


Dear Bob,

You must not have been reading my blog for very long, because if you had, and you knew me, you would know what a traditionalist I am and that I prefer a close embrace when it comes to dancing Tango.  Saying that, I have been known to dance large to ‘Tango inspired’ music, such as Gotan Project and the like.   I can’t for the life of me dance it in a close embrace.  However, I find those songs too long to enjoy dancing to and prefer to listen to that type of music.  I do not usually dance to Piazzolla or Pugliese for the same reasons and also because I cannot find a leader that can do the music justice (but mainly because the songs are too complicated and too long).  I have been known to dance large to Kevin Johansen, who has about three Tango inspired songs that I know of.  Other than that, I am not a big fan of dancing Argentine Tango to non-tango music and cannot remember ever having danced a Tango to any other contemporary music.

I also like to dance Salsa and Ceroc and really appreciate a Salsa break during a night of Tango dancing.  Sometimes at The Crypt they will do a  Salsa and Jive break.  Unfortunately, not many leaders that come to dance Tango do these other forms of dance and sometimes I am left on the sidelines for these breaks.  😦 When I went to Sevilla in 2008, they had a break of other Latin dances, which went down very well with the non-Tango dancers.

I can’t imagine dancing a Tango to a Salsa or a Jive to a Tango.  I think it all boils down to what came first, and that is usually the music and the dance evolved from that.  That is why we have different dance styles.  For me, I fell in love with Argentine Tango music and then the dance.  I have already had an issue at a Salsa venue where the DJ was playing mostly ‘Latin inspired’ music when there is a huge amount of authentic Salsa music available.  It turns out that the DJ has a Jive background.

I don’t think it really matters if you can understand Spanish in order to appreciate the music.  My Spanish is limited, but I have a feeling for the music, not the lyrics.  Listen to the music and let that guide your dance.  If you want to know the lyrics to certain songs, there are some websites on the internet that can give you translations. Planet Tango has translations of numerous Tango songs.  I have discovered that the music that moves me the most has very poignant lyrics.

I try to have a few different dance styles under my belt so I have something to do on my travels.  Also, there is no Tango in Eastbourne, so I am happy to Salsa and Ceroc just to keep my body moving.  It helps that I actually like Salsa music and Ceroc can be danced to pretty much anything, except Tango inspired music (I tried and it didn’t work for me).

There is an argument going on at the moment on one of the Tango group forums about playing non-Tango music at Milongas.  Personally, I really don’t like it when that happens.  It isn’t even ‘Tango-inspired’ music.  When I go to a Milonga, I want to dance to Tango music, preferably the older stuff.  When I go to dance salsa, I want to dance to salsa music.  When I go to Ceroc, I can expect to dance to anything, except I won’t dance to rap music.

I take it that Jitterbugs is a Jive evening.  I don’t know how you can persuade Tango dancers to go and dance to something else.  There is a group in Hove that has three rooms for dancing, one being dedicated to Tango music.  I haven’t gone to that yet so I can’t give an opinion.

So, that is what I think about dancing Tango to non-Tango music.  If anyone else has an opinion that isn’t rude or insulting, I welcome your comments.

How did Tango Bring out the Bitch in Me?

I am normally a very nice person.  I am usually really positive and upbeat.  I try to leave people feeling better for having been in my company.  When I first started dancing Tango, I was very encouraging and maybe a bit naive.  So when did I become a Tango Bitch, and so critical?  And why?  Sometimes I notice when I am not my normal self and I want to know how I got that way.

When I first started dancing regularly (Salsa), it was all so new to me.  There was so much to learn and think about, new people to meet, and new music to listen to.  I was dancing with a small, regular crowd, similar to the one here in Eastbourne, and most of the people were friendly with each other.  Not once did I worry about if I was dancing enough or who with.  I usually had a good time and partners were changed after every song.  Some men danced with me and some didn’t.  It wasn’t a big deal.  Eventually, my mind was free and I was able to dance and just enjoy the music.  I wasn’t great, but I was competent and happy with my dancing.  I wasn’t bitchy.  I was really nice and encouraging to new people.  I never said anything negative about anyone and I never encountered any negativity in my direction or about anyone else.  Granted, my Salsa dancing experience was limited to a certain crowd and would probably have been different if I danced in Central London, where I hear it is more of a meat market and people may be more critical.

Then along came Tango.  Initially, my experience with Tango was similar to Salsa.  I started with a small group which was friendly and social.  Things changed when I expanded my learning and venues.  Learning a new dance form is challenging enough in itself without having to worry about personalities.  I was going to bigger venues than what I had been used to – so many people and so many dance possibilities, or so I thought.

When I went to my first London Milonga, I barely danced, but I did talk to a lot of very nice people.  I was given a lot of advice.  I had to learn the Tango rules. There were many. Eventually I was out 4-5 nights a week.  I got to know who most everyone was even if I didn’t dance with them.  I danced with anyone who asked me and in so doing I encountered rudeness from some leaders that you wouldn’t believe.  After about a year of this I was advised to be more selective and to choose my dance partners carefully.  Surprisingly, I still danced a lot, but with better leaders.

In my third year of dancing in this way, I noticed something about myself.  Firstly, I felt confident with my dancing, which is a good thing.  I may not be the greatest dancer, but I am competent and have musicality.  I am happy with my Tango.  Secondly, I started dancing less.  I became more choosy and maybe others became more choosy about dancing with me.  I started to complain more about the lack of good leaders.  I wasn’t the only one complaining.   There were others.  We would complain about everything – leadership, the venues, teachers, music, etc.  I cut back on going out.  Nothing really changed.  In fact, for me things got worse.  Since I wasn’t going out much, I expected more. I became really intolerant.  It spilled over into my other dancing, Salsa and Ceroc.  I was finding myself being critical in situations that never warranted it before.  How did this happen?  Is there some correlation about dancing Argentine Tango that causes a person to become arrogant, critical, and intolerant?  In every blog I read about Tango, there is always something written about the negative aspects of going to a Milonga.  People are so surprised and shocked that they need to write about it.  There are even rules about how to behave at a Milonga!  Eventually, one gets used to it and just accepts it.  I suppose if one is exposed to something long enough, one becomes immune to it or becomes a part of it.  I suppose I got sucked into that critical aspect of being in a Milonga.  Not content with observing, many of us had to voice our opinions and it wasn’t all good.  Misery loves company as they say.

I have known women that stopped coming to the Milongas only to return a few months later.  Why did they leave?  They got bored with the attitude and seeing the same people all of the time.  Nothing changed.  They needed to do something else.  They weren’t bored with the music or with the dancing – they were bored with the situation.  They didn’t like how they were reacting to their environment, so they took themselves away from it for a while.  ‘Tango will always be there,’ they said.

About a year ago I changed my attitude.  Something had to shift.  I had been listening to a woman complaining and I realised that I have been that woman.  I was out to have a good time, not to listen to someone moaning about the lack of good leadership or how crap the music was.  Sometimes the only way to change a situation is to change your behaviour and see what happens.  I decided there and then to stop complaining.  I was going out less, but I started to enjoy myself more.  I looked forward to going out with the same passion as when I first started.   I may not have been dancing any more as a result, as I was still being selective, but I enjoyed my dances and evenings out more.  If I wasn’t dancing I was meeting new people, having lovely conversations with my friends, or listening to the music.  Going to a Milonga became more of a social event for me rather than just focusing on getting dances in.  The bitchyness left me.  I was less irritated.  I was back to my normal self. 🙂

I still have strong opinions about dancing Argentine Tango.  I know what I like and how I want my Tango to be.  I still think people should be able to make choices about who they dance with without being attacked for it – something I didn’t understand when I first started but appreciate now.  People need to be polite and respect each other’s decisions.  We all have our own journey to make.  We will make mistakes along the way.  We will be overloaded with advice and information.  Some of us will  become experts and even teachers in a very short time.

I am not dancing Tango so much these days since I moved.  There isn’t any here.  There are times that I really miss dancing Argentine Tango. I still have my music, which is what I fell in love with first.  If I want to dance, I go to Salsa or Ceroc, but it doesn’t move me the way dancing Argentine Tango does.  As I haven’t been going to the Milongas like I used to, I have had a lot of time to reflect on how my life has changed and been enriched since I started dancing.  I have also taken stock on some of my behaviour and attitudes and have been surprised at how negative I had become, which is not me at all.  This negativity has been mainly contained to Tango fortunately, and as it was isolated, it was easy for me to look at and rectify. I may miss dancing in a close embrace, but I don’t miss the negative attitude that can pervade the milongas sometimes.

If at some point you feel you are getting a bit jaded and wonder if you should still be going to the Milongas.  Take a break and see what happens, Tango will always be there.  When you return, you may see and feel things differently.

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