Toto…We are not in Buenos Aires Anymore!

I hear about negative things that foreigners do to upset the locals when they go to the Milongas in Buenos Aires.  People should really do a bit of research and learn some protocol before they visit a foreign country.  Before I went to Tunisia many years ago, I was advised to bring some modest garments if I wanted to walk about in the public market.  That meant packing a long skirt and a long sleeved shirt.  It is only respectful to the culture of that country.  If you wear the ‘wrong’ clothes or behave in the ‘wrong’ way in certain countries, you could land yourself in big trouble.  In the UK, we are fairly relaxed and laid back.  People can wear what they want to.  We don’t have a dress code (even though I think we should, considering the state of some people).

I learned how to dance Argentine Tango in London.  I don’t know what it is like to dance Tango in Buenos Aires, but I have a good idea from what I have heard over the years.  We get lots of visitors from Argentina and we also have a resident Argentine community.  When I eventually get there, I will try and behave the way they do in the Milongas in Buenos Aires.  After all, there is that saying ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’

I am starting to get a little bit peeved with people telling us how we should behave here in the UK, my home.  Every time someone mentions Tango as a social dance, there is always one or two, (and not even someone that lives here), that has to tell us that it isn’t.  Well, maybe not in Buenos Aires, (though I think it might have been at one time) but it certainly is in the UK.  (Maybe that is the problem from what I have read from all of those blogs!)  Humans are generally sociable creatures.  Each organisation, or country, has its own ideas on what is socially acceptable.  If you want to know more about the definition of being social, you can google it.

If it wasn’t a ritual, dancing has always been a social event, or part of a social event for entertainment.  Going to the ball was something some people aspired to.  It was where young ladies of marriageable age would be turned out in order to meet a suitor.  There was always a class issue here, where it ultimately became acceptable for all people to go to dance halls to dance to the music of the time and to meet people of the opposite sex.  I am not going to give a lecture on the history of social dancing, but I think some people need to be reminded of its origins.

In the UK, going out to dance is viewed as a social event regardless of the type of dance one is doing.  Whether it is Salsa, Ceroc, Jive, Ballroom or Argentine Tango, like minded dancers will go to a venue to dance, with other people.  They will go alone, in couples or groups.  They will sit with their friends or alone.  People will go out to dance for many reasons:  to alleviate loneliness, to learn something new, meet new people, or for exercise, just to name a few.  Some people also like to chat and make connections with others.  The topic of conversation may not be deep and meaningful, but there are many people that take an interest in others.

Salsa and Ceroc, operates on the one dance rule.  Men and women are encouraged to ask each other for a dance, without fear of rejection, for one dance, and then move on afterwards to find another partner.  This works quite well as it is only for one song.  Even if your partner is not great, or at your level, you know that there is an end in sight and you won’t have to do it again if you don’t want to.  Just because someone may not be great at dancing, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t a nice person.  It is possible to avoid dancing with someone you are not keen on, but most people are amenable.  No-one will think badly of you if you do more than one dance with the same person.  They won’t think you are going off for an assignation or anything like that.  I only say no if I really hate the song and will say so, as the music can be a bit too techno for my taste sometimes.  I have met some really lovely people in London and in my new hometown through dancing.  Because Salsa music and the music played at Ceroc is generally upbeat, I think the people tend to be more jolly and sociable.   People seem to enjoy themselves more and have more fun.  I know I do!

Argentine Tango is the only social dance that I do that has firm rules about dancing with another person.  With Argentine Tango, there is the unwritten Three Dance or one Tanda rule.  If someone dances less than three dances with their partner, then there is usually something wrong and the person not dancing well can get publicly dumped.  How humiliating.  I must admit, I have dumped someone after one dance, but he didn’t tell me until we started that he didn’t like the music.  Where is the joy in dancing with someone that hates the music?  I have very politely said ‘thank you’ after two dances to people who were clearly either not musical, trying to feel me up, or just really bad.  I always give people two dances if I haven’t danced with them before.  I like the one tanda or three dance rule for AT, especially if a good DJ is playing really good sets of Tandas.  In Buenos Aires, if you dance more than one Tanda with a person, it means that some hanky-panky may be going on.  Who cares!  We don’t and it happens here all of the time!

Regardless of the dance form, I prefer to be asked to dance by eye contact or cabeceo.  When dancing Tango, I might dance with someone if approached directly.  I don’t think it is bad form to go up to a lady and ask her to dance.  It is bad form to stand in front of her and just hold out your hand.  What happened, the cat got your tongue?  I think men should also be aware of what the woman is doing.  Don’t get offended if she says no. She might be TALKING.  She may tell you ‘maybe later’ as she is having a conversation.  She may not have seen her friend for a long time and may be catching up.  If you are ever so crass as to say, ‘well are you talking or dancing’ in a sarcastic manner, you are guaranteed never to dance with her.  (This actually happened to me)

Even though I prefer to be asked, I see no reason why a woman shouldn’t ask a man, all things being equal.  (Unless he is Argentine as they prefer to do the asking and only dance with people in their group.)  Some men are shy and like being approached.  If you don’t ask, you don’t get, but then the woman shouldn’t get upset if she is turned down, and men shouldn’t get peeved if they get asked and they don’t want to dance (especially if they are Argentine).  Just be pleasant and polite.  We are supposed to be grown-ups, but most people can behave as if they are still on the schoolyard.  This is where good social interaction is crucial.  I think people forget that although we are gathered together for similar reasons, to dance, we are essentially strangers and are not obliged to engage in physical contact, which is what dancing is.

In London, there are no hard and fast rules for dance or Milonga etiquette.  We don’t get seated at tables, so we never have to worry if we have the best seat. Any seat will do.  Men and women sit with each other whether they are a group, couple or alone.  You can sit where you want or where a seat is available.  There are never enough tables and chairs at venues, so, if you get out of your seat to dance, you might lose it for awhile.  This may mean you have to find another chair to sit in-between dances, but then it means you can talk to different people.  I don’t care where I sit, as long as it is on a chair.  I may be at one end of the room to start with and then end up at the other end in-between.  No big deal.

People sometimes put on their shoes by their tables or chairs.  Most people do this as discreetly as possible.  I can understand why it isn’t a good idea, but we don’t generally serve food at dances, and it isn’t as if we are going to a restaurant for a dinner-dance.  Most of our venues are in schools or church halls (or some kind of hall), or above a pub.  I have done it because everyone else has, but I don’t do it anymore and haven’t for quite awhile.  (Besides, I am always sparkling clean before I go out and being American I have big issues about smells and I keep my shoes fresh.)  However, you won’t get people telling you off or giving you dirty looks if it happens. 🙂

When I went to Paris I was a beginner.  When I went to Sevilla I had a few years under my belt.  In both places, I observed what the locals were doing.  In both places people put their shoes on where they were sitting.  Men either asked me to dance by cabeceo or they came up to me.  Men and women sat with each other.  They were very laid back and welcoming and wanted to know where I was from and what I was doing in their city.  The women were lovely and not bitchy.  Sevilla has a very small Tango community and only has two to three Milongas a week.  One of the Milongas is held outside from May to the end of October.  The people there were really friendly and it made my holiday all the more enjoyable.  I heard that in Finland, the men stand behind a lady’s chair if they want to dance.  Every place has their own way of doing things.

If you come to dance in London, some people will be more approachable in some venues than in others.  No-one will be rude, most people will be polite, but there are some cliques.  (I have written about them here.)  I find that odd, even after all of these years.  I generally know who most of the people are as I had seen them consistently for 4-5 nights a week for three years.  We may not be best buddies, but we acknowledge each other with a smile, nod or hello.  Sometimes we may even ask how the other is doing.  We may not dance with each other, but we know who we dance with or not.  Then there are the friends that we have the conversations with and give hugs and kisses to.  We may dance with each other or we may not.  Then there are the new faces that we watch to see how good they are before asking or accepting a dance.  I tend to acknowledge everyone.  It is the human thing to do.  No-one is going to get pissed off if you see someone you know on the other side of the room and go and say hello.  They might get upset if you don’t.  Women can say hello to men without the men feeling obligated to dance with them and vice versa.  People in the Milongas in London are on the whole quite friendly and open to visitors.

We may not behave the way they do in Buenos Aires, but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.   Our Tango community is not as large and I don’t think we can afford to be nasty with each other as the chances of seeing each other are very high since we don’t have a huge choice of venues to visit each evening.  We all need to learn to get along somehow in order to keep the venues going.  As with joining any group, it takes time to get to know people.  It is up to the individual to decide how much they want to share about themselves and who they want to dance with and that should be respected.  I think being respectful of others and their decisions is the key here.

The more I hear about what it is like to dance Tango at the Milongas in Buenos Aires, the less inclined I want to dance there.  I know there are exceptions and I am generalising, but it seems more exclusive rather than inclusive – not very welcoming.  So I would really appreciate it if people would butt out and stop telling us how to behave over here.  The way we dance is another thing altogether and deserves its own blog post.

So, if you ever want to dance in London, you now know what to expect and no one will give you a hard time.  Who knows, you might even enjoy yourself!  🙂

Ask Arlene…Tango in Lille?

Dear Arlene,

I am going to Lille for a few days and was wondering if any of your readers have been there for Tango?  I will be there over a weekend, from Friday to Monday.  Any ideas?

Tango Traveller

I haven’t been to Lille, so if any of you have been, your comments are most welcome!

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