Tuesday, 4 September 2012


Great to read recently how Melina challenged a poor dancer, was rebuked for it, and was pleased to see later that he'd taken the criticisms to heart and was trying to improve.

It reminded me of a recent incident at one of our local milongas. A couple had been creating some disturbance for a few weeks. Theirs was a kind of nuevo - maybe we should call it Todaro tango - but badly done, a few moves of great centrifugal violence, during which she seemed to have not two but dozens of pointed heels, like the teeth of a circular saw. I used some creative floorcraft on a number of occasions to make sure I was nowhere near them. & there were injuries.

A week or so later they turned up - and halfway through the evening I suddenly wondered where they were. I hadn't noticed them, but they were still there, actually trying to dance salon tango! Not well, since their wild nuevo had hardly concealed the fact that they actually knew very little. But at least they were no longer in anyone's way. & they were spending time watching the floor, and pointing things out to each other. Needless to say, they never danced with anyone else.

Thinking back I'm certain that at least one of the two people who run that milonga had had some serious words with them. Both organisers are forthright and plain-spoken people, and anyway no organiser wants anyone to get injured at their milonga. The change was dramatic. This couple was forced to recognise that their dance was inadequate, but they obviously liked tango, and came back and made an effort to change. 

It`s not unusual for organisers in Buenos Aires to ask people to leave if their behaviour or dance doesn't suit the milonga, and I`m glad that it's becoming more common here. It`s also an indication that the quality of dance is improving: our milongas are no longer anything goes. And although no one will challenge nuevo done well and with regard for the floor, the norm at least where I dance has become a kind of salon, often partly open, but recognisably salon.


Chris said...

One really has got to wonder what gives a dance instructor like this the idea that it is her place to tell a guy in a milonga how he may or may not invite girls.

"And although no one will challenge nuevo done well and with regard for the floor"

Some milongas forbid nuevo regardless e.g. here.

Tangocommuter said...

I think a milonga organiser should always challenge dance and general behavior that give offence or outright injury to the majority in a milonga.

Paul said...

TC said: It`s not unusual for organisers in Buenos Aires to ask people to leave if their behaviour or dance doesn't suit the milonga, and I`m glad that it's becoming more common here.

TC, you may be thinking, for example, of Hector Pellozo as he sets out his practice in this interview and then expands a little more on it here. Yet another clip shows his attempts (with the help of a translator) to get at least some of the basic codes across to visiting tourists. It would be interesting, however, to know just how often in practice such public announcements are made and how frequently people are confronted or asked to adjust their dancing or even, as suggested in the interviews, asked to leave.

I have also felt tempted at times to intervene and challenge other dancers on and off the floor but have so far resisted the temptation; this might be moral cowardice or just a healthy instinct for self-preservation. But I sense that there is more to it than that: I realise that what I find anti-social, rude, or hazardous, may not universally be perceived as such by others. Why should there be such wide differences in what is deemed acceptable practice for the social dance floor? I now have little doubt that this is at least partly due to the systematic and persistent misrepresentation of tango found in tango schools whose long-term commercial interest is best served by selling the complex moves and grand gestures associated with show tango. A little anecdote may serve to illustrate.

Some years ago I attended a birthday party of friend who delighted her guests by offering them a surprise 90-minute beginners’ tango lesson with a well-know professional couple. Given the limitations of time and space, they did a reasonable job in many ways and even managed to avoid most of the stereotypical eye-catching moves meant to impress the naïve newcomer. Except for one thing. At the end of the lesson, they set about teaching some dramatic poses to end the dance with extended legs and raised arms: the photograph moment. Although this is entirely inappropriate for social dancing, I am struck by how common it has become compared with the simple gesture of closing one foot to the other as the rhythm stops. Of course, compared with high voleos, wild ganchos and multiple giros with accompanying arrastres, this is perhaps the least of our worries. But is it any wonder that most naïve newcomers and many seasoned school dancers have little notion of what constitutes acceptable social dancing?

I would be interested to know what other people think about this topic and am a little surprised that the post has so far not provoked more responses. In particular, I wonder about who (if anybody) should intervene and about what specifically.

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks for that, Paul.
Perhaps my wording was a little astray: to say 'it's not unusual' suggests that it happens often. But when I posted on Hector, there was a comment recording a story of how Hector asked a visitor to leave because he was distrespectful to a woman. Hector has his standards, and that's why people go to his milongas. At another milonga a couple turned up, obviously a visiting and none-too-young lady with a youngish Argentine man: I've seen taxi dancers before but something felt quite wrong about this and I couldn't help wondering if more than tango was involved. I saw the organiser talking to the man, and never saw that couple again. Of course, their conversation could have been about the cost of oranges, but I doubt it.

You say you've been tempted to intervene. Was this at a milonga you organised? That's what I'm talking about, about organisers defending their milongas, essentially their friends. If people are getting injured, as in the story I told, then of course the organiser should intervene. You don't want your friends to be injured by people behaving stupidly, and as an organiser you don't want your friends to give up on your milonga and go somewhere else. & if people are getting injured your friends, your customers, are likely to ask you why you don't take action. I'm not talking about any supposedly correct style of dance. If you are not the organiser and object to someone's dance, I think you should talk to the organiser, not the dancer.

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

TC wrote "I think a milonga organiser should always challenge dance and general behavior that give offence or outright injury to the majority in a milonga."

Sorry TC, but a guy's direct invitation of girls does not give offence to "the majority in a milonga". In the case in question, it gave offence to a member of a minority who like to tell others what they should and should not do, but fail to understand the appropriate place for such instruction is the dance classroom - not the milonga.

Hector @ Cachirulo doesn't need to tell people to invite by look, because he gives single guys and girls separate seating areas at a distance across which invitation by look is natural. The organiser of which you wrote deliberately does not provide girls a place to sit distant from the guys, and then enforces invitation by look across a distance that does not exist. This is no fun for anyone - except apparently the organiser herself. We should be thankful such organisers are as rare as they are.

Tangocommuter said...

Melina wrote:

Unfortunately, you‘ll always find a couple of rowdies on the dance floors and this evening, one guy was standing out: He was doing huge, uncontrolled movements, pulling the women onto the dancefloor, out of axis and into absurd poses. He was a threat to everyone else. You think I‘m exaggerating? Oh no!

Any organiser of a social milonga could and should be prepared to take some action.

Chris, I'm not prepared to go on hosting your personal prejudices on this blog, and to me your extremely selective misreading of what Melina wrote shows only personal prejudice. If you object to something Melina wrote the place for you to publish your objections is on her blog, if she lets you, not on mine. If you have something constructive to say you are welcome. If not, I'll delete your comments, or block them entirely.

Chris said...

TC, I was not "selectively misreading". Your quote now has omitted the point covered in your original link and which is the one on which I was commenting. It was about challenging a dancer on how he invites - to "not invite women by direct invitation but by Cabeceo".

If that is something you do not want to be discussed under this article, OK. But I suggest it would be better for you to be clear about that. It is a issue different from the dangerous dancing issue of the quote you've just now made.

Paul said...

TC said: Was this at a milonga you organised?
If you are not the organiser and object to someone's dance,…you should talk to the organiser..

I have only ever organised a lunch time practica in a large space for a relatively small number of dancers, consequently, that urge to intervene in the interests of maintaining safety and comfort did not arise. No, I was talking more about those occasions at crowded milongas where I am just another dancer and feel alarmed by the various anti-social forms of dancing on show on the floor. The best route may indeed to complain to the organisers but my own limited experience here leads me to believe that organisers (for the most part professional class teachers) are generally loath to turn their customers (often their students) away and against them. So realising that most people (ourselves included) do not naturally take too kindly to criticism or helpful tips offered by strangers, I just tend to bite my lip and hope that my brand of defensive dancing keeps my partner and myself safe from injury.

Ideally, of course, a dancing community well-versed in the traditions and codes of social dancing would set the example for newcomers (experienced or otherwise) to follow. People new to a particular venue would gradually and spontaneously adjust their behaviour to what they saw on and off the dance floor and would be socialized to the local practices and culture. There would be little need for intervention, pre-emptive or otherwise, from the host or indeed anyone else.

Where there is a less well-established culture of social dancing, it is possible that the organiser is, as you suggest, the person best placed to intervene on behalf of the public. However, interesting questions remain, of which we could mention just the following:

What kind of behaviour justifies intervention on the part of the organiser?

As you suggest, it is important to distinguish between aesthetics on the one hand and safety/comfort issues on the other. So one might then feel more justified in clamping down on certain excesses such as wild voleos and over-energetic back sacadas which are likely to cause injury to the innocent. But what about the less obvious kind of anti-social dancing? I regularly observe professionals and teachers dance in anti-social ways and they never seem bump against or collide into other dancers. But this is not because they are masters of social dancing; it is because other dancers give them a wide berth while they perform in their very own commercial. Naive onlookers then marvel at their ability to fit in all sorts of clever adornments on crowded floors). An enlightened observer will see things rather differently. To see this point beautifully illustrated, readers might have a look at this clip from Tango and Chaos. The message is pretty clear: you don’t need to actually hit someone in order to make a complete nuisance of yourself. But what organiser is ready to politely tap this particular incarnation of Mr Rowdy on the shoulder especially when Mr Rowdy is merely displaying the fancy moves and figures presented at (often the organiser’s) tango school?

Paul said...

Another question concerns the invitation by a nod or cabeceo. Is this really something that can be insisted on and enforced by the organiser? I have a fond (perhaps in some contexts even foolish) attachment to the practice and wish it were used more widely in venues I attend. However, one needs to acknowledge that there is more to it than simply setting out the rules and confronting the recalcitrant: as Chris points out, the seating arrangement can make the practice seem either natural or unnatural. One could also point to the often unfavourable shape and size of the room as well the often dimmed lighting that prevails. In addition, with their tendency to concentrate on steps and figures, tango schools often fail to acquaint newcomers with the traditions and codes covering such things as seating arrangements, invitations to dance, and polite ways to enter the dance floor. The result of this is that many people attending a dancing often have very little notion of these codes. Last week, I danced with a Lithuanian woman who had just completed 10 hours of beginners’ classes. Chatting between dances with her, I realised retrospectively that my subtle attempts at invitation may well have appeared to her somewhat rude, possibly louche. If people don’t have prior knowledge of it whether through verbal explanation or direct experience, you can’t really blame them let alone challenge them.