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On this page, you will find articles and notes written by Dance of the Heart staff and others, to share our viewpoints on different issues as they arise through the dance of tango. For questions, suggestions for articles, or permission to quote, please email us at

The Eye Game: Why Tango Dancers Should Play

Tranced Out in Jealousy Lab

Tango Etiquette

Tango: A Great and Terrible Gift

Close Embrace

Teaching Close Embrace

El Tango Es Macho

Deconstructing Tango



The Eye Game: Why Colorado (and ALL!) Tango Dancers Should Play  

by Deb & Brian of Dance of the Heart


(Special note: We've been asked to run this article a second time, so here it is, with improvements! Thanx for your interest and enjoy!) 

The Cabeceo or "EYE GAME": a method of arranging for a dance encounter with a prospective partner at a distance without verbal interaction, through eye contact alone.

Typically, one partner asks for a dance by staring directly and unwaveringly at the other. When the desired partner meets the gaze of the initiator, the initiator may confirm the invitation with a raised eyebrow, or a head tilt toward the dance floor. If the desired partner is uninterested in a dance with the initiator at that time, a gesture of withdrawing, such as turning the head away, lowering the eyes, or otherwise dropping the eye contact is a polite, non-verbal way of communicating, "No, not right now, thank you." At this point, the initiator withdraws his gaze and looks elsewhere for a dance, and imposes no further social pressure at that time for that dance.

If, on the other hand, the desired partner locks eyes and responds with a nod and/or a smile to the initiator's inquisitive gaze, an agreement to dance has been reached and no further verbal interaction is expected or required. Once such an agreement has been reached, the acceptor will decline invitations from others for that particular dance. The cabeceo or eye game is a common feature of tango dances in Argentina. 

It is our observation that many people in our community and others we've visited recently are side-stepping (pun intended!) and even ignoring the utilization of the eye game in negotiating a dance. It is distressing to imagine we may be in danger of inadvertently but slowly eliminating this remarkable, timeless and uniquely distinctive approach to initiating, accepting or declining an invitation to dance. Perhaps some dancers consider the eye game difficult, awkward, threatening or uncomfortable. We did when we first began. Most North Americans like us have to overcome cultural training that does NOT reinforce boldly looking strangers in the eye, much less sustaining that gaze. While overcoming social conditioning can be uncomfortable, considering the MANY virtues the eye game has to offer, you may begin to recognize it as a skill well worth cultivating, and a tradition worth preserving. 

First of all, because good manners never go out of style, playing the eye game is simply practical and considerate, not to mention being a reputation saver! Through long and painful evolution, our Argentine tango forebears devised an intricate web of complex social codes to "smooth the social waters" of this most passionate of social dances. Of these codes, the eye game serves as a gallant, charming yet pragmatic way of resolving many of the complex problems of tango partnering. In addition to its merits as a way for men and women to socially interact with mutual respect, on another level, the eye game can be a sensual precursor to the dance itself...the act of meeting someone's glance and silently making an agreement to share some moments of music and movement, all without exchanging a word...this can be a great pleasure that only adds to the quality of the anticipated dance. 

Ladies and gentlemen, please also consider! Milongas are social arenas where individuals come to meet friends, chat, drink, eat, dance, listen to the music. The eye game establishes instantly who is available, when, and to whom, for dancing or other interactions, without embarrassment, confusion, confrontation or intrusion. We may all have experienced moments at a milonga when it can be embarrassing and uncomfortable to be approached and asked verbally for a dance. If the individual being asked is tired or prefers to chat with a friend, or is simply "sitting one out" for reasons of their own, a verbal request puts them in the awkward position of having to VERBALLY respond, "no." In those even more awkward cases of having to turn down a favored partner, that individual may feel obligated to offer an explanation within earshot and view of others. As the Argentines say, "at a milonga, everyone sees everything." This potential for public rejection and accompanying humiliation raises the pressure to accept an invitation. This can in turn lead to residual negative feelings that more than likely will come out in the dance itself, culminating perhaps in either or both parties avoiding one another indefinitely.

Utilizing the eye game removes these pitfalls simply, gracefully and entirely, particularly when adding one final ingredient. That is the understanding that on those occasions when we are on the receiving end of a "no," we recognize it not as a personal rejection, but we receive it with appreciation and understanding...appreciation for the next time OUR feet are tired or we'd rather "just watch" without having to make up excuses.

Men we've interviewed who use the eye game regularly appreciate it most for the face-saving qualities it offers, particularly in instances when their invitation to dance is declined. For ladies, it gives them a discreet but proactive tool to let specific leaders know "at a glance" that they're interested in a tanda without pressuring them. The eye game simultaneously empowers and protects BOTH genders while sustaining a respectful social environment. How clever, kind, sophisticated, simple and practical is THAT?!!?  These are only some of the MANY subtle and wonderful reasons why the eye game should be not simply practiced, but embraced and treasured. We believe milongas exist to provide an environment for pure social pleasure. Let's help keep them that way by practicing this very rich tango tradition we've inherited from those oh so wise, sexy, elegant Argentines.

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Tranced Out in Jealousy Lab

by Brian Dunn

When I started tango, I once remarked casually to my teacher-of-the-moment that tango seemed to be a wonderfully safe way of meeting people – you keep your clothes on, it’s hard to catch diseases, and it’s over in four minutes or so.  She fixed me with a stare and said slowly, “Tango…is NOT safe.  If you fall into a tango trance with your partner, the lingering effects can disrupt your life for DAYS.”  Somewhat taken aback, I pressed her for details on the “tango trance”, but she would say only, “If you keep dancing, someday you’ll know what I mean”.

I kept dancing, and soon I discovered what she meant.

The first time, I found myself facing a new partner, with a dim awareness that the music had stopped and we had stopped moving.  We both had dazed expressions that seemed to say, “What was THAT that just happened?”  At another time with another partner, it was an intoxicating awareness during the dance that our shared movements had somehow merged in the moment into a single artistic expression. The intense sweetness of the sensation made me feel as if my heart would explode.  On yet another occasion, yet another partner, a passionate Pugliese tango found both of us suspended in a pause, chests heaving in sensual abandon.  No other social activity I’ve ever engaged in offered such experiences at all, much less on a repeatable (if not predictable) basis.  I know the opportunity to “roll the dice” for another round of such experiences is what pulls me back to tango.

Yet these experiences don’t take place within a social vacuum.  As this same teacher said, “In Argentina, tango wasn’t about having a nice time with nice people, it was about finding a mate.”  What happens when the tango trance and its attendant sensations of intimacy and passion are combined with the ancient dramas of attraction, flirtation, commitment, jealousy, possessiveness, and betrayal?

I’ll focus on jealousy, that spark which ignites so many flames in human relationships.  The tango lyrics themselves are replete with tales of jealousy acted out to bloody completion.  Even in modern Argentina, members of a clearly identifiable couple (they enter, sit, and dance initial sets together) are generally held to different expectations of behavior: the man of the couple may without social penalty ask other women to dance, but when he does so, none of the other men present will ask his partner to dance.    In “The Tango Lesson”, when Sally Potter visits her first Buenos Aires practica, a stranger seeking to dance with her first addresses the males she is sitting with (her dance teachers) for permission to ask her.  One suspects these customs evolved from tango’s early days (when males danced with knives in their belts), as a way of staying alive and healthy until the next milonga (a tango dance party).  Similar “unwritten rules” exist for women, I’m told, concerning whether to accept a dance invitation from a male when one of her female friends is especially interested in him.

But this is Colorado in the new millennium, not Buenos Aires in the 1940’s. While tango holds exhilarating, almost unbearable sweetness and power, the intense attractions of tango do not include, for  me, all aspects of the mid-century Argentine culture that gave birth to tango’s Golden Age.  We bring a different social setting to tango, and our response to the same problems and dramas will be different.  In my personal tango encounters with jealousy’s “green-eyed monster”, I’ve managed to avoid court appearances or jail time.  I have, however, certainly felt awash in strong unpleasant feelings when seeing a treasured partner tranced-out while dancing with someone else, or seeing a longed-for prospective partner warming up with expressive passion in the arms of a rival. 

When I see the monster emerge in my vision while I myself am dancing, an additional problem presents itself.  The monster frequently causes me to lose contact with my partner-of-the-moment as the jealous fog settles over my awareness.  In hindsight, this troubles me, as I’m thus breaking the implicit contract with my current follower to stay focused on her and with her regardless of distractions.  She is, after all, depending on my commitment as a leader to this contract, not only for her enjoyment but for her safety.

In any case, because the “tango trance” experience is so important to me, it would be hard for me to consciously expect my favorite partner(s) to forgo such experiences merely to help me avoid unpleasant sensations.  I don’t feel satisfied with calling the experience merely part of the human condition, to be endured and tolerated.  I want to “improve my reflexes” as far as jealousy is concerned, for my own sake and that of my partners.  Because of its focus and intensity, I feel that tango provides a unique “jealousy lab” where these issues can be raised and dealt with consciously, if one chooses, in order that the tango dance and the mating dance can merge ever more gracefully and powerfully for all concerned.

I once taught a beginning tango class in which we tried an experiment to test the nature of the so-called “tango connection.” We were startled to discover that both leaders and followers had the mysterious ability to simultaneously perceive the formation of a nonphysical “something” between them, even with eyes closed and before establishing physical contact.

Those of us participating in this class/experiment were also engaged in a weekly philosophical/spiritual discussion group. The thought system under discussion (“A Course in Miracles”, © 1975, Foundation for Inner Peace) suggested that human existence is a ceaseless confrontation with the opportunity to choose between looking on the world with love or with fear. What drew some of us to learn more about tango was the thought that the “tango connection” might be an example of “looking on someone with love.”  By this frame of reference, the experience of jealousy in a tango context (or any other, for that matter) was a “descent into fear,” which would render the tango trance inaccessible. (Despite the popularity of the Western romantic idea of “jealous love,” in my experience these emotions are actually mutually exclusive – but that discussion is beyond the scope of this essay.)  The experiences of tango jealousy I described above, at those times when I viewed the world through “the eyes of fear,” in fact separated me from experiencing “good” connections with any partners. 

This may be a matter of taste – anger (which I like to think of as a type of fear) is certainly one of the colors that can be expressed in tango, along with love. I have had very energized and even technically interesting dances in which anger played a component, but when these dances were over, a joyless after-taste lingered.  The trance quality, the sense of merging, the shared identity, the focused passion rising and crashing like a tidal wave on the rocky shore of the music – I lost all of these when I gave in to the green-eyed monster.

However, as one seeks to avoid jealousy’s severe penalties, it’s important not to DENY the rising jealousy feeling as it is happening. In my experience, denial of what’s happening in one’s emotional life invites emotional shutdown.   The emotional power poured into jealousy’s vessel has to go somewhere, and if one pretends it’s not there one loses access to it.  Doing my homework in Jealousy Lab has made this clear to me: if I deny my feelings as a way of making them leave my awareness, I will feel the dynamism, inspiration and connection needed for a good dance leave me as well.  I become stiff, withdrawn, and prone to make mistakes, as my attention leaves the present moment with my partner and falls down jealousy’s abyss.  On the other hand, some of the best dances I have had resulted from re-channeling the emotional energy whipped up by tango jealousy into a more intense focus on my current partner.  She then could feel the increased energy focused on HER and on our connection, which raised her own response in the dance and brought out the best of what she had to offer.  I would sense this rise in her response, which reinforced my own commitment not to tread the path of fear, bringing out further inspiration in me, and the result was a tremendously memorable dance.

In summary, when I’m feeling jealous while dancing, I try to imagine that I am deeply in love with my current partner.  In my experience, love and fear are incompatible, and jealousy is a form of fear. When I remember to apply this technique, without denial of what I’m feeling, the green-eyed monster tends to hastily depart (at least for the duration of the dance!).  Sadly, I don’t always remember to do this, but it is a mental dancing habit which I hope to perfect. 

Although the tango dance itself is neutral, providing a venue for the expression of love and fear alike, it does throw the consequences of these emotions into starker relief than is common in our “normal” lives. Fear and jealousy in tango are sharpened to a razor-edge since there is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run when you dance heart-to-heart in someone’s arms. On the other hand, choosing to express love in the tango can blossom in our awareness into a sweetness so rich that recalling the fleeting moments of a tango trance across the days or years will bring tears to the eyes and flame to the heart.  Tango’s power lies in its opportunities for these amazing encounters, where a random dance becomes “the three minutes that can last a lifetime”, holding out for us the promise that will bring us back again and again…

…she said, “If you keep dancing, someday you’ll know what I mean…”

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Writings/Responses Inspired from Discussions on TANGO-L@MITVMA.MIT.EDU



(To Tango-L list members:)

Michael Ealem wrote to the list recently about several problems he encountered from dancers at milongas he hosted:

>>>...There seems to be a tremendous amount of resistance to basic milonga etiquette, specifically:

1. Not dancing against LOD (not just an occasional backstep, but extended sojourns)

2. Not camping out in the outer lane or middle of the floor for extended chit-chat

4. Not parking out in the outermost lane, throwing every trick you know, taking two steps, throwing every trick...

6. Not weaving in and out of lanes, or cutting across the middle of the floor...


If you decide to host a practica or milonga, it can be useful and fun to think of tango leaders as wild animals, moody, unpredictable and difficult to manage. You know, hormones are at high levels, the music is passionate, we're playing together in this chemistry-filled game of emotionally intense artistic and personal expression in which we share our bodies far more than is typical in the rest of our lives. When dealing with wild animals, it is often more effective to constrain their behavior by restructuring their environment, instead of trying to train consistent specific behaviors into these very distractible learners. One such environmental restructuring that helps solve the problem in practica-type situations: splitting the available floor space into 1) a non-social-dancing anything-goes practice space and 2) space for those who wish to observe line-of-dance etiquette. This kind of split currently works very well at Tango Colorado's Tuesday Denver practica, with couples moving back and forth between the two areas as needed to suit their tango goal of the moment.

But at a milonga, or in an environment where such a split is impractical, sometimes there's no substitute for intervention. At a milonga in Berlin, I saw a couple who were busy in the middle of the floor doing exaggerated tango moves - big over-the-head lifts, off-the-floor body swings with flying legs, etc. - with no apparent regard for the safety of other dancers. After two or three such episodes, the organizer of the milonga talked to them, and it ceased to be a problem. So that's one answer. Any host is responsible for the environment he/she provides for guests in exchange for admission, and has every right to take steps to insure the safety and pleasure of that environment. It's an art in itself how to intervene with your guests like that, and have it be both pleasant and effective.

But that relatively superficial answer doesn't get to the root of the situation in many cases...because what we are often talking about has less to do with crowd control and more to do with family dynamics. Many tango communities have become extended families for their members, as we share the emotional highs and lows in each other's lives: triumphs and tragedies, births, marriages, divorces, illnesses, and deaths, all amplified by the context of tango and the power of the dance to move us emotionally. In this, tango families are similar to "real" extended families, where the power of the dance is replaced by the blood ties that bind. In Argentina during the Golden Age, practicas and milongas could be seen as an extension of a family-oriented neighborhood culture, and locally respected people would often take responsibility for running a practica or milonga in an orderly fashion and teaching youngsters how to behave. In such settings, there are tales of the "bastonero", a "respected elder" with a long stick standing in the center of the floor. As I recall, the rule was if he thought you were blocking the dance space or interfering with other dancers, he'd tap you with the stick and you (and your partner) had to come into the middle and dance near him for the rest of that song.

By my observations, some tango communities in North America are not yet mature enough to have an "elder" who is universally respected, who sets the tone for behaviors at social gatherings, in the way that parents or grandparents often do for real families. If things are going fine in the tango scene, this social void doesn't matter, and often things ARE fine...but when things "go bad", there's often nobody to turn to who is in a position of both authority and respect with all parties, and things can get as messy as a houseful of kids with a sleeping babysitter.

One example: A friend of mine was dancing as a visitor in a tango community in the USA. While dancing, he saw a large man in front of him take several steps backward against the line of dance directly toward my friend's partner. My friend put out his hand to ward off the approaching leader, and was successful in avoiding a collision. The other man turned around and accosted my friend, saying belligerently, "NOBODY pushes me around on the floor!" My friend stood his ground and said "I was protecting my partner!" As I recall, things settled down somehow, and blows were not exchanged there on the floor. But my friend said later that several members of the local community came up and apologized to him as a visitor, and mentioned that the leader in question was a local "problem child." 

It's well documented that some families unconsciously develop elaborate patterns of denial and "enabling behaviors" in order to avoid confronting dysfunctional behavior on the part of some beloved family members. Sad to say, this pattern can be true of "tango families" as well. Eventually, if anything is to change, it may be up to the other family members to confront and intervene in some appropriate way with the problem child who is unwilling or unable to change on their own. I spent years working in front-line crisis conditions in psychiatric care units and alcohol treatment centers, and I know that these sorts of family interventions are rarely fun. But it can be done, with both compassion for the problem child, and with firmness with respect to the community's interests.

Michael goes on to describe other "social problems" he's observed in hosting milongas:

>>>3. ...teaching at milongas (this is a biggie!) <<<

As discussed on this list a lot already, teaching at milongas is fraught with the potential for rudeness to both your partner and to other dancers who are trying to enjoy themselves in peace. This isn't obvious to some people. In keeping with the wild-animal-containment theme mentioned above, one thing you can do is try to provide a separated space at a milonga where the music can be heard, but physically separated from the main floor, perhaps by an arrangement of chairs. Then suggest/ask/tell people that they are welcome to teach/learn/practice "over there" away from the main floor. This works well at our Boulder milongas.

>>>5. ...glomming on to every female newbie who walks through the door and teaching her ganchos, etc. <<<

This is the trickiest one to address for me, because of the nature of what tango is to many of us. But as above, a little structure can go a long way. At Tango Colorado events, the trend is to structure the newbie experience more formally, with lessons held before the main practica gets going. The lessons are given by experienced local tango teachers approved by the organization. "Dysfunctional teaching" behaviors, if any, can then potentially be addressed through the adoption of a code of ethics by approved teachers.

But, you know, "glomming on to every female" has a wide and provocative range of interpretation. If the females seem to like it, and no complaints are registered from them, maybe the "problem" is just garden-variety tango jealousy on the part of non-"glommers", and those people should learn to live with it - use the jealousy energy as motivation to become a better,more confident dancer, or something. On the other hand, if problems begin to develop - repeated complaints, from multiple individuals, building up over time about one person's behavior, for example - intervention may again be the only effective remedy. Emotionally abusive behavior, conscious or not, has many forms, some of which can be quite subtle at times. A talented unconscious practitioner of emotional abuse can present a real and very slippery challenge to other "family members". This challenge often includes the need for these other family members to be willing to confront their own denial and enabling behaviors with respect to the problem child.

In old Argentina, if some guy was spoiling the atmosphere at a local milonga, the other guys would get together on the problem: "This guy is driving women away from our milonga!" As a group, they might then find an opportunity to "invite" the guy in question out in the alley for an energetic little "discussion" of the problem. Of course, such roughneck behavior has its own costs, and while it historically is effective in the short term, its style doesn't match the demographics of most tango communities I'm familiar with. But if all else fails, one transplantable element from this scenario is the assumption of responsibility by the men AS A GROUP for the well-being of the women as a group.

Men often feel competitive toward each other in the tango scene, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Historically, competition was a factor in guys working hard to become better dancers, which is good for everybody. But men can also choose to bond together, to see past their healthy competition and step up to the greater challenge of "protecting their women". After all, in this tango game that we all love so well, from a certain perspective all the men are sort of trying to seduce all the women a little bit all the time, right? The seductive component of tango helps provide a buzz of energy in the scene. This energy can help many of us break through our everyday socialized shut-down emotional state and express ourselves in the arms of our fellow dancers, passionately, artistically, and yet with respect for each other. For this exciting game to be worth playing, it seems to me the women need to feel reasonably "safe". The followers in tango are in some ways and to some degree surrendering themselves to their leader-of-the-moment, and are thus taking physical/emotional risks with relative strangers. It seems reasonable to me that, when "things go bad" in a tango community, followers have a right to depend on the "men in the family" to break through their denial and enabling, and to work together to preserve a tango environment in which followers can relax and give the gift of their surrender in relative emotional safety.

Copyright (c) 2004 Brian Dunn

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Tango: A Great and Terrible Gift

Sent: Monday, October 28, 2002 11:05 AM, To: TANGO-L@MITVMA.MIT.EDU, Subject: Scorched!

Dear Marisa,

It was very compelling to read your message a few days ago...I sympathize deeply with your feelings of frustration and anxiety. You asked for suggestions to help shift your attitude, so I am writing in with that request in mind.

You have received some tremendous advice so far...I suspect bits and pieces may prove very useful to you, but ultimately, you will find your own way, as we all must. In case this helps you on your path to recapturing your joy for the dance, I have discovered that maintaining my balance in tango (technically AND emotionally - no small feat, let's face it!) requires equal time devoted to learning and PRACTICING not only my technical lessons, but my emotional ones. This includes hanging on to my sense of humor for DEAR life (again, no small feat).

Attaining technical prowess is only ONE level of this dance (I, too, am a recovering perfectionist). Through the experiences tango provides, both on the floor and within the social milieu in which it exists (and therein slumbers yet ANOTHER monster, eh?!), I continue to encounter my self in all my "glory/gory-ness," with all my strengths and weaknesses exposed equally.

How I choose to interpret and assimilate those physical and emotional "discoveries" determines whether or not I take pleasure in the dance on multiple levels...kinda like life (sorry to state the obvious metaphor, but there it is).

Your tenacious commitment to perfect your technique is a fantastic thing you have inside you. I hope you continue and I hope you can reject the limitations about your abilities as decreed by others...or even yourself. The tango is a great and terrible admit that you have quite simply entered a SERIOUS relationship with an art form wherein the possibilities for self-expression are profound...but such a gift requires work and discipline...therefore, it will challenge and test, bring pleasure and pain, bring out your best and worst and everything else in between...why else do we love it so? The tango is a demanding, often playful, always gorgeous, sophisticated, primitive, deceitful, sensual, SMART, multifaceted, brutally honest mistress, even when she is absolutely uncompromising and takes NO prisoners whatsoever. How remarkable and lovely for us that we are required to merge with fellow dancers to receive this gift; the pleasure and richness of connection with another human being...and at its VERY best, that rarest of creatures, the joy of creating a totally unique, collaborative work of art.

Hoping this helps and wishing you many years of rich and wonderful tangos to come,


Copyright (c) 2003 Deborah Sclar

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 Close Embrace

...Now let's talk about the embrace.  Dancing close-embrace tango raises many boundary issues for women in general.  ...The woman defines the nature of the embrace with a given partner at a given time, and the man dances within that boundary, often trying to charm her into something more intimate – but a closer embrace must be granted by the woman... 

<Mounting soapbox>

My most treasured moment in dancing with a new partner is that moment when I have demonstrated to her that she can relax with me, and then she chooses to do so, accepting my wordless invitation for a closer embrace with an open heart, surrendering to me her safety and her boundary for the duration of the dance. This moment may arrive immediately, or after several dances, or never. This surrender is not a gift to be treated lightly, or peremptorily taken - as our community explores close-embrace in greater depth, my conversations with followers reveal a growing frustration with leaders over this issue...

<end soapbox mode>

Anyway, to return to the subject: I've observed that, for reasons you can easily imagine, young women in particular often have difficulty relaxing in close embrace with older men they do not know well. As you may have observed, a good proportion of followers at the Boulder practica are used to close embrace from someone with whom they are comfortable. To polish your close-embrace skills, I would recommend working with Deb, or with both Deb and me, in a private-lesson format, supplemented by some dancing at a practica with those women whom you notice are comfortable with close embrace. In those settings, I'd suggest telling a new partner that you are interested in practicing close-embrace, and asking them if they are willing to do so.  You'd be well-advised to ask afterward if your leads were clear, or specifically, after an awkward moment of miscommunication, what they thought you were leading - you can compare their answer with what you know you intended to lead, then work on refining your own technique, thus avoiding the "you didn't follow me right" line of reasoning which will get you nowhere.  Actually, the best way to learn to lead close embrace is to be led in it by another leader - but that does require a certain degree of following skills, as well as a willingness to work in that context....

Copyright (c) 2003 Brian Dunn

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 Fast-Track Teaching Apilado/"Milonguero" Style Close-Embrace

What is the FASTEST way of mastering apilado technique (frequently referred to as "milonguero style")? Here is a method that works for us: 

1. Get everybody into couples, and practice the following "asymmetrical commitment": the LEADER can stand alone, stable and secure, with his weight in the foward part of the balls of his feet, and perhaps slightly up into his toes. The follower should settle into the leader "headlight to headlight", with no hands, while he remains strong and stable like this, and take up a slightly MORE COMMITTED posture in which she REQUIRES the leader to be there to remain stable for her own security. (VERY IMPORTANT: She should *relax* her knees a little, instead of keeping them locked.  This will allow her hips to level out, and take strain off her lower back.  The posture should feel comfortable to both; if not, this is the first thing to check).  Test the "asymmetrical commitment" by having the follower back away from the leader, using her arms if needed: he should have no difficulty standing on his own. Then have the leader back GENTLY away from the follower NO MORE THAN AN INCH OR SO, and see if she "falls into him." Reassure the followers that "this is only a test." Don't do this while dancing - partners are just weight-shifting at this point. Practice this until everybody gets it. 

2. Have the FOLLOWER procure from somewhere a nickel or a quarter (dimes and pennies are less satisfactory). If necessary, the teacher(s) give the FOLLOWER an appropriate coin. 

3. Have the leader take up a forward-projecting position as indicated above, with vertical spine and neck, and forward-tilting legs with a flex at both hips and knees. WAIT FOR HER in this position. 

4. Have the follower place the coin on her own solar plexus (a little below the sternum) OR on the leader's solar plexus (her call) and HOLD IT THERE while she takes up the embrace with the leader, as described above. 

5. Once she removes her hand from the coin, the couple settles into the embrace, with hands and arms placed as desired. REGARDLESS of hands and arms, their MUTUAL goal is to keep the coin, the physical symbol of their metaphysical connection, in place throughout the dance. ALL ELSE (fancy footwork, rigid technique goals, what the last teacher said, etc.) is secondary to this goal for the purpose of this exercise. 

6. For most people starting this exercise, the coin will fall between them at some time, with much mutual hilarity for the couple. Chase the coin down and GIVE IT TO THE FOLLOWER to place on herself again, and renew the process. Discuss issues that come up, and suggest solutions. 

7. Rotate partners, but the FOLLOWER keeps the coin. 

8. More advanced dancers can then take on "apilado challenges" to execute various kinds of moves without dropping the coin. If you keep the coin up, it's apilado. 

In our experience this exercise is very successful, and produces the fastest results. We use it as the keystone of a set of exercises and techniques focusing on different types of connection, and how to test the presence or absence of different kinds of connection in different situations. Try it, I think you'll like it. 

From our experience, the important reasons these exercises work include the following: 

1) Adapting to the "asymmetrical commitment" between follower and leader 

2) Connection point is a contact between the vertical parts of your bodies 

3) Follower "owns" the connection, and gives this gift to the leader 

4) Leader accepts the gift of connection, and directs its motion for her while preserving it 

5) Both partners share responsibility for the connection, and both know the moment it's gone.

Let's look at these in more detail:

 1) In our view, in apilado the leader stands steady, strong & reliable, without needing the follower for basic support. The follower commits more, commits her axis (slightly and lightly) to the leader's solidity, and with this expresses her trust in him, and her willingness to step where & when the leader should indicate. The leader requires more solidity than she does in order to provide this gift of safety to her. 

2) The coin is a device to prove where the contact point is. We think the best contact point is somewhere between the sternum and the belly button, when people are more or less of compatible heights and of medium builds. Because our plane of contact is VERTICAL, we can make contact anywhere along this range of our vertical axis that social propriety allows, and still safely and comfortably make the connection/hold the coin. By picking this body area, it becomes more likely for most people that our spines will find a vertical position. With relaxed knees and hips, our feet and legs will find their way behind our plane of contact and out of the way. BUT...if dancers try to connect (i.e., she holds the coin) higher up, like over the heart or between the breasts, then we see them support their centers AWAY from each other, with tilting spines, using the muscles in our lower back - owww - when they could simply let their centers relax against their partners, wherever they touch along their vertical spines. 

3) and 4) All the exercises stress that the follower "controls the coin". In terms of class behavioral management, the follower keeps the coin and holds it against herself (or him) to avoid the possibility of the male leader making unduly familiar contact with the female follower in a class setting sanctioned by the teacher(s). But more deeply, we really feel that the "asymmetrical commitment" we're asking of the follower is balanced by reinforcing in class this way that this unusually intimate form of social contact is very very much a gift from the follower, given at the follower's discretion. It's a respect thing. In our experience, doing it this way lets followers relax more, during class and during the dance, which is what it's all about for us. Similarly, the leader will work harder to keep brutish or insensitive leading under control if he knows that it will probably make the coin fall. 

5) Keeping the coin in place becomes like a party game we played as kids, with all the accompanying relaxed fun & games associations. But, just like when we were kids, there's a little tiny edge of fear in all the fun, because we don't want to be known as "the ones who are always dropping the coin", and everybody can hear it when it hits the floor. So BOTH leader and follower will put some extra effort into holding the coin there, which is the whole point. But then very quickly, both parties discover that it's not that hard - it's just a decision to do it - just like making and holding a good connection, if that's what you're after. Repeat as necessary...and have fun! 

(A bit of background [updated 2012]: In between seventeen tango trips to Buenos Aires and seven to Europe, my partner Deb Sclar and I have been teaching tango, hosting milongas and events, forming long-term tango business partnerships with both Argentines and fellow Coloradans, and DJing in Boulder and Denver for the last thirteen years (full-time for the last ten). In that time, we have taught thousands of people in group classes and taught thousands of private lessons in the Colorado market, which  can be characterized as primarily "close embrace salon" dancing. Over the years, the vast majority of our clients and students are interested in improving their close embrace social tango dancing, without any reference to "milonguero style" in particular. In our own social dancing, we dance primarily "close embrace salon", and also enjoy apilado/"milonguero" dancing and "nuevo tango" with the right partner and music.)

 El Tango Es Macho

An interesting article by "SERGIO" on "macho" and what that means in Argentine tango 

Subject: El Tango es macho. Tango is macho.

It is interesting for me to see how elements of Argentine Culture filter to other communities though the experience of Tango. I am referring to "What do women want".

An Argentine macho does not correspond with the concept of a macho in other latitudes of our planet. It could even be quite the opposite. A man is macho in Argentina in reference to being concerned with the needs of the woman whom he respects and adores. A woman that he will conquer and seduce with determination and persistence so that finally he can possess her and become responsible to provide for her spiritual an physical needs. He will not go after a woman unless he is convinced that he can do so. Macho in other latitudes is equated with someone that seduces, abuses and discards women in a self-centered, selfish way. In Argentina that man is considered to be "un machista", "un canalla", a despicable, bad man.

A man and a woman have very defined roles in society, one is not more important than the other for both are absolutely necessary to assure the stability of the relationship. The man is in charge, he is a lover and a father at the same time. He protects and makes sure the woman feels fulfilled. The woman is feminine, and is this characteristic that gives her strength, she brings love, passion, understanding and support to the relationship, she trusts and allows him to guide, both members in their separate roles walk together one guiding the other following but not competing. They are conscious of there respective functions and respect their relative spaces.

There is always some sort of electricity in the air, some sort of interaction between men and women, manifested in words, piropos, looks, body expression. A woman walks moving her body with harmony and musicality, needs the reassurance of looks, piropos, and other expressions of "caballerosidad" (the act of being a courteous man) opening doors, allowing her to pass first, giving a sit in public transportation, etc.). The man has to look self reliant, always poised and certain of his moves. These cultural elements are always present and naturally also in tango. The man walks in the street positioning the lady toward the wall of the sidewalk his place being closer to the curb where danger could be present so that he protects her. When entering the milonga, he allows the woman to walk in front of him guiding her with his hand. He allows her to sit behind the little table so that her legs are protected. He keeps physical contact with her, holding hands, placing his arm across her back over her shoulder to communicate to the other men that he is in charge to provide for all her needs. The other men respect that.

When single at the milonga, he places himself in a discrete position so that the lady of his interest may see him but at the same time not to impose himself by being right in front of her line of vision, so that she can choose to dance with him if she wishes to do so. Inviting to dance by staring and nodding has a double cultural expression. On one side it is done to avoid the embarrassment of being rejected in public, on the other side is part of the eternal flirting manifested by stares. When dancing he is in charge, listens to the music, interprets it, transfers his thoughts to the lady by leading properly, moves around the floor avoiding contact with other couples and most importantly protecting her and making sure that he is dancing the way she likes.

This in summary, ladies and gentlemen, is ..."Un macho argentino". Saludos.

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 Deconstructing Tango


Thanks to Steve de Tejas from TangoList for contributing this article. It gives the real flavor of what it is to dance tango at night in Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango. 

The March 2, 2001 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education contains the article below "Deconstructing Tango: the Passion and Power of a Great Dance." The article seems to be intended to provide a glimpse into a milonga and its social codes as seen through the eyes of Julie Taylor. --Steve (de Tejas)

Chronicle subscribers can read this article on the Web at:

Deconstructing Tango: the Passion and Power of a Great Dance By CAROLYN J. MOONEY

Buenos Aires

Anyone who's truly passionate about the tango eventually ends up at the Confiteria Ideal. It's a world unto itself, unfolding behind a worn facade on a busy downtown street. On the ground floor is a musty, high-ceilinged cafe that was once among the city's grandest -- an elaborate pastry gone stale.

Dancers head for the ballroom upstairs, where ceiling fans spin hypnotically, flesh spills out of tight dresses and open shirts, and the bandoneon -- an accordion-like instrument -- gives the music its melancholy wail. Couples weave around the deep-red marble columns, catching glimpses of themselves in mirrors clouded by age. A woman in her 70's, wearing a short black skirt, sequined shoes, and an ankle bracelet, delights in the intricate passages. Other men and women sit at small tables, often separated by gender, at the edge of the dance floor. 

Julie Taylor rises gracefully from one of the tables. "The man I'm about to dance with [Daniel García]," says Ms. Taylor, an anthropologist at Rice University, "is one of the best dancers in the city. Watch his footwork." What man? And then, within seconds, a silver-haired porteno, as residents of Buenos Aires are called, is headed toward her table. The two had discreetly negotiated a dance a moment ago, apparently while Ms. Taylor was providing a visitor with commentary on various dancers and their styles. There's an art to asking for a dance: You scan the room, letting your eyes meet those of someone you'd like to dance with. The man asks with his eyes, the woman answers with her eyes. A slight nod seals the deal. It's all part of the intricate code that governs the tango world.

Ms. Taylor has penetrated that world by becoming an excellent tango dancer herself. She's spending the year here on a Guggenheim fellowship, trying to better understand the culture of the milonga -- a term that generally refers to the clubs and places where the tango is danced, but also to a very fast style of tango.

During frequent visits here over the years, on fellowships and summer leaves, she would dance almost daily, taking classes and frequenting the city's many milongas until early morning. Many times, before she danced well enough to be a sought-after partner, she would sit for hours without dancing. 

It wasn't all in the name of research. It's hard to untangle Ms. Taylor's passion for the dance from her scholarly work, which examines the aesthetic of violence that Ms. Taylor believes is present in the tango, as well as in other Argentine art forms, such as a style of grotesque theater that's rooted in the Italian commedia dell'arte. Both art forms use exaggerated motions, emotions, dress, and personality. She believes that people take part in certain popular-art forms to channel violent feelings -- and to process violence in their own lives.

She hopes to write a book to follow her 1998 book, Paper Tangos, a scholarly memoir about learning the tango. But whatever else comes of her work, "I'll know that I learned to dance well," she says. She typically spends several hours at a milonga, hoping for that one extraordinary dance that will make the whole evening worthwhile to her as a dancer. "I've never done anything where I've felt so emotionally exposed," she says. A man stops by her table now to ask her to dance. She declines politely. He should have waited for an overture from her, she explains afterward.

The code also dictates that you don't dance with a partner who is much better or much worse. You don't speak while you're  dancing. The man doesn't stay at your table for more than a few moments after a dance. And so forth. "Break the code, and you break the magic of the milonga," Ms. Taylor says. Still, the scene brings back memories of awkward junior-high dances. What could be the harm of accepting one dance with a lesser partner? Ah, but the point isn't to dance.

"The point," Ms. Taylor says, "is to dance well." That's the thing about the tango. There are so many contradictions. It's sensual but not really sexual, tender but also violent. A woman can feel dominated and empowered at the same time. The tango, as Ms. Taylor sees it, is about aesthetics, power, exclusion, and finding a voice. It's about escaping from the city and all its hopes and dreams, its passions and trauma, its frustrations and neuroses and financial problems. Then again, maybe it isn't about escaping. Maybe a true milonguero or milonguera, as those who haunt the milongas are known, brings all that baggage along and works it  out right there on the dance floor.

"The tango doesn't reflect Argentine culture," Ms. Taylor says. "It's more like, it provides a forum for people to debate Argentine culture." Ms. Taylor has regal posture, delicate good looks, and long blond hair that floats to her waist. As she walks around the  city, her thick-heeled tango shoes often in tow, she is the target of piropos -- street compliments couched in poetic language rather than catcalls. Her fluency in Spanish, not to mention the nuances of Argentine slang, allows her to appreciate such tributes.

Ms. Taylor studied ballet seriously as a young adult, but ended up pursuing a doctorate at the University of Oxford. In 1979, she wrote her first book, on the mythology of Eva Peron. She went on to write about the culture of terror under the military dictatorship, which ruled here from 1976-83. Her second book was the memoir. She is quick to explain why nearly 20 years passed between books: She was a single mother raising her son, who was born in Argentina in 1979. Her personal life is woven into the memoir, including disturbing memories of being physically abused by her father and raped by a neighbor when she was a child. Those memories would surface  -- and sometimes be assuaged -- during the physical encounters that the tango demands.

The tango, she writes, gave her back her body. It also offers solace. "A close friend says the tango reconciles her with men," Ms. Taylor says. The abrazo, or embrace that links the two dancers, becomes a kind of consolation. The tango emerged from the brothels of working-class Buenos Aires at the turn of the century, later becoming an international sensation. Tango lyrics are like proverbs here, even if the dance's popularity had faded before a recent wave of touring tango shows and movies like Sally Potter's "The Tango Lesson" made it hip again.

A popular dance show called "Tango x 2" is now playing in the bustling Corrientes district, Buenos Aires' version of Broadway. It offers a good retrospective of tango music, starting with Carlos Gardel, perhaps the most beloved of tango singers, through the composers Osvaldo Pugliese and Astor Piazzolla. The dancing offers the kinds of showy moves that make you think of tango -- the deep lunge, the leg wrapped around a partner's waist. It's obvious to Ms. Taylor that the male dancers grew up going to milongas -- you can see it in their timing -- but that many of the women learned the tango after studying classical dance.

A few nights and several milongas later, Ms. Taylor is back at the ConfiterÌa Ideal. It's a different crowd tonight, strictly for serious dancers. This is milonga pesada -- "heavy" milonga. Ms. Taylor's first partner quickly appears, and after that initial embrace, she dances nearly every dance, with different partners. The tango is a more languid dance than you might have thought. Those lunges and high kicks are for show dancing. Here, the dancers face each other squarely rather than looking to the side, as the cliched version holds. Since movement comes from below the waist, and each dancer has his or her own axis, the woman almost seems to be leaning diagonally on the man at times. The woman needs to be malleable, while also finding her own style.

Several of Ms. Taylor's friends from the milonga circuit are here tonight. Among them is Muma Valioo Bossolino, who's wearing a slim brown sheath and fur-trimmed ankle boots. She calls her fellow milongueras "amigas de leche" -- friends who've shared mother's milk. Ricardo Enrique Maceiras, whose nickname is "el pibe Sarandi" ("the kid from Sarandi"), is another regular. He learned the tango decades ago by practicing alone in front of a mirror for months.

By Ms. Taylor's standard, tonight's milonga is a huge success. She had that one good dance, and more. Now she trades her tango shoes for street shoes and says goodbye to her friends. It's a lengthy ritual, conducted Argentine-style with kisses and lingering and more kisses, even though they'll meet up soon at another milonga. Tomorrow, maybe.

- Carolyn J. Mooney

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