La Gran Milonga Nacional 2015

I missed part of the Gran Milonga because I went . . . to a different milonga first! It looked like rain, and everyone said, "Oh, too bad, the milonga in Avenida de Mayo won't happen this year." So I made a backup plan: go back to Los Consagrados for a few hours, then see if the weather cleared up. The milonga was really empty compared to normal: some people had bet on the weather being better than I expected, and were off dancing outside.

Five hours later, I staggered out of Los Consagrados, having danced more than enough. That place is really good for my ego. On the way out, three men stopped me to ask my why I hadn't looked at them, and wouldn't I like to do one more tanda? Ah, fame.

Kent, Sara and I went to La Continental for a quick dinner because all three of us had just danced for about five hours. Then, we headed out to the milonga in the street around midnight. There were not that many people, but it HAD started four hours before (oops!), and the rain had only sprinkled, so nothing had been cancelled after all.

We listened to a few singers, did silly Rudolph Valentino imitations in the street, and then danced a bit. However, the choice of pavement or plywood stage, after hours of dancing on a really good floor, made us choose to only dance a little bit and to listen more. I joked that my minute of fame up on the stage in 2012 was enough for me!


Next year, Portland, let's go wreck our shoes out there at the street milonga!!! Have I got a tour planned for you, and we will be out there dancing!

My video editing skills are still super-beginner, so please forgive the strange glitches :-)

Anxiety and tango: getting out on the dance floor

During the past few weeks, I have watched my students and how they approach dancing tango (and other dances). One Thursday night, I am happy to say, several students were out on the dance floor, doing their thing. However, two more were sitting at the dance, not making much eye contact with potential dance partners; one was texting. Another beginning dancer was hiding in the bar and watching from where no one would ask him to dance.

One student told me that he may never go out dancing, but just wanted to learn tango. Several people have told me that their fear of asking someone else to dance has made it almost impossible to dance, although they have reached intermediate and advanced levels of dancing tango by taking lessons.

This is not only about my students. I had the opportunity to talk to other dancers at workshops and milongas during the past few weeks, and asked them about their experiences going dancing. Some told me of crying in their cars after the milonga, or not being able to walk in the door some nights. Only a few people seemed to find my question silly: "What problem? I love this!"

Most of the responses of current dancers were similar to those persons who were too scared to go dancing, but something must have occurred to get them over that initial hump, and out on the dance floor. What could make this experience work better for those of us who are shy, anxious, lacking confidence, or just starting out dancing? How can we get out on the dance floor more easily?

I would love to hear what you have to say about your experience getting out on the dance floor. What advice would YOU give to someone to help them get out there?


Festivals: cabeceo or no?

Portland Tangofest starts in a few days, and the the topic of whether or not one should cabeceo  (inviting with a glance/head gesture, from some distance away) has reared its ugly head again.

Traditionally, cabeceo gave women a chance to have some power in the decision-making process of who danced with whom. If she didn't want to dance with someone, she could either avoid eye contact, or look at them, but not agree to dance. Because women traditionally didn't invite men to dance, looking available or not-available provided a measure of control over dancing with certain people.

For those of us who did most of our tango learning in Buenos Aires, cabeceo is what feels comfortable. I prefer cabeceo because, if I am having a conversation with another person, it signals to potential partners that I am busy at the moment. If I want to dance, I am looking around. Putting my cultural anthropologist hat on, I think you should follow the cultural rules that go along with traditional dances; or at least know what those rules are.

Cabeceo doesn't work as well in situations in North America because only some people have been trained how to do it; and others don't like the fact that the person being asked might indicate "no" and so use direct invitation to coerce those of us who tend to be too nice to say "no" when standing a foot away from someone. Also, if two women or two men are doing the inviting, the traditional roles don't necessarily fit. As a woman who leads, I have found it almost impossible to cabeceo women, unless they have spent some time in Buenos Aires. Also, many North American men are not comfortable maintaining eye contact long enough to actually ask someone to dance via cabeceo.

This makes for a very confused muddle at a festival. People from different towns have different conventions (traditional Argentine and very non-Argentine), which is even harder to figure out than usual.

Here is what I do at festivals. I stick to cabeceo with folks who know my preference. For people who walk up and invite me, I usually say yes, but then ask them to cabeceo me in the future. However, if I see a man or woman looking at me hopefully, but then looking away/down/etc. I may approach them and ask if they would like to dance. I will especially do this if they don't look familiar. Folks who are new often have not been taught how to cabeceo.

I'll be hosting the Friday afternoon milonga at Tangofest. In that situation, not only will I ask folks to dance; I will also drag people over and introduce them to new people. I see my role as hostess as a connector, helping cabeceo-impaired dancers to find happiness on the dance floor :-) I will see you there!

And tell me how you navigate Argentine custom and North American practices on the dance floor!


Dancing in tight spaces: tips for followers

With Valentango approaching, I have been thinking about what advice to give followers for dancing in small spaces. Leaders often panic when faced with tight quarters. Even a trusted leader may panic and leave you to your own devices as they try to figure out what to do. What can you do to help?

First, I focus on being on axis. If I keep my alignment in order. I make sure that I have my shock absorption system working: feet, ankles, knees and hips are soft and energized. I make sure my heels are down on the floor, not off the floor where I could injure other dancers. I keep my torso elastic and stretched, connecting to my leader. This makes it easier for the leader to lead me, leaving more focus for navigation.

Next, I DANCE. It's easy to cheat in small steps, and not dance your best. When in tight spaces, I play with my quality of movement, small changes in speed, and use my smaller adornos. I try to be as musical as possible. Every step counts. I am never treading in place, waiting to dance. I am dancing each step, making every bit of the song count for myself and my partner. I am dancing my heart out, in less than a square meter. If I really dance, my leader feels that and dances with me.

Third, I try to ensure that no one is going to run into us from a direction my leader cannot see. If I need to, I will use my left hand/arm to give a slight warning signal to my leader if s/he is about to back up into trouble. But make sure that you don't get into "back-seat driver" mode: you are following.

However, if you are the kind of follower who gets tense in small spaces, you may need to close your eyes and concentrate on relaxing in order to let yourself be led; I used to do that for years until I learned not to panic. If someone runs into you and your lead, exhaling and releasing the tension in your body will help you not get injured--and will make it easier for your leader to lead you.

Have fun!