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Behaviour Code (when asking for a dance)

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Date:    Tue, 21 Jul 1998 11:56:08 EDT
From:    Cherie Magnus
Subject: Re: Nora's Tango Week


Hi Everyone,

I found Tango Week to be well-organized, educational, inspiring and fun. There
was a great deal of content and IMHO, lots of bang for my buck. Met some great
people, too.

The excellent teachers were Nito & Elba, Roberto & Mina (in L.A. next month to
dance at the Hollywood Bowl), Gavito & Marcela, Pupy Castello, Graciela
Gonzalez, and Nora herself. Not only did they put on great classes on a
variety of subjects, but they all performed at the incredible milongas we had
every night, which included live music from the fantastic New York/Buenos
Aires Trio and the singing of Martin De Leon.

The biggest problem that I saw was the usual one: more women than men. And
this was the most painful during the classes where the teachers didn't urge
people to change partners. As usual the most aggressive women got to dance the
most, almost knocking others down to get to the men first, especially to the
ones who were the very best dancers. There were more beginning men than
beginning women, and that also dramatically made the odds even worse as
people's skill levels became known to the group.

Nora, bless her, also tried to teach milonga etiquette, which was like a party
game the night we formally tried it. But it did serve to calm down some of
these aggressive women and pushed the shyer men into inviting women to dance.
And I think that made a positive difference during the rest of the week.

This is a traditional problem at such events, but there's not much to be done
about it. That's just the way it is. Perhaps more women should be encouraged
to learn to lead. There's no question that I would prefer to dance with a
woman who leads and dances well, than with a man's who's a beginner.

I also wish there was a way to separate absolute beginners from the more
experienced in classes, as I chose often to sit and watch rather than be
stepped on and kicked.

The bay area was a great place to have this event as the level of dancing is
quite high already, and the local dancers attending the Tango Week milongas
enriched them considerably.

I rate Nora's Tango Week an A. I only wish some other people from L.A. had
attended besides myself, in order to bring home more of the outstanding
instruction we had, and to enrich our own local milongas.

Cherie

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Date:    Tue, 21 Jul 1998 14:43:51 EDT
From:    Kathy Seymour
Subject: Re: workshop women


In a message dated 7/21/98 11:58:34 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
MACFroggy@AOL.COM writes:

> As usual the most aggressive women got to dance the most, almost
> knocking others down to get to the men first, especially to the
> ones who were the very best dancers.

Boy, does this one strike home.  I actually like to watch my husband dancing
with other women.  I think it ultimately helps our dancing.  It would,
however, be nice if these women recognized my presence with a simple "hello"
in their race to get to him.  Do any of the other married Tangueras run across
this problem?

-Kathy

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Date:    Tue, 21 Jul 1998 22:28:29 -0400
From:    Enrico Massetti
Subject: Fw: Re: workshop women

Kathy wrote:
>Boy, does this one strike home. I actually like to watch my husband
>dancing with other women.  I think it ultimately helps our dancing.
>It would, however, be nice if these women recognized my presence with
>a simple "hello" in their race to get to him.
>Do any of the other married Tangueras run across
>this problem?
>
>-Kathy

Hi,

cultural difference again?

A few weekend ago I was in Miami with my wife and a tanguero friendfrom
Tampa, we were hosted by Ernesto, a local tanguero our friend.

We went to have dinner with dance at "El Gaucho", where there is live tango
music.

The restaurant was almost full, but nobody was dancing, and Ernesto broke
the ice inviting my wife.  She was quite nervous, but managed to get very
well to the end.

At El Gaucho there was (is?) a "resident milonguero", a real one from the
barrios of Buenos Aires.  He has a table reserved for him and his partner on
the side of the orchestra.  He was the next one on the floor, with his
partner.

After their dances were over, he brought his partner to their table, and
then came close to our table, asking Ernesto permission to invite my wife.
Ernesto told him to ask me, "su esposo", and, of course, my movement with
the head was more than enough to say yes.

After I danced with my wife, I "felt compelled" to go to invite the
milonguero's partner, as it would have been rude not to do so, and, of
course, it only came natural to me to ask the milonguero something in my
broken spanish, like "puede invidar la dama..", and his movement of the head
was more than enough.

Now, I'm not from Argentina, but is simple "buona educazione", litterally
"good education", that is,  "good manners", enough to explain the
milonguero's and my behaviour that night?

Or should I go into the cultural difference area again?  Are the
similarities between myself and the milonguero, and the differences with
Kathy's experience due to "educazione" (manners) or are they cultural (the
ladies in the United Stetes never learned how to make a man crazy, or just
to invite him to invite her for a dance, with just the blink of an eye?

Ciao,

Enrico

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Date:    Wed, 22 Jul 1998 13:36:43 +0200
From:    Peter Niebert
Subject: Behaviour code (Re: Fw: Re: workshop women)


Dear List,

Cherie, Kathy and Enrico described problems of behaviour code at
milongas, in particular how to behave when asking accompanied (wo)men
for a dance.

Maybe I have artificial problems in my mind, but I find this topic
very important, and unlike Enrico I find it very difficult to resolve.

Here is my understanding of the matters, please correct me where you
believe I am wrong.


* Tango is anachronist, in particular it is older than women's lib,
  but it mixes with the western culture as it evolves after women's lib.

* Women's lib concerning dancing also meant a liberation from
  the dependency on men asking them to dance. As a consequence, single
  dancing (rather than couple dancing) to Rock/Pop music became
  popular and still is the most widespread form of dance.

  However, single dancing is somewhat cold and unpersonal and the
  revival of couple dancing is evident.

* Part of the behaviour code at dance events (in Germany at least)
  before woman's lib - the way my mother told me about her dancing
  in her postwar youth (late fourties and fifties), when couple
  dancing was done by almost everyone - was extremely formal:

  A table would be filled with couples, always the woman sitting to
  the right of the man. The first dance the man would have to ask his
  partner, then by and by would have to dance with all the women at
  the same table and only then would be allowed to ask also women from
  different tables. And yes, I believe the male partners would have to
  be asked for permission also, which of course they could not really deny.

  Only men were allowed to ask women, except during rare "lady's choice"
  sessions. Of course, the lady's choice sessions underlined that
  normally the men were to choose the women.

  Even though the number of men and women thus would be equal, of
  course there were more and less desired women and being less desired
  (addressed by the idiom "Mauerblümchen", a little unseeming flower,
  which is so unlucky never to be "picked") was very bad. Obviously,
  the obligation to dance with every woman from the same table was
  meant as a protection for these women.

* Now, I do not believe that after women's lib and simultaneously
  after the youth revolt of 68, new formal rules were ever
  reestablished. But clearly, many formal rules - if not all - fell.
  In particular, there is no more a "lady's choice", because women may
  ask the men they want any time.
  So, what is left is a lot more freedom with a lot more uncertainty
  on how to behave.

Before getting involved with Tango, the typical dance events I
attended (not many) did not follow clear formal rules. It would even
have been impossible to dance with all women at the same table,
because relatively few people know how to dance these days, and it is
nearly impossible to charm a typical woman outside the dancing culture
even to try to dance at such an event. She would feel very
uncomfortable.

Now, here is Tango again and our local dancing culture mixes with
Argentine habits as we learn them from hearsay. This makes things very
difficult:

* Again, the rule is that men ask women, although nobody objects if women
  ask men. As a consequence, some women sit there all night with a
  desperate face waiting for men to ask them (but who would ask a
  woman with a desperate face). There is no lady's
  choice, which could give them a chance to break out of this
  situation. Of course, they know that in principle they could also
  take the initiative, but not *being asked* already gives them a bad
  psychological position.

* Women often outnumber men at milongas.

* The lead-follow focus of Tango makes it easier for advanced men to
  dance with beginning women than conversely.

All of this means that women depend more on men in Tango than
conversely, but there no longer exists a formal code to protect
them. So, what is left is the worst of both periods: the depencency on
men as before women's lib and the lack of (macho?) politeness as after
women's lib.

My impression is that this repeatedly frustrating situation makes some
number of women - sometimes excellent dancers - drop out of Tango and
maybe turn to dances where they are more independent such as Flamenco.


Furthermore, you mentioned the difficulties of couples at milongas. My
impression here is the following:

* When appearing as couple at a milonga, the chances of being asked
  for a dance by someone else decrease significantly for both sexes.
  This is not directly a problem for the man, because he can easily
  take the initiative to approach other women. But for the woman who
  wants to be asked for a dance this is a problem.

  And for me, I feel very uncomfortable if I dance all evening with
  many women, while the only partner my company essentially dances
  with is myself. I hate such a situation, it can really spoil an
  evening for both.

  I am not sure, but I suspect that people are afraid of disturbing
  the couple, which most likely is a mistake.

* As for myself, I would really feel bad to ask the partner of a woman
  I want to ask for a dance for permission, because I feel that this
  is her responsibility and none of my business. Whether she has an
  agreement with him or exchanges a short glance, that is a different
  issue. What I would consider impolite would be to break into a
  conversation, but that is not restricted to the man she showed up
  with. I might in this case maybe position myself so as to give her
  the chance to find my eyes and decide for herself, whether to ignore=20
  the offer without notice or to take it.


So, what is the answer? Should there be a (loose, of course!)
behaviour code for milongas? Maybe some paper circulating in the
community, like other papers (e.g.\ the Shulman/Trenner texts or the
fabulous text of Lidia Ferrari, Is Tango Macho?)?  Does such a code
exist today (!) in Buenos Aires? Do there exist codes in the other
dancing scenes, say ballroom, and would they be applicable to
milongas?

To make this clear once more, I object to enforce some code from another=20
culture to our culture, just because it is "authentic". What I believe=20
is needed is a code incorporating all, our cultural development, the
history of Tango, our modern needs.


Peter


PS: I enjoy reading Tango-L precicely because of discussions of this
kind in the global Tango village. I believe it to be the perfect
medium for spreading norms, which otherwise evolve regionally only.


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Date:    Wed, 22 Jul 1998 08:25:33 -0400
From:    Enrico Massetti
Subject: Re: Behaviour code (Re: Fw: Re: workshop women)

Peter wrote:
>Cherie, Kathy and Enrico described problems of behaviour code at
>milongas, in particular how to behave when asking accompanied (wo)men
>for a dance.


>* When appearing as couple at a milonga, the chances of being asked
>  for a dance by someone else decrease significantly for both sexes.
>  This is not directly a problem for the man, because he can easily
>  take the initiative to approach other women. But for the woman who
>  wants to be asked for a dance this is a problem.

A suggestion for all men with steady tango partners:

My wife and I are a steady couple (almost 30 years, and we like to dance
with other partners, it adds to the pleasure of finding again each other
afterwards.  We also are part of a group of "aficionados" tangueros (not to
say "fanaticos") in our area.

As a group, we discussed what we could do to keep more of the curious people
who venture to our milongas, and interest them to perhaps come again to our
events.  One of the ideas that was common to everybody (in addition to
serving pizza) was that the more experienced dancers should dance with the
beginners.  Both experienced men with beginner women, and experienced women
with beginner men.

There are several ways in which we implement this idea: one is what Peter
calls "formal": at the end of the class preceding the milonga the teacher
makes an announcement; "and now the class is over, the milonga is starting
and to open it, our experienced dancers will invite you to dance with them"
no distinction of sex, a socially approved way of allowing women to invite
men, all at the same time.

A second is the traditional, formal "mixer", the women alligned on a wall,
the men inviting in sequence all the women for one round of the floor.  I
found in this way that there is a lady in our aficionado group I like to
dance with, a lady who likes to have a dance with me, a lady i had never
invited before, probably because she always dances with her husband, and is
shy to even look to other dancers???

A third way is more personal, from myself and my wife.  Doesn't matter who
starts it, could be me or her, at a certain point we would like to invite a
couple to dance.  No fancy 4-way dancing, she with him, I with her.  So we
go close to them, I invite her, saying at the same time "why don't you dance
with him?".  Since these are ususally beginners, it works very well, as "he"
does not feel this as being an aggressive approach.

What is all of this?  Peter said it very well, there are a lot of different
reasons, some cultural, some social (the '68), some personal for the
behaviour on the social dance floor.  To make it simple, I believe that "old
good manners" is all is needed.... and I am one who has been VERY active in
the '68 movement in Italy, so, don't bother to accuse me of being "out of
fashion", I was out in the street demonstrating, or in jail to change the
world I didn't like, but, please, NOT to replace it with a world I like even
less.

Ciao,

Enrico

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ate:    Wed, 22 Jul 1998 12:52:45 -0400
From:    Jacques Gauthier
Subject: Re: Behaviour code (Re: Fw: Re: workshop women)


> As a group, we discussed what we could do to keep more of the curious
> people who venture to our milongas, and interest them to perhaps come
> again to our events.  One of the ideas that was common to everybody
> (in addition to serving pizza) was that the more experienced dancers
> should dance with the beginners.  Both experienced men with beginner
> women, and experienced women with beginner men.

Hello,

I was at a dance event some weeks back where the
people wore a yellow ruban to indicate that they
wouldn't turn down anyone who invited them to
dance.  This way, people weren't as apprehensive
when it came to inviting someone to dance.


Jacques

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Date:    Wed, 22 Jul 1998 10:13:11 -0700
From:    Pat Cummings
Subject: Re: Behaviour code (Re: Fw: Re: workshop women)


My husband and I began dancing nearly 25 years ago while living in
another country, one in which the older formalism of partner dancing
had not yet been set aside.  We benefited then, as now, from the
courtesy of more-experienced partners who invited us to dance.

As Enrico Massetti has pointed out, this courtesy is bred in a culture
and time, taught to all in that culture, but often inobvious to
outsiders.
Nevertheless, along with steps and lead-and-follow, we learned those
ballroom courtesies that have enriched our dancing.

As a consequence, I have noticed that Ken (and, to a lesser extent, I)
tend to be "icebreakers" for new dancers at a milonga.  We ask the
wallflowers, Peter Niebert's "Mauerblümchen", out to dance.  Then,
when other dancers have seen that this person DOES agree to dance,
and DOES know how (to whatever degree), they will usually be asked
again by someone else.  We do this at tango and ballroom dances both.
We have done it using Enrico's "couple invitation" to get a new couple
out onto the floor, but usually one of us is inviting a single partner out
to dance.

When Ken asks a beginner lady to dance, he starts with basic steps, and
then leads her into more exciting steps.  He enjoys the rush of pleasure all
can see in her face when a lady who may never have done anything more=20
complex than an ocho suddenly finds herself completing a giro.  As Peter
pointed out, this is easier for the man because of the lead-follow
relationship.

I also invite new partners to dance with me, often beginners who have
not been out on the floor yet.  How else does the beginning dancer learn
that it is okay to ask and be asked?  (And what better way to signal that I
will dance with other partners than Ken?)

Like Kathy, I have had the experience of seeing my husband led off,
without even a nod in my direction, though I find it more disturbing when
a lady apologizes profusely for taking my partner away, as if he were the
only one who would ever dance with me!  But I enjoy watching as Ken
dances with another woman, seeing from the outside those movements I
can only perceive by touch when I am his partner on the floor.

So here we are, multiple generations from many regions and cultures,
united on the dance floor by our love of this singular dance. We can build
our own culture, one by one, couple by couple, wherever we dance.  We
can boldly (ladies too!) ask a new partner to dance, whether explicitly or
with body language.  Or we can sit yearning, moping or desperate, on the
edge of the dance floor, and complain that the cultures don't match.

I'd rather tango!

--Pat (of Pat&Ken)

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Date:    Wed, 22 Jul 1998 12:25:44 -0400
From:    "Walter M. Kane"
Subject: Re: Behaviour code (Re: Fw: Re: workshop women)


Dear List, Peter & Enrico,

On the subject of behavior code, I'm not sure which is the bigger problem,
that of asking unaccompanied (wo)men to dance, as nicely articulated by
Peter Niebert, or that of steady couples,  as Enrico Massetti described,
who may have trouble getting to dance with partners other than each other.

My wife and I are in a situation similar to the Massettis' except that we
are not the experienced dancers that they are, and therefore don't have the
flexibility of control, to let other, less experienced dancers have the
benefit of us offering to exchange couples with them, as Enrico suggested.
We've done that in ballroom, where we have more experience and competence,
but it will be a while before we're good enough at tango to help other
couples that way. Just as for the Massettis, we like dancing with each
other best (even though we've been married *much* longer than they have.
;-)), but like to dance with other partners as well, to enjoy the
sociability of the event and to expand and test our abilities.

For unattached people, the problem seems to be greater for women, who may
feel constrained to wait to be asked to dance; but for steady partners,
like we are, the problem appears greater for the men, if they, like me, are
reluctant (i.e., judge it to be inconsiderate of their regular partners) to
ask another woman to dance unless another man has already invited his
steady partner onto the floor. This is compounded by the (generally wrong)
perception by the majority of the other men that the couple, seen to dance
mostly (or almost exclusively) with each other, may not want to split up
for a dance or a tanda.

I wonder how prevalent this problem is among men in my situation. I doubt I
am the only old-fashioned guy who doesn't want to leave his lady without a
partner while he goes off to wink at some other.

Tangringo
____________________
Walter M. (Tangringo) Kane
Harriman, NY


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Date:    Wed, 22 Jul 1998 13:27:43 -0600
From:    Tom Stermitz
Subject: Re: Behaviour code (Re: Fw: Re: workshop women)


Peter Niebert
...
>Now, here is Tango again and our local dancing culture mixes with
>Argentine habits as we learn them from hearsay. This makes things very
>difficult:
>
>* Again, the rule is that men ask women, although nobody objects if women
>  ask men. As a consequence, some women sit there all night with a
>  desperate face waiting for men to ask them (but who would ask a
>  woman with a desperate face). There is no lady's
>  choice, which could give them a chance to break out of this
>  situation. Of course, they know that in principle they could also
>  take the initiative, but not *being asked* already gives them a bad
>  psychological position.
>
>* Women often outnumber men at milongas.
>
>* The lead-follow focus of Tango makes it easier for advanced men to
>  dance with beginning women than conversely.
>
>All of this means that women depend more on men in Tango than
>conversely, but there no longer exists a formal code to protect
>them. So, what is left is the worst of both periods: the depencency on
>men as before women's lib and the lack of (macho?) politeness as after
>women's lib.
...

Enrico Massetti
...
>
>What is all of this?  Peter said it very well, there are a lot of different
>reasons, some cultural, some social (the '68), some personal for the
>behaviour on the social dance floor.  To make it simple, I believe that "old
>good manners" is all is needed.... and I am one who has been VERY active in
>the '68 movement in Italy, so, don't bother to accuse me of being "out of
>fashion", I was out in the street demonstrating, or in jail to change the
>world I didn't like, but, please, NOT to replace it with a world I like even
>less.
>
>Ciao,
>
>Enrico
>

Both Enrico and Peter offer some good observations.

It is very important to differentiate between a milonga, a practica or a
class, or I guess a stage exhibition.

(1) Different cultural contexts are not just Latin vs N American/European:

What about the Country and Western Bar (a common singles scene here in
Colorado) or a disco scene in a bigger city?
Or: West Coast swing clubs, Vintage Ballroom Dances, Studio Ballroom Dance party
OR: Sunday night foxtrot at the Elks Club?

Nightclub/singles scene vs just dancing for fun
Close-knit communities vs lots of strangers
Couples who grew up in the 1940s or 50s vs 40 somethings who experienced
the 60s vs 20 somethings tripping the light fantastic

In my experience:

-The older folks at the Elks Club dance almost exclusively with their
wives, just as the older gentlemen in Buenos Aires do (except when they're
out on their own).

-Vintage ballroom circles have a lot of women asking men.

-The C&W scene is very much a nightclub or even a pick-up scene. The women
being quite picky about who they wish to dance with...a known man, someone
from their table, someone they'r attracted to, and certainly, absolutely,
the women turn down men without regaard to protecting their fragile male
egos.

Are our tango dances safe, cozy clubs, nostalgic memories for older couples
or  dances of seduction and romance?

Is there an undercurrent of excitement or even danger? Is there the
slightest possibility that I'll meet a mysterious stranger who could sweep
me off my feet?


(2) The issue of women asking men in the tango raises another issue, which
doesn't fit with the post 60s equality of the sexes.

Although you can do tango figures and shapes irregardless of sex role, I
find that tango really calls for masculine leaders and feminine followers
even to the extreme of returning to traditional cultural attitudes and
codes.

Tango asks (female) followers to be sensitive, adaptive, sensuous,
intuitive with a touch of attitude, and (male) leaders to be audacious,
solid and bold, yet to cradle the women as if she is the most special thing
in the world. (Yes, I know there are many men who think that showing off
how many fancy steps they know is the way to her heart, but that is a
different thread)

If the woman asks the man for a dance I think she runs the risk of
disrupting the challenge and response of tango a romance or seduction.

If she asks for the dance, is she really going to get what she wants out of
him?

I think she gets the opposite; it lets the man off easy; he doesn't have to
work very hard to please her if she is that easy (I don't want to say
desperate, but we are researching traditional attitudes, aren't we?)

Part of the challenge and response of seduction is perhaps a return to
themes of the hunter and the hunted.


(3) Enrico said it well when he pointed out that Latin women have developed
mechanisms of handling the Latin Males. This artfulness softens the
"sexist" observations above.

The eye game is a finely developed art form in Argentina that equalizes the
possibilities for either role. The women have no need to run around
grabbing the guys as they walk off the dance floor. They can sit cooly
(never desperately) and choose whomever they want. "With a nod of
benediction she annoints her romeo," as in El Pial by de Angelis.

Marta Savigliano, definitely a feminist and a "modern" philosopher pursues
these questions in her book "Tango and the Political Economy of Passion",
describing tango as "...a powerful representation of male/female courtship,
stressing the tension involved in the process of seduction..."

"Translated into tango choreographic terms, the lyrics suggest that
milonguitas could provoke the dance (call the attention of their target
through their glances, figure, and dancing abilities) and tempt the
class/race status quo into motion..."

Savigliano claims then that the follower can manipulate the leaders with
such skill that she changes his next step without his even knowing it.

Tom Stermitz
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Date:    Wed, 22 Jul 1998 15:51:38 -0400
From:    Enrico Massetti
Subject: Re: Behaviour code (Re: Fw: Re: workshop women)

Tom wrote:
>Savigliano claims then that the follower can manipulate the leaders with
>such skill that she changes his next step without his even knowing it.


This is sometimes true not only for a tango step, this is true for true REAL
LIFE, and, if the man knows, or suspects it, he prefers not to tell her, and
to let the woman have her room, her space and her role in their relationship
for life.

Enrico
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Garrit Fleischmann Jul.98
Email: kontakt(at)cyber-tango.com