Ok... I admit. I did it too. Call me bad, call me snobbish, call me mean, call me whatever you want and carve my face in your brain and do not forget who I am but for God's sake please read on so that you can understand me better. I said "thanks" to some amount of leaders in the middle of a tanda and they are not necessarily the beginners but also, so called the "advanced" ones. I am so much into people who have willingness and desire to learn and try hard that I don't care if they are beginners or advanced. I do love dancing with them.... because to me a beautiful and connected walk for a whole tanda is heaven and it is much better than being dragged like a rag doll by someone who thinks he knows bunch of steps but has no connection and especially respect whatsoever... Soooo, instead of suffering for three or four songs in the arms of a puppeteer, I simply thank them after the first maybe the second song. Am I bad? Yes, in their eyes I am. And that's fine if they don't forget my face, but I believe that's the right thing to do for me and even for the leader.
When I was searching the net I came across Ney Melo's article called, "The Do's and Don'ts of Inviting and Accepting"... and towards the end of rule number 6, Ney says:
.... I truly believe that when women start using their power of declining dances and sending messages, then that is when the leaders will start working to improve their dance. It has to be a system of checks and balances. If we allow mediocre leaders to dance with amazing followers and vice versa, then why would they want to get better? I remember an argument that a friend and I had a long time ago. She was upset because a horrible leader basically manhandled her for a whole tanda and made her look and feel bad. I witnessed the whole thing and I didn't like what this leader did, but I also didn't like that my friend was too nice not to end the carnage early!! Ladies, please use your power to say "no" to bad dances. It is better to sit all night, enjoy the music, and have a good conversation than to be dragged around the milonga floor like Hector was by Achilles after being slain in the movie "Troy". There were many times in my tango infancy that I was rejected by good followers. I never took it personally. It only served to make me better.
I'm not saying you shouldn't dance with beginners. Everyone should do a dance or two with beginners at the milonga and look at it as 'community service' and make them feel welcome. But there is a difference between a beginner, and a bad dancer who just never 'gets it'. There are a number of guys at any given milonga who have been dancing for a long time, they maul the ladies, and they never have any incentive to get better because they get all the dances they want anyway.
If you want to read his whole article it is at:
Well I agree with Ney, but also want to say that, I believe, a beginner could be an amazing dancer and an advanced one, even if he or she is a teacher, might be like hell. There are some incredible beginners out there, some even have been dancing for only two or three months, and it is always and always a pleasure to dance with them.
Today is my lucky day. My hair is cooperating, makeup is perfect... for once I am earlier than usual and with the first wave of my hand a taxi jams on the breaks and stops right in front of me. I am going to Verdi Club. After not dancing for two days I am excited. I tell the address to the driver and to my great surprise he knows where it is exactly. In ten minutes I am in front of Verdi. "It looks crowded" says the driver pointing out the people sitting on the stairs. "What is going on in there tonight?" I turn my head and see at least ten guys out there, chatting, smoking... "Tango" I say proudly while handing him the money. "Well" he says... "enjoy yourself" ... Ignoring his sarky smile and meaningful blink, I get off. I hear cheering and applause coming from inside. "Must be a performance" I think to myself... It's gonna be an interesting night. Especially with all these leaders I have never seen before. They must be visitors. Looking at their cowboy hats, probably they are coming from Texas or something. "Are you going to try it out?", one of the guys ask. "Yeah" I say, "as soon as I change my shoes. "Ever done it before?" "Well... for about 5 or six years by now." "I can't even last for 3 seconds" he laughs. "Newbie" I mumble to myself and head in.... and... I get the big picture. Doggoned!!!... What the heck.... There is a huge mechanical bull in the middle of the dance hall surrounded by bunch of guys... I can't look anymore, I can't stay any longer and I can't believe myself. I completely forgot that the tango was cancelled for a private party. Without looking back I throw myself out and run down the stairway, covering my ears to all the comments... -Leaving already? -Can teach you!... -Bla bla bla bla -Bla bla bla -Bla bla -Bla.... With my hand in the air ready to wave for a cab, I don't feel that lucky anymore. Suddenly I see someone from the tango scene walking towards me... I grab his arm as if I had seen a long lost friend. I can't remember his name, can't remember if we ever danced before but he is my best friend now. He is my tango pal. He is my rescuer. Well... honestly... he is my ride. Just like me he forgot that tango was cancelled. I tell him what's going on inside. Luckily he is not into riding mechanical bulls so he gives me a ride to the other milonga.
It's crowded today here in Cocomo. It's not even eleven yet but I've had wonderful dances already. I can easily go home all happy and tired. Instead I sit by some friends and begin to watch the tango scene. One of the ladies pokes the other one with her elbow and points out someone. "Watch this guy, he's a great dancer!" Although I think I am a good observer especially when it comes to spotting good leaders, I believe it's always useful to have some feedback from other ladies so I prick up my ears. "Did you just see that ?... Oh... Great patada!.... Wonderful zarandeo!!!.... Was that a saltida or salto?" My inner voice says, "sorry, but to me that patada was just a painful "kick". That zarandeo was a big jolt. And that wasn't a saltida... that was a jump." The song ends... the last song of the tanda... "I really want to dance with this guy but he never cabeceos me" she says poking me with her other elbow this time. "Isn't he great?" I remember turning a blind eye to his cabeseos many times. When he intensely looks at me I either begin to unbuckle and buckle my shoes, or dig deep into my purse as if I am looking for something. If I see him walking towards me then it's time to run to the bathroom to freshen up. Maybe he is a good dancer. Maybe he dances better than he looks. Maybe I am not seeing what these women see. Maybe I am just judging the book by its cover. Maybe I am just bad... maybe.... I suddenly wake up from my thoughts with a gentle touch on my shoulder and I come eye to eye with him. "Do you think I will be able to convince you to dance with me tonight?" With my friend's even harder and really encouraging elbow poke on my side and his nose to nose unavoidable cabeceo I find myself on the dance floor, in his embrace and I am already trying to find my balance. I have a feeling that we look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We begin to move with the fast beat of the song. Right, left, back, front... We are swaying with our upper body, and I have to find a way to hang on so that I don't fall down. The stronger I grab his shoulder, the more aggressive he becomes. When I begin to feel the jumps and jolts then I put my arm around his neck... well I grab... his neck, so that I can hang there. It almost feels like he wants to throw me away, knock me down. It almost looks like a bull riding I bet. And I suddenly remember the mechanical bull in Verdi. May be I should have stayed there that night and tried to learn how to ride the damn thing so I wouldn't suffer so much here tonight. I don't know how I last there for three minutes in "Leaning Tower of Pisa" embrace with all those jolts and jumps but finally the song finishes. Looks like I am still standing. I break our embrace, straighten myself and thank him for the "rocking" dance. While going to my seat I promise myself that I will write a manual for followers who willingly or unwillingly end up with "mechanical bull dancers" on the dance floor.
And the lesson (Manual)
Start with the least experienced one. The one who knows fewer figures. Friends may encourage you to be daring and dance with the more complicated dancers, but starting easy will prevent injury and the potential embarrassment of being thrown off immediately.
Increase the level one leader at a time without skipping. You can change leaders fast when you get the hang of them, but you will want to experience all the swirls and jolts of each leader so you know what to expect on the next one.
Hold on to the leader tightly with one hand. The other hand should be used for balance. Move it around from side to side, front to back to keep your weight balanced with the center of the leader. If the leader jerks left, your arm should move right to keep your weight from moving too far to the left due to momentum.
Press your legs against the leader tightly while keeping your upper body lose. Your lower body will hold you connected to the leader, but your upper body will help balance your weight. If your upper body becomes tight, it will not sway properly and you will be thrown off.
When it becomes obvious you are about to fall, first give him a big gancho in between his legs as high as possible, lead yourself to a salto and jump off quickly... This will not only help you to land more softly, it could make your fall look a little more graceful. Everybody falls down eventually, but not everybody can make it look good.
It is the Monday place again. The Slovenian Hall. I like this building... with its lofty ceilings, old hardwood floors, and the distinctive smell... like the pages of an old book, or a dusty attic, or the clothes of an old woman.... something earthy, something old, something sad. It is an historical building but yet I have never cared reading the history of it. Using my imagination sometimes works better for me. Knowing the details, finding out the truth, seeing the reality kills the magic. When the tango is playing this place becomes even more mystical to me. Especially with its locked doors upstairs. I always wonder what's hidden behind these tall doors. Under the dimmed lights, with tango echoing on the walls I feel goosebumps and quickly run back downstairs like a kid every time I attempt to turn the knobs of these secretive rooms. Yes, I like this place... but would never want to be alone here.
It's almost eleven and most of the people are leaving. There are only two couples left on the dace floor. I am chatting with a friend while waiting for the tanda to end. Then suddenly I see someone sitting at the very far end of the room... right near my seat. It is impossible not to notice him because he has a very white face, it almost looks powdered. His hair is very dark, maybe black and combed all the way back. He is dressed all in black. I haven't seen him earlier, he must have come a while ago when I was upstairs wondering. I ask my friend if she knows him but she says she has never seen him before. Curious about the new face I approach towards my seat. I have that 'I don't care a whit' attitude and refuse to look at him but his white face keeps catching my sight. He stays quiet for the whole tanda without moving but then slowly he stands up and begins to walk towards me. Suddenly I see a very bony hand extended right in front of my eyes. I look up and there he is, with his white face...and sharp nose... and his thin, deep red lips are almost whispering, "Would you like to dance?".
This man reminds me of someone... someone that I know very well. I hold his ice-cold hand and arise. He keeps me in close embrace... may be a little too close, or I should say tight. I really enjoy his leading, his style is not showy but clear and elegant. After the first song he releases me and locks his keen dark eyes on mine. Suddenly I startle. Something about this man scares the hell out of me. Is it his eyes sneaking under those thick brows, his powder-white face, his thin red lips, his black hair combed all the way back, his bony, cold hands? All of a sudden I put the whole picture together. Now I know who he looks like... The Count... Count Dracula. The only thing missing from this picture is his sharp teeth... but he hasn't smiled yet. During our dance, in his tight embrace, I try not to think about this creepy resemblance but the thought of his teeth ending on my neck does not leave me alone. At the end of the tanda he holds my hand in between his cold palms and says, "You are a very good dancer" ... then thanks me. With my eyes I follow him walk towards the door, lean against the wall and slowly cross his arms, then watch the room motionless again. He does not talk or dance with anyone else. As I pass by him to go near my friend who is standing by the food he holds my shoulder and stops me. "Thank you again for the lovely dance" he says, "I have to leave, it's almost midnight... just wanted to say bye"... "I would like to introduce you to my friend" I say, hoping to talk to him a little more or may be see his teeth if I can make him smile, "Would you like to have some wine with us?" "Thank you but I really have to go, goodbye again" he replies and then he locks his keen dark eyes on mine again and says, "By the way, I don't drink.... wine"
I push the heavy door and enter in. This is my Monday place. The doors of the dance room are shut. I join the minority of people who are watching the lesson behind the large window. It's packed inside. Just by looking at the people it's hard to understand what they are actually practicing. Bumping couples, frustrated leaders, suffering followers... pulling, pushing, kicking... It looks...well...pathetic but somehow amusing to us, the ones at the window. Suddenly the door opens and someone throws himself out for dear life. I feel the humid, sweaty, warm carbon dioxide of frustration on my face. "We need some air in here" he whispers, moving his lips like a fish out of water. "I think we are slowly dying." I take a look at the pitiful scene inside one more time. "If they had more oxygen, probably would function better." I think. In about five minutes both doors open wide and people pour out, desperate for water, air and food... three basic elements for vita. This is the mingling time before tango. I change my shoes, get a glass of wine and say hi to some friends. After scanning the room quickly I right away know how my night is going to be. Yes, it sure is crowded tonight but it is the wrong crowd for me. There are only three people I like to dance with. My partner, and two other advanced dancers. Hoping to dance with them I keep mingling. Then I see someone approaching towards me with a big grin on his face. I remember meeting him about five months ago when he was a complete beginner. I remember our dance very well too... but, not because of its beauty. He says he was in Buenos Aries for the last four months and danced tango almost everyday and took bunch of privates and attended workshops and all that. After talking about his experiences over there for almost two tandas, he invites me to dance. Curious about his progress I say yes. He holds me in close embrace and we begin to walk. Our first dance is pretty much about walking. Don't get me wrong it's a good walk. Almost defending himself he tells me in Buenos Aries people dance much simpler, and if anyone does even a little boleo they say it's too pompous. "Well..." I say jokingly, "... I wouldn't mind a little pomposity." Me and my big mouth! Our second dance begins with a nice walk again. Then he whispers in my ear, "Watch this!" Hey!!!... He makes me do an ocho cortado! "That was nice" I say... "Hope it wasn't too showy." "No no no" he answers, "This is acceptable in Buenos Aries." ... I smile. After four or five more ocho cortados music ends. We stop almost at the beat. Our third dance is filled with ocho cortados. Every other step he makes me do one. I can't ignore them... I can't escape them... The room begins to feel warm again. I begin to feel the same humid, sweaty, warm carbon dioxide of frustration in my lungs this time. Finally the music ends... hopefully the tanda ends. He tells me there's a very good connection between us that he had never experienced before. "We need some air here" I tell him. Now, I am the fish out of water. With great enthusiasm, I ask him if he wants to dance with someone else. "Hell no" he answers and clutches me with the first note of the milonga. Darn it! No way to escape, I am trapped. I have no freedom but ocho cortados. I truly begin to hate ocho cortados by now... At the end of the milonga I tell him I would like to stop. Holding my hands he asks, "but why, we have a very good connection?" "Yes indeed we do. We connect very good in ocho cortados. But I've gotta go. I've gotta go now." my inner voice yells. "In tango..." he says, "... I'm still crawling, still a baby in diapers, ya know...." This is the the time to flee... escape... right now, for thy life! I give him a hug and thank him for the pleasurable dance, and say "I am potty trained... ya know..."
One of the most frustrating things in tango for women is not being noticed by the leaders... and for men... it is being rejected by the followers. When we -me and two other ladies- were discussing this couple of months ago, I never thought I would need their valuable tips one day. "Walking across the room every so often really helps, you get more noticed" she said with an assured expression on her face. "And you shouldn't stand by the table and do keep your hands off the food, that really makes you look pathetic"... "Body language is also very important..." the other one added. "...You should never cross your arms over your chest. That says "I'm reserved, don't touch me"... They should hang naturally with your palms slightly turned outwards... And of course put a smile on your face and don't forget the eye contact." Pointing at my pants, "by the way... if you wear a skirt you will double your chances" the first one commented, while the other one nodding with content.
Today is one of those days... My pure God-given existence is not working today. I am invisible. It is almost the seventh tanda and here I am standing on my usual corner with my arms naturally hanging, my palms slightly turned outwards... the corners of my lips are already twitching and the stupid smile which I have been trying to keep glued on my face is about to turn into a hysteric cry any minute.... and my eyes are still trying to do some contact but with their new slitted shape they are now hating every other leader in the room. I haven't touched the food yet, I am hungry, but hey... I don't look pathetic!!! When I attempt to do my tenth little walk across the room to get more noticed, a woman sitting at a table right beside me bursted into laughter. "You just can't stay still, can you? How many more tours are you gonna take around?" Pointing at the fan on the other side of the room, "I am hot" I hissed. "Yeah... dancing" she said with a faint smile on her face... I haven't had one dance yet but, oh yeah, I sure was hot..... "hot" is not the word. I was fuming with frustration and this woman wasn't making it any easier. Biting my tongue, I slowly walked towards the fan to make my point... After wasting couple of good milongas I decided I should leave the fan alone and go home. Just as I made my move one of the beginner leaders approached me. "One day..." he said, "... one day I'll dance with you." Being sooo frustrated, I asked "why not now?" Shaking his head to both sides he said, "No, I am not ready to dance with you yet. Plus you are very picky, you wouldn't dance with me." He was right, he was a beginner, and yes lately I was getting very picky about whom I was going to dance. But today... at this moment, at this split second I was not picky. NOT AT ALL!!! I, at least, had to prove myself that all the tricks I played were not worthless. Before he had a chance to leave me there all alone I grabbed his arm and with a sympathetic look in my eyes I told him, "I'll dance with you!" "Really?" he said, "Do you really want to give it a try?." I wanted to shake him... jolt his head... scream into his ears until the drums pop, "Dance with me damn it. DANCE WITH ME!". But instead I smiled and said, "Yes, let's give it a try"...
Tango world is a strange world. It is the world of emotions, world of fantasies, world of love. It is heaven, it is hell... It is a second life where people strip off their shells and become more of themselves... more competitive, more aggressive, more jealous, more fragile, more attractive, more ruthless... And I love it. Even if that means once in a blue moon, I have to stand on the corner all night long without even one dance... Oh well... who knows... may be it was the pants. I'll wear a skirt next time.
After the first tanda he asked me how long I had been dancing. "I am still new, only three months." I replied. "How'bout you?". "If you have been dancing for three months, I have been dancing for only two months" he said with a shrewd smile on his face, he blinked and extended his hand for another tanda. We were both lying of course. As I was told later, he was a visiting tango teacher.
I used this answer for couple of other leaders in different times... "Wow, you must be a genius", one of them said. "By three months I was still crawling" the other one commented. "Get out of here" the more experienced one remarked. My confidence was sure boosted by the results of this little white lie...
The truth is, I took the first steps of tango over ten years ago, back in Istanbul. My only regret is that I haven't been dancing continuously for all those years. So when people asked me how long I had been dancing I didn't know what to say. I didn't even know how many years it would add to, if I put it all together... three?... four?... six?
For the last one year I have been going to milongas almost every night. The more I dance, the better I get... and the better I get, I get to dance with better leaders. And now, when they ask me how long I have been dancing, I just say "some years", leaving the calculation to them. Couple of days ago, at the end of a tanda someone asked me again, "Really, how long? Three... four... six?"