Reflections on the powerfully therapeutic "Three M's" of Argentine Tango: Music, Movement and eMbrace
Sunday, January 23, 2011
What Men can learn from Leading Ladies
Abstract: This post is on what tangueras-who-lead teach men about their role to protect a women, and why men are not obsolete. Also, a description of the psychological profile of females who venture into the Rol Masculino de Tango. A list of sociological research questions are suggested at this article's conclusion.
Courtesy of Toulouse-Lautrec
Floorcraft is the ability to dance in a social setting, harmonizing with:
The dancers around you, maintaining safety for all dancers;
The "traffic" (direction, velocity and lanes) of dance;
The music (not dancing tango to milonga, for example);
The space and general ambiance of the room;
One's partner and his/her level of experience;
The conditions of the floor surface;
The conditions of safety/danger caused by rogue dancers or unknowing beginners;
The general respect to remain silent;
One's partner's soul (fully present, not watching who came in, how you look in the mirror as you dance, or observing who was watching that last great show-move you made).
Gentlemen, my last post was how men learn from men and about other men through women. This post is about knowing more about ourselves and what it truly means to be aware of our masculinity by what is missing when we watch women in dance in the rol masculino.
I have no answers of why women can dance so well in the masculine role but generally seem to have poor floorcraft. From the definition above I am mostly talking about issues lady leads have with unsafe maneuvers and talking while dancing. I will stay silent on the second "issue." Being a great dancer is not gender specific. However, I wonder if the protecting one's partner is more gender specific. Men generally have the protective persona down. It is perhaps one of the best qualities of a generally problematic characteristic called "machismo." My underlying thesis here has little to with women, but rather, that male rogue dancers are ultimately not masculine. Nicely said, rogue male dancers have abdicated their masculine role.
Women who lead are often the best dancers in the community. So one would expect great floorcraft. Of course, there are exceptions (see "honorable mention" below), but these ladies are rare in my admittedly limited four-year experience of female leaders dancing near me. I realize that this is not a politically correct observation, and that maybe I will have a lot of criticism about this post. So let me say this ahead of time: You are right. It was stupid of me to even say anything about this subject. What was I thinking when I wrote this!
For anyone who is looking for a doctoral thesis in sociology, let me suggest an interesting study on male/female roles as seen in tango. What I observe is counter-intuitive: I would expect the opposite of what I often observe from women. I would think that ladies really understand how vulnerable women are on the dance floor. Experienced tangueras all have been hurt or have seen seriously painful accidents by the time they decide to lead. Poor male "leaders" are rampant in the world. We have a name for these men which I will censor from my post. However, the rule is that cabelleros are taking care of all those dancing in the rol femenino on the dance floor. There are a few caballeras [an actual Spanish word], as I am defining them here, out on the dance floor. A true Caballero/a (gentleman or gentlewoman) is one acting the part of a gentleman tanguero, dancing responsibly and socially.
The Psychological Profile of Lady Leaders:
1. Alpha females: Mostly the best tangueras become leaders. But predating their tango days, they probably were alpha females. As alpha females they take initiative -- instead of just sitting it out. Often they are teachers. 2. Got-to-Dance Persona: If I were a woman, I would not be perhaps an alpha female, but I would be dancing either by myself or with anyone around if a man did not ask me to dance.
3. Iconoclast Personality: The lady leader motto generally is to "...dance as if no one is watching." I value this quality of thought! A Lady Leader has to be her own person. I am one who has done many things, such as learning how to unicycle or street hockey with my children in spite of what my neighbors thought about "adult behavior." However, there is a dark side to "not caring." It can go too far to the side of being "anti-social." And that is what seems to be happening with many Lady Leaders.
Note: I have heard Alpha Females expound that men (and some women) may be jealous or have issues about two women dancing/touching. I do not think that most men are worried about these issues. I can at least speak for myself here: I am not jealous of women dancing better than I. However, I am disgusted with anyone who puts MY lady into danger and causes chaos on the dance floor.
The best example of a true "caballera" in the DC area is a female teacher from Baltimore. I love dancing with her when she changes to heels or next to her when she is in the rol masculino. However, the greatest female "leader," I ever have seen has been at two tango festivals I have attended. She is a marvelous milonguera traditionalist. The women love to dance with her. I am in awe of how fully she dances the rol masculino. She tends to dance in the second lane and I dance nearly always in the outside lane; so I don't dance behind or in front of her, but I notice her wonderful floorcraft. Interestingly, I have never seen her dance in the female role.
More recently I have observed several woman who lead. In most cases they talked the whole time. Many female leaders are teachers. Teachers, especially female teachers in the masculine role, tend to be fairly adept at "skating." (Skating is my term for any dancer who weaves in and out of other dancers on a crowded dance floor. I would like to have everyone stop and put on protective gear when skaters are on the dance floor, as I did for myself and children on ice rinks in Germany.) Women skaters tend to be more adept than male skaters, but they are still a danger on the social dance floor. Is the issue, then, not women but that they are teachers? I don't think so; however, it could be. Male teachers are rogue dancers too, perhaps because they feel they must advertise their abilities. They take up way too much room and seem to think that everyone is giving space to them out of respect. No, it is not respect, it is our job to protect our partners from anti-social rogue dancers. (Strong language? "Anti-social" as I use the word here is causing danger in a social context.") Although I know of ONE MAN who dances with his eyes closed, I have seen leading ladies do this more than once. Frightening!
I should mention a Lady Leader whom I know only from my tango blog. She is from northern Europe. She was one of the only females that spoke up in agreement with my complaint of men-bashing on a blog from Germany that blamed and criticized men at every level, including being generally less than everything tangueras are. (See below link.) Interestingly, in an email to me, this leading lady confirmed that she went through a phase of blitzing around the dance floor at first, but has learned to dance in her own space. Hats off to her!
I think it would be an interesting sociological research question about role reversals, as demonstrated on the dance floor at a milonga.
My research questions:
1. Is it really true that woman are "skaters" -- or is this just anecdotal observation from one man's experience? Videos of women leaders could document the differences of men and women in the masculine role. Would this show one way or another if indeed ladies tend to be "skaters"? My guess: Absolutely true, as experienced from female dancers from at least seven countries (including Argentina) and four continents.
2 If it is true, what are the contributing factors for poor dance floor etiquette (in spite of knowing the rules and having seen consequences for poor floorcraft)? Research questions -- is it one or more of these issues?:
a. The Show-Off Teacher Marketing Phenomenon (male/female teachers being equal)?
b. The Alpha-Female (assertive woman) Phenomenon?
c. The Iconoclast Personality Phenomenon. It's great to be an iconoclast, but not when it comes to putting others in physical danger.
d. The Free-at-Last Phenomenon -- women finally free to express the music in a more direct way, now just are going wild, at least at first?
e. The Male Culture/Genetic Wiring Hypothesis: Are women less culturally aware of the man's role to protect? They have learned a dancing role, but have less experience of what culture expects of a man in protecting a woman?
f. Or perhaps is it merely the figment in the imagination of the Tango Therapist?
I think that "e" (above) is the most likely explanation of role behavior problems, and also the easiest fix. And now I am going to indulge in some finger-pointing and blaming: The tango community has few teachers who talk directly about floorcraft. The Tangosutra Festival was the biggest exception to this general problem. Teaching women leaders about the epicenter of their role as a leader is generally missing. And guess what? It is missing too often for men any any tango curriculum. The difference (so my hypothesis goes), is that men have learned this protective role from years of cultural training and perhaps even a tad of genetic wiring that it is a man's role to protect the woman.
I expect that my limited experience on this subject will be irksome to some tangueras and tangueros.* I welcome comments. In the end, perhaps the issues of being a cabellero and what it REALLY means to be a man will make MEN better at what I see as their primary role -- to protect their partner.
For now, I can at least suggest that men are still not obsolete in spite of what we hear from too many self-assured women.*
*An example of the poor view of men that some tangueras have follows. Please read the link below from a female teacher (who by the way is a great teacher and dancer). My synopsis of her opinion and many female commenters: tangueros are generally awkward dolts. To me it is scary how many female commenters liked what had been said here. If we changed around the genders and a man wrote this, it would have been clearly "misogynous" and outrageous to men and women alike.