Sunday, June 6, 2010

I Feel Blame in Your Embrace

¿La Culpa es Mía?

A favorite tanguera of mine wrote on Facebook, "Great tango vals class with Fulana today. She is very precise, and places the onus where it should be: on the lead."

I hope so much that it is not too late to convince my tanguera friend that believing such a statement will eventual suck every bit of joy out of her dancing.

Teachers that find it necessary to blame into the dance hurt both leaders and followers. Women who place onus on men create performance anxiety.  In the long run these ladies will not get what they need on the dance floor or in bed -- or in life.  Men will get in an argument which they will not win because so much responsibility is theirs.  Yet, isn't blame childish?  At least it is uniformed. Modern tango is a conversation, and blame is not a part of an enlightened conversation.

The Onus Theory is an educational, pedagogical theory.  Please prove this theory with a demonstration of 100 women.  If the onus is truly 100% on the lead, 100 women (trained or untrained) should execute what the perfect tanguero leads with precision.  The Onus Theory is also an anthropological theory:  The study of human behavior and the interplay of roles.  Again, the onus or burden being alone on the male role is uninformed anthropology.  Poor politics, poor marriages, poor work environments, poor production levels, poor team sports -- all are based on what this teacher has espoused in the Onus Theory.
I feel blame in her embrace
Nothing has to be said.  I intuit the woman who believes this uninformed (but oh so handy) Onus Theory.  I am forced to focus only on the music and the community of dancers around me because I am dancing with a ghost.  The typical Onus Woman will either find her joy only in teaching or give up tango within seven years, I believe.  I feel truly sorry for her.  She is the classic victim.  "I am not having fun, and it is his fault.  Tango is no longer fun for me.  I quit."  The burden was on him to keep her joy of dance.  Her tango is already soulless before she gives it all up.  I feel it in the way she responds, the way she looks at me, the way she is not fully present. 

The tanguera who wrote the above words is not that kind of woman.  On the contrary, she is wonderful.  She melts her right hand into my left like few women I have known.  She gives herself fully to my embrace. The last time I danced with her she even apologized and said she hadn't been able to dance much because of a tragedy in her life, and she said she could feel my improvement.  Yet, evidently the female teacher so impressed her that she started to believe the myth macho of tango:  "Me Tarzan; you Jane.  I talk; you listen."  It is not Organic Tango, which is a sharing of the dance "conversation's" success not a burden on one role. (See a definition at and my own at

Only the Hard Headed Survive
Tango has a high drop-out rate because of the feeling of an onus both on women and men.  They leave and never come back.  In salsa that is not true at all.  It is better for me when there are more leaders.  At the last milonga I danced with nearly every women.  I sat out two tandas.  There are simply not enough leaders.  Is it the onus they feel?   The woman has a hard task -- just as hard to learn as the man's part.  But why the blaming when things go "wrong"?  Even these "wrong" moments have created things like volcadas. 

Taking the Onus Seriously
Lately, all of the classes I have been going to are full of men trying to get better.  Where are all the women?  A tanguera explained:  "Well, I don't know why, but many women get to a certain level, and then they enjoy a free ride with the good male dancers."  Another onus?   At least in my town, men are doing their best to learn their role.

Gentlemen:  If you are blaming your partner, putting the onus her to get your lead, you needn't say anything.  Ladies:  If he is entirely to blame for why his lead was not clear, you need not say anything.  Your partner can feel it in your embrace.


  1. Whoa cowboy!
    There are simply unpleasant people to deal with in all aspects of life. Since tango brings us so close to another I think it also amplifies both the positive and the negative aspects that we perceived from them. I think that sometimes we all attribute our own attitude or conflicts towards others, sometimes unfairly.
    I read the rest of the fb comments and within the context the statement makes a lot of sense. The first time I tried to lead back ochos I got it fine on one side, but the other side inexplicably ended up as a back boleo. The woman in this instance was absolutely right and I just didn't have the experience to know why my lead was coming out wrong as I completely intended the ocho and thought I was leading it right no matter how many times I kept repeating it I still got a boleo until I got the instructor to look at what I was doing. Most women do not need or want to know the technical details for a lead (and the last thing you want is for us to do what you tell us instead of what you feel) so all they can say is that they followed what was lead, not what could change to

  2. @ SMW: I re-wrote my blog because I guess I am on edge this week. Thanks for your comment: "Whoa cowboy." Anyone reading the post will wonder (hopefully) why you said that. I hope the post is more balanced. The blame game has everyone losing.

  3. I think that the silent criticism is yet another form of rejection on both sides that you haven't explored in your blog yet. ;-)
    I remember definitively the positive and negative tango moments and people and go back for more with people like yourself who are a joy to dance with no matter how many "errors" are made and avoid as much as possible those who are unpleasant no matter how "perfectly" they might dance.
    Probably because I tend to follow more I'm much more sensitive to the criticism from leads (I've come to expect it from some as an inability to understand the concept of teamwork) who have no idea the emotional abuse they put their follows through. I've been in classes where it's simply too rude to attempt to avoid some leaders who berate the followers both verbally and non-verbally not allowing for the fact that there are two people who should be trying to work together.
    When I do lead, I initially take the standpoint that all mistakes are mine and ask that the follow be patient and allow me to attempt to fix them myself so that I can learn how I might be confusing or how I can be more clear. Only in a class or practica do I persist in leading something that clearly is not working and then I try to seek a third opinion for perspective as if I knew how to lead it better I would and if the follow knew how to follow it better she would.

  4. Regarding the "free ride", I think that the men allow the women to get away with it. Just as women accept dances from men that don't improve beyond a certain point or are unpleasant to dance with the men persist in asking the women to dance or accept dance invitations from those who don't continue to try improving except in the milonga. Classes are only one avenue for improvement in tango.
    In my town, I am one of a few women that I am aware of who actually take classes after several years. In the classes that I take, only one 80+ year old man and one intermittent man still go from when I started, the rest have at most a year of tango.
    I have both the men and the women complain to me that the opposite gender is not very good and I really have no idea what to say other than, "be patient, it takes time". I should note that very few of those who are complained about seek tango classes or milongas outside of our very small town.


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