Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What my teenage son taught me about tango

My son, Ben, told me about my face when I dance.  He also commented about my partners' faces too.  He honed in on what women would say after a tanda or in between songs to me.  I was sometimes amazed at how well he heard from across the room. What I learned from him was that women are best advertising for male dancers -- or the worst.

Ladies can be beacons sending out beams of blissful looks, or their faces can be blinking red lights of "Warning! Danger! Torture!"  Or maybe their faces are less dramatic with, "I am am bored out of my mind."

Men are getting scared all the time on the dance floor.  So distressed looks might be part of our job.  At least, I know that I get distressed that the lady in front of me with naked legs might get hurt by the couple near us if I do not watch out for her.

Men also may have the overly pensive look from listening to the music, reading her level of ability or how tired she is.  We can have all sorts of faces, and I think that no one really cares much.

Women are different.  What they advertise says it all to other women.  And are the men looking at my face or her face?  If she looks like she is in a blissful trance then men will want to dance with her, rather than a woman who looks as if she is wasting her time with someone below her level.  This is what I call the female prerogative in money and in tango skill.  In both areas, statistically women pair with men who earn more money or dance with men who have more skill than she does.  Even is okay too.

My sons, Ben and Toby came to a milonga with me, as I said earlier.  They are both musicians and I wanted them to hear the orchestra.  I danced with a tanguera mexicana, who is one of my favorite tangueras.  Ben asked me if I thought that she liked dancing with me.  I said, "I know she does.  We talk about it, and she comes and seeks me out.  We have practiced together." Ben said, "She looked bored.   She looked bored with not just you, Dad," he assured me.  I knew that she often looked bored as she was dancing, but I imagined that she was smiling with me.  This is called delusions of grandeur.  Not quite, however.  I really did know that she was having fun.  I started watching her and she always looked bored.  Then, being the perfectly frank teen that he is, Ben told me that I looked like I was in pain.  "Well, that is the blues musician look that I developed long ago," I said.  "Also, if you understood the lyrics you might understand my look of despair."  But what great insights!  I thanked my teen son for his honesty.  I really did not want to convey pain in my face because I am having so much joy in my dance.  It turned out that my tanguera mexicana had heard from ladies about looking bored, and she said she really had to work on changing that!

Some have said that in tango it is okay to "fake it."  Hmmmmmmm.   I don't think ladies need to fake it.  I think that they might need to watch videos of themselves and then ask themselves if they really are being fair to the feelings they have.  There is way too many overly serious looks on the floor.  What happened to the adage:  "As in life, so in tango"?   Do we want to look so serious when we are in bliss with our friends and family?

Here is a picture of me dancing with a delightful person and fun tanguera before my son told about my look of pain.  I look like deeply saddened man during a moment that I still remember in Denver last summer.  It hurts to share it, but here it is below.  I am in the background with the face of pain.  The women on the side of the dance floor probably are wondering what she is doing to cause such pain and doom in my face.  Pretty funny, really, because I look pitiful but I am in bliss!

Okay, having said that I look in pain, let me assure you that I was not.  The below picture reveals the wonderful tanguera both in personality and ability with whom I am dancing.  Thank God she wasn't "advertising" what I was!

I am now trying to inform my face about my joy and happiness.  As a musician people said they liked to watch my facial expression, but this is tango.  Those music performance days are over.  I have no desire to play publicly anymore because tango so fills my need to express myself musically.   This is a new era for me.  It was once being on stage and performing for many.  Now it is a duet with the soul in front of me.  And IF someone is watching, I wish not to advertising the wrong thing for what I am feeling.  I also have an obligation to tell everyone what a wonderful dancer I have in my arms, no matter what her level.  Ethically, it is downright mean to have a tortured face behind her back (close embrace) or to her face if she is doing her best in open embrace.

When I can do that, I can only hope that the ladies I dance with will do it for me too.


  1. Mark, if you know the people involved then you will come to know the different expressions that one wears and what they mean even from across the room.
    I know that sometimes I am intensely focused on the music and my partner and my face may look like I am in pain, but my whole body from head to toe does not look like I am in pain.
    Often I am laughing or smiling from ear to ear, that is what it looks like, pure delight.
    Sometimes I am not quite so delighted (understatement) and I wear a polite smile...if you know me you can tell the difference.
    The whole bodies of both dancers tells a more complete story than just the facial expression of one dancer.

  2. tanguera from australiaWednesday, December 01, 2010

    Mark, I too have had the privilege of watching my Argentinean teachers dance with such strain on their faces especially that of the male who captures the true meaning of the songs that he grew up with in his country through sadness, loss, upheaval and the passion. The meanings and words that he knows and carries through to the dance floor that he has known as a young boy growing up.The feeling and expression felt is in the room and with his partner as they dance together. They live the moment together. A wonderful performance with them always.

  3. @SMW: Sara, your comments add depth to what I was trying to say. It is not easy to smile away when the pathos of the music or as the dance itself brings out our own depth of feeling that is not always just "kicks and giggles." I DO like your facial expressions and they are varied. Your bliss face is great, and I don't always need just that. Also, I find myself in a rare bad-mood moment when I take a chance with a tanguera during a milonga set and she holds me at arms length or is clueless about the dance. Milonga sets are so rare and so precious that it really nerves me when a lady does not value the embrace. Why not dance Norteño or Merenge? That is why it is best to have milonga enthusiasts like you along with me. ;-)

  4. @Down-under Tanguera: There are some lyrics that really get to me; so I cannot imagine having had tango hits that bring you back to what you were doing in junior high, or with your first great love, or the partner who left your for another. I would be a wreck, sobbing on the dance floor. Your multiple visits to Buenos Aires give you some great insights, and I appreciate you sharing these with us.

  5. Best Feeling *Ever*:
    When you feel your partner smiling against your cheek.

  6. @Kristi: I was realizing something from this post and what people have said in comments that I can feel if someone is smiling through their body and how they hold me. That should be enough, but unlike my usual stance that tango is not for show but a dance for just my partner, I am realizing that just as I dance with those around me, I also convey my experience of my tanguera through my body and face. And there is nothing wrong with informing my face about the way I truly feel as a way of complimenting the woman who is dancing with me.


Please leave a comment with four options:
(1) Here on the blog.
(2 & 3) On the links given above for Facebook/Google+ links.
(4) Comment via email at mark.word1@gmail.com, which with your permission, I can paste into comments.