Monday, January 17, 2011

Men Learning from Each Other

ecause of a 
gender imbalance, men have fewer chances to learn both roles.  It wasn't that way in early Argentina when women were very rare indeed.  Men learning to dance with other men was common.  Gender imbalance has its advantages and disadvantages for those forced to sit too much. I, for one, get exhausted with all the demand for my role.  I have too many friends and favorite dancers who are sitting too much, and then if I go to a practica, the same issue follows me there!

Men learning from each other is still common, but maybe not as easy as it was in the early days of tango in Argentina:

How I would like learn from men more:

1.  Men as mentors/teachers:   I have danced with men while I was in either role (rol masculino or rol femenino).  Stephen Shortancy in Georgetown, Texas, taught me the most.  His wife Mardi Brown showed me how to lean and get my legs out of the way.  (I wish more women would take lessons from her.)  After a practica, Stephen would either be in the rol femenino or masculino, and give me feedback.  It ended up being a great exchange.  At my going away milonga, leaving my friends in Austin, I danced with Juan Carlos, a certified tango ambassador from Argentina (yes, there are such jobs),  in a wonderful salón embrace and with Stephen in a milonguero embrace.  Usually everyone just laughs at a birthday or going away dance when men dance together, but this was truly dancing with great friends who were not caught up in the usual homophobia of North America.  I never thought much about it, but a good friend and favorite tanguera, Mari, told me that it had a quality of true dance and not just a nervous, goof-off dance between two men.

2.  Men teach me from their example on the dance floor:  I learn from good and bad examples here.  I see a lot of men who are taking up more than their share on the dance floor.  Many have a style I do not see as a model.  However, I often see wonderful musicality or an interesting move that inspires me.  Of course, this can be video clips, but three-dimensional dancing is much better.  Also, much of what one sees on a video is often anathema on the social dance floor.  Translation:  Videos are often poor examples of social tango dancing.

3.  Men teach me from what woman say about good (and bad) tangueros:  I was once commenting about a dancer, whom I had noticed but did not appreciate.  Marc is now one of the tangueros I most want to emulate.  One of my favorite milongueras, Kay, told me about how connected he was and musical.  He also slows down the dance (tango) and clearly is not in a hurry.  This feel more like los Porteños. Beginners and intermediate dancers "distinguish" themselves by pounding out every beat like ballroom or salsa.  Note:  Learning from men through women is great source to learn from; however women may not feel comfortable about talking about great leaders to another man.  It really could be de-motivating as we realize how far we have to go.  You have to have the right kind of lady to learn about men through her.  For the man who is mature and is not jealous in nature, learning about other men from women is essential.

4. Men teach through the body language of their tanguera:  The male tango community teaches me through their tangueras. At every milonga, I can feel the effects of the last man a woman has danced with.  If she was inspired, there is no need to get used to each other.  She is fully present.  When she had been "rag-dolled," the woman may just want to walk simply and get over the trauma.  I often just intuit this, but certain women who know me and my trauma work through movement ask for a therapeutic, simple tango walk.   But "traumatized" tangueras are mostly rare (gracias a Diós).  I mostly get good body language from them from their last dance.  That is just the last tanda, but there is a larger body language that men teach me through their many dances over time with the women in the community.  Other men lead women, and the women react to what they are used to rather than what I intended.  I want to say this and she understands "that."  I am surprised, but I know it comes from other men.  Often I like it.  Sometimes it is wonderfully surprising.  Then I have two tasks.  The first is to get better at showing what I intended, and the second to start truly leading what ladies thought I intended.  For example, a 3 years ago, women started wrapping their left leg around my right leg at the end of a song. I thought it was cool, and then I started truly "giving the mark" at milongas which allow getting one's feet off the floor.  Men indicate something; women do it with me, and I learn how to truly indicate it (dar la marca). Men, learning from men and women in the community, are dancing in a certain way and the community starts "talking" in its own dialect.  This phenomenon becomes really clear to me when I travel to new communities (not festivals).  When I travel to far away places all the ladies are doing the same thing in a place I don't expect it.  Each tribe has its own accent.  Tango festivals mix tribes and the tangueros/tangueras start speaking a type of Tango-Esperanto.

The Future/The Past of Men Leading Men
My dream is to develop a men's tango group.  That group would explicitly talk about how to treat the community's tangueras, about floorcraft, courtesy to each other, why tango starts before walking out on the floor, and making sure all the ladies are dancing.  But the best thing would to talk and demonstrate ideas by men dancing together -- just like in the old times.  Maybe this would create a problem in the end:  New men would not drop out so much because of the support (versus "survival of the fittest" mentality).  And then we would be back to another gender imbalance.  No real worries here, though.  Gender imbalance may be around for a while.

Gentlemen -- this should not be just a dream.  Men supporting each other and explicitly learning from each other, in my opinion, is the Rol Masculino.

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Post Script:
Just for fun -- watch these two brothers, los hermanos De Fazio, switch between roles.  Please watch the video clip and then I have a question for you when you are done.  The question will be in the comments section below.


  1. The question, dear readers, is: How many times did the rol masculino change? That is OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD? I leave it to readers to leave what they guess vs what it truly was.

  2. Today I wanted to put out the word to women that there were more men than women at El Arranque. When every woman had a partner, there were men sitting out. What a shame that many female visitors wait to dance at night instead of going to the afternoon milongas.

    Men learned practicing together years ago, but they didn't dance in the clubs and confiterias together. They wanted to dance with women, of course. Many years ago they held tango contest for men only! Today the only place to see men dancing together is at the gay milonga in BA.

  3. OK, first of all it's way too much fun watching them dance to pay attention to who's leading whom. But I kept thinking, 'now the tall one's leading. oh, now the short one's leading...' so I was observing them switch, but not really counting. Plus the switches were really cute, how they did it. Love those guys.

  4. @Christine... yes, it is hard to follow, but I just stayed with the taller brother. I count 8 times that they change roles. They do it so fluidly that I only noticed one change when I watched it some time ago. Then I guessed 4. On Facebook there is some guesses too (in German).


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