Saturday, July 16, 2011

The female ego in tango

Two Egos:  One tango

As a general rule, I find women to be leaders in many things in society and my life.  They are remarkable creatures on this planet.  I adore my mother's spirituality and I was the most adoring brother a sister could ever have.  So please understand, I am not a misogynist.  However, I am all too aware as a therapist and in my private life of the female egotist and how she sometimes goes undetected because of so many great women around her.

The female ego
That is an interesting trio of words: "the female ego." One rarely hears those words together. The usual three words that one hears is "the male ego."

Surely anyone with human experience must be aware that women have egos too -- some female egos are just as hyperactive as any man's ego. In fact, no one gender or race or nation seems to have any special patent on ego or being egotistical.

The problem now, is that men are often the most active apologists for the female ego in ways that women were never so actively supportive of the male ego. This phenomenon in the world of tango works itself out in such ways as having a male teacher that is dismissive of the men and the male role in ways that even the most crass man-hating woman could ever be.  It doesn't matter if it is a man or a woman, gender (or role) bashing is unenlightened no matter who the source is.
Here are some of the unabashed male-bashing that goes on in my experience:

1. "Women dancers are generally better than male dancers."  What a great way to bash men and keep the gender imbalance going!  Why would a man want to hang out with women with this opinion -- even if it were true?  I never thought about this idea until a woman more recently told me her opinion.  She is not alone, but she has many who hold her world view both on and off of the dance floor.  She is the female egotist.

2. "Women do everything a man does but backwards and in high heels."  This is another great way to start out a beginner class!  How motivating for me to hear how easy my job is compared to the women in the class.  I first heard this quote from a female tango instructor, who incorrectly attributed it to Ginger Rogers.  Yes, it was a beginners class.  For the record, Rogers adored  Astaire and would have never said this.  Here's the real quote: "Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels." ~Faith Whittlesey (anti-abortion spokesperson for President Regan).  Most high level dancers actually believed that Astaire was far more talented as a dancer and listed the women at his level.  I only see the remarkable spirit of Ginger Rogers, who still inspires me.

3. "The cabeceo is to protect the male ego." The cabeceo is a way of respecting boundaries and protects men and women from dancing with people they prefer not to without having to vocalize it.  Both men and women can use the cabeceo or ask for a dance.  That is my experience.

4. "The follower has a lot more difficult task."  This is a quote by a male author, using tango as an analogy for the business world.  Wait a minute!  The business world will never understand the magic of what is happening between a man and a women dancing tango because even the most avid tangueros and tangueras themselves do not seem to have the philosophical vocabulary to explain it very well.   But let's address at least the problem of this claim at the business level of "followership."  Leaders such as Joan of Arc, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi did not have an easy job.  Their followers had it harder?  My best bosses made my job easy and my worst bosses have made my job impossible. I can only speak for myself.   In the world of tango if a woman is dancing with a man who dances like a slave owner, then she indeed will have an impossible job and the more difficult task of the two dancers.  However, if the man is accompanying her (acompañandole) as his adorable companion (compañera) and they are both following the music, then she has a task not harder or easier because it is a mutual experience.

Egos love comparisons, but as soon as comparisons start, the magic ends.

I am not a protector of the evils of the male ego.  What atrocities have been committed by the male ego!  The point here is that the "female ego" does not have much usage in the English language, as if there is no need to speak of this phenomenon.  Yet is alive and well in the world and in the world of tango.  I seek out compañeras who feel the magic of the mutual experience.  It feels as if they make my job the easiest in the world, and on a good night, the feeling is mutual.

There are women who need ego development (the word "ego" is the Greek term for "I".) For those who feel I have been too hard on women, please read "The Female Ego."   Book description: A therapist provides advice to women on self-fulfillment and increased happiness, as well as adjusting to lovers, family, and career situations without suppressing the female ego.



  1. I'm a woman with an ego, of course, as we all have. But I've never said or thought any of those 4 points.

    I think in Anglo-Saxon cultures, generally women are more comfortable in their bodies and find it easier to move to music than men. But no one can say they are "better" dancers than men.

    What I say in beginning classes is that at first, it's easier for women to follow a strong leader than for the man to be one when no one really knows anything yet. (Ruben can make a refrigerator dance.) And it's more difficult for the man at first because he has to worry about leading, floor craft, traffic, the music.

    But then later it becomes more difficult for the woman who has to follow every man's different style while the man always dances his own way with whatever partner he has at the moment.

    So that point evens out, I think.

    The cabeceo protects everyone's ego. And it especially protects the woman from men molesting her in her own space--her table. A man can not come over and sit down or bother her in any way, unless she gives him permission. That's why women feel so safe in the milongas here when they go alone.

    In Spanish, "egoista" means selfish, and we all do have to watch out for #1 to a certain point. Once we do that, then we can give of ourselves to our partner, and he to us, and that's when we can both go to Tango Heaven.

  2. I think I agree with Cherie. There are such differences in the tango roles' challenges at various times. Personally, from where I'm at in my dancing experience, (1.5 years) I can't even imagine how the guys interpret the music intuitively and manage good floorcraft/dodge traffic as well, all while keeping/protecting you as a 'treasure' in his arms, staying deeply connected etc. I get to dance and trust him to manage the rest.

  3. I think men do face a few additional anatomical challenges when taking up dance: you have a higher centre of gravity and a round (rather than elliptical) hipbone (which also affects balance) and the side effects of testosterone in puberty can also have a negative effect on male flexibility.

    And I also think that many of us have experienced a frustrating gender imbalance in tango (which may of course be put down to the fact that dance of all kinds is more popular among women than men, not necessarily because we are better at it). Neither of these two things says anything about any particular leader or follower.

    But I have heard the assertion that the man's role is harder and following is much easier so many times that I think that when people tell you following is harder or women dance better they are, perhaps, trying to balance the score.

    At the end of the day, of course, such generalisations will not help anyone improve their own individual dance.

  4. I know all your points but your Number 2. makes me still laugh! I remember what a relief it was to laugh at our impossible, frustating position! That was during my follower period!

    But there is one more thing lighting the flames in my eyes! When the famous followers change to a leader abrazo the other ladies start to glorify them and wonder why they do not get gigs!
    Gigs based on what?
    These videos are mostly some kind of Happenings like the ones people kept on doing in 70's. Very little leader skills involved.

    But a korean lady Peninsula Cho has saved my mental health. She is the first leader worth name! She is amazing - Clasic style, technique is really good and her musicality is extremly nice. There is some follower videos on Youtube and leading at FaceBook.

  5. Mark,

    Interesting post, something to think about, and it makes me appreciate women/dancers who can put their ego aside, and connect with us.

  6. Cherie: Having an a sense of self (the "I") is a necessary place to start, and that is where I would expect a person like you to start. Your contributions to the world community are vast, and I am honored to have your thoughts on my blog.

    Christine: The only thing that I can suggest for someone like you is to never give up on the magic of the dance. Your tango philosophy is great. In many discussions with women, they often attribute their most magical moments to about the 1 or 2 year mark, but make it your goal to keep adding the magic rather than comparing the magic.

    Señorita Terpsichoral: Exactly... the generalizations and comparisons will only embitter a person and that aura is sensed by potential partners. That woman will find herself not dancing and only grow more and more dissatisfied. I will disagree about the obstacles for men. In many cultures the most amazing dancers are men. The biggest obstacle for dancing well is the anti-dancing acculturation on the brain, not physiological differences. But sure you are right that flexibility and musculature can get in the way; however, in the area of much dance (let's say ballet) a man using these "obstacles" is truly amazing.

    Leading Lady: I always treasure your input -- a woman who knows both roles and has learned to appreciate both. I think your English is great considering the obstacles of being a Norwegian in Sweden and writing in English!

    Diedonne: And you know I am hearing the ladies complimenting you because you dance with connection and in tune with the music. To me that means you that you honor the true leader (la música) and let women hear the music and do their part. What they tell me is that it is so easy to dance with you.

  7. Mark, I recently danced with a person that I normally would have been willing to dance with again at some future point assuming all the usual circumstances of music and partner worked out; however, all this person seemed able to do was to criticize how the local partners were not good dancers and it was a completely negative experience because this person would just not stop, despite a few mild comments on my part about going where you have your preferred selection. I get that it sucks when YOU do not get what YOU feel you've put in out of people at an event; however, the best way to get more out of people in the future is not to spew negativity. Either go where you find joy or work your butt off until you discover the joy where you're at or some combination of the two.

    I now recollect why I avoid this person as much as possible, it seems that every 2-3 years the same conversation recurs.


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