Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Cause of Tango's Gender Imbalance

Line up ladies and wait your turn.
Women MUST protect new (and sometimes gorgeous) tangueras -- the very women that are stealing dances from them.  Not protecting them will actually CAUSE a gender imbalance.  Gender imbalance is created by Tango Tomcats which scare off the new Tanguero Kittens, causing a chronic imbalance.

It works like this:
Let's say that I am a new male dancer, learning tango in a class.  My best chance to get better is to dance with my cohort of new female students.  BUT THE TEACHER or some tango stud is taking the new female dancers and showing them the way to tango nirvana.  Even if the good female dancers are willing to dance with me, I will struggle, as a new tanguero, with performance anxiety while dancing with the experienced tangueras more than with the new tangueras.  So I drop out.  I cannot compete with the tango studs.  Many of the women will drop out from contact with Tango Tomcats, but later find their way back. But as for me, the male dancer, I will find a venue in salsa or ballroom that develops a much better cohort of female dancers, or just give up on the dance scene altogether.  Now, this did not happen to me.  But I came to tango as an well-established salsero and novice ballroom dancer.  Also, I had a background in music.  But I am sensitive to the poor new Tanguero Kittens who come and soon are gone.

Many women know how to keep them coming back and taking lessons, but others are just looking for the next great tanguero to take them for a ride.  Now, that's my direct experience -- some pretty snotty tangueras helping do demotivate the young-at-dance.  It's as if the senior tangueros are colluding to maintain a gender imbalance!

Thanks to Tango Tomcats (and to a lesser degree some pretty snotty Tango Felines), the community has a lack of new males that is much worse than the new tangueras.  A smaller community will falter because of the built-in gender imbalance in that community.  But this goes on because of senior men and senior women doing nothing about it.  For their own good and the good of the community, it is important to do something other than wait for tango karma to strike the Tango Tomcat down with lightening as he is carrying his black and white tango shoes to his car.

When I wrote what amounts to a small book on Tango Etiquette, I did not think of it as a self-defense manual (for women) and tango community building manual (for new men) -- all in one -- but now I see it that way.

Los Códigos de Tango (Tango Etiquette) has been protecting new tangueros/tangueras for over a century. (Newcomer to tango will need to read "Tango Etiquette's Apendix B for beginners" for vocabulary explanations.)  The community should not see Tango Etiquette as the finer points of tango; it is the starting point.  Tango Etiquette is not "the finer points of tango" but the basis of tango -- what teachers and friends should be pointing out to newcomers about about tandas, cabeceos, and appropriate behavior at a milonga.   It will protect their advancement and make it hard for inappropriate behavior from predatory dancers to harm them. Here is a brief review in reverse order of priority:

1. The cabeceo:  The Tango Tomcat at his worse will not take "no" for an answer.  Tell him that you use the cabeceo (even it is just for him), and then avoid his eyes.

2.  The one or two tanda rule:  Unless you plan on saying, "sleeping with me is an option," do not dance more than two tandas in a row.  Make it one -- even better.  Thank each other and get off the floor at the cortina.  If you really liked dancing, make it clear that you would like another dance later on.  Fellow blogger, Terpsichoral, tells me that in Buenos Aires one clears the floor, and that dancing more than one tanda is rare.  Hmm, I wonder why! Buenos Aires is full of Tomcats, she says, but that's okay because the women know how to manage these furry creatures.  Exactly my point!  I am not out to neuter Tango Tomcats, just help communities neutralize them!

3. What to do when uncomfortable with a partner:   If you ever feel uncomfortable with a dance, thank the person and sit down.   Make no excuses or explanations.   This is not just for creepy dancers; sometimes it is as simple as a hold that hurts or someone is way too bouncy.  What drives me mad is the woman who is constantly behind the beat and hanging on me.  It is a tanguera's right to politely end a dance, and it is tanguero's great opportunity to grow as a person to respect her decision without holding a deep resentment. I rarely have ended a tanda, but that is the tanguero's right as well.

4. No Teaching on the dance floor:  I did not know this rule for a long time, but it is essential!  why didn't anyone tell me!  No, women were even asking to be instructed!  New tangueras plead for instruction; so it takes a man with restraint not to say anything to this damsel in distress.  But even though I say nothing, often I hear that I was a great teacher.  Now, I take the time to say -- "No man should be instructing you on the dance floor.  You and I were just dancing and we both learn a lot from that."  Does explicit teaching make a person a Vulture?  No.  But he or she is breaking away from Tango Etiquette by teaching or even talking.  What does the "conversationalist-while-dancing" tanguero have to say, anyway?  One good-looking tanguero in DC is constantly teaching or talking about himself.  I feel like asking questions about everything I over heard about his greatness between songs.  He is a classic Tango Tomcat.  He also does dangerous moves and goes from one favorite tanguera to the next.  He is not really a predator, though.  He seems to develop his newest love with women who really have seen his methods on seduction.  I do not feel sorry for his lady-of-the moment them for a moment.

5.  The no-harm floorcraft rule:  Until I learned more from comments from women as I wrote about Tango Vultures, I realized that the biggest infraction on Tango Etiquette is the first rule of floorcraft -- cause no harm and protect (mostly the man but also the woman's role).  The Tango Tomcat causes great harm in the community, and he needs to be declawed.  If there is a true predatory individual in the community, his vulture talon's need to be clipped and he needs to be tarred and de-feathered.

Warning on the Package:
I have mentioned this before, but I will say it again:  My ideas about tango tomcats and vultures could cause harm to the community which is not careful about using terms, such as "Tango Vulture" for predatory behavior and "Tango Tomcat" for inappropriate behavior.  Some "red flag" behaviors are just a lack of knowing tango etiquette.  For example, even now, someone could spot me as a Tango Vulture, I realize.  "Ah, look there, the Tango Therapist is really a Tango Vulture himself!"  Some women come to tango and have the idea in their head that they want to dance with lots of space between them and their partners' bodies, but then they find themselves in a milonguero embrace with me.  They, in their own mind, might be dancing with a "Tango Vulture."  They don't feel safe, and they think I am "causing" this feeling.  I have the greatest compassion for them.  They may have been sexually abused, and this is bringing up these body-phobic feelings, or perhaps they just might need to go back to their salsa lessons or ballroom dancing.  But even there they will have to confront their body phobia when some accomplished International Style dancer puts his groin to hers and off they go on a lovely waltz.  Argentine tango now seems pretty tame.  I hope she comes back to Argentine tango, which with the right partners is therapeutic to the woman who has been abused.  But this also underlines the need to protect the community for the very small minority of men who abuse the right to embrace another soul.   Also, I have occasionally danced too much with a new tanguera, but since starting this series, I will have to avoid breaking the mostly unwritten "código" of one-tanda-at-a-time (which does not include friends and one's partner).   Also, until I knew the rule, I was terrible about talking or teaching on the dance floor.  I just didn't know! At first, I did it out of nervousness as a new tanguero and then later out of puppy exuberance for my new knowledge and love of tango.  Tango etiquette now is my basis for making tango a Safe Place, especially for those new to tango.



  1. Hi Mark
    I like the new post on gender inbalance.. This is an issue here in Australia as generally there are more followers than leaders.. It was the state of play last night here when I danced...

    But I am perplexed about one thing you discuss in the past..

    I think you say that new leaders are pushed out of dancing with new tangueras by us more advanced leaders .. And then the new young beginning tangueras don't want to dance with awkward beginner leaders..

    Yes this is true ! And I do it.. at every milonga.. I make a point of inviting newcomers
    ( who are generally beginners ) up to dance with me.. I want them to experience the joy, the completeness of dancing tango well.. That way they will not give up and walk away !

    But I notice that few experienced tangueros invite or dance with beginner leaders here...There are just a couple locally.

    But I remember early on in my days as beginner leader being asked to dance by 2 or 3 advanced tanguers... And then I knew the joy of tango. It happened in the UK when I was at a 10 day workshop there.. And it happened a couple of times here in Adelaide early on with three tangueras. But that's why I did not walk away to salsa or ballroom..

    So my response is to encourage advanced tangueras to invite beginners up to dance - as part of the codigos of tango...


    Bill in Oz

  2. I think these are great rules of thumb for less experienced dancers, Mark. But, as usual, I have mixed feelings about them.

    The one tanda at a time rule works well for BA. But at the European tango marathons people frequently dance more than two tandas in a row. I did so myself with many different men (and one woman leader) and never got the impression that any kind of sexual or other promise was implied or understood. I actually rather liked being able to just go with the flow and continue dancing while the music was beautiful and we both had great connection. Those were magical tango experiences and I'm happy I had them. If anyone is interested, they can read about this here:

    And I'm also not so certain that snobby followers are that much of a problem. The gender imbalance is much less extreme in Buenos Aires. In fact, I think the numbers of male and female dancers are pretty even. So, I think at least part of this has to do with cultural attitudes towards dancing.

    I also think that one way for women to get a better dancing experience -- if a severe gender imbalance is a problem in your community -- is to learn to lead. I wish I had learnt at an earlier stage. And I wish I were a good enough leader to get as much pleasure from it as I do from following.

    As for the body contact, you are right that some other dances are more extreme. I remember taking my first salsa lessons. The teacher -- a sexy, dreadlocked Cuban in a skintight wifebeater and shorts -- showed my how to do the motions by glueing his body to mine and doing what seemed like grinding motions, while he made me watch the effect in a full-length mirror. I was a little taken aback, but less so when he repeated this with everyone in the class, male and female. And it certainly helped me to learn something about salsa movement.

  3. Mark, I completely agree with all of your comments here. I love the codigos and feel they help everyone enjoy the tango more.

    I've always felt that one reason for the gender imbalance is that beginning men realize after a while that tango is not basically a meat market and a means to pick up women (although of course that can happen.) That the close embrace doesn't mean anything more than it's the position to dance tango. First they have to become good dancers. Which may mean more work than they had counted on.

    And that a way to keep beginning men in the community is to encourage more women.

    P.S. In BsAs people can dance two non-consecutive tandas together with impunity; with three there are suppositions.

  4. "They don't feel safe, and they think I am "causing" this feeling."

    The embrace is not one size fits all. If you can tell that the woman is not comfortable, the "do no harm" response is to adjust the embrace until she is comfortable. Even if that means opening the embrace.

    Trust has to be earned. The idea that a woman who is not comfortable in a close embrace must have been abused is condescending and/or overtly manipulative. Either way, it isn't going to win you any trust points. And it doesn't add anything to an otherwise interesting read.

  5. I like a lot of your articles, but this one seems counterproductive to me.

    First, you have not established a connection between tango vultures and gender imbalance, which makes the whole article less credible. Your title doesn't seem relevant to the rest of the article, except as a thinly disguised attempt to appeal to women's greed in order to manipulate them to protect each other. Surely there are higher motives and better reasons for the community to fight a predator.

    Second, your solutions don't work. When a predator showed up in our community, he quickly aligned himself with three influential partnerless tangueras. They protected him, and defended everything he did. They even set him up as a teacher and shilled for his classes, despite his obvious lack of talent. Even today, these women freely admit (and show no remorse) for actively helping a 40+ year old man seduce 20 year old girls because it helped to "drive away the competition".

    Women in competition for scarce male partners will not help new women entering the arena. Even if they did, the new women would not trust their advice to avoid that guy who makes them feel so special.

    The warning is much more credible when it comes from established, decent, men. Particularly those men who are much better dancers than the predator.

    Our predator lost a teaching position at a local university (after the administration was presented with concrete evidence of his affairs with several undergrads) and moved away. Maybe he is in your city now.

    So my advice, if you have a real sociopath, is to hire a private detective to pry into his personal life, and find a way to use the dirt to drive him away. A pig in the tango community is also a pig in his non-tango life.

  6. Thanks to everyone above for the responses:

    Bill -- I think the issue is balance and thinking about growing the community, especially in smaller communities like yours.

    Terpsichoral: I think you embody an interesting experience of knowing Europe well and BsAs well. It seems that you help me connect the dots but come out with a different "picture." That is, you see that there is less of an imbalance in BsAs but doubt that "los códigos" have much to do with it. This is my main point that we are like teenagers who break the rules only to find out through wisdom that the rules weren't so bad in the first place. My experience in Germany and France has been much different than those you have reported. I experienced a reverence for the traditions of tango.

    Cherie: Thanks for adding your insights and experience as a woman who has long lived in BsAs. I appreciate your championing tango etiquette. I need some company in the comments today! You know, I have always been a rule breaker. This is a new personality that tango is allowing me to have! In my Tango Etiquette resource page, I do mention the "3-tanda message" and an anecdote of a gringa visiting BsAs who had the man waiting for her at the end of the night to "tuck her in." Chapter III of Tango Etiquette Someone warned her but she didn't believe it. It's like being a rebellious teen all over for us! Live and learn. :-)

    Now I have two anonymous persons. Maybe the same guy? What can I say? Please even make up a name so I can talk to someone!

    First nameless person: I never said that I caused anyone to have an uncomfortable moment. I am very aware of a body-phobic person, but it is only possible that I COULD misread a woman and she later MIGHT feel violated. Please read the conditional verbs I used and consider getting out the old grammar book and reviewing the use of the conditional and subjunctive voice. These things have to be said -- hat epithets can be put on men that do not deserve these names. Interestingly you went off on me as if I had violated a women -- just the point I was trying to make!

    Señor Anonymous Número Dos: Please read the entire series on this subject. The personality type is not "sociopath" who is clearly a dangerous person, whom you almost instinctively fear. Rather the person you describe is a "psychopath," who has wonderful social skills which helps him capture his victim unaware. In this particular post I avoided the truly dangerous predator by using the term Tomcat. However, the man that you describe is a Tango-Vulture and someone who is rare (thank God). He cannot be stopped by simply using "los códigos de tango." You are right, you need the police! However,these rules (if known and taught) will identify a dangerous man faster than any other method. Please read the list of red flags in Tango Vultures, and you will see that his disguise will be quickly revealed by even a beginner who knows "los códigos." But your criticism is well taken. This post is part of a series of posts on a rather taboo subject, and you may not have been clued into the earlier discussion. I apologize if that is the case. I may go back an revise. Certainly, you have added another horror story for us all to consider. The female personalities were mentioned by Cassiel in the article I translated from German. My title was "Kasimir der Tango-Kater." What a sad woman -- even pedophiles will at times have an accomplice who watches the abuse. They go to jail too. What does that imply for the community who stands back and watches?

  7. I'm sorry about the anonymous posts. I'm not the sort to shoot from cover, although I have been known to charge ahead without a full briefing. But these are my first attempts at responding to a blog, and I didn't think I would get involved enough to need to create an ID.

    I don't feel like I "went off on you" in my first post. But conditionals notwithstanding, I interpreted that part of the post to be victim-blaming. Others might do the same. And like most readers, I don't have the time to parse complex grammar. On the other hand, I may be unique in my knee jerk skepticism of any attempt to ascribe motives to the actions or feelings of others, so my criticism may be way off base. But I think you could rewrite that in a way that is more sensitive to injured parties.

    Thanks for clearing up the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths. I had the 2 meanings reversed. As I understand your terms now, a Tango Vulture may be a psychopath, a tomcat is socially inappropriate in a community damaging way, and sociopath is not part of the discussion. Further, a tomcat may respond to community pressure and clean up his act, or the community can be trained to effectively mitigate any harm he does.

    So all that is left from my earlier posts are two questions:
    1: Are tomcats a primary contributing factor to gender imbalance?
    2: Would your 5 codigos identify dangerous behavior?

    Of the 5, our psychopath only violated #4 a few times, but then stopped when asked not to teach on the floor. And he didn't break any laws, so the police were useless.

    By the way, in my community the cabeceo is rarely used, and certain women are the most resistant to adopting it. It is also very rare for anyone to dance two tandas in a row with the same partner. Rule 3 is frequently discussed, but more often violated. No teaching on the floor is vigorously enforced. And floor-craft is better than in many US communities, including Eastern Market. (Which is, nonetheless, a wonderful, warm and welcoming milonga.)

  8. I have to say that I dance three (non-consecutive) tandas in Buenos Aires with the same person quite often. And without any problems. Of course, lots of Argentine men chat me up/try to seduce me/invite me back for 'coffee' etc. but this seems to be independent of how many tandas I dance with them on a particular evening. And I'm not really sure just how far tango codigos can protect you. If the guy is violent or a rapist, surely the fact that you only danced 2, not 3, tandas with him will not make him less dangerous? And if he is not (which I hope is the case with the majority of tangueros) you can just say "no, thanks" to any inappropriate offers he may make.

    Btw, I am not against the codigos. Perhaps the Tango Marathon is a special case.

    I'm still sceptical about the idea that the followers are 'snobby' though. What I often see is women dancers queuing up to dance with beginners, if they are enthusiastic, dedicated and show promise. Many women want to get on board at ground level! But, on the other hand, if the guy has been dancing for a long time without showing signs of improvement, that's when he gets snubbed by the better dancers (though, if he is not too 'snobby' himself, he can of course have lots of dances with women at his own level).

  9. I completely agree that observing the codigos helps tango community growth and development, promotes improvement of the dance level, and create safe, enjoyable environment.
    Reading your articles, I am a little at loss about "unacceptable", "predatory behavior". What does it mean? One of the Anonymous mentioned sexual affairs with students, but in that case, they were most probably against the university policy. In the absence of such rules, and provided everyone involved is a consenting adult, it seems to be a private matter and no one's business. If someone wants to have sex with someone, how such thing can be regulated by a community? (by spreading gossip, perhaps?)
    Could you (or anyone else) please clarify?

  10. PS I have to confess to being still rather in the dark as to what *exactly* the tango tomcat does. Dances with an obvious erection? Makes nasty unchivalrous remarks about women who have sex with him? Tries to sell expensive private lessons to beginner followers, although his own dancing is crappy? Promise women a dizzying career teaching and performing with him on his international tours, only to let them down later? Or, maybe, he behaves as the men do in this entry of my blog:

    Maybe my perspective is different because I am used to the Buenos Aires scene, but I imagine the Tomcat could only do *real* damage if his dancing was superb. Otherwise, people just won't take him seriously. So I even wonder if he doesn't do the tango scene a favour, perversely, by raising the general standard of dancing expected from leaders.

  11. Frances and Terpsichoral: The string of posts on this subject started with a very light subject of finding one's "Safe Place" in tango, and how that related to a therapeutic concept. However, email from friends told me that they lost this safe place from a huge lost of trust of a person they knew in tango. I did not start out with great sociological definitions, but Frances, you will indeed find some definitions developing. I have at least one more post to go on this, and perhaps a resource page on definitions, starting from A to Z (Amable cabellero to Zelot psychopath). In many ways, I wonder how I got myself into this mess.

    @ Terpsi, I think you will see when I better define my terms, a Tomcat causes more damage than good -- especially in a smaller community (as discussed in Cassel's story of Kasimir which I translated). Others have talked about even fair dancers being Tomcats -- it doesn't have to be a good dancer! And sure, this subject is not black and white. Also, we know that even out of terrible things good things happen, but this is not the "good side" of having terrible things happen nor the "good side" or predatory behavior that perhaps woman and even men become better dancers.

    This subject would be really a good research project for a tanguero/tanguera anthropologist.

  12. To be honest, Cassiel's original post left me completely baffled, too. And I usually find his views extremely clear and easy to understand (though I don't always agree).

    Incidentally, when it comes to academics having affairs with students (a comparison a couple of your readers have made), this can be against university policy, but it is not illegal. If the academic in question is already tenured/has a permanent position, they cannot usually be fired for a consensual relationship with a student (who is, after all, a consenting adult).

    So what can we do about the Tango Tomcat? If he is a good dancer, women will still want to dance with him. I wouldn't want to dance with a rapist or a violent man, but I do dance with men of questionable morals all the time. I enjoy their dancing and I don't have a personal relationship with them.

    And, yes, I'm still pretty uncertain as to what is meant. To tackle this problem, surely we first have to name it and describe it?

  13. Thank you, I am looking forward to your future posts.
    For now, my opinion on the matter is as follows:
    As adults, we all know that some people could lie and/or mislead us to take advantage. So, we use necessary caution and critical judgment in order to avoid that kind of people or situations.
    The physical and emotional proximity of tango, perhaps, makes people trust others more quickly, makes certain boundaries blurry for some. We have to remember that tango is about playing, taking risk, but also about self-control, and controlling the situation. To thrive as a dancer, it is important to learn how to balance that. The codigos of the milonga help to create the necessary environment.
    However, occasionally, against our better judgment, we may put our trust in the wrong person (in life as well as in tango), and then it is not "the end of the world", not the reason to quit, not the reason to blame yourself or the community, but rather "a lesson learned".

  14. Loving this discourse here--I only want to add a vehement 'I agree' to what Frances just said about taking responsibility and understanding the risks and learning from our experiences. Yes, there is occasionally an extremely dangerous situation, but from what I gather, it is very, very rare.
    oh, and not having danced in Europe or BsAs, I can tell you the (few) times (in various cities in the US) a leader asked for a consecutive tanda, they also asked me out at the end of the evening. So I do see that as a bit of a 'let's see if she's available' move, but that could have just been coincidental--and you've all been dancing much longer than I have.

  15. I have to say that my experiences with tango were across the map. I have run into and seen most of the characters that you mentioned. Coming from a small town with very little tango, anyone that obnoxious would be quickly apparent and probably laughed at. I think you really need a larger tango scene for the predators to have much in the way of prey.

    Since I wasn't quite the sweet naive innocent 20 year old when I started I got fewer of the truly questionable men. Having said that, learning to navigate the hazards of dealing with people who want something from them other than what they want to give is a survival skill that all women should learn.

    While I'm certainly willing to help women out I truly think that you can't tell them things that they have to experience for themselves. The fact that people use each other is one of those life lessons that is priceless but cannot be foregone with simple advice.

    I certainly have heard my fair share of let's go horizontal...this seems to be a standard pick up line for men of all ages and abilities. You can't blame a guy for trying.

    Deliberately not seeking out professionals and teachers to dance with was very helpful, also avoiding anyone who didn't take a polite "no" for an answer was good. I also avoid those who are looking to trade anything for dancing. I seek out those who want to share their joy of dancing not those who want to use my joy in dancing.

  16. Thanks everyone for taking the time to write comments. It has been a good discourse, but the was WAY too much on behavioral health for me. It felt like the worst part of my career -- intervention of abuse or suspected abuse. So today, I finish up a very vague summary just so I wouldn't get drawn into writing more! And tomorrow I have a clear "change of subject," discovering a tanguera who was a "secret milonguera." This is what I like thinking about. It brings me to a Safe Place. :-)


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