Friday, September 16, 2011

What to do with Tango Kitty Litter

The Tango Tomcat must face what now has become quicksand.

"Kitty Litter" is what I call the many new tangueras who fall away from tango because of inappropriate behavior in the tango community.  And who caused all the Kitty Litter -- all the newcomer tango kitties who have been "trashed"?  The Tango Tomcat; that's who.  He's the one who stalked too many new Tango Kitties as they arrived into the tango community with starry eyes, so fully in love with the joy of movement.  But they left when they no longer felt psychologically or physically safe.

Here is my challenge to tangueros/tangueras everywhere.  Staying in your own lane is not the primary floorcraft rule, as some people believe.  Staying in your own lane and being blind or a turning a blind eye is not okay.

Practical Things to Do
I was emboldened by this project by Clay Nelson's article on community building.   He had a short paragraph about predatory people, whom he called "toxic people."  He felt strongly that these toxic people could seriously damage the tango community if no action were taken.  He suggested that the men in the community gently confront any "toxic" person and if he does not respond that he should be shunned.  Easier said than done, but very concrete advice.

But even more than Clay, the private emails and Facebook messages tell me that this sordid subject must be addressed by more than just the men.   I assure you I would rather write poetry and about the magic of tango, but I feel advocacy for others is a part of my job as a tanguero.  Yet, it is not just a tanguero's job to promote tango as a Safe Place!  The first rule of floorcraft is NOT just "dance in your own lane," as I have said above.  So what is the primary rule of floorcraft?   The first rule of tango floorcraft is "cause no harm and protect," not only your partner but everyone on the floor.  Although navigation and this rule are mostly a man's job, women too have this job.  (See Tango Etiquette, Chapter 3, part II.)  This first rule in floorcraft is the rule of safety.  If a particular milonga's dance floor is unsafe, then many will not go any longer.  Senior tangueros and tangueras need to take an active role in making their community a Safe Place both physically on the dance floor as well as psychologically safe.  I would argue that tangueras are especially equipped to make the tango community a psychologically safe place.

Clay's article turned to the men to take action.  In my next blog,  I will suggest what the women can do, and what the consequences to the senior tangueras will be if they do not protect especially the new females in the community.

From much thought on this subject and many minutes talking to a tanguera, who happens also to be an expert witness at murder and partner abuse trials, I am convinced that any tango community which has a huge gender imbalance is caused by the both men AND women failing to take action to protect the newest women in the community.  Sure men have their role (mentioned above), but women need to guide newcomers by gently teaching tango etiquette to new tangueras -- right away.  Too many do not know what a cabeco until they have been dancing for years, or still are asking experienced tangueros to teach them on the dance floor.

Next blog:  "The Cause of Tango's Gender Imbalance":  why tango etiquette preserves gender balance in the tango community, and has a huge role in creating a psychological and physical safety for women.

Hasta la próxima,

Photo credit of kitty quicksand.  [For animal lovers this cat is not actually in sand; he is sticking his head out from a hole in carpet.]


  1. As a senior tanguera, I have a little perspective. It is difficult to be a helpful advisor to the new and naive women who want desperatly to dance, with anyone.
    I could say something (and I have, in the past) to someone who has been a victim. Then young victim seems to go to even greater risks, taking up with predators anyway. So, since tango is my recreation and pleasure after many years of taking care of people, I now focus on my partners (carefully chosen) and my self. Too many women are doormats, confusing subjection with surrender. They aren't my problem.I am not interested in being mother hen for the community. The predators would have to go somewhere else if these women would grow up and show some pride and own their power. E

  2. What about the cases when the most toxic predators in the tango community are married men and their wives stand by and allow them to behave in these ways? Might it not be that the community thinks she should deal with it and that they shouldn't get in the middle since it's her husband?

  3. Elizabeth: Thanks for speaking up. What you say rings of experience and wisdom of already having tried to help out people only to see that they are not ready for help. You know, I respect that very much. I err on the side of trying to help as a therapist, only to find that the person is not really willing or ready to be helped. And then I feel like I have wasted my time. But what else can I do? I see therapists who are burned out from the endless stream of soldiers who are messed up from going to combat now four or five times. For the soldier who desperately needs help, I am glad that I am there for him or her. I am not saying you are burned out, but "staying in one's own lane" is sometimes the best thing to do for yourself. Some newcomers are more than just naive they are consciously playing with fire, and this is also not anything new in their lives. All you can do them, perhaps, is to stand back and watch. You bring a balance to what I have been writing on this subject, and I really do appreciate that.

  4. Querida Anonymous! The wife or girlfriend phenomenon was touched on in "Kasimir der Tango-Kater" (Kasimir the tango tomcat). I added some words to the original German -- the reference to the French wife accepting the presence of a mistress. This woman is *least* capable of intervening of all in the community -- like a mother who accepts the spoiled little boy behavior of her 7 year old who is driving everyone mad. Yes mom SHOULD intervene, but she will not. As Elizabeth (above) has pointed out, sometimes one has to back away. I have realized, though that in smaller communities it is not wise *for oneself* to stay in one's own lane. The tomcat can destroy the entire community. An analogy might be the spiritual life of a small community fully destroyed by a preacher bedding all the new, young ladies who come to church. In a large city, life might go on, but in a small community the legacy of a preacher tomcat may go on for many generations. The small town spiritual leader could have rallied people together, but now the small-town folks are just watching TV and the community rallies only for floods and tornadoes (hoping to see the preacher "taken up into heaven." I will try to incorporate this issue in the next blog that focuses on the "why" and "what-to-do" beyond the men surrounding the tomcat (or even "tango vulture") to confront him. That should be the next blog. Hasta entonces. Mark

  5. Hi Mark,
    I was recently in a room of tango dancers where I knew only one person. After I danced with one man, my friend (male) discretely pulled me aside and said, "Watch out for that guy." That's all he said--no drama, no long explanation, just a word to the wise. It did confirm my gut feeling from my time dancing with "that guy." My friend's few words added to the information I had already gathered so that I could make the right choice for me. He was not telling me what to do. And, I suspect, that once he had warned me, that he didn't spend a lot of time ruminating about it.

    I think that my friend has found the simplest solution to the tango cat problem. A whispered, "Watch out for that guy," then let it go and let the lady act accordingly.

    Even if she still dances (or more) with the guy, she will still have that additional information about his "pattern and practice" (as my lawyer friend used to say). We can't know what's in people's head. Maybe she has her reasons for being with him--she's flattered; she's lonely; she's playing games, too; she's still working out toxic relationship issues and he's another "learning experience"...

    I understand why a senior tanguera would not want to play mother hen to all the ingenues. Nonetheless, if she can manage, as my friend did, to say something, and not hold onto any emotion about it, it needn't ruin her evening.

  6. Querida Anonima: Absolutely right. There are two sayings from wisdom literature that come to mind. "Don't throw your pearls before swine." And a parable of the sower, who threw seed out on the different types of soil. Some women will not hear the few words of wisdom of a friend or concerned stranger. Elisabeth probably has the skills to know not to throw out her pearls of wisdom ... well, I won't call the new tanguera a "swine" but if she does not hear, she might be sleeping with a pig. Your friend also must have known that only a few words were enough to help a tanguera. For those who do not know the Galilean Prophet's parable of the sower it is here:


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, which with your permission, I can paste into comments.