Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tango's a bad boy magnet?

The Milonga Dialogues:                                                       German translation at this link
Don't touch that lever on the "E.I. Tango Magnet"!
Is Tango a magnet
for the emotionally impaired?

The Greek philosophers would meet in the streets and often converse about the meaning of life while eating together. Tango philosophers meet at milongas, and work out the meaning of life while observing the Travelers on the Wooden Path.

Earlier, I presented a conversation about envy.  That was actually the first entry of what will now be a series that you will find on this tango blog.  The dialogues are true conversations.  Perhaps we will have a few controversial observations in the future for you in these "The Milonga Dialogues."

Today's post is a discussion is with a tanguera who wonders if tango draws some emotionally impaired men and perhaps a few women too.   A conversation with another tanguera was just the opposite.  She felt that tango draws a higher level of men.  But she, Miss K, also has met a few grand exceptions to my more optimistic higher-class-tango-magnet theory!  What do you think?  I would like to invite you to comment on the subjects below or share your suggestions for more Milonga Dialogues openly or privately.

Tango Therapist (TT): Hey Miss T, what a nice surprise, I haven't seen you around lately. Everything fine?

Miss T: Well, I had a hell of a time lately out on my tango travels. I saw broken hearts wherever I went. Tell me, do you think it possible that tango attracts more emotionally challenged people than other hobbies?

TT: Haven't really noticed that. What makes you think that this is the case?

MT: In the past months I came across at least three or four tango-friends of mine with a broken heart and come to think of it, it seems to me, there are some patterns in between all their stories.

TT: Patterns?

MT: So far I have identified four groups: First we have the hunters and gatherers--mostly male, and at least acceptable dancers, who run around chasing the challenge of a new conquest, i.e. a new lover. Then, after getting their prize, the tanguero gets bored after some weeks or some months. Then he is off for a new challenge. And since there is no shortage of newbie women, the hunter-gatherer will steadily find new prey.

TT: Many cannot commit in a relationship. And I believe, tango is neither the cause nor the draw. Lack of being able to commit comes in high doses everywhere-even for those who think they can and want to commit to another. I will not deny the existence of the "hunters and gatherers" because anthropologists have seen them at every turn. I do not think this is a strictly male or a tango problem. However, surely there is a problem.

MT: I'll give you that: I have also come across tangueras with both the ability to hunt and to gather. Perhaps it is just those who are unable to bond in a relationship and therefore feel attracted to tango.

TT: But is tango a magnet for hunters and gatherers? Find any other hobby that draws both men and women and you will find basically the same.

MT: And this is what I doubt, since there is this non-committal aspect in tango. In the extreme you get a (bodily) relationship with a stranger for a tanda or two and then you can go away "unscathed" without any consequences or liabilities. As long as this is confinded to the dance-floor, there is no problem. But it seems you can also easily fall in and out of love via tango. And have the same non-committal attitude starting a relationship rather carelessly. You just got carried away for some time.

TT: I think your hypothesis is very interesting, but do bowlers or ping pong enthusiasts have pristine private lives over those of dancers? And of dancers, is tango worse than salsa or ballroom dancers?  If your theory of bodily connection was applied to eroticia, countries like the U.S.--the leader in the world pornography market--would have a lower average of sex crimes.  It is just the opposite.

MT: Okay, but it may also be that due to this immediate nearness in tango emotional deficits just become more visible or quicker so. So perhaps the number of emotionally challenged people is not higher but stands out more?

TT: Well, we don't have the team of sociologists to go out and find out the truth statistically. It would be an interesting study, wouldn’t it? Do you have other examples?

MT: Well there is the subcategory of the trophy-hunters. Normally they do not do much harm, if they limit themselves to dancing, that is. They go for the most coveted tangueras or tangueros like super-dancers, organizers or DJ's to boost their ego. In worse cases they even start relationships or affairs without caring for the other person, but simply their role in the tango-community. And I have to admit, mostly you find this behavior in women.

TT: Really? Well, I had better start practicing more! :-)  What about your other categories?

MT: Here's another one that you may have never heard of from anthropologists: the "multiple-choice-man," who might be mistaken for a hunter-gatherer at first sight. But the multiple-choicers are more "stable" in their approach. Usually, they start relationships with different women at the same time. And they always say so - after some time, that is, when they have "secured" their prey. Which at this is entangled in a web of love and hope that he might leave the others only for her. But all they get is part-time-love. I have a friend who is actually in a relationship with such a guy and it really drives her nuts, especially, when he announces he will go to this or that milonga with the other woman. Sometimes they even went in a ménage-à-trois with both of the women vying for a man's attention.

TT: This is a question of self-esteem. They just could walk away. And it is by far not mostly male behaviour: I have two male friends who both had wives.  Both women loved their husbands and another guy. The multiple-choicers, as you call them, it's not a men’s only club.

MT: Well, there you might have a point. But let me just finish: Usually hope keeps these men or women in these relationships. Usually the multiple-choicers are very charming and nice to be around, they are chivalrous/beguiling and give you the impression to really be the man/woman of your dreams, but they are also unable to bond.

TT: Or it is just another example in the annals of the human condition that monogamy is perhaps rarer than we'd like to believe.

MT: Maybe so. But you have a point about monogamy. A sub-category after my "research" is the multiple-choicer with limited liability: usually in a stable relationship for years, but not against a one-stand-night-stand now and then. I met those guys and girls more often than not. Sometimes they told me, the same rules apply to their partner. But when they are with each other, they really spend "quality time" with each other. Sounds weird to me.

TT: This is perhaps better than in some relationships and some cultures where only one partner is allowed to have the multiple choice option--even by law.

MT: Well I would not be so sure, that both men and woman are equally participating in this.

TT: And I would make an educated guess that men and women are not truly like Mars and Venus; they are earthlings and doing a pretty good job of being naughty and nice.

MT: Okay, okay.

TT: What were your other emotionally impaired tangueros?

MT: Yes, the Play-it-Safe Sam. He is very similar to the multiple-choice-man with limited liability. The play-it-safe-guy only goes for married women or women in a long-lasting relationships. What he promises is adventure, kindness, understanding, what he seeks is an affair for some weeks or months. But beware if he is "adored", then he quickly is getting ready to jump ship, leaving the lady to understand it was all smoke and mirrors, since he only wanted to play, i.e. have an affair - and no commitment. Sometimes he says so from the beginning, sometimes not. But in any case, he fears nothing more than a liability.

TT: So when you get down to the bottom of this issue, it's all about how men are bad?

MT: No, I did not say that. Usually, it's a Play-it-Safe Sam, but come to think of it, there might be also some Play-it-Safe Samanthas out there.

TT: Men still sound like the majority of emotionally impaired dancers in your world-view.  Perhaps you can give me an example of when men and women are equally a bit off center?

MT: I guess that would be the "finders-keepers." These are both male and female. For most of them, tango is an end to their means. They are often on the look-out for a partner and therefore often become prey to the hunter-gatherers or the mulitple-choicers. The tragedy with them is, they are also unable to be in a stable relationship, although they want it so much. But they are dominated by fear. So if in the beginning, tango for them is the ideal hunting-ground soon it becomes an emotional hell once they have found a partner. They live in constant fear of "poachers".  And for sure, there are poachers out there. You can find the finders-keepers in every milonga: Women, who ask their partner not to dance with this or that woman, and men who eye suspiciously every male dancer who asks their lady for a dance, sometimes even forbid them to dance with this or that tanguero. Or just trying to find a place in the most remote corner of the milonga where the chance of the lady being seen and cabeceo'd by other men is virtually nil.

TT: Well, finally we have balance! What a great challenge psychologically not to grasp onto the person you love. The problem is that the person who loves the least has more power in this dynamic. In most of the cases, I would assume, after some time, the "victim" of this jealousy feels suffocated and just walks away leaving the finders-keepers with a self-fulfilled prophecy.

MT: Quite so.

TT: Do you have more examples with more gender balance?

MT: Yes, the SOS-couples.

TT: Did you ever think of doing a dissertation on all of these categories? Should be interesting. So what about those SOS couples?

MT: These are long-time couples whose relationship has lost a lot of its former glow. In one (sometimes desperate) attempt, they try to find something of a common interest they can share and stumble upon tango in the hope of a revitalization of their relationship and/or sex-life. But a lot of times the gulf between them is already too deep, and tango only brings out their real problems and shortcomings--especially when they are taking lessons together. More often than not, they break up, sometimes because of a new partner found in tango, sometimes because they realize that their relationship has reached an impasse. The abandoned partner either leaves the tango-scenes or stays sulking in the corners blaming it all on the new partner or tango itself.

TT: Interesting group too. In therapy, we see people who come in to save their relationship. One session, as the one you mentioned above, and one person jumps ship. Both tell their friends, "Well, we tried therapy, and it didn't work." Maybe therapy is even the cause and in the future to be avoided! Of course tango is not going to work as a healing balm for those who were already fragile as a couple. However, maybe there is a better chance in tango than going to therapy at the last minute of a ready-to-fail relationship. Now that would be an interesting research question. My guess is that tango is more successful than marriage therapy.

MT: But do you still feel that tango is just another activity and does not draw in people with certain emotional baggage? I am still wondering and in my years of tango I have observed more of these categories than I would have cared to know about. And I have never come across such micro-cosmoses in other sports or cultural activities.
TT: I think Tango fills some basic human needs: Human touch, the unique dancing human animal, the normalcy of coupling with the opposite sex or another person, and the power of the community. We often hear the saying: “As it is in life; so it is at the milonga.” Most hobbies, cultural activities and sports cannot share this saying; other cultural and sports activities tend to segregate the sexes. “As in life; so in “mixed” doubles tennis?” No!  As for your question about the emotionally challenged or impaired and tango, I think that individuals have drama and scandals in their lives in all professions and in all groups.

If it is true: "As in life, so at the milonga," perhaps in tango we are getting a chance to observe life itself.  Perhaps there is a chance to become a bit more introspective if we can see life on fast-forward at each and every milonga.

[Mirada.  Cabeceo.  End of discussion.]

Photo Credit


  1. I'm afraid it is not that simple. The tango world is rather similar to a high school. Roughly equal shares of men and women share a lot of time together. They meet, go together for a time and separate, meet somebody else and so on. As in high school there are log term couples, short term couples, long term singles. There is friendship, jealousy, hostility. The difference to any other adult environment is the quantity. We usually heave a limited number of friends, colleagues etc. In Tango the group is not infinite but much, much larger. Things happen faster. People get younger when dancing, not only because of the physical exercise, but also behave like teenagers until they get used to this environment and grow again into tango-adults.

  2. Love & Tango.. the strange couple?

    Interesting dialogue sociologically, and above all from a ‘Tango Teraphist’ point of view, trying to find whether some ‘types’ (men/women) and ‘behaviours’ could be found and defined in ‘tango life’, since we can see that some basic dynamics tend to be reproduced in the mentioned ‘groups’ of people that , after or before and from different positions and perspectives, have to do and manage with emotions born ‘with and in’  tango .

    If I have to speak basing on  my own personal experiences, (which could not be quite interesting in that psychological framework, but I see that you - dear TT - invite us  to share personal opinions) : well,  having passed some years in such a ‘tango-ambient’ and of course with different levels, from time to time, of emotional implication (envolving me directly, or seen between people I met) .. I ‘ve reached one simple conclusion , perhaps suggesting a rule of being..  just if someone wants to grow with the chance of getting things finally working – in love / tango – for him/herself.

    And this simple assumption is that tango has to make way - and space – for ‘true’ love, while - at the same time - love would have to let tango to be lived quite nicely.

    Not always easy, or granted.

    As a consequence the discriminants (and possible limits for this quite ‘evolved chance’) are first the real commitment and implication of the couple, then the level of maturity of the two in managing the (single and both) tango-life with balance and respect for all they share ( meaning as a couple and between other people).

    Anyway I think that a sense of priorities in life, that each of us values personally, has not to be lost.. and I wish myself to be able to feel anytime whatever comes first, according to the situation and the needing of my heart.

    Life today is sometimes enough stressful and complicated and, apart tango-life, two person that have the luck to meet and share something significative (this is the happens cause each of the two can see the other really as a ‘special one’, between many others), they have early  to manage with a relation, and it can grow itself in a quite difficult field , for different  incidental causes: work and its problems, sometimes physical distance, the right space to be left for inclinations and interests of both, and the natural sequence of facts and feelings of every day.

    I think that tango-life can add one more (sometimes dangerous) variable in this  almost fragile dynamics, or it can become a test-case.

    If one, or sometimes both, doesn’t know how to manage and behave, soon there is the chance that he/she begins to manipulate his ‘levers’ in tango (I mean of his/her ability and skills, personal charm and attractive and some other things quite trivial to be mentioned) to make the relation perhaps not so ‘unconditioned’, and probably it is the moment when the other begins to feel a little ‘put aside’ , wondering if his/her lover has really other goals, or a true interest in the relation.

    So people, if you want that that ‘strange couple’ could work with pleasure and quite no sufferings, you have to treat each one of the two fellows , with a light, sensitive and tender hand.

    And this goes in the way of your interest : of persons,  who grew up, in love and tango.

    These are my thoughts, I wanted to share.. I apologize if they have less to do with the  sociological/emotional hypothesis of the article.

    The same I want to thank you, TT,  for your interesting contents! Grazie.

    Saluti a tutti gli amanti (e) tangueri! (kind regards to all the lovers and tangueros/as)


    Marco Viola


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