Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Tango Etiquette

Beginners need to know a few things that hopefully are already clear to others, but if you are a beginner, just as in life, the "grown ups" may not follow a culture's etiquette out of ignorance or their belief that the customs of the general population do not apply to them.  Argentine tango culture has a lot of wisdom to it, and helps you to have more fun.  So please learn some basics.  I have danced for many years in Europe, and I can say that tango etiquette not only works but is required in much of Europe and of course in Argentina.  Let's start with the an essential element which is NOT in the ballroom or Latin dance community . . . .

The Cabeceo literally means "a nod of the head" which in tango means "let's dance."  Another word is "mirada," (the look) which is stupidly is reserved for women, but men may just look and the woman may be the one who nods her head; so think of these as the same.  (Watch primates do this perfectly well. It's not rocket science.) It is erroneously believed that only men initiate the cabeceo to get a dance.  Smart women have been getting what they want with their eyes, a smile and a nod from the beginning of time. Nothing changed in Argentina or in tango.  Attempt to avoid asking for a dance with words; the cabeceo will keep you out of trouble.  I don't expect you to believe me, but now I have told you so.

What is a Tanda?  A grouping of songs, during which you stay with the same partner.
Depending on the DJ, a tanda is a group of three or four songs.  Unlike salsa and other dances, in tango we dance with the same person for the entire tanda. This is why the cabeco is so important! Walking away after one song is an insult!

What is a cortina?  After the end of a tanda, just like in the theater, you have a signal of the end of a scene (tanda) by the curtain closing.  Tangueros use the term “curtain” -- in Spanish, cortina -- for the brief musical interlude between tandas.  Leave the floor!  It’s time for a clean slate!  This is when you say "thank you," and not before!  Think of it like the etiquette of clapping only after the end of last movement of a symphony.  "Thank you" after the first song means, “I am not enjoying this at all, goodbye.”  You must accept this "thank you," of course.  But this rejection can be tough.  I am suggesting some reading for feeling of rejection:  Click here.  I call it a challenge to build ego strength, rather than just putting your tail between your legs and leaving tango.

Regarding “Snotty” Advanced Dancers:
Do not expect that an advanced dancer will continue dancing with you if you happen to get one dance with him or her.  A welcome dance is great and a way to say hello.  But he or she has a long list of friends and favorite partners.  Don’t take it personally if you only get one dance.  Keep working on getting better.  It may happen again.  If not, build your own friends and favorites.  These people are your cohort.  Eventually you will be an advanced dancer and have your own well-established cohort.  You will meet your cohort in classes and by regular attendance at milongas.  Likewise, do not ask your teacher to dance.  She/he needs to be there for her/his own mental well being not as part of work.  You very well may end up dancing with your teacher, but be cautious about breaking this rule. Only a great cabeceo should initiate it, and expression of joy should ensue from the teacher to accept. If that does not happen, don't do it again.  Few teachers want to bring their work to milonga. Dancing is a way to reconnect to one's soul; so don't obligate them for a free lesson!  Many dancers are wrongly perceived as being haughty and antisocial. And then some people are in all walks of life haughty.  So challenge yourself now to grow psychologically as you grow in dance skill.  If you are up to that challenge, you will not become antisocial as a dancer.

What is a milonga? In Spanish I know of four things that "milonga" means.   A "milonga" in Mexico is a drink.  In Argentina it is one of three things:  A dance, a type of music, or a tango dance party.

Milonga as Music:  The underlying rhythm of the older happy-go-lucky brother of tango is the milonga. Tap this 8-count rhythm out slowly and then get faster:  1**45*7* |  1**45*7*.  Try clapping this rhythm out and try to recognize it.  The stars (*) are rests.  Also notice a milonga does not look like tango or the vals (tango waltz).  Get the tempo up on your clapping.  This rhythm is four beats per second for a slow milonga; so count fast!

Vals Cruzado (tango waltz, of called just vals): Some of the things you learn in tango allow you to pause and play with rhythms, melodies and even harmonic backgrounds.  The vals usually doesn't allow for these unless the music pauses for a moment and the returns to the strong beat.

So now you can start listening for tangos, milongas and vals tandas.  You will start noticing that there is a certain order to these tandas.  I don't want to spoil your self-discovery.  Listen and find out what the DJ's are doing.

Want to know more?  Click here for more information about tango etiquette.

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