Thursday, October 12, 2006

Girl Talk

by Anita Canzian
Copyright (c) 2000, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved

As a single woman who has gone to Buenos Aires solita, I can attest to the essential truth of your article in the January issue of El Firulete. If your readers can stand some more “girl talk,” I’d be pleased to offer the following of my experiences and observations.First of all, if a dance or a man’s behavior was not acceptable to you, don’t dance with that man again, period. As a foreign woman, it seemed as though I was valued at exactly the value I placed on myself publicly. This was exemplified for the rest of the people at a milonga, by my choice of dance partners, both in terms of their behavior towards me as a woman and their expertise as a dancer. No one will ask you to dance until they’ve seen you dance (except for the men who are the very beginning dancers). It is understood that at the milonga, the woman accepts the man. Therefore she is responsible for and in control of the image she presents concerning her character and the level and quality of her dancing.

There is a great deal of dance snobbery in Buenos Aires. Some men will not ask you to dance if you consistently dance with men below their level. Rejecting dances and dancers can be unnerving, as it goes against the grain of the North American social dance custom to graciously accept any man’s offer to dance, regardless of skill or personality. In Buenos Aires whom you choose to dance with, will lead to dancing with more of the same. Of course, the reverse is also true - all it takes is one experienced and respected milonguero to decide that you are a good dancer, and the Oklahoma Land Rush will look orderly compared to the traffic to your table.

Your article also touched on the subject of an off handed, casual touch being misunderstood as a sexual invitation. This may be true, but it is also more true that those casual overtures on the part of the man may be designed to hinder and discourage other men from asking you to dance. After all, as the woman, you’ve allowed the overt gesture. The other milongueros will wish to honor your choice of the publicly stated gesture to align yourself with that man casually draping his arm around your shoulder. And how do they honor this? By not asking you to dance, since in effect you have allowed yourself to be spoken for. This holds true for the most innocent of courtly gestures that we take for granted in social dance situations in this country. On the short list, if you take a sip of a man’s drink from his proffered glass; an offer of a chair at a man’s table; a drink bought for you by anyone but yourself or a girlfriend (and this includes an innocent glass of water). Accept any of these from the first man that offers, and your dance card will wither. So unless it is THE chair or THE drink or THE arm of THE man you have been praying for all your life, politely refuse, even if the offer is coming from a “cute” 80-year old grandfather. If you do accept, you will be waiting for him and only him to ask you to dance for the rest of your stay in Buenos Aires. If you think no one notices these things in the crowded milongas of Buenos Aires, think again. The ones who “have had their eye on you” will notice and behave according to the age old codes of the milonga.

Another aspect of dancing in Buenos Aires, which differs sharply from dancing in the USA is that a man will not dance with a woman if she has danced with his friend. This is in sharp contrast to the USA, where I would naturally introduce and recommend a good male dancer to my female friends so that they in turn could dance with each other. I would expect the male dancer to introduce me to his friends, so that I might dance with his friends too. This becomes even more tricky in Buenos Aires, because men who are friends will frequently not sit with each other in the milongas. This makes it even more crucial to not repeat a dance with a man you didn’t like. If you are “polite” and dance with him again, and he is the friend of someone that you do like, in deference to a friend who you were polite to, your dream dancer will stay away from you.

I had a great time and learned quite a lot from my solo trip to Buenos Aires, not only by trial and error, but also by the “girl talk” I shared with Valorie (and others) in Buenos Aires. “The Tango Experience” planned by Alberto and Valorie looks like a wonderful way to learn to navigate the cultural nuances in the world of the Tango in Buenos Aires.

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