Polly's Tango Talk

It’s All About…

Foreword: “It’s All About…” describes six of the many stages/phases/aspects/factors/categories/sections/divisions that tango dancers progress through, and one major factor that impacts all the others. Descriptions are written from the author’s perspective and not in any way intended to be authoritative, definitive or comprehensive. Each section is connected to one or more of the others and we are continually involved in more than one at the same time. Each stage can last weeks, months, years, depending on our motivation and goals. Most folks entering tango will be content as social dancers, however some will also become teachers, performers, DJs, musicians. Our aspirations and moment-to-moment experience will help determine which phase/s we are involved in, when, and for how long. All stages are of equal importance and there are no requirements, expectations or guidelines regarding  order of progression. Two people who have danced the same amount of time might be in completely different phases. Our rate of progression is determined by how many hours are spent in training and practice, not by calendar time. Transitioning  from one phase to another might be barely perceptible, or very noticeable to our self and/or to others; either way we are led to an exciting, enlightening, enchanting  new dimension.

 Introduction: As beginners, we have (or had) little or no concept of what is required in order to become a desirable partner. (Tango is more about being a good partner than being a good dancer and more about being a good partner than having a good partner.) We know little, if anything about sending and receiving information through our axis, if we even know what, or where, our axis is. We know nothing about tango etiquette, culture or traditions, and even less about the music. We are like an open book with blank pages, eager to receive as much information as possible, in as short a time as possible, without a molecule of awareness that nothing in tango happens “in the shortest time possible.” It will take longer to learn this dance than anything we’ve ever attempted, and it has nothing to do with intelligence, worthiness or station in life. We start as beginners in every way and remain as beginners in some way. We put complete trust in anyone with more experience than our naive self and have no clue whether the information we attempt to absorb is accurate, complete, or essential. After considerable time in class, at practicas and on the milonga floor, we begin to develop likes and dislikes, become aware of what fits our tastes and style, and savor the challenges and rewards of creating our own dance. These and other processes will continue throughout our tango life and can be divided into these general categories: It’s All About…The Dance, The Partner, The Music, Connection, The Social Scene, Attitude, Giving Back, Us, and Kitty Videos. No…wait…

I: It’s All About the Dance
In general, beginning leaders invite, and beginning followers accept, dances with whomever to whatever music is playing.  (Mostly tango, vals and milonga usually come later.) Men tend to ask any woman who appears to be available, however, this can be risky and potentially ego-shattering. Naive men are frequently rebuffed by experienced women who prefer to not dance with leaders with little experience, and men often have no idea why they were turned down. They also have no clue about cabeceo, etiquette, tradition, and possibly even tandas and cortinas. Women…the same. They gleefully accept invitations from anyone who asks, because their main goal is to gain experience, and in the process may become confused if their partner leads moves they do not understand. Prolific dancing is valuable, has its place and time in our tango life, and is most productive when combined with group and private lessons, guided practice, attending milongas. Learning, sharing, enjoying The Dance is where our tango life begins.
II: It’s All About the Partner
After several weeks or months we’ve likely shared an embrace with many partners and made numerous decisions about who we do and do not enjoy dancing with. Some partners we return to again and again while with others, once is enough, and sometimes more so. Leaders become selective about who they invite and followers become selective about who we make ourselves available to. Everyone’s goal is still to dance as much as possible, but now we prefer it to be with certain people. We might have specific partners for vals, others for milongas, others for tango and maybe some for certain orchestras. If we are in a couple, there may be certain songs or orchestras we dance to only with each other. We might experience magic with someone for a moment, a song, a tanda, or, in rare instances, a lifetime. “Caution” is the operative word when determining whether what we are feeling is “tango lust” or if there really is something special happening. We can be easily fooled under the right circumstances…dim lights, romantic music, torso to torso, you know the scene. We all know someone who has been swept away under tango’s spell and who regretted it for a very long time later. On the other hand, we can experience intimacy on a platonic level with a long-time friend or someone whose name we do not know. Over time we will develop great partnerships and partners can make the difference between dancing and great dancing.
III. It’s All About the Music
The music we hear at milongas, practicas, and classes, can make the difference between dancing and great dancing. Our connection with music can range from having a favorite song or two to knowing every orchestra by name, style, era, and having preferences and opinions about each.  It can involve carefully listening to music at practicas, milongas, and, most importantly, on our own. Hours and hours on our own…in every device, in every location. Ideally beginners would be taught from the first step that tango is driven by the music, and that the more we listen, the better we dance. Some folks patiently (relatively speaking) wait for songs that inspire them before they seek a partner and enter the floor. Choices might be determined by orchestra, style, rhythm, vocalist, tempo, mood, era. Music that doesn’t ring our chimes may be another’s favorite; it is all good, for someone. Musical preferences are a matter of taste, and liking or not liking certain tunes does not make them any better or worse than anyone else’s preferences. Serious enthusiasts study, collect, organize, categorize, develop a passion for, and deep appreciation, of their favorite styles, orchestras, etc. Some who become very serious enter the world of DJing. DJs meticulously select their playlists based on pleasing the majority of their audience the majority of the time while maintaining a dynamic level of energy during the hours they are responsible for. Music is the heartbeat and soul of tango.
IV: It’s All About Preferences
People in this stage of the game have typically been in tango a considerable length of time and prefer to wai…..t for the “right” music and a preferred partner to be available at the same time. The number of dances they do in an evening is no longer of import. Quality trumps quantity, big time. They’ve likely spent years developing partnerships and memorizing countless songs. Followers visit casually with friends while remaining discreetly attuned to selected leaders, and have developed subtle ways of letting preferred partners know when the music is “right.” Leaders have the same skills, just different methods. One approach is to languish inconspicuously on the sidelines, ready to take action if and when the music is “right.” They are keenly aware where certain followers are located, and in an instant can connect with a well-timed cabeceo, meet and escort the lady of choice to the floor. It can take a very long time to attain pleasurable connections with some partners and with others it can happen the first step we take together.
V: It’s All About the Social Scene
At a milonga, the primary goal is to share our passion for tango and to be in the company of others with the same desire. At established milongas there is often a table somewhere near the DJ (or other area) where “certain” people (sometimes referred to as the “in” crowd) gather, and who are there by some connection to others in the group. Perhaps they’re the event host, current squeeze of the DJ, dating someone in the “in” crowd, or…you get the idea. Every ongoing gathering develops a social strata and where we fall within that realm can depend on a number of factors. In tango, what qualifies folks most often to occupy “The” table is their level of dance. For the rest of us…in general, women like to sit with friends while men prefer to sit or stand alone.  A friendly social scene can make the difference between someone staying and walking away for the time being or forever. The social scene is usually our connection to potential partners, acquaintances, and, in some cases, lifelong friends, and our interaction with others can make the difference between a so-so night, a good night and a great night, socially speaking.
VI: It’s All About Attitude
Attitude affects everything we say and do. We can be positive, negative, neutral, somewhere between or a combination. Beginners are generally enthusiastic about learning tango, however, they can become disillusioned. Women who are left sitting most of the night and men who are repeatedly turned down may feel that the community is “unfriendly” or “elitist” or “cliquish.”  This isn’t necessarily accurate but perception can make it seem so. When experienced and new dancers reach out to each other, an over-all positive attitude is likely to be maintained within in the community. When skilled dancers remain humble and remember how folks encouraged and supported them when they were struggling with this-foot-goes-here-that-foot-goes-there, they are likely to pass that encouragement along. Volunteers and event hosts can help newcomers transition from class to milonga by taking time to welcome folks personally and/or perhaps having a special “Welcome to Thursday Milonga” (or whatever) sign on a table near the entrance as a way of saying “We’re glad you’re here.” Volunteers might spend an hour or two at the table (or designated area) greeting, introducing dancers to each other, and dancing with folks who join them. Whatever we can do to help establish and maintain a positive atmosphere will be good for tango and good for the community.
VII: It’s All About Giving Back
IMO, this phase should begin as soon as we are confident that tango is the dance for us. After we’ve become acquainted with a few teachers, hosts, organizers, we can offer to assist in any way that matches our artistic, professional or technical skills. (Set up/clean up/promotion/decoration/etc.) Each community is guided by, and flourishes because of, the efforts of those who contribute their time, talents and resources. (There is a financial risk in hosting a milonga, visiting teacher or special event.) We  can show appreciation for the contributions of those who came before us, and those who helped create and maintain the events we enjoy and benefit from, by assisting in any way possible. Giving back can mean dancing with beginners or someone who has been sitting on the sidelines for an extended period. It can mean distributing flyers to classes, practicas and milonga. Or it can mean supporting the events we enjoy and saying “Thank you” to the people responsible. Giving back keeps tango alive and lets the people who teach, host, plan events, know that their efforts are appreciated. They need our encouragement and support as much as we need theirs. Win win.

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