Tuesday, April 8, 2008

#1 Mistake A Man Can Make In Tango

Men, we can step on her feet, stumble through our moves, and still have a fun tango with her. On the other hand, we can have awesome technique and musicality, but if we get this one thing wrong it's all over.

So, what is this #1 mistake a man can make in tango?: Not being respectful to your partner.

Respect comes in various forms:
1. Verbal respect
The most common frustration I hear from women outside of this blog is when we men give unsolicited "constructive criticism". I know because I've made this mistake before and then seen my partner's expression turn cold. Unless a brother is explicitly asked by a woman for feedback and unless he's considered a technique pro (by more people than just himself), I never recommend giving feedback.

Men, I have a simple question in this tango blog: how much do we like receiving unsolicited, negative feedback from women? Well, women want to hear our constructive criticism about as much as we do from them.

2. Body language respect
Even for our brothers that don't verbalize their constructive criticism, there is always the joy of body language. I'm talking about the frustrating sighs & looks of impatience that some of our brothers don't think women are picking up on. But as one of my female friends said after a bad tango, "He didn't have to say anything--his frustration with me was clear in his face. We were making mistakes during our tango & his body language was clearly telling me these were my mistakes."

3. Respect her body
She's the one walking backwards, not us. She has no idea if she's about to bump into someone or get a heel into her ankle, which is why it's our obligation to lead in a way that always protects her.

There's a very nice gentleman I see at milongas and good luck finding a funner guy to talk to off the floor. But once the tanda starts he leads his follow through crowds like he's playing bumper pool. I can't explain the disconnect between his friendly, off-floor personality & him being apparently unaware that the way he charges through crowds is, at best, not joyously received by other dancers and, at worst, dangerous to his partner. It's just like when we're driving home late at night with our girlfriend or wife--we have responsibility for two.

And we should also be careful not to jar women with sudden moves. I'm sorry to say I unintentionally jerked my partner once doing a move and she got a kink in her back as a result. She worked it out through the massage therapist I provided, but knowing I'd hurt my partner was the worst feeling I've ever had in dance. No more. It took me a while to realize what a teacher had always been saying: "Less is more."

So, men, the best way to impress a tanguera isn't by speeding through a crowded line of dance or surprising them with showy moves--it's through being a fun partner, connecting with her, your technique, and musicality.

But most of all, impress your partner through your spoken & unspoken respect.


Anonymous said...


I been groped, licked, snorffled, rudely propositioned ("I'd like to slide between your legs tonight"), whip lashed, overwhelmed by the B.O. of leaders insistent on yanking me close and kicked between the legs (I applaud enthusiasm, but Seriously.)--all on the dance floor.

Anonymous said...

Amen to YOU anonymous.

Mark, the #1 word I would use to ensure a happy partner is


In every sense of the word.

Mark Andersen said...

Wow, Anonymous, I can't tell you how sorry I am to hear that.

I believe that the vast majority of my tango brothers are very respectful. But I know that's not always true and your experiences demonstrate that.

This gross behavior that's happened to you is obviously extremely disrespectful to you. It's also offensive to you, me and everyone else in our community. Such behavior is completely unacceptable and must stop.

Mark Andersen said...

Amen, Johanna. When my partner and I have mutual respect, the tango is always fun.

Anonymous said...

Mark -

Everything you have said is right on - and so elegantly presented.

I've traveled to many places in the world to dance tango. If even half of the leaders paid attention to a quarter of what you've written, the tango world would be a better place.

The men who are magical in tango are not the ones with the fancy steps - they are the ones with the mature attitudes, those who protect the woman and the others at the milonga by always paying attention, and those who are, simply, kind.

As a long-time follower who has also dabbled in leading, I've discovered that almost every time I thought "it's the follower's fault", I found if changed my lead slightly, the follower improved. Amazing! Not that all followers are perfect: Ladies, we can improve on everything from not pulling on our partners to being kinder to beginners.

It's all about consideration & respect, on both sides.

Mark, yours is a voice of consideration and reason in the oft-crazy world of blogging.

Anonymous said...

Ladies -

We have a responsibility to ourselves, our fellow tangueras, and tango itself, not to tolerate the sort of behavior that the first comment by an "anonymous" describes. Remember, if he's doing it to you, he's likely doing it to someone else less willing or able to stand up for themselves than you are.

When leaders are scarce, it's hard to imagine saying anything that might put one off. Nonetheless, your tango community will grow in the direction YOU allow it: it is better to have a smaller pool of respectful leaders, who will bring their friends in eventually, than a large pool of disrespectful wolves - who will ALSO bring their friends in.

If you don't feel comfortable telling a man his behavior is inappropriate (or dangerous, or painful, or...) please consider telling your instructor, or the milonga host, or a leader who you do trust.

Guys, this is your chance be gentlemanly, and to improve the reputation of men in tango by standing up for the followers against those leaders who do disrespect the women, and by proxy, the tango itself.

Anonymous said...

Me again. I don't generally confront the guys who pull this stuff, mostly because I just can't get away fast enough. And why set myself up for a five minute eternity of agony dealing with their anger / malice / defensiveness? They can deal with their own issues; I'll just never dance with them again.

The enthusiastic kicker may get another dance--he was a beginner who still thinks more is More.

Mark Andersen said...

Thank you, Anonymous (1:39am) for your kind words.

If I'm struggling with a tango partner I still catch myself at times thinking "it's the followers fault".

But then I take a deep breath, remember that I must be cheating my technique somehow, improve my lead, and, presto, all is good.

Mark Andersen said...

Dear Anonymous (1:56am),

I completely agree that this disrespectful behavior must not be tolerated.

Women, please do not feel alone if you experience any disrespectul behavior. I've met so many amazing women and men in tango that I know they're just as angered as I am to hear of this kind of inappropriate behavior.

We know what the true community tango spirit is this has no place in it.

Of course, women, it's your decision how you want to handle it, but please know that the vast majority of men will gladly step in and assist in any way necessary.

I want to give one anonymous example. I can't use the man's name because I haven't asked for his permission. But I personally know of a situation where a guy was writing disrespectful things about some of the women he was tangoing with. So, my friend heard about this, was infuriated by it (as was everyone else), and called this guy out about it publically. As a result, the guy stopped writing and is persona non grata.

I think telling the milonga host and/or instructor is also an excellent idea.

So, women, you're not alone in this. We're ready to assist in any way. Please let us know if you experience anything inappropriate--our support is there.

Mark Andersen said...

Hi Anonymous (2:29pm),
I can understand not wanting to confront a fool who is being disrespectful because it puts you in an awkward position during what are normally great milongas.

The flip side of this is that if the guy isn't told his behavior is inappropriate, he's likely to do it again.

Every woman has to make a decision on how to respond in a way that's right for her. But for any women in the Bay area that ever experiences this, please feel free to ask me to talk to the guy. I'd be happy to do so.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (April 9, 9:58): What you said sounds so familiar; I think I may have actually discussed this with you personally about a month ago, and I have experienced some of those things (including being pulled aside and confronted: "Why won't you dance with me?") although not to the extent that you have.

Hint to avoid these things (This will only make sense if you are the person I think I talked to about this): Don't go underground on a Saturday night.