Friday, March 16, 2007


I came across a post in a tango discussion board last night. I've decided not to link it because the guy was totally trying to be nice and not trolling anything, so he gets the benefit of the doubt on that one and should not be yelled at for trying to encourage people to be welcoming. However, it did make me bust out with my O RLY? face.

Upshot: Women should stop being so picky. If they choose to dance only with leaders who are better than they are, or the best leaders in the room, then all the beginners and other leads feel left out and might not come back, and in the interest of supporting the community and "paying it back", women should dance more.

O RLY? Let me break out my bag o'punctuation for a nice long snarkfest. **

First: I agree that people should support beginners, absolutely. I was a beginner once, and without R. and the other brave men who endeavored to show me turns, sacadas, and paradas, I'd be discouraged and probably by now I'd be ice dancing instead. In the spirit of paying it back to the tango community, there are beginners I dance with whenever I see them at a milonga, because they are always trying to improve. They'll ask a question about the embrace (between songs), they'll try something new that they've clearly been working on, and if it doesn't quite happen, they'll make it into something they can manage without tripping the follower. They try to listen to the music and dance D'Arienzo differently than Vargas.

Key words above include: trying to improve, clearly been working, manage without tripping, listen to the music. I will fix your fumble if you were trying to make a very musical turn and it didn't quite work out. If you take a side step and don't know how to navigate for a while, it's all right, I'll hang out. (One guy tried this, got boxed in, and after about ten seconds he said, "Uh...artistic pause!" and I cracked up because it was awesome.) I will totally dance with you if this is the case.

Beginners I will not dance with again: Guys who dance every dance exactly the same, inluding milongas (aieeee!). Guys who try out something on you that they just "learned" unsuccessfully in the intermediate class. Guys who try out that same move four times in a row whether or not he can actually do it. Practicas, you guys.

Beginners who ruin it for all the other beginners: Guys who try to use salsa moves on the dance floor when their tango fails them. (Yes, this happened, yes, it was as bad as you think, and I have to tell you, this guy initiated my "I don't care how good you say you are, I'm not dancing with you until I've seen you dance with someone else" rule. I usually shorten it and sound more polite, obviously, but if I don't know you I'm reluctant to be your first dance. I've missed out on one or two leads, but I've avoided about 300 disasters, so I'm okay with the odds.

SALSA, you guys. To DI SARLI. I died inside.)

Unrelated addendum: if you have brought your own follower and can manage to avoid crashing people, you guys can practice your moves over and over. If you're not bocking traffic and not using an unsuspectecting follower as a practice partner, you can do as you please. It looks funny to parade around doing a fancy gancho combination 16 times, but if you're fine with it I'm fine with it.

Guys I won't dance with at all: If you have been dancing for 5 years and you still dance every dance exactly the same. If your tango vocabulary is mostly stage moves. (Nobody wants to see your follower sliding between your legs, dude.) If you teach on the dance floor. If you try to hold me closer to my ass than my shoulder in hopes of copping a feel. If you are a Shoveler. If you clearly never practice and don't know how long it takes the follower to do something, so you link all your fancy tricks together without remembering the laws of physics. (I have been guilty of this myself as a leader, but I figured it out during practica and fixed it way before I went to a milonga and asked someone to dance.) If you show off at the expense of your partners.

I'd argue that tango community service is REFUSING to dance with bad leaders. A complacent leader will never improve and will continue playing grab-ass all over the dance floor for the rest of his life. A leader who isn't getting dances will have to either quit the scene and grab ass someplace else, or improve.

This will significantly cut the risk of Horrified Followeritis, and definitely increase the number of 'Yeses' these guys get. I'm still not sure why they do it.

Yes, leading is extremely difficult. I know that. I'm working on it myself. However, keyword: I am working on it. I practice out of the public eye with friends and in classes, I ask questions and get feedback, I keep it to the steps I know I can lead. I don't ask people to dance yet at milongas, because I'm not good enough. If a friend asks me, I'll be happy to lead, but I'm not presenting myself as a leader yet because I can't expect people to dance with me until I'm better. I expect no less from other leaders.

A follower has nothing to gain from dancing with a leader who is complacently sucky, who is not listening to the music, who grabs her ass, who steps on her toes, who makes her a practice dummy. Why would she say yes?

Now, because my grouch is equal-opportunity: FLIP SIDE!

Followers! Your turn!

Heads up: Just because you are young and skinny doesn't mean you're a good follower. It means you're young and skinny, and good leaders rarely avoid young, skinny partners. You still have to work on your technique. No one looks good with their ankles six inches apart and their feet rolling everywhere. Insteps and ankles, please. This goes for everyone, by the way, not just young, skinny beginners. Everybody! Insteps and ankles!

As regards speed: Long steps are gorgeous. I am a big fan of any lady who steps back with beautiful long steps. However, there's no need to rush. You're not going anywhere. It's a circle! Plus, you're sort of dragging your leader, and it makes the guy look funny when he's running after you.

Also: Posture. It looks lovely to stand up straight - your mom told you, those bat-crazy nuns at the Catholic school told you, and now I'm telling you. Hunching over and leaning your head on his shoulder does not look sad and emotive; it looks like you're falling asleep, or that he punched you in the stomach. Quit defaming your leaders as boring and/or abusive brutes! So mean!

Also also: Every once in a while, dance with a beginner who's trying. If he's really trying, in two years he'll be awesome, and you'll be all, "Oh hi, Awesome," and he'll be like, "Oh hi, Nice Follower, care to dance?" and all the other women will be totally jealous. You wait and see.

** Disclaimer: I am a bastardy grump.


Caroline said...

Not working today so I've nothing to do but comment galore.
It's all relative, I think, when it comes to deciding whether or not to dance with this leader or that one, beginner or "advanced". I read one blogger's post stating that women "should" dance with beginner leaders as if that's our obligation but I know that same blogger avoids beginner followers like the plague so thought it was a rather hypocritical thing to say. I'll dance with a beginner leader if I think he's conscious of the necessity to nail the basics before moving onto more advanced leading. If he can't keep his balance while leading a woman in a cirlce around himself, I'm not dancing with him! Whereas if he wants to merely walk and focus on just that, I'm happy to be his partner for then I know he's serious about wanting to improve.

La Planchadora said...

Precisely. If someone is really TRYING, if they WANT to be better and are clearly working on it, I'm happy to dance with them. Anyone with a sense of entitlement about it starts to get on my nerves.

Debbi said...

This seems to be the topic of the day! Last night at Practica I had both a good beginner and a bad beginner experience, and S and I discussed on the car ride home the whole difference between the beginners who try and are obviously getting better and those who can not take feedback and who never seem to learn what not to do. I was there at the starting block not too long ago myself and if the advanced leaders who took an interest in me never had, it would have been a much bumpier road. But now those leaders have made mention that they enjoy dancing with me and they like knowing how far I have come. It is not an obligation to teach someone, unless they have paid for a class that you are teaching! But it is in our interest to cultivate the community by helping those who help themselves along. So to make a long story short, Yea! What you said! ;-)

La Planchadora said...

Of course - for the leaer, the fact that you're just starting is a matter of chronology. That fact that you're a big poop is a dealbreaker. Avoiding being a big poop and see how well things go for you!

DANDY said...

I am writing from Buenos Aires.
I have a question . What is this abaout leaders and followers?
In the tango dance you have hombres (man) y mujeres (women).
Nothing can change that,is the essence of tango.

La Planchadora said...

Hi Dandy,

Actually, my advice was split into two parts - advice for leaders and advice for followers - based on things I have observed at the milongas in my city. The advice does not relate to gender, but rather to the roles of the dance.

Traditional tango is a man and a woman, obvio. However, the essence of tango to me is two people moving together, attemping to express the sentimientos of tango. The genders of those two people doesn't matter to me.

In Buenos Aires I am sure every man is a tango god, and you especially I am sure, since you have taken the time to write me and correct me. However, where I live, in a milonga full of hombres mierdas, many women are happy to dance with good women leaders.

You are free to have your own opinion on this, but I am a woman who leads and follows, and I see no reason why I should be forbidden to lead just because I am a woman. Anyone who is musical, who can give intent, who can take care of the follower in their arms and navigate the dance floor well, can lead. You may not agree, but I know plenty of followers who do.