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The Elephant in the room

As it happens, the eternal follower question of “How come so & so is up dancing all the time?” was again discussed at great length the other evening with friends.

Also I just read a blog by a fellow tango dancer, which highlights the things that put leaders off inviting a follower, but there are also certain behaviours which are demonstrated by followers during a milonga which show a distinct lack of sisterly camaraderie.

At a glance in a milonga, it would seem that certain followers are just more popular dancers than others.

And the immediate thought might be is that they must be great dancers.

Of course, there will be a proportion of the ‘popular followers’ who are great dancers, but the reasons why some followers get to dance all night and others don’t, is many.

I’ll cover the acceptable reasons why some followers are invited more than others, and then we’ll move on to the less acceptable reasons.

The acceptable reasons

1. The follower is a great dancer

2. The follower has a beautiful embrace

3. The follower is a friend of the leader

4. The follower is a really lovely person

5. The follower looks alert, very interested in dancing

6. The follower is the partner of the leader (so only dances with that particular leader all night)

Now the less acceptable reasons

1. The follower relying on physical attractiveness to get dances

2. The follower will make the leader look ‘good’ because of her taking the back lead

3. The follower has prearranged all dances with leaders ahead of attending the milonga

4. The follower ‘butters up’ a leader to appeal to his vanity

5. The follower makes a leader feel guilty about not dancing with them

6. The follower uses an aggressive form of mirada

7. The follower detains the leader one tanda after another with endless chat.

*Plus added notes

8. The elephant in the room

Why followers & leaders shouldn’t use the second list of methods of getting a dance.


Beauty & physical attractiveness

Ok, I know men are visual creatures, and a pretty face & body will always get more attention, but guys – you have no idea what you’re missing.

Being physically attractive, doesn’t mean able to dance, or a beautiful embrace, or a nice personality.

Physical Attractiveness means, “Well done, you happen to have a pretty face or body”.

If you’re regularly choosing your dance partners based on looks, then what can I say, you may be as deep as a muddy puddle, and just possibly you’re treating a milonga as a cattle market.

And if you’re relying solely on your looks to get dances, then the same applies, wouldn’t you rather be invited to dance for your ability, or embrace?


Over compensating for a bad lead

Leaders, if you’re relying on your follower to make you look good – then perhaps you need to go back to a beginner’s class. Let’s face it, it’s lazy expecting your follower to make you look good. You will only attract one kind of follower – the over active kind!

Followers, if you’re flip flapping your legs around to compensate for a lazy leader, then you also need to go back to class to understand the true concept of following, and I don’t mean passive, because that is not the opposite of over active. (this will be whole ‘nother blog entry). You will only attract a certain level of dancer, and there will be no inclination for these leaders to improve if you keep compensating for their laziness.


The pre-arranged dance card

Now some will believe that this doesn’t happen, but of course it does.

It’s like writing up a virtual dance card. I was always led to believe that going to a milonga should have an element of the unknown. The newly discovered embrace, the dancer who surprises you. How can you ever experience this if you already know exactly what’s coming.

Of course, the familiarity of dancing with friends or preferred dancers shouldn’t be knocked, but to pre arrange nearly all of your dances? To put it politely, it is not in the spirit of Tango, this is a dance of contrasts, beautiful embraces, edginess, the familiar, the unknown, and the excitement, you’re not going to experience the full gamut of emotions and experiences if you play it so safe.


Buttering the leader up!

This personally drives me a bit bonkers, on so many levels.

Yes, we all know that there are more followers than leaders. Yes, it sometimes feels like an Olympic sport competing against other followers trying to get a dance, but followers, you’re are doing yourself a disservice.

Leaders tend to find learning Tango, up to a certain level more difficult than followers, but when they reach the point when they can walk relatively musically, turn a bit, and not collide with other dancers, while not breaking the arms of their followers or gripping them in a vice like embrace, some followers have a habit of massaging the egos of these leaders, to ensure a dance.

Followers you are potentially creating monsters! The number of leaders who I have met who are completely deluded about their ability, is mind boggling. Their egos have been stroked so enthusiastically by followers who want to dance, that they over inflate, and these Tango demi gods are born. Invariably these dancers remain stagnant in their progress, keeping the average level down, as they have no need to progress.

Followers, you have to look at this method of getting a dance, as serious short termism.

Once you have inflated the leader’s ego, he will inevitably have moved on to what he deems a more suitable level of dancer, and you denigrate yourselves.


The guilt trip

Followers, please don’t make a leader feel guilty about not dancing with you, by words or a look. This again undermines you in the long run and the leader’s position, if you rely on this method to get dances, you seriously need to consider whether Tango is the right dance for you. How can you honestly enjoy dancing , if deep down you know you are only receiving charity dances.


The aggressive mirada

When a follower miradas a leader, that does not mean that she sets her laser sights on him (sometimes without blinking), she has to realise that if he doesn’t give her eye contact, then it’s because he’s chosen not to dance with her at this point.

(Not so long ago, I attended a milonga, and dipped between leading & following. One follower had decided that she wanted me to lead her, and so at every opportunity stared fixedly at me. It got to the point when I could not look in one direction of the room, as she would just been staring at me. This I classify as an aggressive mirada – she wasn’t allowing me a choice, if my gaze passed her, she’d be nodding at me like fury.)

Mirada and Cabeceo are about choice, for both parties, not about you willing another person to dance with you until they relent. Again, how can a dance with that person be enjoyable if deep down you know it may not be consensual.


The Endless Chateceo

I’m going to be blunt here. This particular method of getting people to dance is incredibly selfish and self absorbed. If you are just in conversation with a leader, or if you have just danced with that leader, don't hold them over to chat for ages, give them the choice of dancing with someone else if they would like, there are other people in the room who no doubt would like to dance with them. If they want to chat, fine, move to a part of the room that doesn’t obstruct the eye line of others during the cortina. Read that person's body language, do they seem like they want to go back to their seat, are they giving you eye contact, or have they half an eye on the room, if they seem distracted, let them go. The whole evening is not about you and your needs.


*The elephant in the room.

Sex. Well – someone had to say it! Not with an elephant though.

It’s none of my darn business what other people get up to in their private lives, and I’m happy to keep it that way.

But it is important to recognise, that along with the tendency of some leaders to dance with attractive followers, and vice versa, and the buttering up of leader’s egos, sex does make an appearance. Some of the choices some dancers will make will be based in the hope that they may, and sometimes on the guaranteed basis that they will get more than a couple of tandas and a ‘cup of coffee’.

A number of followers maybe confused as to why certain dancers are up on the floor a lot, and it’s by no means the only reason they’re dancing all the time, but if it makes you feel better about not being asked by certain leaders, be aware, that sex might be one of them!

And for followers who are considering how far they might go to ensure regular dances with certain leaders, please only do what you are genuinely comfortable with. It happens time and time again, intimate relationships of all levels begin on the dance floor, there are some serial tango affair offenders out there, and if you feel for one minute that you couldn't handle the pain of watching that person move on to someone new, don't go there.

There are many things we can all do to improve ours and others experience of dancing social tango, and a good level of sisterhood helps. The milonga, should not be viewed as a competition, we are all in this together.

And in the end we all pay a price for the dances we get, as nothing comes for free.

Be it hard work, patience, honesty, generosity, money, loss of integrity, or self-respect.

I can assure you that the more integrity, authenticity and generosity that we bring to the social dance will give us returns tenfold. But the playing field has to be level as possible, and everyone needs to be playing the same game with the same rules. The moment, underhand tactics are used, the more off-kilter and negative the experience becomes for everyone.

I know the price I would rather pay, but how would you like to pay?


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