Starting to dance tango socially – A follower’s perspective and some hints for Event Organisers, by Charlotte Holwell.
Before finding good local classes on an evening I could manage, in a location not too far away, I spent about five years ricocheting fairly disastrously in and out of classes, workshops and social events. At almost any moment I could have given up, except that a challenge had been issued in the guise of a compliment, deadly, and I was intrigued by the dance! The sensibly small word allowance has forced me to distil my experiences into a handful of Do’s and Don’ts for your consideration.
As a Social Dancer
Don’t be late to a class or workshop. Do be early! It shouldn’t need to be said!! I am speaking to myself…
Don’t give up. Do just keep on doing it.
Do try and find a class that you can attend consistently, or a teacher available to provide private tuition in between.
Footwear is important. Do ask your teacher what they would recommend. Don’t buy anything new on impulse. When you want a proper pair of tango shoes, they are not cheap, but they are fantastic!
Do ask questions…tango is like a jigsaw puzzle; some pieces are key and help fit all sorts of other random pieces together!
Do freshen up before a class or any other event, including your breath.
Practicas are more informal and are the opportunity to practise and receive feedback. A milonga is a purely social event and it is not acceptable to ‘teach’ while dancing. If you feel your partner is friendly you might dare to ask for a bitesize piece of feedback…but don’t expect there to be time for a full critique.
Before your first visit to any new social event, have an honest conversation with your teacher about whether they think you are ready (ie have the basic skills) and which local event might be the best place to start. It could make all the difference to your subsequent experience.
Don’t try and rush into this! Tempting though it is. Do consider attending practicas first, they are more informal and more supportive. Do gather a group of tango friends to meet or attend with, it all helps.
Don’t attend your first milonga with the expectation that you will dance, unless you are among people who already know you. Other Leaders will be trying to work out at what level you are dancing before inviting you. They tend to like to know so that they do not expose themselves!
Do consider the fact that quality is much better than quantity. It is very possible to dance the basic figures with attention to your partner and musicality. Leads dance well within your confidence zone; Follows match the style and experience of your Lead, don’t swamp them in decorations and unled moves.
Do ask ahead or at the door, or look for cards on the table for important information on which Tango etiquette is practised, where the loos are, where any refreshments might be.
Do be rigorous about your personal hygiene when you attend classes and events. Many dancers also tend to make a sartorial effort for social events. Again, ask ahead to ensure you feel comfortable when you arrive.
Do ask your teacher to show you how mirada/cabeceo works. Practise this with your class mates. It is very much a ‘Tango thing’, you will feel spectacularly self-conscious to start with, but it works very neatly.
Never! sit by yourself: Do find a friendly face, introduce yourself and make a friend….
And of course, if you are a regular and see someone sitting by themselves, please Do go and speak to them…carefully…. they may be a ‘Returner’ but often they are not.
Do perfect the art of talking to your friends during the cortinas (the break between tandas), whilest looking over the dancefloor in order to give or catch the eye!
Don’t attend a milonga or any social gathering with the expectation that your teacher if present, will dance with you. This is their social time.
Do try! and remain calm. As either Leader or Follower if you cannot feel the connection quietly check your frame. Don’t panic.
Don’t be offended by the ‘take no prisoners’ attitude of some dancers, as with everything, some people are very clear on the ‘correct way’. Smile and let it go.
It is poor ‘form’ to ‘teach’ during a social event or a class being led by a teacher. Some dancers, both Leads and Followers cannot help themselves. Smile. If they seriously disturbed you, speak to the teacher or Event Organizer.
Do learn the art of bite sized conversation for the break in songs within a tanda. In many places to say ‘Thank you’ indicates that you have finished and wish to sit back down! Practise alternatives! Do be aware that not everyone wishes to talk at this point.
If you are dancing the ‘Lead’ role, it is your responsibility to collect and escort your partner onto the dance floor, through the dance and back to their seat. You are dancing for them, not yourself.
A smiling welcome goes a very, very long way.
As does information on where to find the loos, the etiquette around refreshments, policy on the use of mirada & cabaceo, arrangements for any ‘After Party’, venue rules etc.
As does an introduction for a sole attendee to a friendly local person/group.
If you have any Questions and feel there is no one to ask, then ask in the forum on this website or email the Association directly.
With thanks to BN for her invaluable and long-distance help with editing and TG for answering yet more of my questions. CH 10/5/21.