On Saturday night I went with a group of friends down to Los Angeles to dance at El Encuentro for my birthday. I had a great time, got many good dances, ate delicious red velvet birthday cake, and just generally enjoyed myself. I always have a good time at El Encuentro. Lately I’ve been hearing from some people that they don’t like this milonga. They feel they don’t get enough dances and therefor don’t have a good time. Why the discrepancy?
What is going on?
I, too, used to feel ignored at this milonga. I would go home at the end of the night feeling inadequate because, it seemed, no one wanted to dance with me. What happened? Granted, my dancing has improved since then, but there are men and women of all skill levels dancing at the milonga. Even one very very bad leader gets dances! A good beginner shouldn’t be excluded. The milonga itself hasn’t changed. So what did?
What changed, I think, was my attitude. Often beginners feel that if they are not dancing every song of every tanda, then something must be wrong. They are not good/pretty/skinny/young enough, and so NO ONE wants to dance with them. I was once in this category. If I wasn’t dancing, something was wrong with me. Am I wearing the wrong clothes? Am I just a horrible dancer? I had not yet grasped that aspect of tango that, now, is a big part of the draw.
Tango is social. When I go out, yes, I’m going out to dance, obviously. I love dancing! But I’m also going out to spend time with friends. I don’t mind sitting out a few tandas. It gives me a chance to chat, laugh and socialize. And it gives my feet a break! I don’t think I’m getting that many more dances than I was as a beginner, but I am a lot happier with my over-all experience.
I am not saying that anyone who has been unhappy with a night of tango simply needs an attitude adjustment. It was not something I decided one day. My approach evolved over years of going to milongas. And not everyone will come to the same conclusion.
But what can I do?
This is also not to say that, sometimes, you really don’t get enough dances. It can be difficult, as an outsider, to break in to a new milonga where you don’t know anyone. If you’re a leader, or a follower who is comfortable asking for dances, then it’s fairly simple. But for most women, we don’t want to ask. We want to be asked. So what can you do? Here are a few tips that should get you out on the floor.
First, and most importantly, look happy, open and ready to dance. If you’re slumping back in your chair, frowning and looking miserable, no one is going to want to talk to you, let alone dance with you. Send out good vibes, and people will notice.
If you came with a group or know any leaders at the milonga, get them to dance with you. Once other leaders see you dancing and see how you dance, they will be more likely to ask you. If they only see you sitting, they have no way of knowing if you even dance.
Keep your eyes open. You never know when someone may be trying to cabeceo you. Don’t look away if someone makes eye contact, unless you want to turn him down. Maintain the eye contact, smile, and see what he does next.
Don’t lose yourself in conversation. It’s fine to talk with friends (or strangers!) at a milonga. As I said, tango is social! But keep your eyes open. Look around the room. Watch the dancers. This will indicate that, even though you’re in conversation, you are ready to dance! If you get lost in conversation and turn away from the dance floor, leaders will assume you are not dancing, and therefor not ask you.
Don’t be stagnant. If you’ve been sitting for a long time, get up. Find something to do that involves moving around the room. Go get a snack or a glass of water. Use the bathroom. Even just walk the circumference of the room and sit back down. Find a different place to sit. If you are motionless for too long you become invisible. And when you’re walking around, don’t walk too fast. Stroll leisurely, looking around the room. Walk to the beat of the music. All these are cues to the leaders that you want to dance.
Strike up a conversation with a leader. It doesn’t matter what you talk about, but mentioning how much you love this song/composer will give him a big clue that you want to dance. It’s up to you how subtle you want to be about it!
See you on the floor at the next milonga!