Want to be able to dance confidently and feel comfortable in traditional milongas of Buenos Aires?
Our bootcamp-style social tango classes develop your musicality, connection, technique & improvisation, as well as your confidence with milonga etiquette.

Friday, 22 March 2013

How to choose a dance partner

Ever found yourself dancing with someone and regretting it?  Were you unsure of what went wrong?  Do you still have no idea of how to prevent a recurrence?

I'm a firm advocate of the cabeceo.  However, this elegant form of invitation won't help you choose a dance partner.  It's actually the last step of the process.

First of all, you have to hone your powers of discrimination.  Know what you want, and shop around!

Once, in a Buenos Aires milonga, a tango friend asked how I identified the men I wanted to dance with?  In other words, those men whose cabeceo I would return. What was it that I looked for? I hadn't analysed my criteria before, but it got me thinking.

When I arrive at a milonga, I sit and watch the dancers for a while.  I make sure I don't look like I want to dance, until I've identified some possibilities.

Some key considerations for choosing whose cabeceo I would accept:
  • Does he dance to the music? Does his response to the music make sense to me?
  • How is his embrace?  Does it look comfortable?
  • Does he appear to dance for and with his partner?  (rather than trying to impress onlookers)
  • How are his navigation skills?  Is he respectful of the other dancers? (rather than viewing the dance-floor as his exclusive playground)
  • Has he made some effort to present himself appropriately for the occasion? Or does his dress and grooming suggest no respect for potential dance partners and the event?
Other factors may well come into play, but let's call these my minimum standards.

When dancing in a familiar milonga, filled with familiar faces, these strategies may be unnecessary -  I already have a good idea of potential dance partners.  However, if you have regretted your choices in the past, you may find my tips handy.

I would be very interested to hear how other ladies identify potential dance partners.

Gentlemen!  What about you?  How do you choose?



  1. Andy (Barcelona)22 March 2013 at 21:47

    Well, I have a few tips of my own to choose a ladie to dance in a not familiar milonga.
    I dont start to dance rightaway, I watch the dancers for a while and slowly focus on the ladies
    If a ladie is already dancing it's easier to judge. You see her feet, her face, her eyes, the embrace, how she puts her hand on the back or shoulder (I hate a hand that only touches a back with one, two or three fingers), also I try to figure out the tension of her arm and if she's dancing relaxed. If she is trying to impress the audience she's automaticly ruled out. Look at the man's face sometimes can help, spetially if you know his skill to dance.
    If she isn't dancing I would say that the whole thing is a bet. A glance at her shoes may, sometimes, help. But this is not the rule. Her eyes, the way she looks the dancers and the audience trying to find a partner (cabeceo?) to dance with, many times helps to make a good decision. I feel that a woman who dances, who knows what means a tango, his rules, the milonga's atmosphere, has an aura. If you are enough sensitive to appreciate this, you'll enjoy a wonderful tanda.

  2. Thanks for providing a man's view, Andy.

    Although we come from opposite perspectives, we certainly share at least one consideration, ie. avoiding dancers who are trying to impress onlookers. Unfortunately, they seem unaware that they're diminishing the richness of the experience, by focussing largely on themselves.

  3. How do you know whether or not a dancer is dancing "to impress onlookers"? The fact that someone has a very smooth and beautiful walk, a large vocabulary, intense musicality (which might be expressed partially in decorations if the person is a follower) doesn't mean that they are dancing to impress. It just means that they are dancing well. Unless you are a psychologist, it is frankly impossible to judge from outside whether someone is dancing to impress. If I am doing adornos, for instance, it's to express the music and please my partner (who will often be smiling, laughing, saying "esa!" appreciatively etc. when I really catch the music). You might think those adornos are for your benefit, i.e. to 'impress' you. But frankly those sitting out are the last things on my mind when I'm dancing. I'm sure I speak for many dancers here. Dancing well does NOT equal showing off.

  4. I agree with your points, Terpsichoral. Dancing well does not equal showing off.

    On the other hand, a dancer who appears to be looking around frequently for approval will not interest me as a potential partner. I may be quite mistaken, but for me, such behaviour signals more interest in himself and others, than in his partner.

    Of course, one can never be certain what's going on in another person's mind.

  5. Andy (Barcelona)24 March 2013 at 20:38

    A couple of words about the adornos.
    Absolutely, these are not made "to please a partner" rather than to show off. The male partner should not, doesn't, even know, that the ladie is "adornando" if it's perfectly done, which not the standart ladie dancer know how to do. The male partner is very bussie enjoying the dance, following the music holding a treassure in his arms, avoiding a possible colision with other couples to enjoy a possible adorno -most of the times made out of the music's beat-. If he isn't showing off he is not getting any pleasure from the adorno so he doesn't care about it. To get this degree of skillness a woman must be a very, very good dancer. Not every one can be, ie: Geraldine Rojas -who has been dancing ever since she was a child- or Alejandra Mantignan, or Elina Roldan, Graciela Gonzalez, Milena Plebs, just to nominate a few of the very best, and now teaching. After 17 years dancing tango -12 dancing tango milonguero in BsAs- it happens that they are good friends of mine (and my wife, and spoke about adornos) and we danced quite a many times along the years in normal milongas. I can assure you that, when dancing in Cannig, Sin Rumbo, La Nacional, Maipú, etc., they never (or very seldom) "adornan" keeping this .... "weapon" .... when they work in stage or exibitions .... -to show off- ..... As a mattre of fact, a few years ago, in an evening milonga during a Sardegna's festival, I danced a milonga with Elina Roldan. For me was a normal milonga and didn't notice anything strange. When I saw a video days later I was completely shocked to see such many and various adornos Elina made during the milonga. I can tell you: I did not percieve a single one. We spoke about that and I was said: "The best adorno is the one that the man does not know to exist".

  6. PP,

    My list is the same as yours.

    I agree with Andy that embellishments are not for one's partner. He can't see them anyway, so why do them on a social floor. He can, however, feel them in his chest. A milonguero viejo told me years ago to keep my feet quiet when dancing. I have followed his advice.

  7. I started dancing last October and to be honest doing the cabeceo is a bit difficult for me - I'm still getting used to it. Though I prefer to dance with partners who are a bit experienced, I have no problem with dancing with beginners -like I am - as long as the other person is respectful and nice. I have a big problem with people whose embrace if forceful and who do not take care of their personal hygiene. If I spot such a partner I try to avoid eye contact with him and if he comes to ask me in person I try to find some excuse not to dance.

  8. Oh and another thing that can make me avoid a partner is when I've danced once with him and he shows no understanding for my level of skill. For example, certain gentlemen, in spite of realising that I'm not an experienced dancer have tried several times to do a particular move which I was not able to complete the first time, ending up dragging me across the floor. Also, one of them started correcting me in the middle of the milonga. Had it been someone with whom I was familiar I wouldn't have minded as much but I was a bit annoyed that a complete stranger would stop in the middle of the tanda to correct me.

  9. There is no excuse for the behaviour of the men you describe, Alkyoni.

    Good, experienced male dancers are those who gradually assess what their partner is able to manage, and use their musicality to make the dance memorable for them both. He embraces the philosophy that we dance as equals.

    The man you describe is showing off, with no interest in protecting you from looking inelegant. He is, in my estimation, not a good tango dancer. http://www.tangosalonadelaide.blogspot.com.au/2011/11/its-mans-world-fact-or-fiction.html

    The man who corrected you in the milonga is showing disrespect. Practicas are OK for giving feedback, but the milonga is for the tango experience. There is no place for unsolicited advice - from friend or stranger.

    How to deal with it? Perhaps say: 'You obviously want to dance with someone else', return to your seat, and leave him on the floor for all to see.

  10. AP wrote: "certain gentlemen, in spite of realising that I'm not an experienced dancer have tried several times to do a particular move which I was not able to complete the first time, ending up dragging me across the floor."

    It's sadly too common with guys that have learnt this in classes where a teacher has them copying a move they they've never felt, and repeating it on a girl whether she likes it or not, until she gets it.

    If you're feeling generous AP, you could remind him that in the milonga, he can stop doing what his teacher wants, and should start doing what his girl wants. :)

    If not, Just Say No :)

  11. Thanks, Chris.

    Women all too often forget that they can say 'No'.

    In the milonga women have a lot of power, but many seem not to realise this.

  12. "Women all too often forget that they can say 'No'.

    Agreed 100%, but women all to often are taught that they cannot.

    Such teaching is common hereabouts in beginners' classes. Students are told it's rude not to accept an invitation. I think this starts with the fact that in class, to refuse a partner is indeed rude, because it clearly interferes with the class. The problem arises because class-centric teachers teach that saying No is rude even in social dancing. And newcomers find this code reinforced by the actions of the disrespectful guys thereby encouraged, by the declarations of teachers for their social dance events e.g. a 'We have a Say Yes Policy', and even by widespread advice from women themselves that for example women do not have the power to prevent bad treatment by saying No and those who do say No suffer 'repercussions'.

    Of course, class-culture codes like this just do not apply to real life. As you say PP, in a real milonga, the woman has power. Every woman has the right to decline a man's invitation, and no respectful man would want it any other way.

  13. Chris, it's a pity that some classes in your neck of the woods (and possibly other places) promote the value that it's rude to refuse an invitation to dance. Goodness knows where that belief comes from. We are talking about adults!

    I've heard some women in Australia say it, without possibly realising the full implications, eg. accepting & fostering a low skill level in the men of their community. After all, if men can dance with whomever they please, why would most bother to improve their skills and be respectful dance partners. Of course, the converse applies to women inviting men to dance.

    Thankfully, no classes we have ever attended have promoted this notion of refusal being rude. Certainly, we promote choice for BOTH parties, in particular through the cabeceo.

  14. "Thankfully, no classes we have ever attended have promoted this notion of refusal being rude."

    That's good to hear.

    Have you seen a woman refuses to dance with a particular man in classes you've attended? Is her choice respected? Or is it considered rude?

  15. Chris, in answer to your questions: yes and yes. Usually, the refusal to dance is indirect, taking the form of avoidance. As I said earlier, we are adults making choices and that is respected.

    In fact, I have just returned from a lovely traditional milonga in BsAs, where I refused an offer to dance directly. The invitation (from a local dancer) did not come in the form of cabeceo, rather he came to my table - he should have known better in that context. Worse still, I had seen him dance, and despite dancing very well in some respects, he was a hazard on the floor due to his large movements. I had no problem in saying 'No'.

  16. "Usually, the refusal to dance is indirect, taking the form of avoidance."

    Sounds like your teachers aren't using the 'rotate partners' method to prevent avoidance. Again, good to hear.

    "[an] invitation (from a local dancer) did not come in the form of cabeceo, rather he came to my table - he should have known better in that context.

    Indeed. He should have known you know better! :) It's surely good that the traditional milonga environment provides this opportunity for such attitude to be demonstrated to every other potential partner in the room :)


Thanks for your comment. All comments are subject to moderation. Don't worry - it won't take long.

Popular posts