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Monday, 12 October 2015

Milonga Q and A

Last week we conducted a brief Q and A.  We asked dancers in our group about their concerns in the milonga. Had they experienced behaviours which they didn't like, but didn't know how to respond to? From a tentative beginning emerged quite a number of issues, many to do with plain good manners!

We thought it might be useful to share the concerns and some suggested responses:

Surrounding couples are doing big movements, which are either disturbing your dancing or posing a danger. (Assuming that the norm of the milonga is small movements)
  1. At a break in the music, the man could take his partner to a safer part of the ronda. 
  2. Where the movements are dangerous to others, ask the milonga organiser to deal with it.
  3. The man can navigate to reduce the space the offending couple has, so that they have to dance more conservatively in a smaller space – but the man will always always protect his partner in doing so.
Your partner (male or female) uses an uncomfortable embrace
e.g. too intimate (e.g. man putting your right hand to his chest); stressful (pushing your right/left hand out or up too far;  man pushing & pulling as a means of leading); physically uncomfortable (gripping you too tightly; man ‘paddling’ your back as he leads).
  1. You can move your hand to the position that you prefer; if your partner complains, mention that the other position is uncomfortable; if he/she ignores that, tell him/her that you’ll need to sit down if he/she doesn’t do as you’ve asked. 
  2. If the embrace is too tight, wriggle out of it until you have the room you need.
Your partner is talking, singing, whistling, making noises that you don’t like
  1. “I can’t dance and listen at the same time”.  
  2. “I’m finding your talking/singing/noises distracting” (but not the case when a milonguera sings the words in your ear in BsAs, gentlemen!)
The music starts – couples continue to talk in the ronda
  1. Dance within your own space until the ronda starts moving ahead 
  2. If the couple ahead of you continues to talk at length, pass them on the man's left & rejoin the ronda in front.
You experience collisions, with no acknowledgement or apology

It’s good manners for the man to acknowledge a collision with a wave or nod.  In the case of a significant collision, approach the offended couple at the end of the track to apologise.

At the start of a tanda you are sitting and having a conversation
  1. If you’re planning to continue the conversation and not dance, then keep your focus on the person you’re talking to.  But, if you want to dance, chat and scan at the same time. 
  2. If someone approaches you and interrupts your conversation, simply say, “No thank you, I’m chatting at the moment” or “Maybe later”
Poor lighting makes the cabeceo difficult
Men may need to move around the room so that the eye contact becomes more visible, but not too close to your intended partner.

Your partner (both men and women) keeps telling you what they want you to do
  1. “I can’t dance and listen at the same time”.  (man or woman) 
  2. “You lead it and I’ll follow”. (woman) 
  3. “Let your body do the talking”. (woman) 
  4. “My focus is on the music and leading with my body, not on figures” (man)
Man persists with a figure without leading it effectively. You don’t understand what he wants
Ladies, you could use your body language (e.g. puzzled expression, shrug of shoulders) to show you don’t understand what the man is leading. If he persists, and you feel uncomfortable, tell him. If he ignores that, tell him that you don't feel comfortable and you’ll need to sit down.

Ladies may fear that they won't get dances if they refuse poor dancers

Is a bad dance really better than no dance?
Your dancing may be judged by potential partners before they look in your direction; dancing poorly with a bad dancer may give them an impression of you as a dancer that you don’t desire.

Ladies tending to be too nice …  not knowing how to refuse an invitation from someone they simply don’t want to dance with

Certainly, it’s helpful for experienced women to dance with beginner men.
  1. However, this doesn’t help poor ‘experienced’ dancers if they continue to believe that they can get dances without making the effort to improve. 
  2. Accept with the proviso that “from now on, it’s with the eyes only!” This can be done in a light-hearted, yet assertive manner. 
  3. When it’s very clear that dancing with a particular man would be a disaster: “No thank you, I’m afraid our dance styles are incompatible”
Note: Effective use of the cabeceo is a way of avoiding some of these problems altogether.


Chris said...

Nice list! Here are some suggestions from me.

"The music starts – couples continue to talk in the ronda"

3. Move to Buenos Aires, where almost everyone talks for the first minute of most tracks.


"Poor lighting makes the cabeceo difficult"

1. Mention it to the organiser. Please.

"Your partner (both men and women) keeps telling you what they want you to do"

5. "You don't have to copy your teacher in everything."

Tango Salon Adelaide said...

Move to Buenos Aires? - that's exactly what we do every year, and look forward to doing exactly what the locals do in between tracks - catch up with our tango friends with quick snatches of conversations.

Anonymous said...

How interesting All these things come out from one Milonga.
My question to you is that these behaviours may have always been there. It is relatively the same group of people for quite a few years with a few new comers that come and go. I have known of two people that I danced with that whistle and they so enjoy it, that they are not even aware of it on occasions. It would break my heart to tell them not whistle and I do enjoy. As for others that hold me too tight or put their hand on their chest, I have been told it is the only way they dance and this is from some of the more experienced dancers it is behaviour that I have accepted as being acceptable. I am glad you have pointed it out I will be putting down to a bad experience. As for those that have larger movements on the dance floor I have dance pasted them on many occasions and I am glad to say there have been no issues that I have encountered or that I am aware of.
I feel by you saying reduce their dance space you are threating to disrupt the natural dance follow that may and does occur. You are undermining the whole experience that could cause problems in the future.
I am glad you have brought it up and to our attention I am more aware of things that should or should not be happening on the dance floor.
Thank You and I do enjoy your Blog.

Tango Salon Adelaide said...

Thanks for your comments, Anonymous. It’s given us a chance to clear up some misunderstandings. Do feel free to introduce yourself sometime, so we can have a real chat about these issues.

While it’s quite possible that all of these behaviours could occur in one milonga, their concerns have a longer history. After some dancers had made casual remarks to us from time to time, about things that had been bothering them, we initiated a discussion with 14 dancers – all experienced and regular milonga-attenders – with the question: “What kind of things happen in the milonga that make you feel uncomfortable or don’t like?” Within 15 minutes, we had this list and went about offering some tips on how to respond.

While some of these things may not bother some dancers, these behaviours are enough to affect other dancers’ enjoyment of the milonga. With regard to some of your comments, here are some quick responses:

• Tight embraces (as opposed to firm, yet mobile ones) and hands on chest are not, in my experience in Australia & Buenos Aires, usual behaviour for experienced dancers. Regardless of this, if you feel uncomfortable, you do have a choice.

• Ladies dancing with men who lead large movements may very well not be aware of their effect on surrounding dancers – after all, they are being protected by their partners. But those of us who have been kicked in the upper thigh, or had to take sudden action to avoid our partners being bumped into, do not have a relaxed, enjoyable dance. It is often said, that in the milonga, we ‘dance with the surrounding couples’; yet this is impossible when one couple is in a world of their own, oblivious to their detrimental effect on others.

• You are right Anonymous. Crowding other dancers does not contribute positively to the enjoyment of others - we need to give others room to improvise in their space, and to dance safely. However, the couples with large movements are having a serious effect on the natural flow of the ronda, and it is only in these circumstances that I would consider some variations to the norm to try to restore the natural flow.

So, why this post?
The milonga is, of course, a social event. And like other social events, there are behaviours which can enhance the experience for all the people attending. Yet, going on the issues raised by dancers, there are clearly some behaviours occurring which have the opposite effect. Perhaps some people are blissfully unaware of the effect of their actions on the dancers at the milonga. So, with this awareness-raising post, we hoped to help our largely harmonious tango community.

Thanks again for your comments, Anonymous.

Lucy Lu said...

Haha, can't agree any more.

David G said...

An interesting concept. In Sydney bad behavior is entrenched, very intelligent people with years of experience just don't get it.I wonder if a once a year milonga called The Buenos Aires Milonga that set out the rules and gave a prize to the three best adherents to the rules, may be a way of making people aware of what is acceptable practice and what is not.
Some of the milonga could be video, placed on YouTube for later scrutiny and if a follower threw a high heal, whether lead or not, this would eliminate the leader.

Tango Salon Adelaide said...

Thanks for your comment, David Q.

“An interesting concept” - Just in case the title of the post (Milonga Q&A) caused some confusion, allow me to clarify. The Q&A did not take place at a milonga, rather the Q&A was a discussion elsewhere about milonga behaviours. We would not suggest compromising the flow of a milonga with such a discussion.

Although the once-a-year event, which you describe, could be amusing, I suspect that it would take much more than that to change attitudes and entrenched behaviours. But don’t despair. We found that a consistent and concerted approach has the desired effect.

Our goal has always been to create Buenos Aires style milongas here in Adelaide. People who attend our milongas know what to expect from the events, and they know that we expect respectful behaviour from all attendees. As a result, they can relax and enjoy the social occasion, without the fear of injury or discomfort.
In case you’re wondering how this can be achieved, here is our approach. We have consistently used a range of strategies, which all aim at the same goal. Here are a few:

• teaching only social tango, rather than movements which are suited to performance
• embedding navigation skills in our teaching
• bringing milonga etiquette into our teaching
• blog posts encouraging a respectful social tango behaviours
• very occasionally ‘having a chat’ with dancers whose behaviour puts others at risk
• jovially reinforcing positive milonga behaviour
• awarding prizes for best navigation
• practising what we preach on the dance-floor.

Persistence has paid off. Hope you can join us at one of our milongas sometime.

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