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Tango Etiquette

I read and hear all kinds of tosh regarding tango etiquette by people who should know better. A few people have tried to shoe-horn things into Wellington tango over the years because "that's how they do it in Argentina." Most people have been too sensible for these ideas to take hold, but new people are made to worry far too much about this kind of thing.

What those people and websites don't tell you is that it's not all roses in Argentina, especially for women. Women in milongas in BA are expected to sit and wait until a man comes within range, rather than move to a better location or walk around the room to improve their chances of getting a dance, as the men are able to do. Shall we import that one, too? And women leading? Not in BA unless you're at a gay milonga.

The following is my view on a few of the etiquette standards that people try to introduce from time to time. I think that etiquette needs to fit our culture, otherwise we risk living in 1952 New Zealand, and do we really want to go back there?

- Followers shouldn't ask leaders to dance because the lead is so demanding, difficult and complex that they need their rest, and they need just the right music to spark their creativity.

Hah! The lead is not much more complex than the follow. We teach all beginners to lead a giro within the first 5 minutes so it can't be that hard. It only gets difficult if the followers slouch or march around on their own. If people don't ask you, why not ask them? You might get turned down but that's not the worst thing in the world. If they don't feel capable of saying no then that is a growth opportunity for them. So ask away, baby!

- Only use the cabaceo (catching people's eye) to ask people to dance.

My advice to dancers outside Argentina is either catch someone's eye or go over and ask. You'll quickly get the idea if they don't want to dance via either method.

- Say "Thankyou" to end the dance.

If you'd like another dance and you said "thankyou" as a reflex, don't panic (some people do!), just say "Thankyou-that-was-very-nice-and-could-I-have-another?" If you'd like to sit down say thankyou and indicate that you're walking off the floor.

- Not completing the tanda with your partner is rude.

In Argentina the cortina (90-second musical interlude) after the tanda (cluster of 4 similar songs) clears the whole floor of 100+ people. The smaller numbers here mean that it doesn't take as long so cortinas are usually only 30 seconds and indicate a change of musical style. People are more relaxed here and often chat during the cortinas rather than walking off the floor. As I said in earlier posts, people here dance as much as they want with people. Sometimes that's 4 songs, sometimes 6 songs, sometimes it's 2-3 tandas (12 songs). It's all up to you and your partner.

Argentines in NZ can't believe their luck. They sometimes dance for 40 minutes with their favourite dancers here, and they can't do that at home!

In a lot of ways Wellington is rather a tango paradise and the more that people travel to other places then the more they appreciate it. It's our favourite place to dance in the world, and that's after many trips to BA and Europe.


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