Just like Russian ballet, Cuban salsa, Egyptian belly dance, Viennese waltz, and Argentine tango, there’s an American way to dance --not better or worse, just different.
The American style denotes more formal classroom study, more athleticism, less sensuality. It’s the way we do things in the United States. We don’t grow up with music and dance, unless we happen to have an ethnic family like Mexican or Armenian whose weddings are dance marathons. There’s little dance education in the schools, theater tickets are expensive, and dance on television is dry and distant.
When the dance bug bites us as adults, we sign up for classes and conferences maybe at the Y or the local community college, and often get the dance virus. More classes, maybe competitions, it’s usually too late to turn professional even if we wanted to. But we learn to turn faster, jump higher, master more and more complicated, heart-stopping steps. If we perform ballroom, ballet, belly dance, we try to be technically superior to all other contenders—-Americans are competitive. Ballroom tango especially appeals to the combative, as the purpose in learning and training is to win trophies and be “Gold Medalists.” Even in formalized ballroom dancing there are two tango styles: International and American.
Americans on the dance floor worry little about artistic interpretation and sensuality, and few observers would notice anyway. Besides, in our Puritan culture, sensuality in public is akin to “exotic” dancing—and “nasty.” Even salsa dancers in brief and sexy costumes performing the most suggestive of erotic moves are usually just doing the steps, not conveying connection with their partners. It’s “Watch me!”, not “I’m expressing the music with my body, my relationship to my partner, and the person I am,”—the point of Argentine tango. Because Argentine tango has no proscribed right and wrong way to dance, no syllabus, there’s only good and bad dancing.
Americans dance big and expansive and are reserved with the opposite sex unless there is another agenda, a sexual one. We take big steps and turn fast and sometimes have a hard time with the subtleties. Men aren’t used to taking command of a woman in our politically correct world, and so are hesitant to use their male energy to lead strongly. Women are accustomed to going after what they want and so run around the dance halls yanking men onto the floor, afraid to use their female energy to wait and follow. In the strict Argentine Code of Tango, a woman never invites a man to dance other than with her eyes from across the room.
When I go to U.S. milongas, I may make the same kind of dramatic entrance as I do in Argentina, but potential partners are too busy reacting to or fending off other women’s advances to notice my theatrics. From my table with my girlfriends in Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, New York, I see women chasing men to the snack bar and even to the bathroom; they often never even sit down. One man I know admits that many men hide in the bathroom when they don’t want to dance.