After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Codigo Fallout

Don't get me wrong, I love the codigos of the milonga.

But sometimes they can backfire.

For example, when I first saw Ruben dancing years ago in the milongas of Lo de Celia, Club Español, Los Consagrados, I looked and looked at him to no avail--for two months!

Much, much later I asked him why it took him so long to cabeceo me. He replied, once in Lo de Celia, his friend and table-mate danced with me and then told Ruben that I would be his girlfriend! This in effect put "dibs" on me, in the codigos of the caballeros. Well this guy never did dance with me again, but Ruben had to wait a decent time before doing so himself out of respect for his friend. Yes, I know, it's ridiculous, but many men here are like that.

Ruben is extremely conservative, and the traditional code among men is important to him. In the same way, he doesn't care to dance with married women if their spouse is there in the salon or if he is a personal friend. Nor does he like to dance with my friends; he looks on them as family and it feels incestuous (sorry, ladies).

By the same token, our milonguero friends don't know how to treat me if I appear in a milonga alone. Last week I didn't go to Chique as we have been teaching a lot and since we had no students to accompany that particular time, I decided to take a night off and Ruben went alone. The following week, I entered the milonga with two students while Ruben was parking the car. Our men friends were taken uncomfortably aback not to see us together two weeks in a row and didn't know how to greet me: kisses and hugs as usual or restraint? So they all held back, uneasy, until Ruben arrived, and then everyone was kissing and joking and jolly. All was right with the world and as usual in the milonga.

It's the same machismo that dictates only men get menus in a formal restaurant, and that the waiter never addresses, or even looks at, the lady who is accompanied by a man. Yesterday I heard a story of a woman and a man sharing a taxi and he got out first, instructing the driver to take the woman to such and such an address, her home. But on route, she changed her mind and decided to go to a milonga. The taxista refused to take her, saying he was following the orders of the man!

But there is a reason tango came out of this culture, and that the woman follows the man without question, trusting him to "dance her well."  The man has certain responsibilities which by Jove he will honor. And ok, sometimes they are more responsible to other men than to women, but on the pista, they will do their best to see that we have a good dance--because that makes them feel more like men.

All of this can serve as a reminder to the ladies that whether we dance or not often has little to do with us. It's not that we aren't pretty enough, or young enough, or skinny enough, or dressed sexily enough, or enough of a good dancer; the men have their own issues, like honoring a friend by not dancing with his woman, not liking the particular music at the time, already having promised the "vals" tanda to someone else, wanting to cool down and dry off before dancing again, wanting to enjoy their drink or finish their conversation. One of the first things a tanguera needs to learn is that it's not all about her.

Unlike many situations in life, the milonga is a place where women can be women and men can be men. Let's enjoy it while it lasts.


Pj Schott said...

At my very first practica, an older gentleman asked me "Do you know why I like dancing?" I said something appropriate, but he replied that "It's the last place on earth a man can still be a man."

tangocherie said...

Whoa, that's a telling remark if I ever heard one!

But I'm glad there is still someplace on earth where men feel like men and women feel like women, aren't you?

More points for tango.

Patricia said...


Interestingly, I've also noticed that tango-effect influencing people's behaviour beyond the milonga: in the way they carry themselves, their dress, self-confidence, etc.

Tango Therapist said...

Cherie... this post lets me see levels of tango etiquette that help me personally, and also will help with my Tango Etiquette Page of my blog. I got the idea of writing up a tango etiquette for an organizer who lost LOTS of business when he insisted on no jeans and t-shirts! Now, he has a link to my blog each week. I hope that helps the lack of manners we have locally! The other thing, Cherie... that you might not know this, but your blog is a conduit to lots of other blogs. Your blog, I learned, was the referring site 432 times since May -- more than any other referring URL. So thanks! Your openness and willingness to share has brought a lot of good to everyone who loves tango.