Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Thoughts on getting dances when visiting other tango scenes

You're traveling to some tango event, a special milonga or festival perhaps, and it's not your usual scene. You hope to have a lovely time with lots of beautiful dances, but you know either from friends or your own experience, the local scene is a little elitist or cliquey. What do you do?

The classic approach of cabeceo (combined with showing your stuff during a tanda with a friend to the locals), while excellent in many ways, can fall on its face sometimes – especially on a crowded or poorly lit floor, or where the locals seem to have little curiously about visiting dancers.

Here's what has worked for me. I'm inspired to write about it here because of the ongoing stories of friends who have trouble getting dances when traveling (despite being lovely dancers). Does it work 100% of the time? No, often enough I don't get to dance with who I most want to dance with, and this approach does require a certain amount of pro-activeness. But the approach is simple, and does make the difference between a disappointing night of watching and hoping, and actually getting some good dances and making new contacts with people you may enjoy more dances with in future.

It really is quite simple. When at the milonga and you've had a chance to look at who's dancing here's how it works:

  1. Look around, see someone standing or sitting down you might like to dance with and talk too.
  2. Casually walk over to them, smile and say hello. Choose to ignore any initially cool response and remain bright and friendly.
  3. Make attempt to start conversation and built a rapport, e.g. “How's your evening going?”, “Is this your local milonga?”, “What do you think of the music this evening?”, “I noticed you dancing earlier, I like how you express the music” (if that's true). While you do this, remain relaxed and friendly. Do not initially invite them to dance, focus on building a rapport and enjoying the interaction.
  4. If you find you're getting on well with them, and you feel like dancing ask: “I was wondering, would you like to dance with me?” or such like.

If at step 4 they decline, don't take it personally. Consider they may be tired and wanting a break, or waiting for a particular partner and don't want to miss a window of opportunity. They might also not be feeling very good about their dancing that evening. There could be many reasons which have little to do with you. So, then you can say “it was nice talking to you, maybe catch you later” and go repeat the above process with someone else. On the flip side, if you try to start a conversation in a relaxed and friendly way and you continue to get a cold response, you may decide that actually you'd prefer not to dance with that person anyway, at least when they're in that kind of mood.

But wait, isn't that a bit manipulative? Starting a conversation with the pretence of asking for a dance? Well, if you couldn't care less what the person is saying and you only want to get a dance then sure. But if you are interested in making a genuine connection which may turn into a lovely dance then it's a very natural and intelligent thing to do. Since you're at a milonga where many go to meet new people, what could be more natural than starting a conversation, and since you're at a milonga what could be more natural than inviting someone to dance who you've just had an enjoyable conversation with? You are simply helping to create an opportunity that wasn't there before.

What if you really would much prefer to dance rather than talk? Then perhaps – in situations where the usual approach (see top) isn't working well – consider the conversation as a natural prelude to the dance, which serves (in part) a similar purpose as the tanda with a friend which allows the locals to see how you move. Try to enjoy it for its own sake as well as for the dance opportunity it creates. This isn't about being anyone's best pal, it's simply about showing a respectful interest in another person's state of being, and other areas of their life should the conversation go that way.

Here's another way of looking at it: If the person you're talking to sees tango in large part as a socializing activity then there's a fair chance they'll welcome a friendly conversation - it's part of why they go to the milongas. On the other hand, if the person you're talking to is one of the more hardcore tango crowd, they may not actually have much of a social life, in which case meeting someone new and having a friendly conversation could be quite welcome to them while they're not dancing. It's a win-win scenario, surely?

Why does this approach work?
  • If you have the communication and listening skills to strike up an enjoyable and relaxed conversation with someone, that's a good sign you'll be fun to dance with – even if you don't have stacks of tango experience.
  • Some very crowded, busy or stressful living environments tend to thicken the ice around people. You might consider a city such an environment. This could mean it's more difficult to engage in positive eye-contact with people from some tango communities. Taking an extra step to break the ice with conversation can overcome that factor.
  • In certain tango scenes a mindset can develop which emphasizes a pecking order of dancers and leads to people taking the dance and themselves rather seriously – to the detriment of their own evening as much an anyone else's. Starting a friendly conversation can sometimes interrupt that pattern of thought.

Maybe you have some more theories on why this approach works, or other effective strategies (beyond the obvious ones of dressing nicely, taking care of personal hygiene, and of course improving your technique)?

Please let me know how you find the above approach!

(ps. If you find it challenging to start conversations with people you don't already know, you may find some useful tips and insights here: www.healthylovingrelationships.com)

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