Learning Tango

Tango Etiquette and the Infamous Cabeceo

The rituals surrounding the milonga are prized among dancers. Almost like a rite of passage that once you know and have put them into practice you feel like you have actually been admitted into the social realm of Argentine Tango.

Fanning HerselfCabeza translates to “head” and a cabezeo is a nod of the head. This “codigo” or custom signals the invitation to dance. You do not need to approach someone to ask them to dance you can merely catch their eye, nod your head, and if there is a nod in response you have an agreement to dance. The follower will stay seated to wait for the nodee to come to her table to be sure that there is no confusion in a crowded milonga.

There is a lot written about this custom and in the US many argue for it and against it. The cabezeo means never having to say “no”. If you choose not to accept a cabeceo, you merely look away and no one needs to know.

Some milongas are small and it is convenient and expected to use the cabeceo. Other milongas are in very large dance halls and it is very difficult to cabeceo long distances. In this case the dancer looking for a dance (either the lead or follow) may approach who they would like to dance with and try to make eye contact from a closer distance. The goal is always to be subtle and polite. If you are at a milonga in a new city, observe to see what the locals are doing.
(Taken from the Tango Workbook Draft)

I want to make it clear at this point that I am not arguing the usefulness of this invitation, or the reason why it exists or why many people outside of Argentina (read mainly US, where I am most familiar) are very attached to this codigo. Tango etiquette and the infamous Cabeceo are part of the allure of the milonga! But I had a very interesting experience during my most recent trip to Buenos Aires.

I had the pleasure of taking several fantastic classes with well known teachers/dancers / performers. And the one remark that applies here is the following: “Times are different in Buenos Aires’ Milongas. Each milonga now has their own etiquette. Not every milonga uses the same rules.” And this applied to the cabeceo as well. There are milongas in Buenos Aires that are very ritualized and very adamant about los codigos. It is very clear from the moment you enter those milongas, I think you can feel it in the air, if you can’t see it right away. There are milongas where the women are seated by the hosts on one side of the dance floor and the gentlemen on the other, with the veterans or the faithful attendees sitting at their reserved and expected table every week. Ironically the spacing of these milongas usually adds to the ritual, as you often can not walk around and seek dancers out, you must be found at your seat or do the seeking from your seat, thus the cabeceo functions pretty well.

There are other dancing casuallymilongas where you find dancers searching for their friends, (in a dimly lit crowded space) and the gentlemen will approach a table, wait for the woman to look at him and nod respectfully and sometimes even ask, “Bailas”? If the woman ignores his hangout out by her table, he moves on. (Just as there are milongas where the dress code is different.)

Other milongas are in very large halls, a cabezeo from your seat would be almost ridiculous, although it is done. As the ladies scan the seated gentlemen during the cortinas,  you may spy a head nodding dramatically, emphatically and adamantly with eyebrows lifted in your direction. I think it is important to remember too that in Buenos Aires, if you do not live there and are only visiting, that you are entering into their weekly ritual. Dancers have milongas that they regularly attend and expect to see their friends and favorite dancers there. I always recommend that if you go to Buenos Aires, you must go for no less than 3 weeks and make your schedule milonga -filled (if that is your intention, which usually it is). Dancers will begin to recognize you and you will see what the etiquette is for those milongas you attend.

Generally speaking the milonga rules and codes are good ones. They respect others, the flow of the dance, and yet, the cabeceo is the one that people have the hardest time with. It takes a little practice and it’s not so unfamiliar to us in this culture. I see it among the young crowd in a “hey, what’s up man”, accompanied by a nod of the head.

Happy Dancing!

(Quote taken from The Tango Workbook that is currently in a draft stage.)

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2 New Tango Intensives

Reminder about the upcoming New Saturday Tango intensives in September.

First, if you or someone you know is interested in learning to Argentine tango send them to the:

NEW 4 week Beginner Tango Blast SEPTEMBER

4 two-hour sessions on the following Saturdays: SEPTEMBER 6, 13, 20, 27
4pm – 6pm
SNAP (Scottsdale Neighborhood Arts Place) 4425 N. Granite Reef Rd. Scottsdale, AZ
Fee $100
includes 8 hours of Argentine Tango instruction and free pass to 4 tango practicas on Tuesday nights.
Send Email if interested.

or if you have completed a Beginner Blast or other Beginner course and are interested in the next level:

NEW 4 week “Taking your Tango to the Next Level” – SEPTEMBER 6, 13, 20, 27

6:00pm – 7:30pm
SNAP  (Scottsdale Neighborhood Arts Place) 4425 N. Granite Reef Rd. Scottsdale, AZ
Fee: $75
Send Email if interested.

What students have said about THE BLAST!

I am very thrilled to be a student of yours.

Thanks for your great instruction. I am learning so much!

I am looking forward to “Taking my Dance to the Next Level” ! Sign me up!

I look forward to seeing you next week!

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Surrender vs. Submission

What do you think? As a follower in this dance of Argentine Tango do you think of yourself as submitting or as surrendering? Leaders, do you think of your follower as being submissive or surrendering?

These 2 words came up recently in a tango discussion in relation to the follower’s role in tango. And of course, I thought how much language gets in the way of our actual dance experience but nonetheless I wanted to tackle the ideas for a blog. So I went to Merriam (Webster) first and was not really pleased with what I found for both of these words and, not so surprisingly, they were similar.

Surrender
: to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win
: to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another

Submission
: the condition of being submissive, humble, or compliant
: an act of submitting to the authority or control of another
: the state of being obedient : the act of accepting the authority or control of someone else

Having been brought up as an independent woman, I cringe at the thought of these definitions in relation to my dancing (or to my life!). I don’t think of myself as being or doing either when I dance.

I began to look further, as the person I was conversing with was suggesting that he perceived many dancers as submissive and not as surrendering in the dance. This might be interpreted as the idea of “I am dancing  you” vs “I am dancing with you”. And so I searched further and found myself back in the realm of metaphysics and modern day mystics.

One person who immediately came to mind was author, David Deida, who I know some people find thoroughly amazing and life changing. I found this quote:

The word “surrender” is often interpreted as giving up, as weakness, as admitting defeat. Although this is one way to use the word, we will use it in a different way. Surrendering means letting go of your resistance to the total openness of who you are. It means giving up the tension of the little vortex you believe yourself to be and realizing the deep power of the ocean you truly are. It means to open with no boundaries, emotional or physical, so you ease wide beyond any limiting sense of self you might have.
David Deida

Of course when people think of or refer to Deida they are often talking about sex and funny how that is the case in tango too!

Hannah Marcotti on her website offers us another variation on the theme of surrender:

There is an ease when we learn how to embrace surrender. Feeling without fight. Fear and struggle are met with truth and grace. Releasing and allowing feel spectacular with the flow from stuck into surrender. Surrender is an entry point for joy. Surrender can guide you into stillness, moving, creating, acting and flowing.

And flowing is what we want in our dances. As I have said in another blog, even the English words that we use, Lead and Follow, don’t really do justice to the magnificence of what we do in our roles in this dance.

Think about it and consider your very important role next time you dance.

For more inspiring quotes including Deida’s:
http://www.abundance-and-happiness.com/surrender-quotes.html

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Your Cultural Translator

Don’t look at me as just a teacher but as your personal cultural translator.

During my recent stay in Boston I took a workshop with a music anthropologist at ARTANGO in Brighton, MA, hosted by Fernanda Ghi y Guillermo Merlo (highly respected dancers and teachers, who are now based here). 60 students were in attendance and it was a mixture of lecture and movement workshop. I wanted to share some of my take-aways from the evening.

The style of tango dance will conform to the music. Or as I have interpreted it, that the dance is dictated by the music (like in other dance forms). I had heard this before and it was such an “a-ha”moment for me and my understanding of the dance that I was glad to hear it again. The idea is that these orchestras of the Golden Age, the 1940’s, each had their sound. So why would you dance the same way to each of them? You probably would have had your favorite orchestra (and maybe you do already) and you would have been expected to dance a certain way to that orchestra. For example, if the orchestra was more melodically driven or if it was more rhythmic (think Carlos Di Sarli vs Juan D’Arienzo) you would dance differently to them.  So as teachers teach what they know this is usually heavily influenced by the sound they prefer. I love Carlos Di Sarli and enjoy accentuating long steps. Someone who enjoys a Juan D’Arienzo will be more rhythmic and possibly more sharp in their steps. You will often hear me speak of the “flavor”of the sound, ie: is the sound like smooth vanilla ice cream or does it have chunky chips and nuts in it?

So the lecture I attended, focused on discussing several aspects of music but most specifically the melody. The idea that the melody and the singers in the orchestras will incite circular and round movement. This idea of circular movements, in general, slows the pace down versus linear movements that are on the main pulse or what we dancers refer to as the strong down beats or bass line. This strong metric pulse is what propels the body and is what teachers and beginner students tend to stress and dance to (usually).

However, “fluid motions can be destroyed by these strong accents” as these regular beats propel the dancers (to move at a predictable pace), the melodies allow dancers to go “deep inside the soul”and “incite reflection and nostalgia”.

In reflecting upon these ideas it was brought up that in order to be able to really allow for the music to enrapture you, we have to be vulnerable. And Argentine Tango is about vulnerability. And culturally, in the US, we avoid this. As we avoid eye contact and touching (for the most part) we do not like to be vulnerable, let alone with a stranger. And yet I am sure an aspect of this is what captivates so many of us to choose this dance.

And with this disconnect culturally, there is a need for “Cultural Ambassadors”or “Cultural Translators”. Someone who recognizes and understands the differences and can explain and build a bridge to create understanding.

Lots of food for thought, don’t you think?

Thanks to Dr. Alfred Minetti, and Fernanda y Guillermo for a great lecture.

 

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Un-EmBodied: Do you feel like you’re not of your body?

One of my students mentioned this concept to me recently. She was having a hard time making connections in her body in relation to what she wanted it to do. Maybe call it uncoordinated but I think it’s different than that as I see it in students learning new movement.

The brain is trying to rewire and make sense of movement ideas. It is trying to walk and create a lead, for example or maybe another challenge would be to remember where the right foot goes in relation to the partner’s right foot. Whatever the challenge, learning is opening yourself up to a new piece of information and acquiring it presumably for future use. In Argentine Tango the lead and follow roles each have their tasks set out for them. Neither one is easier than the other (although this could be argued!) but I think it’s about 1) figuring out your learning style 2) drill the new idea – this is a good one – repeat it many times by putting it into practice. Some tasks can be dealt with by yourself and some concepts need the lead and follow together. I think the more we understand our own bodies the more we make room for that new information, that new figure, that new connection, or whatever you’re piecing together.

In the case of my student, she wanted to try to lead a few tango figures/steps. She is definitely a kinesthetic learner so having me help to manipulate her body (if you will) assisted her in her new neuro-physical programming. It was not only about manipulating her body but she found that she had to do some mental work. For her she was remembering the relationship of the 2 bodies and their movements in the overall spatial configuration as well.

I find visualization helps too. If you see what you want your body to do, or to look like, the brain helps create that. One of my favorite Neuroscientists – author, Dr. Joe Dispenza speaks about this in his article The Brain:  A Record of the Past or the Map to the Future?

“…with the advent of the latest technologies in functional imagery it is apparent that it is very possible to make the brain work differently. In fact, the research out of the University of Wisconsin has proven something as simple as attention or focused concentration is a skill just like golf or tennis. In other words, the more you practice being  conscious or mindful the better you get at it.”  He goes on to say, “if you would mentally rehearse daily what it would be like to experience any event…, there would be internal changes taking place as if you were already beginning to experience your dream.”

So when you are having those moments that feel like your body isn’t doing what you want or that you feel unembodied get a little clarity of the function or the goal you want to accomplish and then see yourself and feel yourself doing it. Let me know how it goes!

 

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