Updated: Jan 21
This morning, my husband and I practiced some Argentinian Tango techniques together, which is what got us together in the first place ten years ago. We were so into this passionate dance that I became pregnant after a few months. Abruptly and sadly, we stopped dancing. Between pursuing a PhD in marine biology which was what my Chilean husband came to Hong Kong for, and me struggling to keep afloat a gallery exhibiting mainly my father’s art, there was just no place for anymore dancing in our life while we raise together the fruit of our love.
My relationship with Argentinian Tango began when I was in Beijing in 2002. As soon as I was introduced to the tango music, I became possessed. I was convinced that I must had been an Argentinian tanguera in one of my previous lives. It was like going home. It was like “home” was calling for me. My body that never experienced an urge to dance suddenly wanted to interpret the tango music from orchestras of the Golden Age like D' Arienzo, Di Sarli, Fresedo, and Pugliese. I melt in their rhythms instantly whenever I hear them.
Less than a year after I was exposed to Tango in Beijing, I got laid off from my job there, and subsequently moved to Paris where I had previously studied International Affairs. During my first 3 months in Paris, I took tango lessons from Argentinians, and I was going to millongas (places for tango dancing) every night from 9 o’clock in the evening to around 2 o’clock the next morning. Since I was one of the two young Asian women who frequented well-known milongas, I got invited to dance all the time for being “exotic”. Once I was invited literally non-stop from 5pm to 12am by different tangueros from all over France in a huge milonga that took place bi-monthly in Paris. Supposedly, 600 tango dancers gathered each time. Two men told me that they had to wait for a long time to get to invite me because I was quickly snatched each time a “tanda” finished.
Many years later, in 2007, I went to Buenos Aires for 3 weeks to learn and experience the real Argentinian tango. Since I speak French and Spanish, it was easy for me to discover some fun and interesting facts about Argentinian tango that got me in some embarrassments before.
*Please note that these facts don’t apply in Asia. They probably only apply in Argentina and in some milongas in Paris. Paris has the largest tango community outside of Argentina.
Fun Fact #1 - You Can’t Dance Too Much With A Man
When I began going to millongas, I used to dance lots and lots with any man who wanted to keep dancing with me. Little did I know that if you dance one “tanda” immediately after another “tanda”, it means that you are agreeing to an intimate encounter with your partner after the milonga.
*A tanda is a set of 4 tango pieces. There’s a break between tandas that is called “cortina”, which means curtain.
During cortinas, people get to change partners. Both parties, if they have no intention to go beyond the dance floor, they will make sure not to dance another tanda together.
Fun Fact #2 - Trick To Find The Right Dance Partner
If you read my fun fact #1, tandas play an important role in helping to find a compatible dance partner.
When a man is not sure about the dancing skill/style of a lady, he will invite her to dance at the last song of a tanda. The lady, likewise, will accept to find out for herself. If both feel connected and want to dance more, they can dance the next tanda without the message of heading somewhere else together after.
And, if they don't appreciate each other as dance partners, they can part after the last song of a tanda without suffering too much from unpleasant dancing. Once you begin to dance, it doesn't matter if it's the first, second, third or last song of a tanda, you must finish dancing the tanda together; otherwise, it is considered extremely rude to leave your partner in the middle of a tanda, say after the first, second, or third song.
Fun Fact #3 - A Woman Never Invites A Man To Dance
Argentinian tango is a very macho dance. Only men have the right to invite. It’s frowned upon for a woman to invite a man to dance. I got turned down flatly once by a man with whom I had an agreeable conversation. I thought he might want to dance with me.
Fun Fact #4 - Invitation by A Glance
Following the last fun fact, men in Argentina invite a lady to dance by giving her a glance that seems to be easily picked up by Argentinian women.
In Paris, I got used to getting invited by men walking over toward me and handing me their hand. However, in Argentina, a man never walks over. When you are in a milonga there, you will notice that two people start walking toward each other to dance together. They could be a few tables away or from across the dance floor. The man throws a glance, and the willing lady catches it, then they begin to walk toward each other.
I was explained to about this rule when an Argentinian came to invite me to dance. He said he had thrown me quite a few glances already. He said that was his first time to leave his seat to invite someone to dance. He actually thought I didn’t want to dance with him, because that’s what ladies do when they don’t want to dance with someone; ladies avoid glances from men they don't want to dance with.
Nobody gets embarrassed and humiliated with this kind of invitation method. It was hard for me because I wasn’t used to look for and catch glances from men. And, to do it subtly and elegantly, that’s another technique. It’s easy to hurt the ego of tangueros if you don’t how to do it “properly”.
Fun Fact #5 - Men Lead, Women Follow 100%
As a woman, if you allow yourself to surrender and be led throughout (especially with your eyes closed), you will be rewarded with experiences like walking on clouds and living in a beautiful dream that you don’t want to wake up from.
Tango is probably the most creative social dance where men design the steps and the dance journey. Ladies are to follow without any anticipation. Any kind of anticipation or uncalled for moves by the female partner will obstruct, and even stop the creative flow that the man is improvising as he dances.
If a woman is “docile”, then the man will do his best to make her look good on the dance floor, and give her the best dancing experience/emotion that she could have. If the woman can be “manipulated” like a light feather for the man to express artistically, then she will feel like a piece of beautiful art.
For this reason, for a man to be a popular dance partner, he needs to make steps that are unpredictable by his partner. It’s boring for a tanguera to know what the next step is. It is this unpredictable dance journey that makes women fall in love with this dance, because it’s always a new sensation. From my own experiences, 50% of the tangueros that I danced with in Paris and 80% of the tangueros that I danced with in Buenos Aires were able to give me a new sensation each time.
Fun Fact #6 - Men, Don’t invite a woman to dance when she’s talking to another man
Once in an outdoor milonga, a very casual one. I danced with an Argentinian man for one tanda. Then, we sat down and talk. A few minutes later, a Frenchman came to invite me to dance. I went (because I was there to dance). When I came back to sit with the Argentinian to continue our good conversation, he was very upset at the Frenchman. He called the French guy “boludo” after the latter went to invite some other girls to dance. He told me that only the French would do this kind of things. It will never happen in Argentina.
Fun Fact #7 - Most Argentinian Don’t Dance Tango
When I was in Argentina, I was surprised that most people don’t know how to dance tango. Young people go to dance clubs to dance with modern music like in other countries. A lot of widowers would learn tango after their other halves passed away.
Most young people who dance tango there are foreigners. The Argentinian friends that I made in Buenos Aires from other networks were all surprised that I went all the way there to learn and experience tango.
Fun Fact #8 - Origin of Tango
Many said that it started in brothels. Men used to dance with each other while waiting for the sex professionals to be available for them.
As for the music, it is most of the time quite melancholic. Especially with Piazzolla’s music, you can even feel a sense of searching for something. That’s because when the early Europeans who left everything behind to go to Argentina to start a new, happy and prosperous life didn’t experience the same opportunities as those settlers in North America.
They feel stuck in Argentina but they don’t want to give up even though they didn’t know how to advance. They couldn’t face the ideas of going back to Europe either. The mix of all these sensations, plus the common tragic love themes, are represented in the tango music.
Therefore, in a way, when a man dances and creates his path with the lady in his arms, he’s searching for his utopia to share with her while she "blindly" follows him at the same time.
If you want to learn tango, I recommend watching Un Tal Gavito 1 - Tango Lessons (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kShMz5AZa7s) or Dario’s Tango Guide on Youtube. Gavito was one of the best tango dancers and he taught tango really well. If you are in Hong Kong, I recommend Otrotango Dance Studio of Raymond and Lily. (https://www.otrotango.com.hk/)
Please comment if you know different facts or have different experiences. :)
Blog photos: courtesy of Raymond and Lily.
Raymond and Lily “have won in the World Tango Championship 2011 as the Champions in Salon Tango in Asia. It is the first time that the 1st prize in the Tango Championship was given to a Chinese couple. They have also came 4th in the semi-final round and were finalists of the World Tango Salon Championship in Buenos Aires. They are the only couple in HK wining such a prestigious prize at world class level. In 2014, they have won in the Salon Tango and Vals categories in the Championship in China.”