Half a tanda or 10? When do you leave a tanda, and for how many do you stay?
The latest from guest writer Tanguera Escondida.
One of my worst experiences in tango happened recently. I was sitting along the wall at a popular milonga when a dignified-looking man approached, wearing a pin-striped suit and button-up shirt, his graying hair nicely coiffed. He came up to me and asked me to dance with a certain degree of confidence, so I said “yes.” I love dancing, and I love meeting new people, so might as well give this new leader a try.
We danced a couple songs that I thought were mediocre…something lacked in our connection….but the experience was definitely not bad. It can take time to get used to the embrace and lead of a new person, so I gave our dances a grain of salt. After the second song, he severed the embrace, stepped back and said, “Thank you.” I was taken aback. Were the first two songs mediocre to me, but absolutely horrible to him? Plus, we were in the far, far corner of the dance floor, kitty-corner to where he asked me to dance. He offered me his arm, and led me diagonally, THROUGH the dance floor, past couple after couple, back to my seat. My cheeks burned and my walk faltered. I felt confidence ooze away from me. I’d never, ever had a man cut off a tanda with me before, and I felt humiliated and awful. My dances the rest of the night were wobbly and off.
Later, I learned that this leader in particular does this to many followers, and is all around not a nice person, making beginners feel bad, saying rude things, cutting off tandas regularly, etc. Even though I understand this intellectually, the experience still emotionally burns.
On the flip side, my partner, Klondike, had one of his best experiences at this same milonga. It was a night I wasn’t out, and he told me later he danced for an hour, tanda after tanda, with a woman visiting from Europe. I felt a little funny about that, wondering if that many tandas indicated romance. He assured me that, no, he just wanted to take advantage of someone visiting from a foreign place who he might not have the luxury of meeting again any time soon.
These two experiences have led me to wonder: When do you cut off a tanda, and how long do you stay?
I cut off a tanda with a leader one time, at a festival in Portland. He clearly had never danced tango before, and in a crowded, moving dance floor, I felt afraid for my safety. I politely told him “thank you” after the first song, and muttered something about having to go to the bathroom. I felt bad about it the rest of the night. I’ve felt compelled to cut off other tandas as well, but something keeps me from doing that, even if the person is a complete beginner and the dances aren’t particularly enjoyable for me. I tell myself that people have to cut their teeth somewhere, and that maybe someday, they will be better, and that they will remember me as a decent person. Maybe, when they are better, they will ask me again.
Then, there are the times when I have a lovely dance and I want to stay for another tanda, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it or whether it was appropriate. I asked Klondike for advice. He said when he asks a woman for tanda after tanda, a lot of it has to do with her body language. Does she linger on the dance floor, looking at him and talking, or does she immediately say “thank you”, and turn away? If she seems interested, he asks her for another. I didn’t know how I felt about this before, thinking tango was meant for one tanda. One experience. Nine minutes. Move on. No leader and no follower should hog one another for dance after dance. However, my views on this have slowly evolved.
I now practice the body language that Klondike suggested. Since then, I danced three tandas with one of my favorite leaders, and have danced two several times as well. But how long is too long? How many is too many?
I do remember seeing a woman who barely comes out, dancing song after song after song with the same leader. I wondered what their story was, were they lovers, did the man have a crush on her or her on him? My mind was alight with ideas and stories and questions. I don’t want people to think the same thing about me because I dance more than one tanda with a leader. Or should I just not care what others think, knowing that only I can know what’s in my heart?
I do know this: In tango, I do not want to hurt a leader’s feelings. If I have to bow out of a tanda, I will try to do so gracefully, and with restraint, only if my safely feels at risk, or if I can tell the person is a sleaze. If I want to stay for another, I will linger and be friendly, but ultimately leave the decision up to a leader.
I also know this: I will never dance with that “dignified-looking” gray-haired man again. I know he does not recognize me. He doesn’t know how much he humiliated me. He has no idea the havoc he wreaks in followers’ lives. I’ve seen him watching me on the dance floor at milongas. And recently, he actually asked me again to dance. I wanted to say, “Not on your life, you sleaze ball scumbag.” But instead I smiled gently, and said “No, thanks.” Never, ever again.
What are your thoughts on tandas? When should we dance only one and when should we dance more? When is it correct to cut a tanda short? Comments have been enabled – so please share your thoughts below.
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For me, the second tanda is initiated if there’s a sense that the first went exceptionally well–that we’re really connecting, in a groove, and want to keep it going. This also usually only happens with partners I dance with on a regular basis, but I’ve sometimes done a second or more with someone new who surprised me with great dance chemistry.
I know of one leader who likes to dance with only one, maybe two, followers, in a given night. I’m not sure to what extent romantic interest was involved, but his stated reasoning was that it takes him at least two tandas just to get really well connected, and he’d rather focus on that one connection for an hour or more than start over again with someone else.
jose orellana says
I have never been comfortable with the concept of a dance being evaluated in terms of romance. And I say this after falling in love three times with dance partners in the last twelve years. I am now married to one of them. Naturally the intimacy and pure joy of dancing can create an intoxicating brew. But I would not marry a woman solely on the basis of how well we dance together. Rather it is what I learn about her in the process that engages me. Frankly, most of my best tandas have been with women I have no desire to marry. While being married to a woman who is also a very pleasurable dance partner is really a bonus. I don’t like the constraint of a tanda on a more fundamental basis. Partners who like each others dance quality need not apologize for continuing more than one tanda. I do think that in the interest of sociability though, successive tandas works against the higher purposes of a milonga. So I would rather return to a favorite partner frequently, allowing her to circulate more naturally, or just make a date for an evening of dinner then exclusive dancing if romance enters the mix. I have never broken tanda, except in the case when my wedding song is played. In those casess I explain the situation to my partner begging her understanding then I stay with her until the next song and resume with genuine regret for breaking and sincere extra appreciation for her indulgence. There are times when I want to break tanda but I just don’t. And I have never had a lady excuse herself. I have been turned down twice in twelve years, hut those instances were my fault for not asking in the right way and at the right time. If I sense that a partner wants to stay with me longer than I prefer or if the protocols of Milonga vs Practica are not known I indicate my preference ahead of time. DJs that play 4 or 5 songs or extra long sets or songs iritate me, even if I love my partner. If, however they provide a very thoughtful and supportive mix through the night, then I always thank them and tell everyone I know.
Cabeceos are another tricky topic. I struggle with the tradition of the tanda and cabeceo, being a married guy not looking for romance. These traditions were born in an era and culture where nuance was better understood, hut I embrace them to preserve Tango.
I firmly believe that it is the responsibility of teachers to mention the coutesies of Tango and milongas at the end of every class, and the resposibility of dancers of any level to attend classes on a regular basis. The situation of bad tandas might become moot if people invested more time to learning to dance well. Ladies who I see in class regularly get my support and extra dances. And, seriously guys, are you doing anything to improve?
So how many Tandas? Go back to class and make it moot. You owe it to our community to give more then you take.
Thank you. Well said. It’s great to hear a guys point of view on these subjects.