Friday, 2 January 2015

Tango rules!

This is a post, that I really wanted to avoid, but I have to write it - or else my head is going to explode!

Triggered by my last article (who was by some misunderstood as a rejection of encuentros) and by another post on facebook, I was once again confronted with a statement that I have heard in many variations, but that always boils down to: „I will never go to an encuentro, because I hate these tango traditionalists and their rules. They are just nazis, who want to block my freedom to move! Tango does not need any rules. I want to be free. I want to have fun!“

These words make me want to shout out:
„What do you think, that a Milonga is? A psycho seminar for self-realisation? A contact-improvisation workshop? Kindergarden? Go get a grip! Really....“

No, but let‘s stay calm and think logically about it.

Tango is an interaction of individual beings. Even more so. It is a social partner dance. Such a kind of activity needs to be regulated in some way. Every form of human interaction is defined by rules. Limitations that tell us, what kind of behaviour is accepted in this setting and which behaviour will be frowned upon or will even be dangerous. Sometimes they are written down and called laws. Sometimes they remain unwritten codes of behaviour. Some are universal, some apply only to one context, group or area. Rules therefore also help define group identities.

You want to live in a certain country? You will have to abide to its laws. Or at least not get caught whilst breaking them.
You want to drive a car? You will have to adhere to the traffic laws.
You want to play tennis or chess? You are going to agree on a set of rules with the other players.
You want to dance viennese waltz? You need to understand that everyone will move counter-clockwise, if you don‘t want to bump into someone else. 
You want to participate in a debate at university? You need to know the rules.
You want to communicate with your grand-mother? You surely will know how to behave towards her, based on a unwritten set of mechanisms that make sense whilst interacting with elderly relations.
Get it?
Even free-form modern dance has its limitations. Or improvisational theatre. Or kindergarden, by the way...
There is no freedom of rules unless you move to a desert island.

The so-called „codigos milongueros“ are therefore no abomination or freak-law and not even particularly limiting. Actually they just describe a certain respectful and group-oriented form of behaviour: 
- To take care not to invade the personal space of someone when inviting him/her to dance: Mirada & Cabeceo.
- To take care of the other couples on the dancefloor: Entering the dancefloor carefully, moving counter-clockwise, keeping the feet on the floor, keeping distance to the other couples and not invading their space. (More details here.)
- Giving everyone the chance to chose a (new) partner according to the music and helping to create an open atmosphere, where dancers do not cling to their favourites: 1-tanda guideline.

A couple of years ago, nobody even cared to write down or discuss these „rules“. Why? Because those who lived by them, knew what they were doing. They shared a cultural back-ground, a common upbringing that ensured, that they would know about them, once they went to their first MIlonga. 
Then came the tourists to Buenos Aires and behaved like elephants in a porcelain-shop, because they just did not know about the setting. They had learned Tango as an imitation of art, a tuned-down version of stage-tango. Their Tango was more of an artistic self-expression than a ballroom-dance. 
I have danced lots of other ballroom dances and I agree: Tango is much freer in its musical expression and allows for much more individual creation when it comes to movements. But it is still a ballroom dance. And with it come limitations. But certain people seem to forget about this simple fact, mostly non-argentines or stage dancers.

And this is the reason, that organisers of encuentros milongueros or so-called traditional Milongas in BA or elsewhere started to write down the codigos. They did not like the chaos that was often the result of self-expressionalist-Tango. They searched for a calm social environment in which they could practise their ballroom-dance. Some guidelines where even „invented“ anew in these last years, I guess because of the insensitive behaviour that many europeans and north americans showed, e.g. when inviting someone to dance, taking it for granted, that the person would just love to do so. The Mirada & Cabeceo where most likely not used in this strict form pre-millennium. Because it was not necessary. Everyone would be careful and sensitive enough to read the body language before approaching someone else.
So, this is why it was just plain necessary to write down the codigos: To assure, that everyone has a chance to agree on a common form of respectful behaviour. Today, the codigos are not the only distinguishing feature of encuentros, but they form (apart from the close embrace) the core-philosophy of these events.

And this is why I prefer to dance at encuentros or traditional Milongas. I can rely on the fact, that people will behave respectfully and carefully in their interactions. This is not the result of nazi-behaviour, but a process of developing a group identity by defining certain limitations. Like chess players do. 
In all those years, I have only met very few people, who did not appreciate the atmosphere that is created in this manner. An atmosphere where everyone can indeed have fun, because he/she is not kicked, creeped-upon or neglected. Given the ideal case.

But I don‘t ask you to agree: If you don‘t like to dance counter-clockwise, if you need your high voleos, if you don‘t feel comfortable dancing with someone new every tanda - don‘t go to an encuentro. That's totally fine and does not need any further discussion. Not everyone has to agree on the same codes.

But do not say, that you won‘t go, because you are against rules as such! 

No Tango event is rule-free! Let's take marathons* - just to mention one setting from which some (but not all) of those come, who criticise the use of the „codigos“. I guess, marathons have just got other rules. There seems to be e.g. the unwritten code to dance at least three tandas in a row amongst some maratonistas. I dislike this idea out of many reasons. Imagine, I'd say: "You block my freedom to move with your bloody rule! I hate rules!" Would that not be plain stupid?

So, respectfully, if you don't like the "codigos", argue against them or just don't go someplace, where they are applied, but don't just tell me, that you are against rules. 

Please come up with another line!

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P.S. For those who don't follow me on Facebook or don't read the comments, I would like to add:
A Tango friend who's a Cambridge scholar, just sent me an article by Mary Midgley of which she was reminded by my blog. Midgely writes about games and rules in her essay 'The Game Game': 'the restraining rules are not something foreign to the needs or emotions involved, they are simply the shape that the desired activity takes'.
Highly recommendable.

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P.S.S. Just to say it loud and clear to anyone who feels needlessly offended: this is no post against maratonistas. This is a rant about some stupid individuals who position themselves as Tango-anarchists against the so-called tango-nazis. Mentioning marathons in my last paragraph, just serves an example. As I have written in one of my earlier posts, Marathons and Encuentros are much more similar as one might think. 
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13 comments:

Iona Italia said...

My objection to encuentros has nothing to do with rules but stems from a fear of being excluded simply because I don't live in Europe and therefore don't attend regularly. And I don't have a partner to sign-up with. So I do find the exclusivity of those events problematic. But I heartily approve of rules, since I grew up as a dancer on the floors of the traditional Baires milongas. In brief, I think they are too quite different topics. Those people who are most upset at not being accepted into encuentros are those who are LONGING to dance in an environment with the kind of rules you describe.

Iona Italia said...

My objection to encuentros has nothing to do with rules but stems from a fear of being excluded simply because I don't live in Europe and therefore don't attend regularly. And I don't have a partner to sign-up with. So I do find the exclusivity of those events problematic. But I heartily approve of rules, since I grew up as a dancer on the floors of the traditional Baires milongas. In brief, I think they are too quite different topics. Those people who are most upset at not being accepted into encuentros are those who are LONGING to dance in an environment with the kind of rules you describe.

thomas said...

dear melina, i dont know you either personally (funny english converstion between 2 german speakers). but i can understand your rage about what you told, but again, but...

speaking abot the "rules". you told, that you have been ballrooming. so you know, the counterclock movement ist no tango special, trying to avoid hurting someone also. and dont you rembember the "tanzschule" of your youth or the "dorffeste" - dindn't we try to catach each others eyes? so why do we have to exaggerate the cabeceo-stuff? shouldnt we remember, that it began, when young women went for dancing accompanied by their mothers? not to be missunderstood: i use the cabeceo - where ist possible. by the way, its not my experience that caaceo and stuff guarantee politiness on the dancefloor. and not to be missunderstood again: i have the pleasure to live in berlin. here i am able to integrate tango in my "normal" life and notwithstanding i meet dancers from all over the world in the milongas. so i dont have to seek an artificial "tangoworld" in encuenentros or something like that.

perhaps i'm to much "old 68" to declare any rule for holy. awareness on the dance floor - yes please! but exept the dancing direction no guideline is really necessary, exept the "cantian" one: the dancers shall behave like they want to be treated themselves.

Melina Sedo said...

Hi Thomas,
I did not describe the "rules" as holy or unchangeable. THey should of course always be flexible enough to be adapted to different situations. I don't expect a good friend sitting at my table to go away and cabeceo me, e.g..
But I described the "codigos", or rules in general as being natural in human interaction.
I also tried to explain, that there was no necessity to write them down or discuss them, as long as everyone present used them in a natural way. And yes, the mirada & cabeceo IS indeed a very natural way to invite someone to dance, even in disco. But in tango, it obviously made sense to explain it to people (mostly men), because they seemed to forget about these natural mechanisms and believed that every other person was "obliged" to dance with them. Also this - by the way - being a habit that comes from ballroom dancing: you never reject an invitation! But as Tango is much more intimate, having to dance with everyone or being forced to say "no" directly bugged many women. So the "new" system was introduced.
Have a nice day,
M.

(By the way, using english with german native speakers is kinda normal in tango, isn't it?)

Melina Sedo said...

Iona:
I answred to your post already yesterday, but obviously my comment was not posted. Sorry.

Being integrated at Encuentros: ask other non-european first-timers about their experiences. I am sure that you'll hear a lot of good things from them. One feature of encuentros is, that everyone is really interested in dancing with new people and there is ample opportunity, as partners are changed after each tanda. I invited already several US-american or argentinian dancers to our FCA. hey were always fully integrated in no time at all!

But you are right about women not having good chances, if they book solo. There are often huge female waiting lists. But this is a general tango problem and will not change unless we get more men to dance tango or come up with alternative methods like teaching leading and following equally in all beginners classes.
And by the way: at our FCA, we have dancers book by dance role, not by sex. Plus, everyone who dances both roles equally often, will get accepted without having to be counterbalanced by another person. At our last event, we had 2 women who were accepted as pure leaders and three who danced 50/50. So there were several women more than men at the even. No-one complained, as everyone got to dance all the time! :-)

Melina Sedo said...

Und, P.S., Thomas:

Ich bin zwar 68 noch recht klein gewesen, aber mit all diesen Ideen aufgewachsen. Habe die meiste Zeit an der Uni in einem linken AStA und auf Demos verbracht.
Und dabei wurde mir klar: alt-86er und insbesondere alle "linken" Politiktreibenden folgen einer Menge "Regeln", z.B. banalerweise, wenn es darum geht, wie man sich anzieht oder mit wem man Beziehungen eingeht. Was meinst Du, wieviele Regeln ich dauern gebrochen habe, weil ich keine doofen Birkenstocks, sondern lieber Pumps trug. Oder nicht wie alle anderen feministischen Frauen lesbisch war! Und was ich mir dafür oft anhören musste. uiuiui….
Ha! Also komm mir nicht mir den 68ern! ;-)

haribold said...

Hi Melina,

you are a Tango teacher and write about Tango rules - fine! But your considerations about rules in generel - well well. You´d better leave it to other professions!

Of course rules can be helpful and even necessary. But don´t you know lots of rules that you don´t find necessary or even helpful? Don´t you feel free to decide which rules you obey and which you ignore?

Social skill is to deal with people playing by the rules as well as with people that risregard certain rules.

When I want to lead a backward ocho I necessarily have to respect some rules of leading. Are the "codigos" necessary to lead a backward ocho?

You like encuentros, you like your codigos: All right.

Other Tango dancers don´t. They just prefer to go to Kindergarden Milongas!

Got it :-)

Melina Sedo said...

Dear Haribor,

I am not only a Tango Teacher but also a person who watches and reads and thinks. And by the way a psychologist with a university diploma. So I have studied human interaction and communication.

I am not so sure, if you understand, what I am writing: this post is not about me defending "the codigos". It is a rejection of the statement, that "rules" itself are unnecessary.

A Tango friend, being a Cambridge scholar, just send me an article by Mary Midgley of which she was reminded by my blog. She writes about games and rules in her essay 'The Game Game': 'the restraining rules are not something foreign to the needs or emotions involved, they are simply the shape that the desired activity takes'.
I recommend you ready it.

Have a nice day,
M.

Melina Sedo said...

… read it… obviously. Typing too fast again…
M.

Iona Italia said...

Thanks for your answer, Melina. By the way, I agree with every sentence of the rest of this entry. The rules weren't arbitrarily imposed on tango, they evolved and developed (and continue to do so) usually because they *work* for people and help them to maximise their pleasure.

Iona Italia said...

PS Just to make it clear to anyone reading the thread, Melina's answer to my comment and my further answer to her can be found in the comments thread for the previous entry.

Happy New Year, everyone!

thomas said...

liebe melina, folgenden text habe ich gerade in meiner facebookchronik gepostet: "kurz beim türken gestärkt nach der tollsten milonga der letzten wochen: rafaels 50:50 im tangotanzen macht schoen. gepflegte traditionals, aber vor allem: vorwiegend akustische neos und nur wenig weichgespülte nons. als cortinas: beatles. der höhepunkt: erst pugliese, sorgfälig intensitätsgesteigert. danach 3 piazzolla (incl gerry mulligan) und zum runterkommen: fröhlicher rodriguez. mag für manchen schräg klingen. ist es auch. aber wegen solcher musik nd solcher kombinationen bin ich vom ballroom zum tango gewechselt. andrenalin&endorphin pur. danke dj für deinen mut - und bitte: wiederholung!" alle möglichen debatten über einladungsturniere und aufforderungsrituale, fußhebeverbote und idealtangoentstehungszeitpunkte fand ich danach ziemlich bluitleeren, sorry: blödsinn. ich habe mich freiwillig und ungefragt eingemischt. ich werde mich in zukunft daran nicht mehr beteiligen. es war heute, um an eine formulierung von dir anzuknüpfen, dear melina - just living tango, as i love it!

Matthias said...

Lieber Thomas,
will sich da einer ganz unbescheiden den Ehrenwimpel wahrer Freigeistigkeit anheften?
Habe mir aus der Soßenpumpe Ketchup auf den Kaiserschmarrn garniert (in der Annahme, es sei Preiselbeermarmelade; das Malheur passierte mir übrigens just bei einem Encuentro). So ähnlich hätte mir der Kessel Buntes geschmeckt, der Dich zum Schwärmen bringt. Hätte ich Dir mein Tellerchen rüberschieben dürfen? Sollte innovationsfreudigen Geschmäckern munden, nehme ich an.
Bleibt anzuerkennen, dass der Fifty-Fifty-Kessel-Koch den Speiseplan aushängt. Da weiß ich also, wohin NICHT gehen.
Weiterhin guten Appetit!
Nix für ungut, aber Dein Frisch-fröhlich wird eine Erwiderung verkraften hofft,
Matthias