Thursday 14 April 2011

Let's talk about sex!

... or the lack of it in Tango. 

Why? Because it‘s one of the most obvious and most avoided topics in our favourite pastime or profession. And because there seems to be a tiny spark of a psychologist in me after all. ;-) 

We‘ve all made up our minds! Contrary to the image displayed in Tango shows, bad movies or in the heads the uninformed, Tango is not a sexual or erotic dance. It is sensual - at the utmost! How often have I explained this to Non-Tangueros, in order to avoid their pitying or lecherous glances and remarks! And even amongst Tangueros, people tend to make it very clear, that they‘ve got nothing to do with the antiquated notion of Tango as the most erotic dance in the world. 

Let‘s have a look at some typical opinions and statements. 

There are for example the ones who prefer to dance in an open or flexible embrace - often dancers of a younger generation. They focus on the possibilities of the movement and the music. I‘ve heard heard quite a few snide remarks coming from this group, like: „Dancing in a close embrace is for the old and unattractive ones. You know, those who do not find a partner in real life and use Tango as a replacement for sex or as a hunting ground. We do not need that.“ 


Those who cherish the close embrace might answer: „These young ones! They‘re afraid of real relationships and nearness. They hide behind complex movements in order to avoid intimacy. We experience a real connection, but will of course not try to exploit it. It will only last for a Tanda and then it‘s over! We would never, ever... We‘re sophisticated and spiritual beings, not Salseros, who only dance in order to pick up a man/woman. We do not need that.“ 

So, what all these people want to tell us, is that they will not use Tango to make sexual or romantic advances to another person. Everyone who dances in a close embrace with someone he/she finds attractive will know, that this is not the whole truth and that the dance itself can become very sexy. But if you restrict this activity to a set of four Tangos and restrain yourself from taking it any further, this will definitively have consequences. 

Because, if you take into account that: 
- a lot of Tangueros are singles,
- Tango is their major or only pastime - the only place where they could find a partner,
- and that they spend most of their nights dancing, coming home exhausted physically and mentally...
... the question imposes upon one: Are those people ever going to find a partner for life or the night? They must all be celibate! 

And let‘s have a look at those, who do have a steady relationship: They will not show their affection during a Milonga out of fear of not being invited by someone else, they will spend lots of communicative energy to embrace strangers all night, they come home late and exhausted... How much energy will they have left to connect to their partner, in whatever way? 

So what, Tangueros in general don‘t have sex and Tango is their substitute for it? 

At first glance, scientific research seems to back up this idea. In the context of my psychological thesis („Sex-roles in Argentine Tango“ - now please think Sandra Bem and not Naughty Nurses) - I interviewed 170 German Tango dancers. The majority of them (100 persons) were single. Now, this was in 2001 to 2003 and I‘d probably develop a totally different questionnaire nowadays - but nevertheless some of the results are interesting:
68,3 % of the respondents associate Tango with passion and erotics.
80,5 % of the respondents see Tango as an opportunity to experience physical nearness to other people.
56,7 % of the respondents see Tango as an opportunity to be near to a man/woman in a non-committing way.
But only 14,2 % of them comprehend Tango as an opportunity to find a partner. 

So again: people make connections, rather important ones to opposite-sex partners in Tango, but they will not take it any further and go home solo. But why is that so? 

There are several explanations, that I‘ve heard over the years:
- Most Tangueros have relational issues or are just too shy.
- They are afraid of loosing a particular person as a dance partner.
- They are afraid of endangering their standing as a Tanguero by getting a reputation as a slut or a womaniser.
- Tango itself is a sanctuary. You do not desecrate it by profane actions. 

Well... I don‘t know.... I don‘t believe in all of that. Not even in the results of my studies. When I look around, I see many people finding partners for life or having love affairs in Tango. Very often, they just don‘t tell, which is a little strange for me, because I used to move in circles, where people talked openly about their sexuality or at least did not try to repress this primal need. But if you take Tango seriously, sex seems to be a taboo. 

And now I come to the point, where I want to introduce Argentina as a „good“ example, because there, Tango is a normal part of everyday life. People go there to have fun with their spouses, they bring their family, eat, chat and yes, use the environment to find a partner for the night or for life. Sure, they will abide to rules of discretion, if they still want to dance with other people, so they won‘t leave the Milonga with their lover or sit with a partner - but apart from that, it‘s no secret, that Milongueros and Milongueras use the Milongas as a „hunting ground“. And why should they not? 

We‘re all confident grown-ups and if we don‘t want to accept a polite invitation, we just say no, don‘t we? 

(Note for the over-zealous: This is not a post to encourage transgressive behaviour in the dance or "sexy" Milongas. I‘m discussing an interesting phenomenon from an analytic perspective and making a small leap into the question of a „natural“ attitude towards Tango. That's all!)


Tangoaddict said...

Very much enjoyed this! It would be interesting to know the ages of the respondents in your study - young, open embracers or older, close embracers? Hopefully the young open embracers will "embrace" the Argentine ethos with involvement of families and relationships in a natural way, and continue tangoing into their old age. The older, close embracers - well, perhaps they're too set in their ways....... And perhaps their responses in part are due to the small size of the tango community....

Melina Sedo said...

Average age: 40,6 with a range from 30 to 64.

I also researched open-close embrace, and size of community, but it's not in the end-report, so I'd have too look it up.
Won't have time for that at he moment unfortunately.

Thanks for reading the blog.

Anonymous said...

Nice article, Melina! Unfortunately, this subject is very difficult to study - sex is still tabu (also in tango)and social desirability heavily interfere when trying to find 'the truth'. "Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital." ~Aaron Levenstein.

Melina Sedo said...

May I quote my own article?

"I don‘t believe in all of that. Not even in the results of my studies."

Yep. Statistics are indeed bikinis! ;-)

gyb said...

From another discussion in Bora's blog: "Buenos Aires is a different place, at least in two relevant respect. The first has to do with the size of a typical tango community and its relation to default expectations. Tango requires lots of investment and there is just simply too much to loose by acting “inappropriately” in any other place where the tango scene is much smaller, as news travel almost faster than the speed of light. This in turn breeds lots of conservative behavior, and since such restrains typically get encoded as social norms, it paves the way of viewing behavior, which otherwise would be quite “naturally” expected, as inappropriate. (Besides creation of norms there is also a selection effect for types of people who are already more prone to take evaluative stances.) Dancing tango in almost any places other than BsAs is no different than living in a small insulated village. Buenos Aires is more like a smaller town. If tango ever got popular enough I’m pretty sure going out dancing just in order to make sexual advances would become no less common than it is now in the discotheque (and in fact probably even more so).

The other has to do with the huge influx of tourists and the large number of young attractive foreign females there who are trying out tango to experiment with their sexuality. I visited Buenos Aires after my first three months of quite intensive introduction to tango; I was already good enough to navigate through a tanda or two with relatively beginner followers, but clearly not good enough to set off their alarms. During the three weeks I stayed there I was hit by more “opportunities” a day by fellow foreigners then during a year anywhere else, it was absolutely astonishing. Given that this is part of the environment I’m not surprised at all to hear that there are leaders who take advantage of it, and in turn other visiting followers may suffer the consequences."

Derrick Del Pilar said...

As a young gay man in tango (who dances mostly close embrace) with a long-term partner who neither dances nor accompanies me to milongas, I must say I was, until quite recently, especially naive about the level of sexual activity within the U.S. tango community. Although compared to the gay scene, any milonga is a monastery...
I also think I'm in a strange, unique position. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, most everyone in the tango scene knows that I'm gay. So men usually aren't threatened by me when I dance with their wifes/girlfriends/lovers, and the ladies I dance with know that a tanda really is just a tanda (I do very much prefer to dance close embrace, so for girls with little gaydar there could be a problem...haha).
Also, I'm not particularly interested in attending any Queer tango events, because for me tango has always been a refreshingly conquest-free space, and since I dance with ladies, my partner doesn't mind that much.
Thanks for addressing the elephant in the room, Melina—I think it needs to be discussed more openly/less prudishly.
Un abrazo,

Melina Sedo said...

Derrick! Hope to meet you again one day. Until then, I'm gonna address all elephants - no matter how hard they try to hide! ;-)

Giacomo said...

Derrick, I believe that many straight men in tango (including myself) envy you very much. It seems like you're getting the best of both worlds (the one around the dance floor and the one outside).

Elizabeth Brinton said...

Well, let's just hope the elephants aren't wearing bikinis! Seriously, sex and the search for love/sexual relationship is in every place. I like the analogy of the village, since tango is a place where we all go, and for differing reasons.
For us (an older couple) it is social, fun, challenging, interesting, sexy for sure, but then, life is sexy. Now where is that bikini?

Melina Sedo said...

You're not an older couple, Elisabeth!!! :-)

Elizabeth Brinton said...

Umm, only a couple decades older than your interview respondents!

Melina Sedo said...

That's not a lot! Love to you.

Khan said...

I actually started tango dancing with my mom, and 4 years later ended up with a husband that I met that first night at tango! It was quite unexpected that I would find anyone my age (we were 23 at the time) since for the most part everyone was 35 and older. We're still the 2 youngest in our tango community (at least that are there with any consistency). But most of our dancers are husband and wife couples, or boyfriend and girlfriend already. So maybe we have a different make-up than most other communities? But I've always loved telling people that tango is extremely sensual, and watching their faces get really red! Keep telling it like it is!

Melina Sedo said...

I'm gonna tell you a story, that got me thinking right from the start:

I started - as you may know from earlier posts - dancing in our homeregion in Germany. Most dancers were in their early or late forties, many of them married, dancing with their partner. At first glance, there was not a lot of sexy stuff going on!

Ok, I met Detlef... but dancing with him was rather sportive, so that does not count...

But then a guy started inviting me. One of those guys in their late 40s, married. He really danced very, very cuddly and I could really not tell, if he was interested. He was the first guy, dancing with me in that way and although I was in no way naive, I wondered...
So I actually asked him, if his dancing meant anything beyond dancing. He got a red face and started to stutter excuses. hihi...

But: very short time later, he left his spouse for one of the other dancers.

So, already early in my Tango life, no-one could tell me, that it does not mean anything, when a guy or a girl dances in that very special sexy-cuddly way with you, that this is just Tango! Ha!

It may not always lead to an intimate non-Tango-activity, but it always means something!

We're no robots! ;-)

Unknown said...

Thank you for the story Melina. Sexuality is part of life, consequently is part of tango. In tango however, it seems to appears in the sublime form and if someone takes beyond the dance floor..oh well, as you said we're not robots :-).

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Melina, for a really interesting and thought-provoking article, I agree with you on many points, but actually I wholeheartedly (close) embrace sex as being a taboo subject in Tango.

I go to Milongas and have what I consider is great sex with some dancers, and then afterwards, when the dancing is over, have more great sex with my secret lover. To me it’s as if in the Milonga I am feeling Tango as a sexual dance and later I am free to celebrate it as such.

I find it incredibly sexy that no one knows what my partner and I do after an evening of elegant, sensual dancing (okay, maybe a few suspect), but my main reason for wanting to keep the relationship secret is that I don’t want people to think I’m just a typical Milonguera falling for a leader because of his good dancing. I am also concerned that if the relationship ends and I meet someone else at a Milonga I would start to get a reputation and, even worse, attract the lecherous types! I should say too that I do worry that one day I might see my lover frequently having the last tanda with another woman.

To note, I am on the lower end of the age range that you questioned and while I enjoy both I do have a preference for close embrace.

I have not had the experience of having a partner who does not also dance Tango, but I don’t think I would like it! I think I would feel too guilty if I enjoyed a tanda in a sensual, sexually evocative embrace while he was off with his ‘mates’ or doing some DIY having never experienced it. I know my lover has similar experiences to me at a Milonga because we’ve discussed it. I even know that he gets ‘excited’ during tandas with other women. It did really hurt to hear, but it’s something I should learn to accept, especially when I have to admit that I would be surprised if he was not affected and, after all, I’m no different.

There is so much I could say on this subject but mostly I want to suggest that the fact that sex in Tango is not openly discussed is a positive thing. It leaves everyone free to get whatever experience they desire from the dance without guilt, fear or judgment. As everyone knows dancing at a Milonga can be a very intimate experience in a very public arena. Some privacy needs to be preserved. Maybe sex is taboo for a reason.

I am quite happy, even pleased, for others to argue passionately that it is, at most, a sensual dance while I sit quietly, concentrating, with an innocent expression on my face, on getting my next cabeceo. For me personally though, sex is always there at a Milonga and that is a hugely enticing element of Tango. That it is unspoken makes it more exciting still. It’s impossible to ignore it. Those people who say that Tango is not sexual are just speaking for themselves, and while I may believe them sometimes, I certainly do not understand them.

Tango has brought so many beautiful and socially acceptable things into my life. I have had some great non-Tango experiences that have arisen because of Tango and I have made some lovely friends. I am also grateful that I can now wear all the dresses that used to just hang forlornly in my wardrobe. However, I can say without doubt that Tango has also brought many, many great sexual experiences on and off the dance floor.

I made up my mind some time a go, Tango is definitely a sexual dance. There’s no getting away from it. From my own experience sex and Tango are very often intertwined.
I’m sure some people would be aghast at me putting it so bluntly, but let me assure you that (with the exception of my lover) everyone who knows me, knows me as a complete lady, and isn’t that what is so great about it?

Tango Therapist said...

Melina: Great post with much that needed to be said. I started a blog "Frankly Sexual" but I was too shy to post it. I think you are right: The sexual warm fuzzies are out there and although it is a rare moment for me to be stunned by a woman's erotic aura, it does happen. I am then reminds me that I am a man and I like dancing with women. There's nothing wrong with that!

Anonymous said...

Wow I was quite depressed after reading this post! And I agree - tango attracts many many people who are :
- shy and geeky , unsure whether they can sustain a proper relationship
- arrogant b*stards, who see it as an easy way to flirt and seduce women
- narcissists, who are too self contained to have proper relationships but still crave intimacy in their secret souls ..

I think at the end of the day it's like those arguments about whether your glass is half empty or half full. If you judge and find tango empty, then it will be empty. If you on the other hand accept that we are all flawed beings, and that we are just taking pleasure where we can , then it can be a wonderful experience and brings joy into our lives.


Melina Sedo said...

Thanks to all of you for your insightful comments. I am gonna answer to some after the weekend in Oslo.
As for Steve: i was not aiming to depress anyone. I find the phenomenon mostly interesting. And as for geeky or troubled persons: i met even more of those individuals, when i was doing roleplaying games frequently. So tango is actually an upper. :-)

Anonymous said...

I believe the tango experience is also based on one's definitions of sexual and sensual. I find tango incredibly sensual and have had some really hot dances that were not sexual because we did not bump and grind nor did we expect do go home with each other afterward. We just enjoyed being in each others arms, playing with the music and finding a new level of pleasure that did not involve sex. I love the non-sexual connection and safety of tango that exists in our tango community.

Anonymous said...

We dance who we are and we find what we search for.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, thanks Melina.

The fact that people form physical relationships in tango, like in any other social environment, is no surprise. Especially since for some people tango is the only place where they go to socialise. (It's the same for exclusive church goers. They'll look for a partner in church. This tendency says nothing about the church though.) What I think you are discussing is not that much sex and tango, but urban German responses to sex as obseserved in one tango group in a German city.

In the discussions posted it seems that it it widely accepted that there are more sex associations related to tango that to other forms of mixed sex (or even same sex?) dance. This we know not to be true; is salsa any different? Take tango away, put any dance form instead and it still works.

Tango is a dance like any other. It is not sexual (or anything else) by nature. You can make it what you want it to be. Saying that tango is a sexual dance says more about the speaker's cultural perceptions than about the dance itself. Our (often very different)beliefs about gender relations and sexuality inform the way we respond to tango. However, the only thing natural to tango is moving to the music. All the rest is personal and social.

Stokie said...

I enjoyed reading this, but I wondered why you singled out Salseros as the sluts and womanisers of the dance world.

Having been involved in a few different dance scenes I can assure you that the things you describe are not limited to Tango.

Dancers tend to be a refection of our society as a whole. As such there will be shy, extrovert, confident and introverted people that make up its body. I am not sure how you go about picking this complex web apart, or indeed if it is even possible to do so.

I once heard an older woman giving advice to a young girl over a lunch-break. The girl was thinking about speed dating as she 'couldn't find a boyfriend no matter how hard she looked'. The advice. "stop looking!" Go and spend your time doing something that interests you and you will find someone. Three weeks later she was dating someone from her new art class.

Melina Sedo said...

Thank you all so much for tose interesting comments.

I'd like to reply to some of the last.

@ Anoym: I am not so sure, that the comments on my post insinuate, that Tango is more sexual, than any other dance. I think, that most of the people just agree on the fact, that it is not "unsexual" as very often stated, when you listen to peoples opinions.
I agree nevertheless on everything else you say.

@ Stokie: The reason why I single out Salsa, is based on the fact, that I just quote typical Tangueros comments. I've heard Tangueros talk about Salsa hundreds of time in the last years, and most seem to agree, that the Salsa environment is frequented by many people who are looking for a man/woman. I do not say, that this is correct. It is just a prejudice, Tangueros may have that serves to describe Tango - in contrast to Salsa - as a very spiritual, unsexual and civilised dance.
As I say later within my post: this is of course a deception. People are peopl, n matter if the dance Salsa or Tango!

So... looking forward to a nice Festival in Crema this weekend, where I'm gonna meet some of my preferred dancers for some perfectly innocent embraces! ;-)