Friday 5 October 2012

Body language for beginners

So... a couple of weeks ago, I was at that Milonga...

It was a very common situation: In the morning, I had been running a couple of kilometres, we had been giving classes all day, we had walked to all the venues back and forth, we had done a demo... You can imagine, that I was quite tired. In addition to that, the music was not really to my taste and there were very few dancers on the dancefloor that would have tempted me. No one will be surprised, that I was not very much inclined to dance. So I sat down in the very corner of the Milonga, watched the dancefloor, talked to some very nice - mostly female - fans of this blog. I was generally in a good mood, but this changed as I had to spend the next hours refusing invitations. 

Why, dear Tangueros?

At this Milonga, Mirada & Cabeceo are not the custom, but should a grown-up person not be able to read body language? People do it all the time in every walk of life, but in many Milongas this common knowledge seems to be lost.

This is why I decided to write a small manual for everyone who‘s planning on inviting me.

Signs that I DON‘T WANT to dance:
  • I look annoyed, angry, gloomy, sad (insert any other overt negative expression). 
  • I slouch on my chair and make a very un-energetic impression. Maybe my feet are in a vertical position, lying on a chair. Or worse: my eyes are closed, my head is falling down and I seem to sleep. (Ok, I avoid falling asleep at a Milonga even under very dire circumstances, but you get my point, yeah?)
  • I turn and look away, when you are looking or walking into my direction. (Alternatively: I all of a sudden bend down and start adjusting my shoe-straps.)
  • I am engaged in a deep conversation that takes up all my attention.
  • I don‘t wear Tango shoes. (The fact that I WEAR them, is no sign that I want to dance though.)
  • I am getting a foot massage.
  • I read in my Kindle, a book or class notes.
  • I play/work on my iPhone or my MacBook. 
  • I eat a meal.
  • I am engaged in some romantic activity: kissing, cuddling, holding hands and looking deeply into my partner‘s eyes. (Well, I would not do that at a Milonga, but IF I did, it were a definite sign, that I don‘t want to dance with you.)
Signs that I WANT to dance:
  • I look alert, friendly, relaxed and in general open for approach.
  • I sit or stand in an upright position and make an energetic and toned impression.
  • I look into your eyes and smile when you approach me.
  • I nod friendly whilst looking at you.
  • I chat lightly with someone but still actively interact with other people.
  • I start looking around almost panicky, dancing with all my body and trying to make eye contact with you. (Now this only happens when a nice Tanda of Di Sarli is playing.)
I guess, many women would agree to this interpretation of body language and use it likewise. And too many men seem to ignore it or just don‘t have a clue. But it is not all their fault. 

Women send out mixed signals: 
  • You look away, but then still accept the invitation. Even I have done that (rarely, but it happened) after having refused too many men during an evening. I lost my nerves, because I did not want to be perceived as unfriendly and got up. But then I danced with little pleasure. That‘s not good! Even I have to be more strict in these situations. 
  • Another typical mistake: You want to dance, but display an angry face - maybe because you have not been invited all evening. Possibly you even entered the Milonga with that facial expression and unknowingly repelled the willing leaders. In the past, I made that mistake often. Now I know, that my chances of getting invites are a much higher, if I look alert, friendly and directly into men‘s eyes. 
But - you see what I‘m aiming at - this is why Mirada & Cabeceo make sense. It is not just a weird custom from Buenos Aires. It is a ritualised form of natural body language - a setting where everyone actually knows and shares the same code. Like moving to a foreign country: it makes sense to learn it's language and customs to avoid misunderstandings. The same goes for Tango. When everyone speaks the same language and knows the codes, awkward situations like men standing in front of women and having to go back to their seats will not occur. And everyone will feel much less irritated.

So, please: Bring back Cabeceo! 

Before I upload this and start my day with a Yoga session, let me just add a small paragraph.

As mentioned above, I am convinced that this body languages comes natural to most people, but some circumstances may only apply to me personally. So, please do not even bother to try and invite me when:
I will sit that one out.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Melina. This is all stuff that shouldn't need saying, but, unfortunately, it does.

I particularly like your description of how to look receptive to being asked to dance. I've read too many blogs telling women to sit smiling all the time when not dancing. I think it's completely unnatural to try to maintain a fixed smile and will only put you under more strain. My own recommendation is to sip wine and get absorbed in the music -- then you'll naturally look less grumpy. Of course, if the music is bad -- well, you may look sour, but any good dancer will understand why!

Sean said...

Hi Melina,

Sadly, this is a very needed post in a lot of communities. I have seen women chased out of milongas by overzealous men.

But in my experience, it cuts both ways. Women are just as likely to ignore body language and common decency in their pursuit of in-demand dancers.

Women are generally free to say "no", and if anyone makes an issue of it, many people will rise to her defense. The same is not true for men. If a man says "no" to an unwelcome invitation to dance, he is likely to be chastised by anyone who witnesses it, even other men.

There are no gender barriers to unwelcome behavior.

Tango and i said...

Very well put Melina, I whole heartedly agree.
I have a question for you: Do you ever go to "work" at a milonga? Maybe in a city where you have not been before. Some might only come to the milonga because they know you are there! And have anxiously thought about it the whole day on how to ask you to dance.
Some call these the "pity" dances.( Which I find a very derogatory statement) Would you ever talk the the leader about the way he asked you that you find bad form. Or simply say no? Just curious ( ;

Melina Sedo said...

@ Sean:
You are totally correct. The same rules of polite behaviour apply to women. And I wholeheartedly encourage every man to say NO to a woman who ignores his "refusing" body language and invites him nevertheless.
I write from a woman's perspective, so I will focus more on women being "forced" to dance or not daring to refuse. But I have over the years met some very annoying women who have been actually stalking the good dancers without paying ANY attention to their needs. They should feel likewise addressed by this post.

@Tango and I:
I don't do pity dances. (Which is indeed a derogative expression.) When I am at a Milonga, I might do a demo as a part of my job. The rest of the time, I'm just a person. But I don't feel the obligation to dance with someone because he went to my class or because he's an organizer. I will refuse their invites in the same way as any other invite. I will dance with them, if I want to, and don't dance, if I don't want to.
In the Milonga, I usually do not explain my refusals. I am not there as a teacher, I am just a person. In rare occasions - when it is a real beginner asking e.g. - I will explain the use of Cabeceo & Mirada or my body-language. But usually I just say no.
I explain Cabeceo & Mirada or adequate interpretation of body language in my classes, and I write about this on my blog. At a Milonga, I am just another woman wanting or not wanting to dance with someone.
If I feel any obligation to WORK during a Milonga it is a more general work: representing what we teach and what I write about. I try to act according my believes and our philosophy. And in this case, it is even more important for me to refuse dances when I don't want to dance. How can I tell women to say NO, if I don't do it?

I will - in my next post - explain the reasons WHY and WHEN i want to dance and you'll see, that this has not so much to do with the fact, if someone is a super dancer or not. But more to this later.

Good night for now.

Cammie said...

Hi, Melina. Enjoyed the article. Mirada is not a term I have heard before (I live in Colorado). Can you explain what it means? Thanks, Cammie.

P.S. I tried to look it up, but could not find it.

Melina Sedo said...

Hi Cammie:

Mirada is another term for the traditional invitation procedure. It means "the gaze", so basically "looking at someone".

Nowadays, Cabeceo is the more common name, but when we started to dance, Mirada was used in our communities, imported by a german Milonguero who spend much time in the traditional Milongas in BA.

I use both terms as they make perfect sense in this combination and even describe the whole procedure better:
Mirada - you look at someone and try to attract his attention
Cabeceo - you make a sign wih your head, nod

Good day to you,


Alter said...

I have a practical suggestion for ladies: try to catch eyes of the dancing men you'd like to dance with, while you are sitting and observing dancing people. It's like you are saying "I see your dancing and I like it, find me in the croud after this tanda". This makes perfect sense, especialy in big milongas with many people new for you. It doesn't really work for men, as women often don't look arround while dancing :)

Muyserin said...

Very concise assessment of the kind of behaviour both tangueros and tangueras should observe. It's just that in my experience, most tango communities can't be bothered.

Unknown said...

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