tango: trials terrors and triumphs

Maria Plazaola, workshop Wellington
Maria Plazaola, workshop Wellington
It’s the Wellington tango festival. Last year I was laid up so it’s been lovely to participate today and yesterday.

I attended 3 workshops with Maria Plazaola and I loved them all. I felt challenged, I learned new things and I felt as if this time I was as able as any of my fellow workshoppers.

Learning to tango, as I am sure I have said before, is one of the best things I have done, especially since the first bungled hip operation. Dancing has helped strengthen the foot with the damaged sciatic nerve and I have made some terrific friends.

But. It can also be really damaging for the psyche and while at some stage I will learn to lead, the large number of women who dance, coupled with a tango related emphasis on body image can cause distress.

This morning I conducted an ad hoc deeply unscientific survey that began incidentally by my asking a few I met if they were going to the ball. Many women were avoiding the big-ticket milongas because they felt so awful and rejected. While some women felt age or height was against them one younger woman was having the same issues. She said that she asked leaders for a dance but this practice is frowned upon by many leaders and it is, I understand, partly because the leader chooses the dancer to match the music. In other words they know whose dance style works with particular music.

But my short survey today made me realise that many many women feel rejected and challenged when they stand or sit out several tandas. Even if you smile, try and catch someone’s eye etc etc you can still miss out. You also don’t want the unmusical or the sleazy. I’m grateful for mates who will willingly dance with me but at a festival like this there’s an opportunity to dance with someone new whose style can help improve your own dancing.

And we miss out. We also go home feeling as if there is something wrong with us. As one ‘interviewee’ said this morning – if one of three things is against you, you are stuffed: old, overweight or inelegant. I’m not sure. I think that’s a little oversimplified.

But to be positive – avoid the meatmarket milongas, learn from everyone and be entirely grateful for the lovely local leaders who whisk you about and seem, in fact, to quite like you. I like the ones who also provide useful constructive feedback.

I’m planning to focus on all the good stuff I learned and the great friendships and enjoy being in bed reading. It’s so good for the psyche.


2 thoughts on “tango: trials terrors and triumphs

  1. Regarding ladies asking men for a dance, I know men who rely on the lore of ‘that is Not Done in Argentina’ but…SURPRISE! We don’t live there and we don’t live in the 1950s anymore, and I encourage ladies to ask. As far as ‘choosing the dancer to match the music’? Pardon my skepticism but leaders using that line may be overreaching themselves.

    Beth and I have been to a few festivals in Europe as well as most of the NZ festivals since the first in 2002. We enjoy the smaller regular milongas more because the richer sense of community sidesteps the very common issues that you’ve identified which are a feature of the festivals.

    To be fair the NZ festival has ‘taxi dancers’ which help moderate the situation by dancing with women who’ve been sitting out, thereby showing off their dance abilities for other prospective leaders. (This comment is for your non-tango readers).


  2. Thanks Geoff. Yes it is easy to ask mates and a couple of subtle hints have also worked with strangers. I know a couple of men who like being asked because they are too shy to ask women. I agree – i prefer the small events and my fav milongas in BA are the small local ones where you can share the enthusiasm and joy of dancing.

    Unfortunately we women – in spite of our maturity, sense, professional accomplishments and feminist views -still get attacks of the 14 year old’s shame and internal worries. And indeed men possibly share these anxieties.

    PS: But were there enough taxi dancers? They must have been pretty overworked……


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