Solo Chica Contest Winner Kelly Macias on her trip to Buenos Aires with my Tango Adventure team, November, 2019
Way back in the pre-pandemic era, I created the brand Solo Chica to encourage women to travel alone.
To launch Solo Chica, we sponsored a contest.
We chose Kelly Macias from Washington, DC as the winner.
Kelly is a writer, storyteller and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultant focused on social justice, currently based in Washington, DC. She uses storytelling as a key part of her DEI work to create worlds where everyone gets seen and everyone matters.
Kelly has been in love with tango for years but she was not dancing or studying when we first met. She reached out to me for life coaching, initially with reconnecting to her body and pleasure as the goal with the idea that she might get back into tango too. Through our coaching relationship, she decided to come to Buenos Aires for a Solo Chica Tango Adventure. Kelly came to Buenos Aires just a few months before the pandemia (the pandemic!) sidelined us from the dance floor.
We loved Kelly’s answers. Why should we choose you for the launch contest? “I’ve spent the last few years feeling very disconnected from my sexuality, sensuality and feminine energy, as a whole. I would the opportunity to get support in exploring it.”
What would it mean for you to rediscover the Tango Goddess in you through the photo shoot? “Like many working women in their forties, I’ve been busy focusing on my career for the last several years. The stress of trying to be successful in a hectic society centered around class and patriarchy and white supremacy has taken its toll. I’m no longer as carefree or vulnerable as I used to be.
Add technology and social media to the mix, and it has meant that I spend most of my time in front of a computer screen than tending to my intimate relationships. I want to connect back to my vulnerability and sensuality and joy and think that the Tango Goddess photo shoot is a way to liberate myself from all that has been weighing me down.”
The grand prize: a Free Tango Goddess Photo Shoot with our resident genius photographer Tan Kurttekin, who shoots for Netflix among other clients!
We are super excited to share the results of the photo shoot with you here. Kelly is definitely a TANGO GODDESS! She was already a goddess before she arrived.
In this video that we recorded in Plaza Dorrego, where tango is danced on Sunday nights in San Telmo, Buenos Aires, and the streets are taken over early in the day by pounding drums and a street fair, Kelly talks about what it was like to work with me in a coaching relationship and to combine that work with the trip to Argentina.
Before we started working together, Kelly struggled with her own doubts about whether tango is really a dance for a curvy, Black woman. She hadn’t seen many other women in the US tango scene who looked like her. She worried that to dance tango, one had to have a thin ballet-like body.
I could understand that fear. I used to feel the same way. I thought being a curvy woman would make being a tango dancer impossible. I’m sure many others have felt this way. Far too many women (and some men too) put our desires on hold thinking we need to get to some magical number on the scale, or BMI, before we go out in the world and do the things we want to do.
The most amazing part is how Kelly found me. She googled “curvy woman tango” and found me through an Internet search. I don’t ever remember using those words in a blog post, but I do put my body out there as an example that one doesn’t have to be skinny or flat-chested to be a dancer.
Kelly told us, “I feel much more connected to my body compared to at home, less hip and back pain. Just in general feeling much more alive and embodied and aware of what’s happening in my body. Also the feeling of not being stressed. I can feel space opened up. And the heaviness that I feel normally has been lifted. My muscles are working in ways that they haven’t in years.”
“I learned that the lessons that apply to tango, apply to life. Things about connection and being able to connect with strangers through dance. Dancing with a good dancer sort of feels like falling in love. So there’s been this experience that’s sort of like falling in love. Every time I’m dancing, every time I’m held at a milonga or at a practice, every time I trust someone new it’s just this wonderful sort of high feeling that I haven’t felt in a really long time so this experience it’s been transformative in that way.”
With the wonderful Wanda Abramor, a key teacher in my Tango Your Life/Tango Adventure team
As a poster girl for solo female tango travel to Buenos Aires, Kelly told us she wanted to help us show that tango is for everybody, and every body type, racial/ethnic background, age, and background. We are completely on board for this mission of inclusion!
It’s important to touch on the history of tango here. The African origins of tango in Argentina have often been erased since many Argentines perceive themselves as a white country with European roots. The African influence was present and vital in the roots of tango, and these days more people are talking about that. This recognition of the role of African influence in tango goes in parallel with social change happening in Argentina. It’s common to hear stories from people who realize they had a Black grandmother that nobody talked about. More and more Argentines are identifying themselves as Afro-descendants.
Kelly was the perfect fit for the Solo Chica Program because this project was created to show more women the infinite doors tango can open up beyond the dance itself.
Kelly said so many good things in our interview that we wanted to share more clips with you to share her story so you can see those in the Instagram clips below:
“Less Politics, More Tango”
“Mistakes as Part of the Dance,”
“The African Roots of Tango in Buenos Aires.”
For anyone who craves touch, Argentine tango is the ultimate dance. Tango teaches us how to hold another person in a close embrace and then move together in unison.
But now tango and touch are off limits, in Buenos Aires, where tango was born.
Worldwide billions of us are sequestered in our homes, unable to reach out to others in the physical world, even with a simple handshake. Zooming together is great. We’re all learning new technology tools that we might not have tried otherwise, but it’s awfully hard to hug someone from six feet away. Or through a screen. No amount of technology can substitute for physical human contact.
What are we going to do about our need for touch?
As tango lovers, we both prize touch and have organized our lives around it.
We both found that tango was an antidote to what ailed us. If hugs are essential medicine, we simply needed a higher dose.
Argentina today is entering its fourth week of a strict national quarantine. People are only allowed to go out for groceries and other essential items. Police and military, transport workers, those supplying food) are allowed to go to work. We have all been ordered to stay at home except when we shop for food or medicine. No mate. No besos (kisses). No abrazos (hugs).
And, certainly, no tango.
Tango, tragically, is the perfect way to spread coronavirus: dancers from around the world hold each other heart-to-heart, maximizing body contact. Tango dancers are always chasing the next, unknown embrace, holding each other as if it were the last time they would ever hold anyone again.
Clearly tango and social distancing do not mix.
To truly feel the dance of tango, you must feel the embrace, or the abrazo, as they call it in Argentina. Even though tango is usually associated with erotic love, the embrace is much more than that. Sometimes compared to a mother’s cradling of a baby, the tango embrace is a way that two strangers, friends, or relatives, can hold each other with delicacy and affection.
Tango ruled our social lives in Argentina. We danced many nights a week in milongas, the sacred gathering place to dance tango. To connect. To escape the worries of everyday life and feel the bliss of a tangasm, that moment of connection while dancing with another person as the rest of the world drops away.
We have no idea when tango will come back.
Tango may shine a light on what we are giving up and what we must strive to keep alive even as we keep distance.
So what can tango teach us to survive the coronavirus pandemic and all the loss, uncertainty, and isolation that we are going through?
Even though we can’t dance tango, we still like to write about tango. Here’s what we discovered tango can teach us during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have more ideas please tell us in the comments.
Use Words to Show Affection
Tango teaches us the power of a hug, but we can’t throw our arms around just anyone right now.
But that energy is still within us and we need to channel it and get it out to those who need it. In the absence of touch, we can still send meaningful if imaginary hugs with tender words.
Before coronavirus, Argentines (even men) began every encounter with a hug or a kiss. There’s another round of kisses when they part. Even phone conversations or whatsapp messages end with the sending of hugs or kisses — or both.As Americans living in Buenos Aires, we noticed our ways of communicating changed over the years. We have become more affectionate.
So if we can’t hug each other right now, we can be more affectionate in our emails or texts. Even in professional communication we might be feeling emotional and go all the way with an XOXOXOXOXO. Or an abrazo elbow-bump! Those virtual, verbal hugs feel good right now.
If you can’t reach out and touch someone else, you can give yourself a hug. Put your hands on your heart and your belly when feeling anxious to self-soothe and breathe.
Improvise + become more shock-resilient
Tango is an improvised dance. There are no memorized steps but rather a language of movement that allows two dancers to reinvent endlessly.
In Argentina people know things always change. Governments collapse sometimes in rapid succession. Electricity gets cut off for a few days. The currency gets devalued by a third yet again. Here people are so used to sudden change they shrug it off. Many Argentines have more than one job and will try something new to survive.
In the US, we are not used to big shocks to our system.
When things fall apart, people improvise. Just as we are all doing now.
Tango teaches us to listen to our partner when we dance. We must read our partner’s body in order to execute the dance. Thousands of subtle cues are passed back and forth in tango, as two people connect.
We are all reacting to this crisis differently. Some people are treating this as a quiet time for retreat or a chance to deepen into creative work. For others, getting out of bed is an accomplishment already.
Everyone is coping the best they can.
If someone you know is hurting, listen without distractions. Put aside the phone. The gift of your pure attention will probably help more than advice. Usually all we most want and need is to be heard.
Make eye contact
Tango dancers invite each other to dance with their eyes. They don’t use words. (It’s against the codes of the traditional milonga.)
Direct eye contact creates a connection between two people, so we can use our eyes to connect while we socially distance (or date digitally). Making eye contact while chatting on an online video platform can be tricky because we can’t both look at the camera and the other person’s eyes at the same time, but it’s the intention to connect that matters.
Eye contact in person works too. Eyes can say a lot. Your eyes can even transmit a hug if you soften your gaze with affection when you look at someone.
Lose your balance, find it again
In tango, your axis, or that central line of balance in your body, is that magic point in the embrace where you are standing on your own but also meeting your partner. You do not burden your partner, but nor do you hold back.
The more that we can find our own center the better we can relate to and support others.
It’s inevitable that we will lose balance.
Tango teaches us that we will lose balance and that we can find it again. It’s going to be a wild, uncertain ride for a while, so prepare to lose balance and find it again many times.
Find joy in spite of loss
Tango lyrics are often about loss — of love, of innocence, of a beloved neighborhood that’s gone. As they say, if it has a happy ending, it’s not a tango. (That is why we hold each other so tight.)
In the Argentine national psyche, the good times were always in the past and whatever plans you make for the future will likely be dashed. Welcome to our new world where everyone is living a different life than they imagined even a few weeks ago. In the US people generally believe that things will always get better. In many other cultures people know that loss is inevitable.
Accepting loss makes Argentines pessimistic but they are also always up for a party.
Plans are expected to change, and things don’t always work out, which brings us back to learning to improvise.
Remember the essential
Argentines value relationships more than business. They know that the only things that last are friendship, family, and love. If there is one lesson that will get us through the trying times ahead, it is remembering our connections in many forms are among the most important things we have.
A decade ago the United Nations recognized tango by honoring it as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. They may have been thinking of the dance or unforgettable songs by Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzolla, but we think that the greatest contribution of tango to humanity is the countless embraces generated in its name over the past 130 years.
Tango knew in its origins and it knows now that the purpose of life is to hold each other in the broadest sense, but also in the narrow sense of throwing our arms around each other.
When we come through this dark time to the other side, we will all appreciate the gift of being in front of another human being again.
And we will all need a really good hug.
Sasha and Kevin …in one our beloved milonga Nuevo Chique
Explore general life coaching with Sasha to work on confidence, reconnecting with your sensuality, and everything that is most important for you to prepare for your Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires. Learn more about life coaching with Sasha HERE.
(This video was filmed on Day 12 of the Challenge)
It’s the first day of 2020. I decided to start this year with a bang of new year’s energy.
I am beginning a new Challenge: 31 Days of Asking Men to Dance. A new decade merits a new experiment!
In truth, my idea was a recycle of an idea from last year, but reduce, reuse, recycle, right?
In January 2019 I decided to do a research project after another conversation with a fellow tanguera about my frustration with going out to dance, and often spending much of the night or afternoon waiting for a cabeceo (the nod of the head a man uses when he asks a woman to dance).
My plan was to go out dancing tango 31 nights in a row with the express intention of asking men to dance.
My rule for myself was: if you go to a milonga or practica, you must ask at least one man to dance with a mirada (the look of desire used by a woman in her eyes to show she wants to dance), a cabeceo (a head nod usually used by men to invite) or verbally (which would be OK to do in more casual milongas but not so much in formal, elegant milongas).
No matter how I needed to challenge myself to go outside my comfort zone to be the initiator of the dance. (In the end, I challenged myself by asking verbally because that was more direct than using the mirada [the look of desire].)
Now what’s the big deal with asking men to dance? We do live in the 21st century. I’m in my forties, not in seventh grade going to a junior high school dance! Wouldn’t I be over all these insecurities by now? Ummm, not totally.
Well, we teach what we need to learn. I have often struggled with the confidence to ask a man to dance–thus the Challenge.
Deep down for me, and I suspect for many of us women, we feel more attractive if we are chosen. It’s the same old Cinderella complex, waiting for a man to come, wake us from a passive slumber to validate us as worthy. But that’s the old way, or is it? Some men seem to like the idea of women asking them to dance to take the constant pressure of initiation off them. But I’ve also heard from men say they didn’t want women to ask them to dance because that would be taking away the last clear domain of power that men had.
I would have shared last year’s results with you but I lost the phone, so I lost the data recorded in audio messages each time I left the milonga.
So my dears, if at first you do not succeed then try try again. This year we start fresh. I’m going to attempt to do 31 whole nights.
That’s an intense goal since I am also working to complete my memoir but I’m thinking all this dancing will be good for my writing because I need a balance of mental and physical activity to inspire my creativity.
So I am going to try the experiment this year and live-blog it as I go along on this post, adding a new entry with data and emotional observations each night after I go out.
Here we go…
Day 1: January 1, 2020
Milonga: La Glorieta, an outdoor gazebo in Belgrano where people gather to dance nightly.
Results: 7 asks, 7 yesses
January 1, 2020: Night One of the Experiment at La Glorieta. Photo: fellow tanguera Geneviève Allard
The first night of the campaign was spectacular. Often new campaigns (like a diet) start on a high and the Asking Men to Dance campaign was no different. I asked 7 men to dance, verbally each time. All seven said yes. At least one was someone who I have danced with once before years ago, but I’m sure he thinks he is much higher level than me. Because he was standing alone looking rather glum I asked him anyway.
Me and one of my targets! He said yes. 😉
How did I ask the men to dance? My language of choice for all the men was “Bailas?” (“Do you dance?”), “Quer bailar?” (“Do you want to dance?” or “Bailamos” (“Let’s dance.”) I used “Bailamos” only with someone I know socially. Using a verbal invitation works at La Glorieta and other more casual milongas. I don’t know if inviting verbally would work well at a formal milonga like Canning. I may have to lean more on a heavy mirada or cabeceo. We’ll see over the next 31 days.
My mood was much better because I was asking the men and choosing who I wanted to dance with rather than standing around hoping someone I wanted to dance with would ask me. I felt like a bubblier version of myself than the passive me who stands around waiting to be chosen.
I asked one man to dance whom I have often danced with. He seemed a bit taken aback that I asked him. He was used to inviting me, not the other way around. I had flipped the gender roles, but he got over it. We danced a lovely tanda (in tango we dance four songs [a tanda]).
All of the other guys seemed quite fine with invitation. “Dale,” or “Dale si” was the usual response.
Overall this experiment started off winning.
Day 2: January 2, 2020
I was planning to go to De Querusa but I was too tired. I’ll make up for it tomorrow by asking EXTRA men to dance.
The Friday afternoon practica Cheek to Cheek is not a traditional milonga where men and women sit on opposite sides of the dance floor but it’s definitely more of an elite milonga than La Glorieta so I was feeling nervous about taking my “31 Days of Asking Men to Dance” Challenge to Cheek to Cheek.
La Glorieta is a “friendly milonga”–Cheek to Cheek not so much.
The last time I went to Cheek to Cheek a few months ago there was poca gente (very few people) and they were all ridiculously high-level. I danced with the organizer, which I feared was a pity tanda because I had been sitting for over an hour. I was plancharing. Planchar is the Argentine verb meaning “to iron.” In tango language, to planchar means sitting for hours, not dancing.
So how did it go? I saw a familiar face, a sweet dancer Max from La Plata. La Plata is about an hour south of Buenos Aires. I greeted him with a kiss on the cheek which is probably not what I would have done if it were not for the Challenge. Asking men to dance is making me more outgoing and less timido in general. After I changed my shoes he invited me with a cabeceo, but I really believe that my being friendlier with the kiss paved the way for the invitation.
My first dance. I didn’t ask him but I may have made it happen by being friendly.
Then my friend Jorge showed up. Jorge is part of my Solo Chica Tango Adventure team. If you come to Buenos Aires as part of our program you might dance with him too. I asked Jorge “Bailas?” just as he said “Bailamos.” It seems like “Bailamos” (“Let’s dance”) is a much more normal thing to say to a friend. “Bailas?” (“Do you dance?”) makes more sense to say to someone new. I’m still working out this verbal invitation language since I have spent most of my tango career following the rules of showing my interest with a mirada (look of desire).
Jorge one of our taxi dancers for the Solo Chica Tango Adventure–and moi! It’s always nice to run into a friend at the milonga.
After I am happy to say I invited two men! They both said yes. One was a Polish man living in Italy who seemed to be a beginnerish dancer. Very sweet. He seemed happy I invited him.
The other was a wonderful dancer that I went on a date with once. It can be kind of awkward to see someone that you don’t wind up dating at the milonga. This time because I had my Challenge fueling me I forced myself to creep up behind him and tap him lightly on the shoulder. He turned his head around and said, “Quer bailar?” with a friendly smile. We danced a magical tanda. I missed dancing with him. We dance together so well.
I am getting more and better tandas than I would have been dancing otherwise. Going to the milonga with the intention of asking at least one man to dance is definitely working. I’m feeling more present, less passive. No rejections so far, but I’m sure that will change when I ask more people.
I am quite pleased with the experiment so far.
Day 4: January 4, 2020
Practica: La Maria, an afternoon practica
Results: 7 asks, 4 yesses, 3 nos
La Maria is an afternoon practica on Saturdays.
On day four I received my first nos at La Maria. Three nos to be exact.
I was glad about the first “no” because I didn’t want men to be saying yes to me out of obligation or pity. His no proved that a man could say no. The Challenge is now real. Of course I had gotten “no” many times in the past! I wasn’t surprised because this guy seemed to be one of the high-level dancers who barely danced at all–he only dances with a chosen few.
The second “no” came from a guy who appeared to be a foreigner. I was surprised he said no, because usually foreigners, who don’t have automatic dance partners, are happy to be asked.
At first I felt energized and happy with the “nos,” because I knew this project really hadn’t gotten started until I got a “no.” The “nos” felt good because I survived them, and then went on to ask other men to dance who said yes. This Challenge is for sure about building resilience, just as men have to suffer nos, why shouldn’t I? Doesn’t that make me a stronger, less delicate flower?
I danced a milonga tanda with a Brazilian who ran a tango school in Porto Alegre, and a German man who had been dancing tango in Buenos Aires since the 80s. That’s really something. Tango was coming out of obscurity after the dictatorships in the 80s.
I’m dancing better because I am dancing more. On average I have been dancing 7-10 tandas since I started this Challenge, compared to the 2-3 tandas per milonga I was dancing before. Going out with the intention of asking men to dance has definitely generated far more tandas. It’s also made me feel more in control of my afternoon or night. I identify men I want to dance with and scheme about how I will ask them rather than sitting in a chair, eyeing men, fruitfully or not.
I must admit after two “nos” I felt tired. Three “nos” may be the limit of what my ego can take.
Happily though I had four yesses, plus the three men who invited me without any work on my part.
I call Day Four a continued success.
Here’s a spontaneous little video I recorded sitting on a stoop on the street after leaving La Maria.
Day 5: Another rest day!
Wow, this asking men to dance thing is intense! I’m taking another rest day.
Day 6: Tango in Tigre
I wasn’t able to go to a milonga because I went to to this Tango in Tigre Day Trip to check it out as an option for Solo Chicas who come on our Tango Adventures. The day was marvellous: maravilloso! Beautiful people, home-made food by Hugo Satorre, a world-known bandoneonist, yoga, swimming, kayak, and a bit of tango to live music on the pier before we took the boat back to Tigre. Tigre is a small city with a river community just outside Buenos Aires. It’s the easiest place to get a nature fix on a day trip.
On the way back Sole Viladrich, another woman who had come on the day trip, and I discovered that we had massive amounts in common. Sole just released her documentary “Esto No Es El Tango: El Abrazo Dissidente” all about women, queer people, trans people, and other rule-breakers challenging rigid notions of tango.
We talked about the distinct challenge of asking men to dance in traditional milongas such as Cachirulo, which are run by a kind of ten commandments of tango. You can read more about the ultra-traditional Cachirulo in this New York Times piece “A Caricature of the Patriarchy: Argentine Feminists Remake Tango”. Sole said that she had seen a woman denunciado (denounced) in Cachirulo for asking men to dance. Wow. It will be a dare on a whole other level to break the codes in a traditional milonga.
Day 7: January 7, 2020
Oh my god, what was I thinking? 31 days in a row? Over the last couple of years I usually only go out twice a week! It was a night of rest to prepare for Day 8.
Day 8: January 8, 2020
Milonga: Maldita Milonga with Orchestra Affronte, an afternoon practica 4-8
Results: 1 ask, 1 yes
A night out with Sue Aikens and Wanda Abramor, Tango Fairygodmother in the Tango Adventure buenos airs
I asked one man to dance, a total stranger, and he said yes. No drama whatsoever.
Day 9: January 9, 2020
Milonga: De Querusa
Results: 2 asks, 2 nos
Officially both of my verbal invitations were refused by foreign dancers. That would be two nos.
However, from the moment I arrived I interacted in friendly, easy ways with men I have been dancing with recently, which resulted in three rather magical rapid-fire tandas that left me feeling like a dancing queen.
I’m starting to feel verbally asking men to dance is not hard. The sting of the no is not bothering me as much. However, it still holds true that I can only tolerate two nos. Any more than two nos starts to feel like a downer.
I’m also reaping the benefits of going out more often. It’s definitely true that it’s easier to get dances when you are going out to dance regularly in the tango scene. Frequency is rewarded.
Day 24: De Querusa and Canning
Results: 4 asks, 4 yesses (3 at De Querusa, 1 at Canning)
Well, we can see there is a large gap here between Days 9 and 24.
I really must laugh at my ambition Day 1 of going out every night. What delusional New Year’s energy!
Actually I have gone out to dance six times in the last two weeks but I didn’t focus on asking men to dance. We had clients with us for Tango Adventures, so when I went out to meet them, my attention was more on supporting those women than on asking men to dance.
That said, at at least one time in one of those milongas I did invite a man to dance verbally. He said yes.
The other nights quite frankly I was tired. Since this is not a normal behavior for me, and I’m breaking gender codes, let’s face it: Asking men to dance requires a lot of energy. First, I have to pick out a man to invite, then I need to screw up my courage to break gender codes and face the risk of rejection–well, it’s a lot. I’ve learned that my energy needs to be good to ask men to dance! I expect and accept there will be plenty of milongas when I simply don’t feel the strength. I’m trying to not beat myself up when my shy nights happen. When I have energy, I invite!
Last night I went back to De Querusa, a moderately friendly milonga where I have some nice regular partners.
I invited two men heavy miradas with a slight dash of an head nod (slightly cabeceo-like toward two men, somewhat regular partners, or at least men I had danced with before). Both resulted in dances.
I made one verbal invitation to a French beginner. I asked him “Bailas?” and he didn’t know what that meant, which resulted in an awkward exchange in English, and then a lovely dance.
Then at Canning, I used a delicate tap on the back and a head nod toward the floor with a man where I know for sure we enjoy dancing with each other–our musical sensitivities and embrace are compatible.
The Challenge helped me to initiate the dance quickly because I knew I wanted to go to bed by 2 am. Tapping him on the back was much better than sitting there passively waiting for him to invite me. We might not have danced because I turn into a pumpkin before many other tangueros.
Day 25: January 25, 2020
Milongas: La Maria and La Carretta
Results: 4 asks, 3 yesses, 1 no
At the afternoon practica La Maria I asked two men to dance. Both said yes.
The second man was someone that I danced with many times in the past but we have not danced in about 9 months.
Well, I was sitting there bored, not dancing, and neither was he, so I decided to ask him to dance because of the Challenge. I had already been acting friendlier to him and kissed him on the cheek when I arrived. I sidled up to him at the bar and asked “Queres bailar?” He either didn’t understand me or possibly he needed to be the one to ask “Queres bailar?” Again, sometimes I get the feeling that the men need to feel they are the inviter, even if I already invited them. Or maybe I mumble?
Did he want to dance with me or was he saying yes out of obligation? A number of women have asked me this question since I started the Challenge. Many women fear dancing with someone who doesn’t really want to dance with them–as if that would be unpleasant or even humiliating. I say most men I invite are happy to dance with me when I ask.
With this particular guy… I’m not so sure. I didn’t feel him inject his full heart and soul in the dance, but I don’t think he’s my ideal dance parter anyway. He’s a little machista, at least in tango classes. I like the more sensitive, open-minded, kind and egalitarian men. But that’s OK. We can do a tanda together when I don’t have anyone else to dance with. Ha! See how I flipped that around? It’s about what I prefer, not him.
I went on to a late-night milonga La Carreta after dinner with a new tango friend.
I asked two men who were sitting next to me on the couch. A man of Asian origin dressed in elegant wide-legged dark pants and a white shirt seemed disoriented that I invited him. He said, “No,” and looked away confused.
The second was an Argentine sitting to my left, also elegantly dressed–a serious tanguero. I asked on the third song of the tanda. He said “dale.” (OK.) We danced a lovely two songs.
I left happy to go to bed at 1:15 am.
TOTALS from the 31-Day of Asking Men to Dance Challenge, Buenos Aires Tango, January 2020
Total Asks: 29. I asked 29 men to dance in a month!!!!
Total Nos: 6 men said NO!
Total Yesses 23 said YES!!!
Pretty good ratio, right? Over 79% said yes!
The data says it pays to ask men to dance.
Postscript: This Challenge was an experiment in new-habit-formation as well as building courage and resilience. During this month, the new habit of inviting men to dance becomes integrated and less dramatic to practice. Did it stick in February? Sort of. I would say inviting men to dance in February met with less resistance in me than December but it wasn’t as easy as in January when I was in full swing. I think this Challenge may become an annual thing.
Want to come away to Buenos Aires and learn how to invite men to dance, or to attract invitations to dance? Come away with Sasha’s Tango Adventure program for a 7-Day community-based, transformative dance immersion vacation in Buenos Aires and you will learn that and way more. Solo Chica means this program is designed to make it easy for you to come as a woman alone. Solo Chico Adventures for men are available.
For the second installment of my IdeaChat series, I spoke with Helen LaVikinga, an accomplished Icelandic tango dancer who lives and teaches tango in Buenos Aires. Helen leads and follows (check out her performance in San Francisco this month) and she designs comfortable and elegant shoes. Helen is straight and she was one of the first to organize Queer Tango milongas in Buenos Aires. It’s more common for women to lead and men to follow in San Francisco and Northern Europe than in Buenos Aires where tradition and a sometimes-annoying and sometimes-delicious machismo holds sway. We talked about the growing popularity of Queer Tango worldwide, which could equally be called open-roles tango since it’s not so much about sexuality as it is about openness toward mixing up the roles. We spoke at the San Francisco International Queer Tango Festival, 2011. Helen has an extra-sexy voice because she was recovering from a cold.
Among the highlights:
–advice every foreign woman should bear in mind when she comes to Buenos Aires with hopes of tango bliss
–why women dancers should say no to dance offers from men more often (the men would be forced to learn more, for one)
–why more women are taking up leading worldwide and getting into open-roles tango
–why tango is both cruel and wonderful
Tango is theater, and we must play a role if we want to dance–glowing with confidence. This is how the maestro Graciela Gonzalez began a women’s technique workshop that I attended in Buenos Aires.
Sometimes we women in tango feel like goddesses, she said, and sometimes we feel invisible. Often Gonzalez said we are responsible for our own invisibility, emanating negative energy when we are not feeling confident, not comfortable. The men can sense it. They don’t ask slouchy women to dance. And so it goes. Tango is always a reflection of how you are feeling; people will want to dance cheek to cheek with people who are glowing.
Mostly, tango brings me bliss, if not bafflement at how I could be so obsessed with a dance. Lately, I have been absolutely addicted in a way that I have never been addicted to any other activity. Since coming back to San Francisco I have gone to a class or milonga almost every day, and for my two months in Buenos Aires, I lived and breathed tango in such an obsessive and ultimately beautiful way. The journey has been something of utter beauty: finding new connections to myself, my partners, the floor, and to passion itself.
Tango is setting a new standard in my life for excellence. I was never quite so into anything else–not writing or yoga. Writing is more complicated, more solitary, perhaps more necessary, but not as pleasurable. Tango makes me happier. It must be all the endorphins. So many older female tango dancers look so young. If I can lose myself in anything else, like singing, or cooking, half as much as I lose myself in tango, I will live out the rest of my days a happy person. It’s not just me, this is what tango does to people. My friend Griet wants to do a photo essay of the blissful expressions on people’s faces while they are dancing in Buenos Aires milongas. They are delicious.
But there is always a flip side, isn’t there? And that’s part of what makes tango so interesting. How people are willing to suffer for it. Learning tango is notoriously painful. I look back at videos of my first weeks learning when I was in Cali, and launch. I look like I am walking as if I am a Frankenstein dressed up for Halloween. Tango asks us to relearn how to walk; experienced dancers in Buenos Aires told me it takes five years to learn the tango walk. It’s that subtle.
In the beginning you can imagine the heavy plodding, the doubtful, hesitating way we try to reinvent walking. I remember in one class I forgot to tango-walk and just started walking normally and the teacher said, Yes, do that!!! My normal walk was so much closer to tango than my weird first-weeks-of-tango walk. Especially for leaders, the first two years require discipline and endurance.
I danced with a lovely man in his late 40s in Buenos Aires who told me he didn’t start to enjoy the dance until he had danced two years. The level of deliberation and sheer anxiety was too much, but then at two years, the bliss kicked in, and he was hooked. He got an invitation to go to the south of Brazil for 10 days, but he couldn’t go. Why? There would be no tango. He didn’t want to go more than three days without tango. Another Scottish couple planned two weeks of travel in Argentina during their six weeks in Buenos Aires, but cut it short after a week. Again, there was no tango.
My tortured-until-two-years in friend and I had that conversation at Gricel, a warm candyland of a milonga with a beautiful pin flourescent sign warmly illuminating the dance floor. But the otherwise friendly scene at Gricel sent me outside to cry once early in my time in Buenos Aires. I was in my first three weeks in Buenos Aires and another dancer who was good but not great had given me five points of “feedback” during a dance. That’s not appropriate at a milonga. I considered cutting off the tanda, but didn’t. I hate that feeling of continuing to share myself with someone I don’t trust.
I went back to my table of Norwegian and Swiss dancers unable to hide feeling overwhelmed by his “feedback.” They immediately understood. All women feel it, and as I learned later from talking to male friends, men get it from women too. Women can be just as “helpful” as men. Too much feedback at a milonga. Any is inappropriate in a social setting.
So that sent us outside for a teary heartfelt discussion about what we suffer for tango. Solveigh, a beautiful and hip Norwegian woman who is 64 for looks 50, told me she started tango at 60. When she started learning in Bergen, all her dance partners were much younger. She felt out of place and insecure. She drove hours for milongas and then drove home feeling demoralized. But it was all worth it for the moments of high bliss. She told me, “Don`t ever give it up, if you have a heart for the dance and the music it will give you so much pleasure in the future.” Life as a tango dancer is a tangonovela.
Later in Buenos Aires my friend Griet and I had a fascinating conversation with three Romanians who had come to dance. They were just as obsessed as we are, if not more, and had been dancing for two and five years, respectively. We went around the table and talked about what had drawn us to tango, and what kept us. I talked about the floating feeling that I get from some dances, the feeling of floating above reality, and that blissful sensation keeps me from coming back. And the fact that tango is sensual without being sexual, a chance to enjoy the body without have sex.
Simona recast my reason as “forgetting” and said that it’s basically the same for her. Dancing tango is a way of leaving behind reality and existing in another world. The music is so powerful at times I get tingles and can barely even dance. (There have been some hilarious moments when I felt like I was too excited to dance and couldn’t dance well as a result. That is more likely to happen when there is a live orchestra.)
Another Romanian guy told us about how salsa—and then tango–helped him to climb out of a limitless hole of depression. His friend wants to be excellent at tango and is motivated to be an above-average dancer. She loves traveling to tango festivals, and the drive to be better keeps her going.
Griet talked about tango being a chance to give and receive love. That idea came into closer focus for us during the last week of our time in Buenos Aires. When a dance wasn’t going well or we were not excited about dancing with someone, we just focused on giving love. Somehow the choice to love your partner can make a not-great dance a little better. One of our first teachers in Colombia talked about the issue of love in tango a lot. Buenos Aires teachers didn’t talk about love quite as much. They were more focused on technique.
Love is essential, that’s the missing piece. I may have a technically beautiful dance but without a heart connection it feels a little empty. It’s really about the connection, which is definitely what first captivated me when I saw a couple dancing tango for the first time in Cali, Colombia. I thought, this is something else. This is mindfulness, two people attuned to each other on a level that I had never seen in salsa or in any other dance. Tango demands complete awareness to feed that connection and keep it alive. That is what keeps me coming back.
Hi! I’m Sasha
Executive and Life Coach on a mission to help women connect with their bodies to live their best lives + do their best work. Author: of Quirkyalone + To-Do List. Forthcoming: WET.
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Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult favorite Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Her work as an author, life coach for women and entrepreneur has been featured everywhere from NPR and the New York Times to CNN and Vogue.
In her well-loved newsletter going to thousands of women and men who identify with "quirkyalone," Sasha is the voice for people who don't want to settle--in any area of life.
In her coaching practice, Sasha helps smart, successful women (and sensitive, self-aware men) get clear on what they really want and then to achieve their goals while always helping her clients focus on core issues such as self-worth.