(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.
There is a brewing feminist movement in tango (the Movimiento Feminista de Tango) to empower women to lead and to make tango work for them. I have written an essay “How Can You Be a Feminist and Like Tango?”. I’ve taught my Tango Goddess workshops to help women feel more empowered at the milonga and in their everyday lives as they pussywalk down the street.
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.
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.
Day 3: January 3, 2020
Milonga: Cheek to Cheek, an afternoon milonga
Results: 2 asks, 2 yesses
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Today’s Afternoon milonga Cheek to Cheek and the site of Day 3 of Sasha’s 2020 Challenge 31 Days of Asking Men to Dance. Go to Sasha’s blog to see how it’s going inviting men to dance at sashacagen.com #tango #women #men #gender #genero #codes #breakingcodes #feminism #dancing #fun
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.
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).
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.
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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.
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Day 6 of my 31-Day Challenge of Asking Men to Dance was spent in Tigre with these beautiful people. I came to check out this day trip for our Solo Chicas. I give it a yes! Hugo Satorre a world-known bandoneonist played for us and cooked us amazing food (gluten-free with care for celiac me). Check the blog post for more than on the asking men to dance report and for the amazing coincidence of the day: meeting @soleviladrich a young feminist who recently co-created a documentary Esto No Es El Tango: El Abrazo Dissidente on all the ways women, queer people and rule breakers are challenging rigid definitions of tango. Perfect timing on Day 6 of the Challenge. It’s great when the universe brings together like-minded people on a mission. She and her friends had even talked about me as the first woman to marry myself in Argentina-a whole other feminist story. Solidarity! #tango #feminism #friends #tigre #bandoneon #dance #nature #amor
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 Wanda, our magical Tango Fairygodmother for the Solo Chica Tango Adventure, and Sue Aikens, star of the National Geographic show Life Below Zero, who is here with us for a Tango Adventure! That’s a whole other amazing story.
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.