la glorieta milonga buenos aires tango

January 1, 2020: Night One of the Experiment at La Glorieta. Photo: fellow tanguera Geneviève Allard

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.

Now what’s the big deal with asking men to dance? We do live in the 21st century and I’m in my forties, not junior high school! There is a brewing feminist movement in tango (the Movimiento Feminista de Tango). 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. It’s still not easy for me to ask a man to dance in Buenos Aires if he isn’t already a friend or someone I have danced with many times. The codes in tango still send a strong message that men invite, and women wait to be invited.

Deep down for me, and I suspect for many women, there is a feeling that we are more attractive if we are invited rather than actively inviting the men. It’s the same old Cinderella complex, waiting for a man to come, wake you from a passive slumber to validate you. In fact, many 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 a man that he didn’t want women to ask him to dance because he felt that would be taking away the last clear domain of power that men had. Whatever.

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. I can tell you last year I got plenty of yesses and nos. The yesses made the nos worth it because the dances that came along with the yesses were often quite good–and I truly don’t think I would have danced with those men if I hadn’t invited them. There is also a power in knowing I can be rejected and survive the no. In a way, that’s freedom.

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. Let’s see. That’s an intense goal since I am also working mightily to complete a memoir that I started in 2012 (!!!!) but I’m thinking all this dancing will be good for my writing-brain power because we need a balance of mental and physical activity to stay creative.

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 One: January 1, 2020 

Milonga: La Glorieta, an outdoor gazebo in Belgrano where people gather to dance nightly.

Me and one of my targets! He said yes. 😉

Results: Spectacular. 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.

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 strategy was often to wait until one song had passed in the four-song tanda. Waiting gave me more confidence and made me feel less like I was attacking them. I realize it feels better to let go of this need to feel desired in my experiment because my stronger need is to dance and feel empowered. 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.

I asked one man to dance whom I have often danced with. He seemed a bit taken aback that I was the one asking. At first I almost thought he wanted to play it hysterico (hot and cold) and decline my invitation because he was used to approaching me but then all was good and we danced a lovely tanda.

All of the other guys seemed quite fine with invitation. “Dale,” or “Dale si” is what most of them said.

There was one man that I tried to invite with my eyes using my mirada, who I thought met my eyes but then he walked past me. He seemed to have made eye contact with another woman standing behind me. That was OK because well, you win some and you lose some. Overall this experiment started off with winning way more than usual lately.

That was a wrap for night one!

Day Two: January 2, 2020

I was planning to go to De Querusa but with all the hubbub of the New Year and the grand start of this project I am feeling too tired. I need to rest! I’ll stay in tonight to watch Outlander. I’ll make up for it tomorrow by asking EXTRA men to dance.

Day Three: January 3, 2020 

Milonga: Cheek to Cheek, an afternoon milonga

 

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 dancers. I danced with the organizer and I feared that it was a pity tanda because I had been sitting there in planchar mode for over an hour. Planchar is the Argentine verb meaning “to iron.” In tango language, to planchar means sitting for hours, frustrated, not dancing.

So how did it go? I entered the milonga and saw a familiar face of a sweet guy from La Plata. La Plata is about an hour south of Buenos Aires. The dancers from La Plata are often good (and passionate, they drive a long time to get to the milonga). I greeted him with a kiss on the cheek which is probably not what I would have done if it were not for the 31 Days of Asking Men to Dance Challenge. This whole challenge of 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 more friendly and warm with the kiss paved the way for the invitation. I can’t claim I invited him, but I do think I helped make the invitation happen by being friendlier than I often am. (Not because I don’t want to be friendly, but I can be kind of shy and inward! Especially if I am feeling insecure.)

My first dance. I didn’t ask him but I may have made it happen by being friendly.

What happened after? My friend Jorge showed up. Jorge is a taxi dancer in the Solo Chica Tango Adventure so he’s part of our team. If you come along on a Solo Chica Tango Adventure you might dance with him too. (You can read Jorge’s bio here.) I can’t claim to have gone out of my comfort zone to invite him either since we have danced many times, but I can say, I asked him “Bailas?” at exactly the same time he said to me, “Bailamos.” It seems like “Bailamos” (“Let’s dance”) is a much more normal thing to say to a friend and “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) and not words.

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. He doesn’t count in the Challenge but his presence boosted my confidence.

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. We didn’t wind up dating. It can be kind of awkward to see someone that you don’t wind up dating at the milonga. I felt he ignored me for the last year when we saw each other at milongas. Maybe he thought I ignored him? Who knows? 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’m only on day three, which is technically day two. I am getting more and better tandas than I would have been dancing otherwise. Going into 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 have only asked 9 men so far! What’s going to happen at a traditional milonga when I ask a man? I don’t know.

I am quite pleased with the experiment so far. I am feeling less shy and more outgoing in general.

Day Four: January 4, 2020 

Practica: La Maria, an afternoon practica

La Maria is an afternoon practica on Saturdays where I have been going to dance over the last month based on the recommendation from a tango friend who told me the level was better than the DNI practica, which I have had a love-hate relationship with for years. Overall I’ve had a good time at La Maria and have been happy with the switch in my Saturday afternoon tango routine but I’ve certainly faced frustrating moments of feeling ignored there too.

On day four I received my first nos at La Maria. Three nos to be exact, or 2.5, if you count the last guy who told me “No, not this tanda because it’s D’Arrienzo” (too fast) but we can do another tango tanda. I am not sure if that should be called a full no but he didn’t ask me to dance for the last one, and I wasn’t going to ask again because I felt that would be a little bit pathetic, so for the purposes of this study I will call his a no. (However I did chat with him about how and why we got into tango. I may have planted the seeds for a future tanda.)

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. Of course I knew that was true because 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 few chosen few. The second “no” came from a guy who appeared to be a foreigner. I was surprised he said no, because usually foreigners are happy to be asked–they don’t have automatic dance partners. He wound up standing a long time in a corner so maybe he also wasn’t in a dancing mood, who knows?

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.” There would be no reality to the challenge without “nos” because that would have meant I was only asking foreigners or men I already knew. In fact, I had asked total strangers but this time I asked high-level strangers. The “nos” felt good because I survived them, and then went on to ask other men to dance who said yes. 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 feel myself 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 destiny. I am more concerned with identifying men I want to dance with and scheming about how I will ask them rather than sitting in a chair, eyeing men, fruitfully or not, which had gotten awfully boring and depressing after a while.

I must admit after two “nos” I felt tired. I almost invited a man that I have danced with a couple times, but who is a bit inconsistent in his desire to dance with me, I didn’t have much left in the way of strength to take another no. 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 Five: Another rest day!
Wow, this asking men to dance thing is intense! I’m taking another rest day because I need a break, and because tomorrow morning I will get up early to go on a day trip to Tigre, a river community an hour outside of Buenos Aires. The excursion will include tango so I will be sure to ask a man to dance. Stay tuned for the pictures. These will be lovely and different: tango in nature is the best.

Day Six: Tango in Tigre
Tango in Tigre (a river community just 40 minutes outside of Buenos Aires, and the easiest place to go to get a nature fix from this megalopolis) has been a dream of mine for a long time. I used to have a vision of organizing my own Tango in Tigre events. Now I am just enjoying going to them as a guest since I am so busy with finishing my memoir, the Tango Adventure, and my clients. I came 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.

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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

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So did I ask any men to dance? Well, no, because the only man to ask was married and he was glued to the hip of his spouse so I didn’t want to rock the boat too hard. However, on the way back in the boat, 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. I told her about my Challenge and how very happy I was to get my first NOs at La Maria on Day 4. In the end, this is all about building resilience and it wouldn’t be real if men only said yes. Of course men have the right to say no too! Anyone does.

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. I know I will have to try it this month, and I’m scared! I might call Sole to come and film my attempts.

On a related note, Sole knew all about me as the first woman to marry myself in Argentina! That was funny to hear: her young feminist friends had been asking, “Why don’t we do that too?” because of this story by Jason Mayne in TeleNoche about my self-marriage ceremony in the Japanese Gardens in April 2019. You never know the impact of your actions!

The women are rising in Argentina.

Onward.

Day Seven: 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 Eight: January 8, 2020

Milonga: Maldita Milonga with Orchestra Affronte, an afternoon practica 4-8 

A night out with Sue Aikens and Wanda Abramor, Tango Fairygodmother in the Tango Adventure buenos airs

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! More on that in a separate post.

I asked one man to dance, a total stranger, and he said yes. No drama whatsoever.

Day Nine: January 9, 2020 

Milonga: De Querusa 

I went out on a whim because I craved the embrace. I often feel I will sleep better if I dance tango. Better sleep was my motivation on Day 9. It worked. I went to bed more pleasurably tired than if I had been watching Netflix all night.

Officially both of my verbal invitations were refused by awkward 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 sweaty, popular dancing queen.

I’m starting to feel like 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 that 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 a regular in the tango scene.

I simply feel happier in the milonga now because I feel less powerless. Even if I get a no, I feel like I have more power to decide who I want to dance with. Let’s see if that feeling of power continues.