Tango Argentino > Not touchy feely

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by Tango Distance, Mar 5, 2015.

  1. Tango Distance

    Tango Distance Active Member

    Short story: I have enjoyed learning Tango, and it is great to see my wife and the other ladies look so happy, except that I'm uncomfortable being that close with women other than my wife. Any advice for me?

    Here's the longer story: I think I'm a mostly normal person: Married, kids, friends, family, well educated, good job, skiing, mountain biking, go to church, give technical lectures, help coach a high school team, etc. I'm not shy about talking to people, or afraid of taking some risks (like a black diamond ski run). I guess my one oddity is I'm a personal space kind of guy. Shaking hands is fine, hugging I avoid (except with my wonderful spouse). As you might surmise, for me a separated stance (or whatever it's called) is halfway to a hug and beyond my comfort zone.

    After years of marriage my wife and I took a ballroom dancing class. People only danced with the partner they brought to class, no switching partners. I thought that was how more formal dance worked, and that worked for me! We enjoyed it enough we decided we wanted to do another dance class, Tango this time. In the first class, after a very short amount of time, the instructor announced “switch partners!” My wife moved off and abandoned me! The easiest road seemed to grin and bear it, so I did. How long could 50 minutes be? The next half hour was among the longest days of my life, switching between about 10 women. It was less painful the last 20 minutes of class, so I guess I might not be completely hopeless. My wife didn't like that a shortage of men left her without a partner 1/2 the time, so the next few lessons she did not rotate. That was great by me! The instructors got some men from a more advanced class to help even the numbers, she asked me if I wanted to switch. I said “no,” of course, but she suddenly abandoned me again! I am now a veteran of dancing with strangers in class for over an hour, and it is still not really in my comfort zone.

    Now she wants to go to a Milonga in two days! The class is hard enough, but at least the switching partners is structured and you don't spend very long with any given person.

    Here are some by-the-ways:

    o I don't know what it is called, but this studio does the “apart” dancing (about 1/2 arm's length apart). I'd probably run out of the studio screaming if it was torso-to-torso dancing! OK, I exaggerate, but only about the screaming part!
    o We are about 6 lessons into a 12 lesson class.
    o The ladies have been very polite and complimentary
    o imho I have been doing reasonably well for a beginner
    o I try to hide my discomfort, and in the class it fits with being a newby, but maybe it's different at a Milonga.
    o I live in the Western United States.
    o I don't think it is a jealousy thing (if anything, that would go the other way as women outnumber men)

    My dear wife is aware of my discomfort. She says she is proud of me for pushing through it in the class. She also says things like I should like dancing with so many beautiful women, but that misses the point of my discomfort. She also said she thought I would enjoy dancing with different women at the Milonga, shortly after she said she was aware I was uncomfortable dancing with other women! I'm still trying to decode that one!

    Our instructors strongly encourage switching partners. I am aware you learn more and learn faster by switching partners.

    So any wisdom for me? I can think of several options:

    Do people ever dance with the same person the whole night at a Milonga? If no, what is the maximum amount of dancing with one's spouse? Is there a “spouse tradition,” like doing the first and/or last dances with your spouse?

    What about just observing and not dancing? That might help my comfort level. Any tips on how to be a wallflower?

    Maybe I should stick to the class' structured switching partners thing and skip a Milonga this soon into the dance personal space thing and being a Tango newb?

    Tell my spouse to go by herself?

    Is there a dance that has more personal space or doesn't switch partners? Maybe Tango and I are fundamentally incompatible.

    Am I the only one with this issue?

    Anyway, believe it or not I am finding Tango itself (with my spouse) to be fun, and FWIW to be more fun than the ballroom dances. The instructors and the other people in the class are great, too.
  2. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Yes: persevere, and you'll get used to it. It's perfectly OK, unless the self-appointed tango police are patrolling, to dance in an open embrace and many prefer to.

    It's perfectly OK not to mix with other dancers at a milonga. In some very traditional settings, the very fact that you arrive together and sit together means everyone else will leave you alone anyway, and no one has to dance with anyone at a milonga unless they want to. So dance (together) as much as you want, and watch for the rest of the time, enjoying the dancing and the music.
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  3. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    It is actually traditional to only dance with your partner if you "officially" arrive together - to some extent there are two different events happening in the same space: People without a partner mingling and dancing together, and couples being on a date and dancing and sitting with each other. In most modern places the separation between these two groups is not that rigid anymore, but the baseline culture is still in place - nobody will be surprised if you don't dance with anybody else. The only problem that you might encounter is that nobody will dance with your partner either - if you establish that you are there as a couple very few people will break that boundary, and the ones who do are usually not the most experiences dancers. If she is on board with that everything will be fine. If not things are a bit more complicated: Depending on the milonga you probably are going to need to have a few people from class/you know from somewhere else dance with her before other people will attempt to cross this boundary that you have established, and you might get a few cases where they will ask you for permission to do so as you are part of the couple that the leader is going to break up by asking her.

    There are a lot of other dances where you don't have to be close - but if your goal is to go to a dance and not be asked to dance and play planchadora the whole night tango is probably the best choice (as all tango dancers will tell you from personal experience ;) )
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2015
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  4. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    [deleted - this was a editing mess-up]
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2015
  5. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    You're pretty new at this, so give it time. It's perfectly ok to go to the milonga and only dance with your wife, but you miss out by not dancing with more experienced dancers--you could learn something from them. What if you go the first time and only dance with her, then maybe make a goal for the next time to dance with one other lady? In class, it is absolutely beneficial for both of you to dance with others.

    It's really all in your attitude, and I preach that a lot. The more you say "I'm not a touchy feely person and I'm not comfortable with this," the harder it will be for you to get over it. Tell yourself it's just dancing, there's nothing weird about touching another person this way, and give yourself some time, and you'll get over it faster.
  6. DerekWeb

    DerekWeb Well-Known Member

    It takes much longer for a leader to seem "competent" than a follower, based on the newly learned responsibilities. Your wife may or may not want to dance with you alone until you get more competent. My wife did that, but I know it was a sacrifice for her because experienced leaders can make a newish follower look and feel good. So I plead guilty to being a bit selfish at the time, but without her indulgence I may have given up. Looking back, I think I could have been more flexible in my attitude and maybe would have learned more quickly, but OTOH, I may have dropped out.

    I am speaking of social dances or milongas. In class rotate. There is no substitute in learning.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2015
  7. Mr 4 styles

    Mr 4 styles Well-Known Member

    Consider this an opportunity to widen your horizon and narrow your dance frame
  8. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Not to minimize your concerns, TD, but couldn't help but think of this thread when I read this.

    I grew up with a background similar to ours, I'll bet. Yes, it took a long time to become comfortable with touching other people, and being touched. Of course, back then there wasn't much in the way of "touch dancing." I think going through a divorce helped me, but I don't recommend that approach.

    In general Americans have more of an issue with personal space than other cultures. On my one trip to Buenos Aires I was hugged and "kissed on the cheek" by several women I met. I can't think of any such thing happening in the US.

    If you go to a milonga you could only dance with your wife. In the US I'm not sure how many traditional milongas there are, so it's possible that you would be asked to dance. (Like maybe when your wife is on the floor, or in the ladies room.) Personally, I hold the you should know what you're doing before going to a milonga view, but then a woman shouldn't ask if it's traditional, but...

    I think you can consider it a gentle nudge to move you in the direction she wants you to go.
    Like, maybe because you two are married, she pretty much wants to do this WITH you, not on her own? Just a thought.

    And then there's this.
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  9. koinzell

    koinzell Active Member

    This is most likely the case. If you are genuinely interested in tango, you would be doing everything you can to better yourself. You don't seem interested enough to google the terminology (i.e. open vs closed embrace) or milonga etiquette. You've taken 6 classes and haven't been to a milonga. Go to the milonga then decide if you want to quit. I know many dancers with spouses who don't dance. If your wife enjoys tango, don't hold her back.
  10. RiseNFall

    RiseNFall Well-Known Member

    :eek::eek::eek: Tango Distance, I hope you'll ignore the above post.

    A lot of guys are initially uncomfortable with dancing with women other than their wives; they gradually become more comfortable...or comfortable enough to get through the rotations in a class. I hadn't responded before because I'm not a tango dancer, but I've seen it in other classes. My general recommendation--for myself and others--is to push yourself past your current limits, but gently, like a stretch. And I agree with the post above that you need to gradually define yourself differently.
  11. Lilly_of_the_valley

    Lilly_of_the_valley Well-Known Member

    If you don't enjoy proximity of people other than your wife, and won't learn to get pleasure out of it, then yes, tango may not be the dance for you. I would not discourage you from trying though. It may grow on you, who knows.
  12. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    Haha, cool story bro. You're doing fine. Most spouses are not supportive at all, they will say "When the teacher leads me I can do the routine effortlessly, how is it you can't?". Any male beginner has this one-year-and-a-half "beginner hell", for you it will be doubled hell because you're spoused, but it's just a matter of time, don't try to force matters. In two years you'll feel ok.
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  13. Tango Distance

    Tango Distance Active Member

    I am impressed at getting this many helpful responses this quickly, many thanks.

    Thank you ukdancer, Gssh, twnklotz, DerekWeb, Steve Pastor, RiseNFall, Lilly_of_the_Valley, and newbie. I definitely feel less stressed about going to my first Milonga now. I had feared it would be like the class where there the instructor encourages people to switch partners every 2 or 3 minutes -- I thought there might be a peer pressure culture to do that for each Tanda at the Milonga, too. I'm glad to hear it sounds more laid back and that I can float to my comfort level.

    Gssh: Planchadora? I see it means ironing board for pants. Does that mean I lean against the wall? Have moves as stiff as a board? My pants don't get creased because I'm not dancing? Any of those made me smile, fun to learn some slang.

    Your points are valid even if based on false assumptions (or maybe just some hyperbole).

    Nope, not going to do "everything" I can to better myself... But every week 1 hour of class, 1 hour of practice at the studio, about another hour of practice at home, listening to Tango music, watching Tango youtubes, paying 100's of dollars for lessons... I realize that was just hyperbole, do you think it should have more commitment than that?

    My question list was 3 times as long, I answered 2/3 of my own questions by googling on Milonga etiquette and reading hours of posts here at DF. For closed vs. open embrace, guilty as charged. Thanks for educating me.

    I'm going to read between the lines here and assume you mean I should have been to a Milonga sooner than class number 6? I don't live in Los Angeles! For instance, in my ballroom class, a student asked the instructor where to dance. She said there wasn't really anything locally, you'd have to take to do ballroom dancing by taking classes. Milongas are held about once a month here.

    I wasn't sure, but thanks to the kind replies here I'm planning to go.

    I can see how you might get that vibe from what I wrote. I realize my discomfort is a downer for her, and possibly also for other females in the class. I really do try to hide it. FWIW, she wants to switch partners, so we have done that. She dances with other men if work makes me late for the practice sessions. She practiced dancing with other men for 1/2 hour after the last class (I was more comfortable going to another room and watching another class.) If she wants to dance with others at the Milonga I won't stop her. (Although I have decided I won't dance with other women that night... Got to start small...)
  14. Tango Distance

    Tango Distance Active Member

    Time for a bit of philosophizing!

    My wife seems to truly enjoy this, perhaps the most of any social activity we have done. This is a big motivator for me. It is a bonus that the dance part with her is fun for me.

    It looks like there are far more women than men in Tango (at least in my studio's class). Maybe some of my issues are shared with the men not involved. Here are a couple of things that help me:

    Realizing a hug (and presumably also true for a dance) is not just a gift for my benefit only, but the giver of the hug also gets pleasure from the act of giving. In other words, it's not all just about me and my discomfort. I also realize words are not enough for some people to feel truly thanked or loved, they need a hug for that.

    Wearing long sleeves: Less skin touch was helpful for me.

    Maybe this has not been the right direction to go, and maybe this dance thing will help in in the long run, but I have kind of a contra experience. For most of my life I just tolerated hugs and tried to avoid them and make them short when unavoidable. The last few years if a hug looks imminent I have started putting my handshake hand out right away, and just saying bluntly "I don't like hugging" or "I'm not a huggy kind of guy." To my surprise, no one has reacted negatively and they respect that by shaking my hand even if there is a flurry of hugs amongst everyone else. It makes church and visiting the neighbors easier. I have stopped short of that with my inlaws and family and tolerate the hugs. The inlaws say they are "determined to make a good hugger out of me."
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2015
  15. rain_dog

    rain_dog Active Member

    In my opinion, 6 classes aren't nearly enough to be ready for a milonga, although depending on the floor conditions and the average level of dancers in your area, you might survive. Maybe. Probably not.

    That said, you should go, and keep your expectations low. You'll figure out pretty quickly if you're ready to give it a try, and if not, you can just watch and enjoy the music.
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  16. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Yes, slang, based loosely on the original meaning:

    (to iron): Expression for when a woman spends the night at a milonga without getting any dance.
    PLANCHADORA (ironer): Woman not invited to dance because she does not dance well, is unknown at the milonga or is rude to men.

    Benzecry Saba, Gustavo (2010-08-17). New Glossary of Tango Dance (Kindle Locations 1253-1257). Abrazos. Kindle Edition.
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  17. RiseNFall

    RiseNFall Well-Known Member

    Ah, but now it is interfering with something. You would not believe the things I have wrapped my head around for dance.
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  18. pascal

    pascal Active Member

    As for the gender balance it depends on where you live. Here this year I had to give up the idea of taking classes because the five I visited had a follower shortage.
    As for hugs, normally in beginner classes, even a hug-oriented teacher will not make his pupils go into hugs, and will use quite a distant embrace instead. Maybe at the milonga that you're planning to attend, you'll see non-beginner dancers, and you'll see what tango hugs are. What you're seeing in your class and think are hugs, probably aren't.
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  19. koinzell

    koinzell Active Member

    Great response. Your resolve is clear to me now. If you enjoy practicas, then I think you will enjoy milongas more. Basically you get more practice time for less money. It's great to hear that you're listening to tango music in your everyday life.
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  20. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    Put me in the "Give It Some Time" camp. I had similar feelings when I first started out, and I initially used to think, "I hope these women don't think I'm hitting on them". It all passed, and I grew to really like it.
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