Lost on the Floor

Dancers in San Telmo

My second tango experience didn’t go quite as smoothly as the first. I still love the dance, but my first rejection on the dance floor smarts.

I have to tell you–tango is not easy to wing. While some men may be patient with beginners, most dancers want to dance with a woman of their caliber. I can understand this. I would too. With the right dancer, though, I can usually find the rhythm and improvise a bit, as long as my partner doesn’t try to turn the dance floor into a lesson.

At the beginning of this night, I saw a young man at the table next to me raise an eyebrow–an invitation to dance. He looked to be in his early twenties with stiff, gelled hair, a starched lavender shirt, and pungent musk cologne.

When he locked me in the tango embrace, I noticed that he had a tight, forceful way of dancing.

Our steps were more stuttered steps–tripping along at a fast pace. I couldn’t follow or even guess how to react, and I could tell that the more he led me around the floor, the more anguished he became, no matter how often I said, “Lo siento,” and furrowed my brow. I’m not sure whom was the bad dancer–me or him. Two songs within the tanda (a group of songs in the dancehall), he left me, grimacing and shaking his head.

In Argentine dance hall etiquette, it is polite to stay with a partner for the entire four tanda songs. My face turned ashen and I left the floor in terror. I turned my chair away from the fellow’s table so I could articulate my displeasure.

An old man asked me to dance a milonga, a tango with a specific cadence that is more measured to follow. This fellow’s style did not have much art or feeling to it, but I was thankful that he was open to dance with me without casting judgement. I have a feeling he chooses beginners because the regulars might not prefer his basic style. We knocked into other couples while seasoned dancers are artful dodgers, pausing to let others go by.

I joined my last partner in the middle of a tanda. We met each other better in age and height. At this point in the night, my muscles were at full attention. I just could not loosen up out of nervousness–alert as a prima ballerina. “Loosen up and enjoy the dance!” he exclaimed in English. I laughed and that helped me follow him. I enjoyed this dance and did not feel judged. We were just enjoying the music and that was the goal of the experience.

The thought of returning to the dance floor terrifies me a bit. There will be many rejections, confusion, mimickry, and humor, no matter what my skill level. I need to relax, loosen up my carriage, and smile.



Filed under Arts, Tango

9 responses to “Lost on the Floor

  1. Danielle

    it sounds like you have had quite the experience in BA. you will have to tell me how the Tango goes. i just arrived in BA a couple of days ago, an tips?

  2. Don’t dispair!! I had the *same* experience when I started salsa dancing-each time you’ll get better, having different partners at different levels will make you better, sometimes (like the 1st guy) it will be terrible and you won’t connect, but the goal is to have fun with it-and before you know it you’ll be an expert! (But you can’t run before you crawl-too bad your partner wasn’t more patient!) suerte!

  3. Kris


    Let me start by saying I really enjoy reading your blog especially since I will be heading to Buenos Aires for 6 months to dance tango soon… I can sense your tango frustrations and if you don’t mind, I would like to suggest something with regards to your tango endeavors: take lessons. Tango is not a dance you can just “get”. I’ve danced most of my life – solo and partner dances – and I can promise you that this dance is serious business just like ballet, jazz, and competitive ballroom. It is not like salsa – you can’t just pick it up. And I truly feel for you with the bad partners… but the truth is, you’ll never know if the bad dancing is you or your partner until you start to actually learn the dance. In general, you shouldn’t even dance at a milonga (in Bs.As.) until you know the basics of the dance. Instead, go to a practica. I hope this is helpful advice and I hope you continue to fall in love with this dance!

  4. Older men tend to be more laid back with beginners. The younger men perhaps worry more of how they look, no sé, can not answer for them. I hope you have the most fantastic dance one day while the boludo is watching. And he can just sit there eating your dust.

  5. jillhac08

    I wouldn’t be surprised if you guys decided to stay there. It really sounds like you’ve fallen in love with the place, the people, the food, & the life!
    Love to you & E~
    (Aunt) Jill

  6. Hola!
    Qué interesante es leer las experiencias de una viajera en Buenos Aires, nos enseña algunas cosas acerca de nosotr@s, l@s porteñ@s.
    No desesperes con la danza del tango, como dijo tu compañero, just enjoy dancing!
    Seguiremos tus crónicas!
    Sil, de “Dónde me trajiste” (tango en vivo, comida casera, amigos).

  7. Kris is soooo right–you can’t just “pick up” the tango. Even though it’s based on walking, you need lessons. And you must constantly listen to the music, so that you can express your feelings in the dance and with your partner. It’s not easy, but that’s why it’s never boring and a life-long pursuit of perfection.

    Have fun with it, but remember that the music comes before everything else.

    So where are you now? I know I’m coming in a little late to the discussion. I hope you’re dancing!


    Hi Cherie–thanks for your message. I am currently taking group lessons but looking into private lessons as my core is lacking and group teachers just don’t have the time to help me correct it.

    However–I’ve danced with some partners at the milonga who danced “to” my level and I was able to really hear the music and it all came together. Those are exciting moments. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Tango Through My Eyes « Still Life in South America

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