Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Women, Cooperate!

[This is my final essey on the BerkeleyX : Principles of Written English]

On an ordinary night for Argentine tango the number of followers is clearly exceeding the number of leaders. To cope with this fact, women tend to look for solutions only at a personal level, competing with each other with result that the dances are unevenly distributed. If the followers were instead cooperating to manage the tango events the dances would be distributed in a more equitable manner.

Argentine tango tradition offers a large set of rules and praxises to organize a dance evening and to facilitate the process of finding a partner for the next dance set (Las Chinitas, 2009). The most important praxis in this context is cabeceo, an invitation, where followers and leaders are negotiating about the next tanda, dance set, by eye contacts and head nods. This gives both parties an equal possibility to accept or decline an invitation. Today the more competitive followers do not use cabeceo, but approach the leaders, and by chatting for some moments get an invitation or ask for the next set of dances. One of the rules urges the participants to clear the dance area between the tandas (Las Chinitas, 2009). This is not respected on the less traditional dance evenings, where many women are actively asking for the next dance without leaving the dance floor. Consequently, the followers already on the floor get a new tanda more easily and the dances are accumulated to these active individuals. The effect of these two techniques are strengthened by following online advices and preparations at home.

Some websites as Argentine Tango (Whipple, n.d.) or follower forums and discussions are filled with instructions about chatting, clothing and strategic seating for a successful dance evening. Within tango the most popular color is black, but if you choose a red dress you will be more visible on that evening (Anonymous, 2013). You will also strengthen your position by seating wisely. If you choose a table, which people are passing by or gathering around you can easily catch an eye or start a chat. as a preparation for an invitation to next dance (Anonymous, 2013). These strategies are helping a follower to get a more favorable position and more dances than a strategically less skillful dancer would get.

The gender unbalance within tango has not always had the same pattern, but instead in the early days men, leaders, were actually outnumbering the followers (Denniston, 2007). To study the strategies these men used to manage the shortage of available dances, offers a way to find new methods to address the opposite gender unbalance of today.

The immigrant flow to Argentina, starting towards the end of the 1900 century, had an unusual structure in the sense of consisting mainly of single men. As Denniston (2007) describes, "[…] overwhelmingly single young men who were looking for work, many who thought they would get rich and then go home" (Denniston, 2007, p. 12). She continues by saying that still in 1940s and early 1950s this unbalance was noticeable, "[…] in the formal dance halls, known as milongas, there were always far more men than women" (Denniston, 2007, p. 15). Men, who wanted to learn tango, were training four to five nights per week during several years developing their skill in both following and leading. The very first entry to a milonga was decided by the elder men on the training site. Even when the first attempt was successful, these men returned to the continuous training with other men (Denniston, 2007). In this community the skill was defined as the main vehicle to milongas and the skill level of a newcomer was monitored by the elder males who suggested the day and the place for introducing a new leader to the followers. This praxis regulated the flow of newcomers to the milongas, allowing only those who trained persistently and who were approved by an experienced dancer to enter the dance floor.

This kind of social control of newcomers would not be accepted in modern tango communities, but some of the old praxises are valid even today and by discussing and cooperating a modern set of guidelines for a milonga can be developed and agreed about. In the early days the outnumbering group, men, did find a structure to manage the situation. Today it is the followers' turn to take the lead.


Denniston, C. (2007). The Meaning of TANGO, The Story of the Argentinian Dance, 12, 15.

Las Chinitas, (2009). Welcome to Milonga Las Chinitas Retrieved from

Whipple, C. (n.d.). Follower's Guide to Festivals/Milongas, Retrieved from

Whipple, C. (n.d.). Follower's Guide to Festivals/Milongas, Retrieved from


Janis said...

In the early days, men had to dance well. Today, men show up.

Women can increase their opportunities by wearing alluring clothing, avoiding black, and showing cleavage.

LeadingLady said...

Janis, thanks for your comment! I agree about the facts you mentioned but would like to se actions which also have impact on the social structures in the communities.

The painful fact is that the NUMBER of AVAILABLE dances is too low leaving many followers frustrated. To me the following two alternatives are the main possibilities to create a better situation.

You can ease the situation by REDISTRIBUTING the EXISTING dances by implementing new social rules so more followers can step to the pista.

To create a change the follower group could cooperate and initiate mentor programs/ other activities to atract MORE LEADERS to START and STAY on pista.