Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Helaine's Adventures Episode #3

My disappointing evening, and a new lesson that helped me break through!
The Saturday night after my adventure at the “arcane” young people’s milonga, I went to the first “in-crowd” milonga recommended by young American who had danced exquisitely with the Japanese tango professional. It would be my second step in my initiation to this circle of milongas. 
That evening, I called to reserve a table for myself - always a good idea with milongas that become crowded.  I arrived within 30 minutes of the milonga’s opening. The host seated me at a good table in an L-shaped, tightly-fitted row of women’s tables along the dance floor that faced a complementary, L-shaped row of men. The two L’s formed a horseshoe around the large dance floor. The entire opposite end of the room, at the open end of the horseshoe, was filled with many tables. That section was designated for couples and random arrivals of both genders.  Behind a wall on the men's side was another room filled with tables and only two openings to the central room.  When I arrived it was empty, but by midnight it was full.  
This host was very meticulous about orchestrating the seating, and he strictly enforced his decisions.  One woman near me had changed seats on her own, and when he noticed he came to scold her and moved her back to her original place!
I observed my usual “rules” for milonga success:  I took my time observing the dance floor to see whose dancing I liked, ignoring several immediate invitations from the men's side.  I knew only one person in the room, a French man with whom I had danced a few days earlier, who was sitting out of eye-shot in the couples’ area with his partner.  So I felt like a total newcomer there. 
A young Turkish tanguera sitting next to me, dressed very casually, chatted with me in English.  A new tanda started and she surprised me by getting up to go to a man’s table to invite him!  The tanguero she invited was a heavyset American I thought I recognized from a festival in Chicago a few years ago.  If it was the same man I had danced with at that festival, he seemed to have lost about 100 lbs.  In Chicago his agility and dynamism had amazed me and I thoroughly enjoyed his musicality.  Though he had been so much fun, I was glad we had danced in a wide-open embrace, because he perspired heavily. When the Turkish girl came back, she said she had told the American that her table neighbor was American too.
There were some very fine dancers on the floor.  Plenty of average dancers as well. I liked the dancing of two stout milongueros who were full of life.  I watched them carefully as they passed and when they glanced in my direction I did my best to make eye contact.  But they were very much in-the-moment, and it would take several tandas for me to establish any eye-contact.
Meanwhile, I was impressed with the high-level dancing of a few younger men and women. Some of the young men were clearly dancing with awareness of their own style and appearance.  Nevertheless, I sought to let them observe my attention to their dancing or to make eye contact.  I was finding it tough to break the ice.  Still, I enjoyed the music and the new environment, and found myself smiling a lot.  I continued to ignore the invitations of dancers I thought were weak, or of men whom I hadn’t yet seen dance.
When I felt really ready to dance, I simply didn't know how to get invited because nobody in the room had seen me dance.  I was sorry I had not gone to this same milonga the previous Tuesday to meet an old friend from Italy who was a yearly regular at that biweekly milonga.  She would have introduced me to some friends. But she had already left Buenos Aires.
Finally, the big American invited me.  I felt grateful for his helping me break the ice. Yes, it was the same man, and he had indeed lost a great amount of weight.  We danced close and sometimes open, and had fun, but when we were done I went to the ladies’ room with my packet of aloe towelettes in my purse to wipe his perspiration from my face and chest, and adjust my hair that was matted over my right temple.  (I carry aloe towelettes in my totebag to all milongas. I use them rarely, but sometimes they are great for emergency freshening-up!  I recommend them for women and men, and prefer natural ones from a natural foods store - even baby wipes - rather than chemical-based towelettes from the supermarket.)
After that tanda I could STILL not catch the attention of any of the good dancers.  I finally accepted another American’s invitation. He was not very experienced, but did very nicely and was a pleasant fellow.  Then I just sat for a long time, smiling and watching the dance floor.  When I least expected it, one of the milongueros I had been watching on the dance floor invited me, and that was a very good tanda.  Then immediately another Porteño invited me, and that was also good, and then the big man from Chicago invited me again. I thought I had broken through!  But I got no more invitations from interesting dancers . . .  only from those I didn't want to look at, and so I didn't dance again.  
I stayed at this milonga until almost 4 a.m.  I had danced only 5 tandas!  I was determined to go back another time and be more successful.  I was determined to break into this circle that was so much more challenging than the milonguero environment. I decided not to wear all black with long sleeves again to these milongas.  Some of my experienced tanguera friends and I have observed that bright clothes and exposed arms or shoulders (or back or legs) sometimes help attract more invitations.
When I got home at 4:30am, I wrote to my Porteña milonguera friend Maria Teresa.  When I next saw her, she told me this:  
When she goes to a milonga where she is completely unknown, she either accepts the first invitation she receives, or chooses a man and discreetly asks him to invite her later as a favor, so that her dancing can be seen.  I used the latter strategy a few times years ago, but I thought I had "graduated" to more energetic means.  Yet my fail-proof methods had not served me in this situation. Maria Teresa said that dancing even with a poor dancer at the beginning of a milonga gives her the opportunity to show that she is a good dancer.  And that usually breaks the ice for her.
At another challenging milonga I’ll tell you about in a future episode, I tried accepting the first few invitations I received, and danced at the beginning with some poor dancers.  I found I was able to dance well anyway, helping each of those weak dancers to dance better.  Contrary to anything I believed before, by doing this in a milonga where I was unknown, I found that invitations started coming from better and better dancers. With each step up in quality, I gradually returned to my usual selectivity. In the last two hours of the evening, I was dancing with the best dancers in the room.
Both women and men can apply this lesson!

December 2013 update:  The technique Maria Teresa had suggested worked for me in various milongas.  However it did not work at all in the "tough" milonga I describe in this episode.  I was still unable to penetrate the "inner circle" of excellent dancers.  (See the upcoming Episode #7 for the continuation.)

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