Do women need to be men in tango?

Women learning the man’s role in tango is an ongoing debate.  What began as a street dance practiced between men in Buenos Aires has women taking the lead in ballrooms around the world. 

Traditionally, tango is a social dance between a man and a woman.  The dance venues in Buenos Aires hold to this tradition with only two exceptions in recent years.  Rarely will one see two women dancing together in a traditional salon in Buenos Aires.  Recently, I saw this occur in Lo de Celia Tango Club.  It was Wednesday evening when a smaller number of dancers are in attendance.  The couple seated next to me were watching someone on the dance floor.  I quickly realized they noticed two women dancing a milonga.  I had never seen this in the nine years I have danced in Celia’s place.  It appeared that a newcomer had decided she didn’t have anymore patience to wait for an invitation to dance, so she went to the table of a woman and invited her to dance milonga.  The woman didn’t dance the man’s role very well.  There they were on the floor while everyone watched in amazement.  The hostess passed by my table, so I commented that I had never seen this before.  When their second dance ended, the security guard was speaking to the newcomer (an Argentine) that Lo de Celia Tango Club is a traditional place where women dance tango with men.  Both women returned to their tables.  I was a little surprised that men were inviting this newcomer to dance after she demonstrated her disrespect for tradition.

Later in the ladies’ room,  I met the woman invited to dance by the newcomer.  I asked her how this came about.   She explained that she simply didn’t know what to say or do when the woman approached her table.  She knew the woman from another milonga.  She wasn’t comfortable dancing with her because she only dances tango with men.  She felt relief that the security guard intervened.  The situation was over quickly and quietly.  It was certainly noticed by everyone in the room.

Today more women are teaching tango and therefore learning the man’s role.  The late Ricardo Vidort said that when a woman learns to dance tango as a man, she no longer dances as a woman. 

Tango isn’t a dance between leaders and followers–it is a dance between a man and a woman, a blending of the masculine and feminine energies.

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29 Responses to “Do women need to be men in tango?”

  1. cassiel Says:

    Being a tanguero with many sympathies for the codigos and traditions I dare to disagree with Ricardo Vidort. I know at least one tanguera who is dancing just like an angel but she is leading from time to time too.

    But I see the danger. Maybe Carlos Gavito hits the truth by mentioning in an interview, that tango needs a lifetime to learn – so why should we try to learn ‘the other side’? Unfortunately I have lost the link to this interview.

  2. Enrique Madris Says:

    El tango, es para bailar en pareja, el abrazo cerrado, es para cobijar un hombre y una mujer.
    No obstante, desde hace varios años en Maipi los miércoles tarde , La Marshall, bailan hombres con hombres y mujeres entree si
    Ahora, estan saliendo a otros bailes, yo también he visto en otras milongas, dos mujeres, bailando entre sí-
    Opino lo mismo, que en el planteo anterior, no hay códigos, todo vale,
    no hay respeto, por los grandes cambios operados en todos los órdenes
    Antes, a alguien se le hubiese ocurrido bailar en jeans, con pantaloncitos cortos, en zapatillas,haciendo malabares y molestando en la pista a los de,más? Seguro que no, pero ahora los dejan
    En mi opinión, deberían bailaren lugares apropiados, tal como es el caso de la Marshall. No estamos preparados para estos cambios en un baile sensual,hombre, mujer.

    English translation by jantango:
    The tango is for a couple to dance in an embrace to protect the man and the woman. Nevertheless, late on Wednesdays in Maipu men dance with men at La Marshall, and women with women. Now they are going out to other dances. I have seen two women dancing in other milongas. My opinion is the same as before; there are no codes, anything goes, there is no respect in all the changes taking place. Before you would never see someone dancing in jeans or short pants, sneakers, playing games and being annoying on the floor. No, but now they allow it. In my opinion, women should dance in appropriate places like La Marshall. We aren’t prepared for these changes in a sensual dance for man and woman.

  3. jantango Says:

    Cassiel: The tanguera who leads occasionally is probably dancing more often as a woman than a man. I agree with the milongueros that tango is between a man and a woman. They don’t want to dance with women who take charge.

    The late Ricardo Vidort may have had some female teachers in mind when he expressed his opinion about women leading. He danced with several women teachers and spoke from personal experiences. Those women who lead forget how to give up control when dancing with a man. They lose their feminine energy in the dance.

    Enrique: Gracias. Estoy de acuerdo contigo.

  4. Anquises Says:

    En el lenguaje del tango porteño, las palabras correspondientes a “leader” y “follower” son “el hombre” y “la mujer” (raramente se dice “el que lleva” y “el que sigue”).

    English translation by jantango

    In the tango porteno language, the corresponding words to leader and follower are man and woman (seldom do you say the one who leads and the one who follows).

  5. tangobob Says:

    Over here in the UK, it seems that women want to lead. I believe to be a good leader you need to know how the follower feels, so in class ocasionally I follow. The reverse I think is not true, all the women I know who lead are ruined as followers.
    Intention is not the same as reaction, I know I can never be a good follower, I follow to improve my lead. The women who lead likewise then will never be good followers, and because they do not spend sufficient time leading they will never be good leaders either.
    There are things I believe that could change in the codigos that would make the womens lives better, however, women dancing with women is not one of them.
    Men dance with women, women dance with men, that is the essence of it, when this ends…… well, I despair.

  6. Enrique Madris Says:

    En Gran Bretaña, o en cualquier lugar del mundo, Hay mujeres que enseñan bailar, y saben conducir muy bien. Como hombres, que enseñan
    y pueden bailar, como mujeres. Para las clases, todo bien.
    Para bailar, tango, un sentimiento sensual, es para un hombre y una mujer. El hombre siente y trasmite, a su compañera , ambos están unidos en un sentimiento de tres minutos, disfrutando la música, el abrazo…

    Translation by jantango:
    In Great Britain or any place in the world, there are women who teach dance and know how to lead well. Like men, they teach and they can dance, as women. For classes, it’s all right. For dancing tango, a sensual feeling, it’s for a man and a woman. The man feels and transmits to his partner, both are united in a feeling for three minutes, enjoying the music, the embrace…

  7. tangosohle Says:

    A Tanguera once told me: I’ve got two choices: Either I dance with beginners or advanced men and I will be bored by dancing or waiting
    or I dance with women of the master class. For that I likely drive long distances, pay the entrance fee and learn the leader’s role.

    I myself dance sometimes as a follower, for training my awareness and sensitivity and because it’s nice. The best leader ever who danced with me was Argentine tanguera!

    Note to Response #1:
    The link to the interview
    http://web.ics.purdue.edu/%7Etango/Articles/Gavito.pdf

  8. NAD Says:

    I am a woman. I’ve started dancing tango as a woman leader and THANKS GOD I did do it!!! I would never go back to the followers place…it is too boring! Except to improve my leading role.

    Tango is learning by people as a hobby…passionate hobby… Why would I pay, give time an energy to do what I don’t wanna do?

  9. jantango Says:

    There are roles in tango. The man’s role is to lead the dance. You haven’t danced with a man who can transmit in the dance, so you don’t know what you are missing.

  10. Hannah Says:

    I love learning to lead. I have spent the past 5 years dancing as a follow (you know, the lady bits) in lindy hop, balboa, blues, and a smattering of Argentine Tango. I decided to take up leading in Argentine Tango as a challenge.

    I love it. I’ve been working on it for the past year and a half.

    When I go to milongas, people rarely smile on the dance floor. When I go to other dances, people are clearly enjoying themselves.

    Lighten up people! Don’t worry about your “roles” so much, and how you look. Focus on the craft, improvisation, musicality — none of this has anything to do with male/female.

    @TangoBob: I must say that in LA, Monica Orozco leads a killer milonga. And she you can see her following on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, for a 17 thousand person amphitheater — she’s no mean follow either.

  11. Ladyleader Says:

    Men have always been curious and interested when they se me leading. Even the Argentinian teachers! That was a big surprise. Ladies get positive after they have danced with me.

    I have heard about a lady who starts to lead if not asked for dance at a new milonga. It is working well for her.

  12. jantango Says:

    Men have had the role of leading, so it’s natural for them to be curious about why a woman would want to play that role.

    If women assume the man’s role, they may lose touch with their feminine energy. The masculine embraces the feminine for this reason in tango. Two feminine energies aren’t the same, no matter how it looks or feels.

    I hope you enjoy your discoveries.

  13. Ladyleader Says:

    Thanks!

    It must be fantastic to have a possibility to be in touch with all these persons and phenomenons. Thanks for sharing it! I continue exploring your blogg.

    Leena

    (I did not find a place to put this general note, so you find it here!)

  14. tengotango Says:

    me. I am a guy and i like dancing with women, but i i don’t care at all if there are women dancing with women or men dancing with men, I don’t understand why u care or how it affects you. What tradition? what rules? who cares? who cares as long as you are having fun and you don’t disturb anybody?

  15. jantango Says:

    It is disturbing for me to see women trying to be men in tango. I like to see a men dancing with women — masculinity embracing femininity.

  16. justdance Says:

    I disagree that women, as you said, are “trying to be men” when they lead. They are trying to be women who lead. You may like to see men dancing with women and find it distasteful to see women dancing with each other, but many people see no harm in it and it is not uncommon for both women and men to enjoy dancing with the same sex. Why not let them be? If that woman at the milonga you mentioned did not want to dance with the other woman who asked her, it was her responsibility to decline, as she would have done if the request were made by a man she did not want to dance with.

    There is nothing wrong with upholding tradition, but why judge others for doing something new and different? There is a value to tradition, but let’s also embrace change and new ideas. Without them, imagine where we, women would still be.

    There are many women who dance with musicality, clarity, and emotion, whether they are leading or following, and they have the capacity to switch from leader to follower mode quite easily, so I don’t buy the argument that learning how to lead “ruins” the follower. Leading and following are complementary, rather than incompatible opposites, and understanding both sides can be enlightening for the tango dancer who wishes to improve in either.

  17. jantango Says:

    That was the best title for the post. I related what I saw happen in the milonga where two women or two men are not permitted to dance together. I didn’t make the rules.

    I asked one man what he thought about two women dancing tango. He said, “I’m machista. I want to see men dancing with women. I love embracing women in tango.”

  18. George Says:

    “What tradition? what rules? who cares? who cares as long as you are having fun and you don’t disturb anybody?”

    I do not believe it. A man from a tango community could not have said that. It must be some kind of a joke, perhaps he is trolling, I simply can’t believe it.

  19. Evaldas Says:

    @Hannah
    (this is a bit off-topic, sorry). I’m a tango dancer but I also dance balboa, lindy, salsa. I admit that there’s much less smile in tango than in other dances: the culture, the body language, the energy is all different. I always was wondering why. It seems to me that simply there’s almost no eye contact while dancing tango, just body feeling. There’s nobody whom to smile to. That’s how the tango is different from other (open embrace) dances, except maybe pure balboa.

  20. redwing Says:

    “Tango isn’t a dance between leaders and followers–it is a dance between a man and a woman, a blending of the masculine and feminine energies.”

    I love the energies of tango, the give and take, the lead and follow, the suggestion and the reception. It is a lovely conversation. I maintain that these energies can be embodied and enjoyed without just one definition that strictures the outcome to : a man leads a woman.

    My own energies are already blended — between masculine and female, male and feminine. My followers are feminine, masculine, androgynous — male, female, gender-different, transgendered.
    The richness is part polarity, part mystery.

    There is a beautiful offering to the world from those of us who have opened what has been held at the the margins of gender and sexuality — for more poetry, for wider meaning and for broader understanding. Be all the richer for bringing your curiousity and self-reflection here, rather than your fear.

  21. Monica Gadda Says:

    Actually and in the very beginning… Traditionally, tango was a social dance between a man and another MAN. Thanks God for evolution! Let the girls do their thing

  22. Shar Says:

    there is a lot to be said about understanding the roles of the other, the help you can give is so much for your partner… unless you have tried to be in the shoe of the other how does understanding take place. One does not lose their masculinity nor their femininity unless setting about to do so… There are many assumptions made in this blog…. and it has nothing to do with tradition or cordigos, there is reason why tradition is kept and where, in some places it needs to embrace something new…..

  23. jdeschen Says:

    There are basically two main styles of Tango, dancing steps or dancing close embrace. Dancing steps is like dancing Latin or Ballroom, the connection-feeling is different. I have only seen woman-woman pairs dancing steps and if that is their preference I see no problem. I prefer close embrace and the closeness, the connection with my partner that comes with it. But many women (and men too) prefer to just dance steps and have either not learned or are too closed to abandon themselves to the sensuality of the close embrace.. In our community I dance a lot with beginners, teaching them to walk in close embrace and almost universally they prefer it. Later, when they learn steps, they still enjoy giving themselves into the connection of the close embrace.

  24. John Says:

    Monica Orozco is a choreographer for the stage and performance,
    she can perform contrived and practised dancing however she likes
    but it is not social dancing. And at the Hollywood Bowl it was a
    choreographed performance to a typical piece of Astor Piazzolla’s
    new/nuevo tango, music not written for dancing.

    @Monica Gadda:
    “Actually and in the very beginning… Traditionally, tango was a social dance between a man and another MAN. Thanks God for evolution!
    Let the girls do their thing”

    This is another misrepresentation by the commercial art world of show tango which frequently portrays on stage man dancing with man in front of women as part of the tango story. But that is what it is – a story on the stage, not the real reality.

    Traditionally social tango is a dance of a man and a woman and at its best requires the different dynamics and sensibilities of each. Men learned and practised with men informally or later in men’s clubs behind doors which excluded women. The purpose was to be able to dance publicly and socialise with women (who learned in a different way) at the milongas.

    @Shar:
    There are places in Buenos Aires for all kinds of tango including the rather direct expression “Queer Tango”. Enough people are dancing in BsAs to justify the separate events unlike elsewhere. Lo de Celia is a place of traditional social dancing of men with women. Milongueros often describe tango simply as dancing a feeling, a feeling that simply cannot be replicated by women dancing together nor, for that matter, men.

    There’s no judgement intended here, just an observation that a dance of same sex partners (or reversed roles) is very different to the dance of a man embracing a woman.

  25. Chris Says:

    jdeschen wrote “There are basically two main styles of Tango, dancing steps or dancing close embrace. I have only seen woman-woman pairs dancing steps.. “

    An example of women dancing close embrace here . I think it speaks for itself.

    And George, I agree with you on What tradition? what rules? who cares?, and I’m glad I rarely encounter such people in the milongas.

  26. JJ Says:

    Some people feel real discomfort seeing two women enjoy each other and take charge in a traditionally male-female dance, but they shouldn’t confuse their discomfort with the reality, which is that any two people who are open to connect with each other and the music are fully capable of dancing a beautiful tango without losing their femininity, masculinity or otherwise.

  27. Inner Tango Says:

    Wait…so it’s O.K. for the man to learn the follower role (as happened in the early days of tango), but not O.K. for the woman to learn to lead? What if no one ever asks the woman to dance? Is she supposed to just sit there? And it’s not “being a man”. A role is a role, not your entire identity…

  28. jantango Says:

    Why should a woman learn the man’s role if she wants to dance socially with men? If you know anything about the culture of the milonga, you wouldn’t ask the question. A man initiates an invitation to a woman only when he is fairly certain she is interested and will accept.

    If no one invites a woman, she sits all night. This happens in the milongas here. Women accept it. Milongueros do not want to be invited by women because it’s an obligation.

  29. Elena Says:

    ¿Pero como voy a bailar con mi esposa si ambas tenemos que bailar el mismo ‘role’? No tiene mucho sentido su argumento.

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