Desperate Milongueras

The milonga is still macho territory if you ask a milonguero viejo.  The code is a man invites a woman with a subtle head movement while seated at his table.  It’s been done this way since the early 1940s to avoid the public embarrassment of rejection.  This tradition has endured, but new dancers are revising the codes.

I overheard a conversation among several women in the ladies’ room.  They were upset they didn’t dance more tandas and complained about all the men who weren’t dancing.  They expected the men to dance all night long for them.  I don’t know if they even considered that the men choose when and with whom they dance.  The milonga isn’t a gymnasium with one machine to use after another for a physical workout.

I see desperate milongueras in action every week from my corner table.  I watched in disbelief as one of them got up from her table and walked over to the bar to persuade a milonguero viejo to dance the tanda with her.  Being the gentleman that he is, he accepted.  She didn’t consider that he is 20 years her senior, only that he was convenient when she wanted to dance.

On one occasion, I gave my table to two women and moved to the front row right next to a desperate milonguera.  I learned her secret technique.  As men pass by, she catches one’s attention and says in a low voice, isn’t this a nice vals, Francisco?  She rarely sits during four hours.

An Argentine with years in the milongas isn’t flattered by an invitation from a woman.  He’ll be a gentleman to a point.  I’ve seen others flatly refuse women who approach them, and women do the same to the men.  If only women knew how the men feel about this issue.

Milongueros have told me they don’t dance with women who invite them.  Recently, I had an opportunity to ask a milonguero for his opinion.  He said:  I don’t like it.  The women are too desperate.  I want to enjoy the music and dance only when I feel like dancing.  Sometimes I go to the milonga and don’t want to dance.  Then I spend the night avoiding eye contact with the women who expect me to dance with them.  Things aren’t the way they once were in the milongas.

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15 Responses to “Desperate Milongueras”

  1. Suzanne Doyle Says:

    Hi Janice,
    Are you saying that the milongueros do not welcome the mirada from the women? I thought that was part of the codigos. Or just are they confining their complaints to more aggressive invitations, such as in person invites or intense staring?
    Thanks,
    Suzanne D.

  2. Patricia Says:

    Strange, but not uncommon behaviour.
    Personally, I don’t understand the satisfaction in dancing with someone who doesn’t really want to dance with you. He must be counting the minutes until the end of the tanda!
    Patricia

  3. jantango Says:

    Suzanne,
    No, because the Mirada from a woman is the only way a man can invite with a subtle head movement from where he is seated across the floor. Men are the ones who have always done the inviting. What they don’t like are invitations from women in any manner. These come in many forms, from grabbing his hand at the table, verbal commands as he walks by, or aggressive body language including head shaking and hand waving indicating they want to dance NOW. Women who do this are changing the milonga code to suit themselves.

  4. Chris Says:

    Janis wrote: “the Mirada from a woman is the only way a man can invite with a subtle head movement from where he is seated across the floor. Men are the ones who have always done the inviting.

    I think you’ll find most men consider that mirada from a woman to be an invitation.

    What [men] don’t like are invitations from women in any manner.“.

    What men don’t like are invitations from women in any manner they don’t like. Then generally do like the mirada.

  5. jantango Says:

    When the tanda begins, and I decide it’s one I’d like to dance, I glance around the room to see if someone is looking my way. A man can catch my attention in a split second, and I respond with a nod and/or smile. I don’t stare at anyone expecting him to get the message that I want to dance with him. It’s not my place to propose the invitation to a man by holding my gaze in his direction. It’s perfectly clear to me that when a man wants to dance with me, he looks in my direction. I don’t miss an invitation with my antenna out.

    There has been misinformation about the Mirada on the internet giving the idea that women can invite a man just by continuing to look in his direction. Men respond by looking away if they’re not interested in dancing. They know it’s their call with whom and when they dance. That said, men decide whom they want to invite and wait to catch her attention. If eye contact isn’t made by the second tune, he may invite another or sit out the tanda. Men always have someone in mind they want to invite. Many select partners for the tanda or the dance.

    When I hear Di Sarli tangos, I know that I’m going to dance the tanda with Tito. I look across the room to confirm that I’m waiting for him. When he’s not in the milonga, I choose another partner very carefully or sit out the tanda to enjoy the music.

  6. Chris Says:

    Janis wrote: “There has been misinformation about the Mirada on the internet giving the idea that women can invite a man just by continuing to look in his direction.

    I wonder why you say that’s misinformation Janis. Women can, and do.

    It’s not my place to propose the invitation to a man by holding my gaze in his direction.

    No problem there. That’s your choice. Just as what other women do is their choice.

  7. jantango Says:

    Chris,
    And that’s why there are so many desperate milongueras as never before.

  8. Chris Says:

    Janis wrote: “And that’s why there are so many desperate milongueras as never before.

    I don’t think women inviting men is either cause or sign of desperation. In the milonga, as in life.

  9. jantango Says:

    The milongueros describe the women as desperate. I agree.

    During a conversation in the ladies’ room, two women said that a man should invite a woman for at least two tandas during a milonga. It’s another way the women are revising the codes to suit their own needs. They expect to dance two tandas with a man, whether he wants to or not.

    Tonight I saw another example of a desperate milonguera who aggressively waved her arms to a man across the floor indicating she wanted to dance the tropical tanda with him. She was on the floor dancing alone before he arrived to meet her.

  10. Janet Rieck Says:

    I was very surpised to see so much bad behavior in the milongas. I always thought the codes prevented that, but obviously, no one really follows them anymore. The Argentine women are now so aggressive they are outrageous and embarrassing to watch not only in their manner but in their dress as well. Why the men don’t just say no is beyond me. Foreign women for the most part are totally unaware of the codes I suspect. But the worst behavior I have seen is from the locals…desperation is a mild description of what is going on. I know there are those that do follow the conduct rules, but there are far more that don’t and I am not talking about foreigners.
    I realize there is a game going on here, but I think that game has now turned the milongas into what they are today. You reap what you sow.

  11. jantango Says:

    Janet
    There are still many who observe the code when it comes to the invitation, at least in Lo de Celia. I agree with you that the worst behavior is by Argentine women.

    I prefer waiting for a man to look my way when HE wants to dance with me.

  12. Tango Loco Says:

    The codigos that define invitation is certainly not a « macho » system. It is actually designed to make invitation easy and comfortable for everyone.

    The fact men technically do the invite is completely unrelated to who is actually initiating the invitation.

    Contrary to a common belief, both men and women can invite. It is precisely the purpose of the mirada. And both men and women can (and do) use it.

    Then only, the men will do the cabeceo to effectively conclude the invitation. And he, and not the women, takes the risks of the rejection, which is actually nicer to women. Women, by not having the initiative of the cabeceo, you are actually protected from the humiliation of the rejection.

    Wanting to change this system is actually a mistake and it is no surprise it has been used for so long: because it is effective and respectful of people.
    It is a fair and balanced system that insure both the man and the woman agree to dance one with another (and that both can initiate the invitation).

    Men, if you are rejected, women if you are not invited, you have to wonder what in your behavior, attire, social network, abrazo or level of dance makes that so few people actually want to connect with you through the mirada.

    And blaming the cabeceo codigo for your lack of success is just misguided.

    Moving back to a system where people make direct invitation will just bring frustration because, while it is hard to invite for fear of rejection, it is equally hard to refuse the invitation when invited directly. And it will lead to unpleasant tandas because one will feel obligated to dance.

    I know plenty of women who confess they never refuse a dance when invited directly. But then, they waste 12 minutes of their life with an awkward or even hurting leader. And think of it, it is good for no one: the women eagerly awaits the end of the tanda and the men believes he got a nice dance while she is actually boring or perhaps suffering: what a success!

    Refusing to dance is in fact productive because:
    – it raises the level of the dance for everybody
    – it insures that people are really willing to dance with one another when they accept
    – it increases the commitment in the dance, leading to a better experience for everybody

    Somehow, direct invitation is similar to fast-food while cabeceo is similar to French cuisine.

    You can decide what you prefer but my choice is easily made: cabeceo for men and mirada for everybody.

  13. Chris Says:

    Tango Loco wrote:

    Refusing to dance is in fact productive because:
    – it raises the level of the dance for everybody
    – it insures that people are really willing to dance with one another when they accept
    – it increases the commitment in the dance, leading to a better experience for everybody

    I am very glad to see this said. But let us recognise that one of the reasons refusal is beneficial overall is that to some, it is detrimental.

    To put it politely, natural selection applies.

    I think the difficulty people overseas have with this arises through contradiction from the typical teaching found in the unnatural setting of a dance class. There, people are usually told the opposite. That they should accept each invitation, and to refuse is rude. And that this leads to more partners, and hence faster improvement. Classgoers, please consider that though this is for the benefit of someone, that someone is probably not you.

  14. R. Bononno Says:

    I’m jumping in on this thread very late, forgive me, but I wanted to add that here (I’m in NY) the codes are never actually taught. I found out about them by reading about them and from one of my teachers (Argentinian) a while back. Other than that, I’ve never heard them discussed in a class, not the cabeceo, not the mirada, not the various aspects of inviting someone to dance. Also, here, there is a blatant disregard for use of the cabeceo by most men (certainly not all). Maybe this is because of the physical layout of many milongas (you can’t really see across the room, sight lines are obscured) and maybe it’s just ignorance. I’m not really sure, but it puts those of us who use it at something of a disadvantage.

  15. jantango Says:

    An invitation with head movement may be difficult or impossible in milongas around the world, but there is no excuse in Buenos Aires where it is known as the rule.

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