Why do tango dancers shut their eyes?

 

The questioner arrived at this blog looking for the answer.  Of course, men don’t shut their eyes while dancing for a very good reason — they lead.  But so many women in the milongas dance with their eyes closed for the entire dance.

I’ve never asked women why they close their eyes.  The reason could be less visual distraction and a more intense experience.  Some may want to get to a meditative state.

I found what Carlos Gavito had to say about it:

I’ve met girls who thought they had to have their eyes closed to dance a good tango.  That’s a mistake, too.  You close your eyes when you feel like it, when you’re comfortable, not because you have to, or because it looks better.

If tango is a sensual experience, as my friend John points out, how can it be so when the sense of sight isn’t active?

And besides, we use our sense of sight for balance, not our partners.

Do men prefer dancing with women who help them by keeping their eyes open?

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27 Responses to “Why do tango dancers shut their eyes?”

  1. Carol Conway Says:

    My eyes are open and on my partner.

  2. jantango Says:

    On your partner? How is that possible when he’s embracing you with cheek to cheek?

  3. Janet Rieck Says:

    The man leads so he has to have his eyes open to see where he is going. The women don’t need their eyes open. You sense more when one of your other senses is not there. Besides, if the man knows how to lead, you don’t need to help him. He is suppose to “direct” not you.

  4. Alan Jones Says:

    We cannot see if a followers eyes are closed or open. Two visiting teachers told us that
    the followers trust the leader if their eyes are closed and/or enjoying the dance. Another said that the follower can navigate better with her eyes open…

  5. mepoxmepox Says:

    I don’t know if my follower partners close their eyes. Sometime I ask them at the end of tanda. I perceive that they close their eyes when they trust my leading. Of course I prefer they had their eyes closed…but I have to conquer their trust !

  6. John Morton Says:

    It’s a social dance and it should be a sociable dance where we all look out for one another. That means the woman should be looking over the man’s shoulder, which also results in the best embrace for dancing, not being blinded by looking into the side of the man’s face. One of my regular partners has undone the years of the ingrained teacher taught habit of closing her eyes and now she is aware of what is going on and it helps her appreciate why and what her partner is doing according to the conditions on the floor.

    Women who dance with their eyes open help themselves, as well as their partners, to dance better. Eyes closed often implies too much conscious concentration, thinking rather than intuitive feeling. Eyes open aids balance, sensual awareness, presence, participation and partnership.

  7. Bob B Says:

    It is an interesting question! Have you asked this question of women dancers before? What do they say?
    Carlos Gavito says it all, in my opinion “You close your eyes when you feel like it,etc”. But I will add:
    I have been to Buddhist meditation retreats. Some want you to close your eyes, others want you to keep them open slighty. They each have their own arguments for why their way is best.
    And same for tango. In tango,If the aim is to be totally present to your partner and the music and the woman is looking around the floor, trying to protect her partner, or just curious it can distract from the total experience, for both.. For me meditation isn’t about being in an altered state, it is exeriencing ” what is”.
    I imagine that for some women, closing their eyes helps them to be in the moment, without being tempted with distractions.
    Then there is the question of trust. It would appear prudent fo me for women to close their eyes only with partners whom they trust

  8. jantango Says:

    Janet,

    How many men do you know with eyes in the back of their head?

  9. jantango Says:

    Alan,

    I trust all the men with whom I dance or I wouldn’t be dancing with them. Men can’t see to their right, and I see what my partner cannot. He feels me make an adjustment so we don’t run into others.

  10. jantango Says:

    Mepox,

    It’s easy to determine which women dance with their eyes closed or open by watching them on the dance floor. When they have their eyes closed, how can they give you a signal with the left hand on your shoulder that others are close by?

  11. jantango Says:

    Bob,

    Thanks for your comment.

    During meditation, a person is usually sitting still; eyes open or closed is a choice. I like what you wrote about not being in an altered state, but what is — here and now. That’s how we need to dance.

  12. jantango Says:

    John,

    Thanks for your comment. You know I have my eyes open when we dance together. I always feel safe in your embrace.

  13. Felicity Says:

    Hello. For me it depends on each dance. It depends on the partner. I think when I do it’s to better listen in all senses but I’m not sure when that is. I think the things that most affect it are how much distraction and movement there is in the room, how well I know him and maybe his height relative to me. With guys I dance with often I think I find less need because I know the feel of them. When I’m dancing as the girl, the world shrinks to my partner and the music. I don’t like to be distracted or see other things.

    If don’t feel that safe with the guy’s navigation, maybe a new dancer, my eyes will be open, part of me will be watching out. It’s true I have saved us bumps that way. But it is not the same dance as when you trust the guy to do that part. I think that trust from the girl is a huge part of the dance. When I dance as the guy I wouldn’t expect my partner to watch out. I might even feel she didn’t trust me. It’s true, as the guy, sometimes you can’t see to your right, but I just try to accommodate that and be more careful. If someone asks me directly to dance (as the girl) when I didn’t want to and I regrettably didn’t manage to stand firm, for sure, my eyes won’t be closed because distraction or not has become irrelevant.

  14. jantango Says:

    Felicity,

    As dance floors get more crowded, it may be a necessity for women to keep their eyes open while dancing. I don’t know of another social dance where the woman dances with her eyes closed, do you?

    Yesterday, while dancing the Di Sarli tanda with a trusted partner, I closed my eyes for Ensuenos. I discovered I focused more on our movements together. It took some of my attention away from the music to the point I was thinking about the dance. I prefer to have my eyes open.

  15. Felicity Says:

    No, but then I don’t know of another dance comparable to dancing tango. I remember once opening my eyes after dancing with someone with whom I’d only danced once before but who I nevertheless trusted. I said, “Gosh, how crowded it is – but it didn’t feel like that”. He looked pleased. I don’t find I can dance unless there is the music first & foremost. Yesterday, I danced both roles, mostly with my eyes open as the girl but I know I closed them some of the time with one partner, I think because he was dancing to D’Arienzo Retintín & friends differently to the way I had thought we would dance that tanda.

  16. Janet Rieck Says:

    You should be thinking about the music and what your partner is leading.

  17. jantango Says:

    Janet,

    You can’t be serious. Thinking about the music and the steps?
    I don’t think about tango, I feel tango.

  18. John Morton Says:

    Janet obviously is serious. So equally seriously the woman should be as one with her partner and allowing her senses to work and trusting them. It easy to prove to yourself that depriving yourself of sight can deprive yourself of inherent balance. In this case less sense is senseless, not more.

    Nor should you be “in your thinking head” at all but being utterly connected with all of your available senses engaged. You should not be divorced, nor even separated, from the dance. It’s a partnership and the input of your own senses and awareness is vital.

  19. Janet Rieck Says:

    I am serious. You should be paying attention to your partners “information” he is giving you and to the music at the same time and when you do you become “one” when you dance. If you don’t you are in a “control” mode and you are only thinking of “yourself” and not of the connection between yourself and your partner. You are separating yourself from partner. You should feel that you are “lost” in the dance with your partner. You should not be thinking of steps or anything…you just connect to the dance. It almost becomes automatic. If you are thinking too much, you have lost it.
    If you want to close your eyes, just do it. Your partner leads…not you. If you are interrupting the dance to let him know someone is going to run into you, you are not in the dance anyway. Besides, most men who can dance tango can handle any floor. The point is, don’t over think the dance. Just let it happen. It has nothing to do with steps or control.

  20. Gaëlle Céline Le Vu Says:

    To John –

    You wrote: “Women who dance with their eyes open help themselves, as well as their partners, to dance better. Eyes closed often implies too much conscious concentration, thinking rather than intuitive feeling. Eyes open aids balance, sensual awareness, presence, participation and partnership.”

    In physiotherapy and even some dance lessons, there is a reason we are taught exercises with eyes closed. We should not rely only on sight to keep our balance. If we rely on it, then we don’t have good balance. In this case, having closed eyes should not interfere at all with the balance and the dancing. And if it does, then it’s better to train it and we have to start somewhere.

    Also, in my own experience with dancing, if I close my eyes, it means I am totally in the present moment and I stop focusing on everything else which does not matter. I don’t usually spend the whole dance with my eyes clsoed, I switch between opening them and closing them. If the floor is crowded and my partner is making big movements, I will keep my eyes open, but even if it is crowded, if he is making very small steps, I trust that he is being really careful and I prefer to close my eyes at least half the time of the dance. it makes my dancing much better. And almost every time I close my eyes, I receive great feedback about how sensitive I was as a follower.

    I also lead (Brazilian zouk) and have been doing it a while now. When I dance with nervous or newbie followers, I encourage them to close their eyes. It made all of them relax and focus more on the dancing and they danced much better after that.

    Not everybody reacts the same, sure, but then try following for a couple of years (I suppose that you are a man/leader?) and you will see how much closing eyes enhances women’s sensitivity. Using sight puts women more in their active “male” energy, whereas closing their eyes generally makes them more sensitive and more in their feminine energy, which is better for social dancing 🙂

  21. Chris, UK Says:

    Gaëlle wrote: “try following for a couple of years (I suppose that you are a man/leader?) and you will see how much closing eyes enhances women’s sensitivity.

    “Following” for a couple of years does not tell a guy how much closing eyes enhances women’s sensitivity.

    Dancing for years with variety of women does.

    I take it from your advice Gaëlle that you’ve not tried the latter.

  22. John Morton Says:

    Nothing I say is going to convince some women that they should dance with their eyes open. The common feature of both opposing comments is too much thinking, too much theorising. And words really do fail me when I’m being asked to consider so-called male versus female energy.

    As for balance, few people would think of an exercise using the practise of solo dancing with their eyes closed to improve their balance. I have recommended it in the past as a balance improvement exercise but rarely do people persist enough to achieve the result and that is if they even start. It’s the realm of professional dancers not social ones.

    But of one thing I am certain, if you cannot dance alone and on the balls of bare feet with your eyes closed for an indefinite period time, you should not even attempt to dance with closed eyes.

    However it’s a social dance, a surprisingly physically demanding (of the body) dance but a natural one too and I need your eyes. Since when do you move or do almost anything out of the bedroom with your eyes closed (sleep excepted)?

  23. Gaëlle Céline Le Vu Says:

    For me, social dancing isn’t just another random activity. It is something very special. Having my eyes open is not a requirement of life, it is just a basic human action about day-to-day activities. Using our main sense in order to get things done. But that’s when you’re doing your activities yourself. Following is a totally different thing (and the reason why we dance is not because it is a necessity, but a pleasure) and if I would have to keep my eyes open constantly, I’m not sure I would still be doing social dancing.
    Part of the attraction of social dancing is that we can let go and open something else inside us. If we use sight all the time, we cannot open that thing nearly as easily because we’re too much in our heads.

    Also, women’s and men’s brains do work a bit differently. For example, during a sexual act, women’s brains completely shuts off when they reach an O. I’m not comparing it to that exactly but there are a lot of things that we can understand about social dancing when remembering how women’s brains work. Generally speaking, they overthink super easily and don’t focus as easily on one thing like men do.

    For me, these 2 things (sexuality and social dancing) use a similar brain activity, and I’m definitely not the only female dancer to have said that. The less we rely on our sight, the more we feel and can use proprioception, which helps us being in the moment and follow better. Using sight puts us more in the future, predicting what is going to happen, etc.
    It is not true all the time but, most of the time, it does work that way. And aren’t followers meant to be more in the present? Wait for the lead from their partner? I’m not a proper tango dancer but in the other social dances I practice, being in the present and waiting for the lead is something most followers struggle to do well and are constantly trying to improve.

    —-
    Chris – Not many years, but 2 years of leading so far, and one of the best leaders in my scene, from what all the women have told me. I also take all the workshops as a leader and do have a bit of experience in that regard nowadays. But since I learnt to be a follower first and dance solo dances a lot too, I learnt to “feel balanced” not as a leader but as a follower and a solo dancer.

    So I couldn’t say if leading with a variety of women improves that. But if you say it does, then good 🙂 I just don’t see that many leaders be aware of this in most social dance scenes, but tango might be an exception since leaders have to pay so much attention to their partner’s balance, too 🙂

  24. Chris, UK Says:

    Gaëlle wrote: “ I also take all the workshops as a leader

    Ah. You’re a classgoer.

    For avoidance of doubt, by “dancing for years with variety of women”, I meant real dancing. In the milonga.

  25. John Morton Says:

    Gaëlle Céline Le Vu – your comment:
    For me, these 2 things (sexuality and social dancing) use a similar brain activity, and I’m definitely not the only female dancer to have said that. The less we rely on our sight, the more we feel and can use proprioception, which helps us being in the moment and follow better.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Your approach and opinion to tango is very different to mine. To compare tango to sexuality is very strange. It is a dance, not a sex act despite the comments of uninformed observers. And then you comment about following better – you should not think of yourself as a follower but as an equal partner. You don’t follow in the conventional dance sense, you move as one with your partner and your free leg goes where your senses indicate in the moment. No thinking. Everything you say implies an inward concentration, a consciousness of thought, instead of allowing your senses to operate sub-consciously and intuitively.

    Finally, usually I can tell when a dancer has her eyes closed, she has a subtle delay and a different style of movement with foot placement and she doesn’t flow with me. She isn’t free and she doesn’t allow herself to trust her own senses.

  26. Clarissa Almenara Says:

    Hi, Janis!
    I always read your blog, but I’ve never commented before.
    This is a very interesting topic, because I notice that many women dance with closed eyes, but I don’t. I used to think that, in some way, something was wrong with me, since all girls were doing it… but I could not point what was wrong… I surrender myself to the music, to my partner, the embrace is wonderful, and everything is perfect, a total bliss. Reading this discussion, I concluded that is just about a personal preference, and, no, there is nothing wrong with me. Yay!
    Well, I will tell you why I do not close my eyes: I believe that, as a follower, it is my job to help the leader, he doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head, but my eyes are pointing in that direction. Maybe, the leader I am dancing with is amazing, but the other leaders on the floor are not. I use the sign on the shoulder you’ve mentioned whenever I see a crazy couple coming straight in our direction. Some leaders even thank me for doing that. When he leads a small step, I have to do it even smaller (sometimes just changing my weight almost not moving my feet) because I see a woman on my left doing big embellishments, and the chances of getting stabbed by her stilettos are huge. I am not tense while dancing, when I have to adapt, it’s a natural response, no pressure.
    The leader is not my personal driver. I can’t go on the backseat with my eyes closed, waiting for him to navigate the floor, taking alone all the responsibility. A teacher said once: no wonder there are more women dancing than men.
    I don’t judge the girls who close their eyes. If you can do it, and it’s nice, enjoy. It doesn’t work with me.
    Obviously, when I dance, my eyes are not completely open staring into the space like a psycho. I just look down, but my peripheral vision is working, and it prevents bumps on a crowded floor.

    PS: Please, forgive me for any written mistake, my English is not that good.

  27. jantango Says:

    Thanks for your first comment on Tango Chamuyo. You expressed yourself very well.

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