When the magic happens... And when it doesn't
The first urgent notes of a d'Arienzo song filled the cool, air-conditioned room, replacing the funky cortina some couples had been dancing to. Due to a simultaneous festival Milonga the floor was emptier than usual, but not too empty - just the right quantity of dancers to keep things spicy.
Straightening instinctively from where I had been chatting with my friends, I cast my eyes around for a potential partner. I had already danced with almost all of my friends present, and this was promising to be one of my favourite tandas, the kind I really did not want to miss - the kind that made me tap my feet, mouthing the lyrics along to the music, while I tried to look as if I was listening to the discussions going on around me.
I finally gathered enough courage to eye the DJ, standing in his booth behind a chin-high sheet of glass. Catching my eye as he looked up from his computer screen, he threw me a small smile then focused once again on the bright display.
Well, it was rather nice of him not to outright ignore me, I thought. Nevertheless a bit embarrassed, I let my gaze travel to a few couples trickling into the line of dance, their movements suddenly in time with the music as though it were a breath of wind sweeping them along, leaves at the mercy of teasing currents.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone approach. It was the DJ. I tried not looking at him too fixedly as I stifled a surge of envy, thinking he was going to dance with one of the women seated on my right. But he stopped in front of me, smiled, and extended his hand.
The tanda passed in a blur - I had no time to stop and think - and once it ended I was rewarded with a light hug.
I wandered back to my friends, trying not to look too happy, because they had not been enjoying the evening, one of them dancing very little and the other disappointed with all but one dance - the one she had gotten with the DJ.
Which led me off of my little cloud to wonder: why is it that some evenings are so wonderful while others are their exact opposite?
A week prior, in the same Milonga, I remember leaving close to tears myself after sitting out tanda after tanda, as I tried and failed to mirada different dancers, feeling increasingly as though I was invisible. I would tentatively look at the man on my right, only to see him look away. Throw a smile to one of my regular partners at the bar to notice he was busy talking with one of the professional dancers attending the Milonga, and later they were dancing - not that I blame him as I know I'd pick her too, in his place.
Another time, my friend had danced practically all evening while I felt my bottom would soon take the shape of my chair's seat - and it was not very flattering - or stay glued to it when I tried to get up. I remember a vivid moment when I was hoping to dance with a man standing near our table, but who was gazing fixedly at the opposite wall. I checked my other side for potential partners. Nada. Then I saw my friend walking to the floor with Mr. No-way-in-hell-I'll-look-your-way.
But that night, it was the opposite, and she was almost not dancing at all.
"Don't take it personally," I told her, knowing it was a piece of advice I myself found rather difficult to apply. "You're a good dancer, and a wonderful person. Tonight was just unlucky".
That is a point no one should forget: an evening out can just as easily be great or make you want to rip out your hair (which would be more painful for certain people than for others). However, here are some thoughts about what makes a night turn out great, or feel like a psychological pit of hell.
I find this unfortunate, and as cruel as it may sound, an important element is being young and pretty, especially in certain Milongas where the average age is lower than in more traditional places. Tango isn't always nice and happy, and I believe this is one of the nastier aspects of the dance: the importance given to appearance (and I'm not talking about dressing appropriately or being clean). People - of both sexes - are more likely to invite the pretty young face than an older dancer, unless there is a high difference in skill. Sorry, men, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I have the impression this is especially true for you.
I won't expand on this subject much as it was not the central topic of this piece. To continue with another element, simply enough the way one dresses is enough to influence an evening.
"This place is famous for the short skirts the women wear," a female friend told me the other day as I tried not to stare incredulously at the panties of the follower dancing in front us. "The shorter it is, the more you dance."
"Maybe I should wear a mini-skirt", I joked - I tend to favour minimum knee-length - as the song ended and the undergarments were hastily hidden by their owner as she pulled her pencil skirt down.
"You should, dear, you have nice legs," she answered, blue eyes crinkling up. As I laughed, I couldn't help but consider trying to wear less covering garments - maybe not a skirt but why not a pair of shorts?
I recall being told just a few days prior, on the subject of one of the numerous big fish of Buenos Aires, that he always dances with girls who showed a lot of leg even if their dancing was not up to par. To be honest, I feel I am not in a position to judge this.
One: I am not in the position to judge anyone's reasons for dancing with another person.
Two: I also dress up for milongas, simply I have a different style from Mrs. Mini - and even then I feel I am changing the way I dress lately.
Three, as long as it stays decent, I understand girls who use what they have to their advantage... Don't we all?
Four (since I'm being honest): I also would rather dance with a well-dressed man than someone who looks like he wore his pyjamas to the Milonga or is celebrating the tenth-year anniversary of his unwashed t-shirt.
Clothes put aside (metaphorically), another element is whether people see you on the floor. If they see you dancing, they will assume you know what you're doing, to a certain degree. If they see you sitting... Well, why should they take their chance with the unknown factor when there are so many delicious dancers around? Of course, it helps to go with friends, but sometimes even they elect to primarily invite other dancers, and usually all at the same time. According to my hypothesis this is due to Murphy's law... I do not blame them, as there are also times I am less enthused about dancing with people I see every day (others I would happily dance with several in one evening). And of course, once again, this is not a problem for women only, I believe.
I'll just mention a third element before the end of this meandering piece. Sometimes, how much you get invited is simply a matter of expression and body language.
I for one am guilty of not being able to watch my facial expression for extended periods of time. And let's be honest, I too would dance with a smiling individual rather than one who looks murderous. The problem is, my forced smiles look... Well... Let's just say it might be better to simply sulk in my chair or find someone to talk to who doesn't try to edge away discreetly.
Body language is just as difficult to control, yet I have noticed a difference in the amount of invitations I receive that seems directly related to how happy or confident I feel. However, there also other pitfalls than looking unhappy.
"Don't look over-eager," I was wisely told once, as I wiggled forward in my chair during the first notes of one of my numerous favourite songs.
"He told me I should look mysterious - mostly as a joke, I think," a friend confided another time, sitting down at our table after dancing several songs in the dimly lit room of the unavoidable Buenos Aires early morning Milonga. "So I pretended I was mysterious - it was very funny. Then he looked surprised and invited me." We laughed, but I think there is some truth in looking like an interesting person (If you have tips on how to look like an interesting person please message me).
All these elements set aside, When I had just started dancing, I remember one of the more advanced followers in my community, a charming lady of around fifty years, telling me:
"Stop wondering why people don't dance with you. If you want to get better, get better. But they might not be dancing with you because they are tired, because they don't dance with people they don't know, because they don't like your clothes or don't like girls with curly hair. They might also feel uncomfortable because you're so much younger than them. But really, it's a loss of time. It'll come or not, and worrying about it won't change much."