Why we are often confused about what it means to be “social”?


My name is Veronica Toumanova and I am a professional tango dancer based in Paris. Tango for me is about living my passion. I perform, teach, dance socially and write about tango. 


20 December 2014 


Tango is a social dance and as such has these two components: “social” and “dance”. We all have a more or less clear idea of the “dance” component and how to get it. We all know what a skillful dancer looks like, Youtube is full of them and in a milonga we always immediately identify the “good” ones. We love watching them and want to be like them, for mastery of dance is a thing of great beauty.

 

But what about the “social” component? What kind of a skill is that? What does it mean to be social in tango?

 

On the first and most basic level, being social means respecting the common rules and practices of a particular tango context. They are sometimes very democratic and sometimes very strict, from the gender-dividing sitting arrangements in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires to the completely free social interactions of a tango marathon. If you come to a place in which everyone respects a certain dress code (say, a Grand Saturday Ball of a big festival) and you are dressed like you just walked your dog, the message you are sending is “Carry on, I am not part of this party”. You will be probably left sitting, ignored by most people, not because they are evil, but because for them at this moment you are NOT IN THE GAME. If you do not respect the good practices of a place, you cannot complain that people do not accept you “as you are”. It does not work in tango, just as it does not work anywhere else.

 

On the second level, being social means respecting other dancers, both on the dance floor and around it. A large part of it is floorcraft, the other part is the dynamic of inviting, being invited and general social interactions. Annoying, intrusive or aggressive invitations, barging in on an intimate conversation, stalking, acting insulted when rejected, forcing yourself onto a person instead of using delicate methods of approach: all of these are examples of a not very social behaviour. Respecting also means helping to keep up a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Sour faces, loud criticism, noisy distractions, being drunk, quarrelling with your friends or loved ones in public, jealous outbursts, annoying other people with your remarks, bothering the DJ with your musical requests, complaining to the organisers while they are working: all this is a disruptive behaviour that negatively affects the atmosphere. Coming to an event in a bad mood and expecting other people to make your day is also an example of asocial behaviour, albeit a more subtle one.

 

The third level is of being social is respecting your dance partners, people with whom you interact the closest, or the “human factor” in the dance. It includes everything from smelling nice and being polite between the dances to creating an authentic human connection in the dance itself. It is about being responsive, sensitive to the partner’s intentions, flexible, not manipulative or otherwise physically disturbing. To me, being social in tango means these three things: respecting the context, respecting other dancers and respecting your dance partners. What you do with your time within those parameters is entirely your business, just as it is entirely your business with whom you to choose to do it.

 

There exists, however, a different idea of what it means to be social in tango. According to that idea the more people you dance with, the more social you are. And you are considered even more social if you dance with a lot of people you actually don’t want to dance with, but who want to dance with you or simply want to dance. The core of this idea is the belief that being social (or altruistic) is about forsaking your desires and answering to the desires of others. By this definition, a dancer who only wants a certain quality of dance experience in terms of mastery and skill, can never be truly social and is therefore an arrogant snob. In this paradigm beginners are the most social dancers of all and professionals are total assholes, unless they make a deliberate effort to dance with people they’d rather not dance with. In this case they are considered social and humble DESPITE being an amazing dancer. Being accomplished becomes the opposite of being nice. How often have you heard the remark “S/he is a great dancer, yet still such a nice and humble person”?

 

Where does this idea of sociability as a service come from? From the importance we attach to generosity as a social value. It comes from an often repeated statement that when you were a beginner, more advanced dancers danced with you to make you feel welcome, so, when you advance, you should do the same service to others. The common belief is that, when you become a better dancer, you have something to give to others, an important asset which is your capability to create a fulfilling dance experience, so you should generously bestow it on those who haven’t got it yet. It is true that in many cases beginners rely on the “kindness of strangers” when they come to tango, but they also dance with other beginners, as well as with people who specifically love to dance with beginners (leaders with beginner followers, mostly). Being too generous has a downside. It is often this “being just out of reach” of a certain desirable dancer that pushes us to grow.

 

There are situations in which you would probably be thankful to another dancer for being generous and dancing with you: when you are new to a place, when you are a total beginner, when you have been feeling alone and abandoned. If a dancer shows you this kind of generosity in a genuine way you should appreciate it, but remember that it is a choice, not an obligation. Tango is not a community service, it is a passion. People come to dance first of all to enjoy themselves, not to see whether they could be of help. Each time you find yourself resenting other dancers for not being generous enough towards you, I suggest you ask yourself a question: to whom have I been generous myself today? If you want generosity, first go and give it. The simplest way is to find a dancer you would normally reject and dance with him or her WITH A GENUINE DESIRE to be generous. Only when you regularly do something yourself can you expect the same thing from others. Expect, but not demand.

 

There exists a belief that this attitude of “sociability as a service to others” helps to forge stronger communities when dancers mix with each other rather than create “niches” based on affinity. There is a lot of truth to it, especially for small local scenes with little external influence that want to keep their integrity and an atmosphere free of mutual resentment. However, if a community wants to cultivate a higher level of dancing, advanced dancers should be free to dance with whomever they want to without being judged or otherwise pressured, so that they can inspire others to progress.

 

There is also another important component to this idea of sociability, namely the pressure to dance “with as many people as you can”. Tango, being an introverted dance, attracts many introverts into its midst. “Dancing with as many people as you can” is not a very introvert way of socializing, though. It is the extravert way of being social (leaving the skill factor aside for a moment). A typical introvert would dance two-three intense tandas with a person s/he has been hoping to dance with the whole evening and then go sit quietly in a corner, waiting for the emotions to calm. An extravert, meanwhile, might go from partner to partner with hardly a cortina in between. An introvert would have one long personal conversation with a friend, while an extrovert would collect the latest gossip, greet every person in the room, chat with several old friends and have a drink with a few new ones. We as a society have a very extraverted idea of what “social” means, for the simple reason that extraverts are a majority and real party animals. If we keep this extraverted criteria of sociability we are basically saying that introverts can never be social, but that’s absurd.

 

Because of this wide-spread idea of what it means to be social in tango we have an ongoing conflict of interests. On one hand, tango dancers are stimulated to learn and develop their dance, not only because their teachers would like that very much, but because developing your skill brings intensely pleasurable dance experience and because we want to be like the dancers we admire. On the other hand, this notion of losing one’s social credits weighs heavily on everyone wishing to become a better dancer and to connect to better partners. Dancers are made to feel guilty for not dancing with as many people as possible, for not being generous to others and sharing their “assets”. This pressure is driven by the idea that quantity matters. Instead, quantity is irrelevant altogether. What counts is the QUALITY of what you do, the kind of energy you put into it.

 

Once we accept that being social means showing respect on three levels (context, dancers around you and your dance partners) and we relinquish the idea of sociability being the number of dances or the willingness to service others, but instead the QUALITY we put in all our interactions, then I believe we will have our social values in the right place. Furthermore, you can only be truly social when you are in touch with your authentic self. Because, you see, tango is both “social” and “dance”, but neither of them is tango’s real purpose. The real purpose of tango is JOY and we all have our own idea of what gives us the most profound joy. To some it means dancing a lot, to others it means dancing well with that special person. To some it means socializing with friends, to others being generous to people in need. So let’s be social, let’s be dancers, let’s all be different, but most of all let’s be joyful.

 

More articles: www.verotango.com


My name is Veronica Toumanova and I am a professional tango dancer based in Paris. Tango for me is about living my passion. I perform, teach, dance socially and write about tango. 


20 December 2014 


Tango is a social dance and as such has these two components: “social” and “dance”. We all have a more or less clear idea of the “dance” component and how to get it. We all know what a skillful dancer looks like, Youtube is full of them and in a milonga we always immediately identify the “good” ones. We love watching them and want to be like them, for mastery of dance is a thing of great beauty.

 

But what about the “social” component? What kind of a skill is that? What does it mean to be social in tango?

 

On the first and most basic level, being social means respecting the common rules and practices of a particular tango context. They are sometimes very democratic and sometimes very strict, from the gender-dividing sitting arrangements in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires to the completely free social interactions of a tango marathon. If you come to a place in which everyone respects a certain dress code (say, a Grand Saturday Ball of a big festival) and you are dressed like you just walked your dog, the message you are sending is “Carry on, I am not part of this party”. You will be probably left sitting, ignored by most people, not because they are evil, but because for them at this moment you are NOT IN THE GAME. If you do not respect the good practices of a place, you cannot complain that people do not accept you “as you are”. It does not work in tango, just as it does not work anywhere else.

 

On the second level, being social means respecting other dancers, both on the dance floor and around it. A large part of it is floorcraft, the other part is the dynamic of inviting, being invited and general social interactions. Annoying, intrusive or aggressive invitations, barging in on an intimate conversation, stalking, acting insulted when rejected, forcing yourself onto a person instead of using delicate methods of approach: all of these are examples of a not very social behaviour. Respecting also means helping to keep up a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Sour faces, loud criticism, noisy distractions, being drunk, quarrelling with your friends or loved ones in public, jealous outbursts, annoying other people with your remarks, bothering the DJ with your musical requests, complaining to the organisers while they are working: all this is a disruptive behaviour that negatively affects the atmosphere. Coming to an event in a bad mood and expecting other people to make your day is also an example of asocial behaviour, albeit a more subtle one.

 

The third level is of being social is respecting your dance partners, people with whom you interact the closest, or the “human factor” in the dance. It includes everything from smelling nice and being polite between the dances to creating an authentic human connection in the dance itself. It is about being responsive, sensitive to the partner’s intentions, flexible, not manipulative or otherwise physically disturbing. To me, being social in tango means these three things: respecting the context, respecting other dancers and respecting your dance partners. What you do with your time within those parameters is entirely your business, just as it is entirely your business with whom you to choose to do it.

 

There exists, however, a different idea of what it means to be social in tango. According to that idea the more people you dance with, the more social you are. And you are considered even more social if you dance with a lot of people you actually don’t want to dance with, but who want to dance with you or simply want to dance. The core of this idea is the belief that being social (or altruistic) is about forsaking your desires and answering to the desires of others. By this definition, a dancer who only wants a certain quality of dance experience in terms of mastery and skill, can never be truly social and is therefore an arrogant snob. In this paradigm beginners are the most social dancers of all and professionals are total assholes, unless they make a deliberate effort to dance with people they’d rather not dance with. In this case they are considered social and humble DESPITE being an amazing dancer. Being accomplished becomes the opposite of being nice. How often have you heard the remark “S/he is a great dancer, yet still such a nice and humble person”?

 

Where does this idea of sociability as a service come from? From the importance we attach to generosity as a social value. It comes from an often repeated statement that when you were a beginner, more advanced dancers danced with you to make you feel welcome, so, when you advance, you should do the same service to others. The common belief is that, when you become a better dancer, you have something to give to others, an important asset which is your capability to create a fulfilling dance experience, so you should generously bestow it on those who haven’t got it yet. It is true that in many cases beginners rely on the “kindness of strangers” when they come to tango, but they also dance with other beginners, as well as with people who specifically love to dance with beginners (leaders with beginner followers, mostly). Being too generous has a downside. It is often this “being just out of reach” of a certain desirable dancer that pushes us to grow.

 

There are situations in which you would probably be thankful to another dancer for being generous and dancing with you: when you are new to a place, when you are a total beginner, when you have been feeling alone and abandoned. If a dancer shows you this kind of generosity in a genuine way you should appreciate it, but remember that it is a choice, not an obligation. Tango is not a community service, it is a passion. People come to dance first of all to enjoy themselves, not to see whether they could be of help. Each time you find yourself resenting other dancers for not being generous enough towards you, I suggest you ask yourself a question: to whom have I been generous myself today? If you want generosity, first go and give it. The simplest way is to find a dancer you would normally reject and dance with him or her WITH A GENUINE DESIRE to be generous. Only when you regularly do something yourself can you expect the same thing from others. Expect, but not demand.

 

There exists a belief that this attitude of “sociability as a service to others” helps to forge stronger communities when dancers mix with each other rather than create “niches” based on affinity. There is a lot of truth to it, especially for small local scenes with little external influence that want to keep their integrity and an atmosphere free of mutual resentment. However, if a community wants to cultivate a higher level of dancing, advanced dancers should be free to dance with whomever they want to without being judged or otherwise pressured, so that they can inspire others to progress.

 

There is also another important component to this idea of sociability, namely the pressure to dance “with as many people as you can”. Tango, being an introverted dance, attracts many introverts into its midst. “Dancing with as many people as you can” is not a very introvert way of socializing, though. It is the extravert way of being social (leaving the skill factor aside for a moment). A typical introvert would dance two-three intense tandas with a person s/he has been hoping to dance with the whole evening and then go sit quietly in a corner, waiting for the emotions to calm. An extravert, meanwhile, might go from partner to partner with hardly a cortina in between. An introvert would have one long personal conversation with a friend, while an extrovert would collect the latest gossip, greet every person in the room, chat with several old friends and have a drink with a few new ones. We as a society have a very extraverted idea of what “social” means, for the simple reason that extraverts are a majority and real party animals. If we keep this extraverted criteria of sociability we are basically saying that introverts can never be social, but that’s absurd.

 

Because of this wide-spread idea of what it means to be social in tango we have an ongoing conflict of interests. On one hand, tango dancers are stimulated to learn and develop their dance, not only because their teachers would like that very much, but because developing your skill brings intensely pleasurable dance experience and because we want to be like the dancers we admire. On the other hand, this notion of losing one’s social credits weighs heavily on everyone wishing to become a better dancer and to connect to better partners. Dancers are made to feel guilty for not dancing with as many people as possible, for not being generous to others and sharing their “assets”. This pressure is driven by the idea that quantity matters. Instead, quantity is irrelevant altogether. What counts is the QUALITY of what you do, the kind of energy you put into it.

 

Once we accept that being social means showing respect on three levels (context, dancers around you and your dance partners) and we relinquish the idea of sociability being the number of dances or the willingness to service others, but instead the QUALITY we put in all our interactions, then I believe we will have our social values in the right place. Furthermore, you can only be truly social when you are in touch with your authentic self. Because, you see, tango is both “social” and “dance”, but neither of them is tango’s real purpose. The real purpose of tango is JOY and we all have our own idea of what gives us the most profound joy. To some it means dancing a lot, to others it means dancing well with that special person. To some it means socializing with friends, to others being generous to people in need. So let’s be social, let’s be dancers, let’s all be different, but most of all let’s be joyful.

 

More articles: www.verotango.com