What is your tango style? How much skin are you comfortable showing? How tight are your dresses and skirts?
The other day at my tango lesson, Ale, my tango teacher said, “Your style of dress has changed so much over the last few years. Everything you wear now seems to have a sensuality to it. You should write a blog about dressing for tango.” Mind you, I had on a pair of leggings and a long top that was just slightly fitted. It was sleeveless with a crew neck. After all, I was at a afternoon tango lesson, not at a milonga. I would say that what I had on had a sense of simple elegance and style, not necessarily sensuality. It’s my humble opinion, that the sensuality comes from the inside. And, since tango is a sensual dance one needs to be in tune with their own sensuality whenever they are dancing tango.
Learning to dress for a milonga or finding that perfect dress for work is really the same thing. This is also true for cyclists, skiers, tennis players etc. Essentially most of us in this world tend to dress the part, at least I have been this way most of my life. Tango is no exception, I want to express myself visually when dancing tango. Tango is all about nonverbal communication, so how one dresses, man or women says a lot about who they are and their respect for the dance and for the opposite sex. A little hint here men, wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, means more than likely fewer women will be looking your way.
I wrote in my book about my view of the dressing as I saw it on my first trip to Buenos Aires back in 2013, At milongas in Buenos Aires, the dress style went from elegant, to sensual, to downright slutty.
Now, six years later, I no longer see things exactly the same way. I would also say, I’m just now learning what’s the right style of dress for me, in the milongas of Buenos Aires and in other parts of the world. No, I still don’t wear low cut dresses or have a lot of cleavage showing. I will leave that to others. I still stand by my comment that my breasts have always gotten more attention than they deserved. I have never felt the need to draw more attention to them.
I can also tell you that I now wear my skirts and dresses a little tighter and the slits have gotten higher and the backs a little lower. I feel like I’m in my third evolution of dressing for a night at the milonga. These days, I call my style sensual elegance. On nights that I achieve this, I often hear, “You are looking muy elegante tonight.”
At my first tango lesson, I wore a one size too big linen A-line skirt to mid-calf and a loose fitting white cotton top. It was summer in Buenos Aires, so I brought clothes that were suited for a hot humid climate and comfortable to move around in. It looked dowdy at best, and the cotton top was soon soaked with sweat marks. It would have been perfect for sitting at a beachside restaurant, but not at a tango lesson anywhere in the world. And particularly not in Buenos Aires in the summertime.
In the beginning, of buying tango clothes that is, I was such a novice it was comical. First, I was not used to wearing tight fitting clothes, so everything I bought back then, I now consider one, maybe even two sizes too big. I argued with almost everyone when I tired things on. They kept saying “perfect” and I kept saying “too tight.” The looser fitting clothes can also be an issue for the man. It means his hand on your back slips around and it is harder for him to keep a good embrace and give the follower a clear mark. This is also true with very slippery fabric.
I have also taken more than a few lessons from the Argentine women through the years and have learned to become more comfortable with my own body. Unless you are lucky enough to be the perfect weight and under 25 years old, let’s be honest, we all have a few bulges. At least in Buenos Aires, no one seems to notice or be self-conscious about them and both sexes seem to have few illusions. Neither expects the other to look like the model on a magazine cover.
Soon into my tango journey, I was buying clothes that were specifically made for tango. I now knew that I needed the fabrics to stretch and not show sweat, but there was still so much I didn’t understand. I was never one to just follow the crowd in my dressing style. But the problem was, when it came to tango, I had no idea what my style was. I was on a steep learning curve, figuring out how to dress and how to dance.
In Buenos Aires they wear a lot of lace. I tired that for a while, only to discover a year later that it really wasn’t me. Many women wear animal print dresses, leopard, tiger, etc. I knew that wasn’t me. But I also saw it seem to fit well in the milongas in Buenos Aires and other places in the world. What I soon started to realize was, the style I seem to like and the style that suited me, was impossible for me to wear. I thought, I love the look of a backless dress. But, how do I wear a backless dress without bras and bra straps showing?
The first thing that any female tango dancer needs, is the right undergarments. And yes, they can be hard to find, and sometimes expensive. Ahora, I’m sitting here laughing. Not sure if it's my age, the fact I’m from the US or the size of my breasts. But, I will tell you that there are many women out there that have zero concerns about dancing tango without a bra, or finding the right pair of underpants to avoid having panty lines showing under that very tight skirt. The fabric of most tango tops is very then and of course here in Buenos Aires the woman’s chest is pressed against the man’s chest when dancing. Yes, tango is a very intimate dance.
Actually, it took me a few years. But if you look you can find just the right halter bra. Or a bra/bodysuit, where the strap goes over your shoulder and then immediately wraps under your arm and hooks on the side of the bra. This allows one to wear a completely backless dress. If all else fails, you can actually buy bra straps made of rhinestones or pearls, so at least if the strap shows it looks elegant.
For me personally, at this time of my life, I have discovered the skin on my back has held up better than the skin on the rest of my body. So, I think why not show it off. I laugh at myself often when I look at the number of bras I travel with, to suit all the different dress styles and colors.
I have also found simple, long, elegant lines with little to no print on them is my style and yes, very fitted, but not skin tight. This style makes me appear the tiniest bit taller and makes my waist look just a touch smaller.
Maybe the most important thing in any dress style is how comfortable you are in the clothes. I want my clothes to project what I’m feeling on the inside. For me, tango is an elegant, sensual dance. I want to feel that elegance and sensuality when I get dressed and I want to project that image to the entire room when I walk into a milonga.
Good luck in finding your perfect tango style!!!
#2 So Milonguera, you want to dance in Buenos Aires
A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to her blog about getting a tanda at a large tango festival, where there are five hundred people or an encuentro with 200 hundred people. You walk in cold, and don’t know a soul. Here’s the link to her blog, https://thepositivefeministphilosopher.com/?s=tango+festival
If you are headed to a tango festival or an encuentro in the near future it’s a must read. She has several excellent suggestions. Here I will expand on her suggestions and throw out a few of my own that I have learned in my years dancing in Buenos Aires. If you have read my book you will have already read about a few of the suggestions.
1. Smile: It’s so obvious. I’m certainly not the first or last person to remind you of this. SMILE! Leave your attitude and bad mood at home. If you can’t do that, then better to stay home with a good book. You say, “Well, that is easy for you to say, but I’m a great dancer and I just spent $2000.00 on an airline ticket, “I deserve to dance!!!” The Porteños don’t know you are a good dancers. If you are here in season, January to April there may be twenty new women in the room every night, with your exact story. Plus, a room full of Porteñas and expats that they loved to dance with. I spent many years here sitting and watching more than dancing. Of course, I’m a better dancer now, but I see a lot of good dancers sitting more than dancing. What follows are a few things that I believe have helped me through the years.
2. Dressing: Find a style of dress that suits you. Wear it like you own it, I mean really own it! Remember men are visual beings and most seem to like a bit of a sensual look. But that doesn’t necessarily mean having a lot of skin showing or the dress is so overtly sexy there is more cleavage than dress, particularly here in Buenos Aires. I leave that look to the Porteña. She does it very well, I may add. I have actually found I get more compliments on my dress when there is a subtler elegance about it. Porteños, I’m talking men and women here, read body language better than anyone I know. So, if you don’t walk into the milonga feeling comfortable in your own skin and owning what you are wearing, you have already started to fade into the background a little in their eyes.
3. Social beings: Porteños, again men and women are extremely social being. This is important, really! When you walk into a milonga, even if you don’t know one person in the room, give a big welcoming smile to everyone you make eye contact with. If you are seated at a table with a group of ladies introduce yourself, apologies for not speaking Spanish or if you are lucky enough to speak Spanish, start up a conversation. Only a few times in all the years that I have been coming here have I not had my openness and warmth returned. You also might find there are several other women at the table that are from the USA or Europe and speak very good English. Or they speak another language, but they are milongueras, and have also had those nights that no one notices them. So, you have common ground from the beginning. If a strange man greets you with a big Porteño hug and kiss, return it. So, you never seen him before, and he has confused with someone else, this could just be your first tanda.
4. Changing your shoes: Again, head to the bathroom to change your shoes with a sense of confidence. Now it a good time to start looking around. Really try to assess the room. Are any of the men looking at you? Smile at them. Does a nice dancer catch your eye? Where is he sitting? When I return to the table I never rush. I take out my fan and a very small cloth to wipe off the sweat. Basically saying, I always dance a lot, so these are important items for me to have at hand. I sit, lean back and scan the room. Try your best to look relaxed and confident. People watching at a milonga is beyond compare, so take a good look around and enjoy the action. Watch some great footwork by some of the other women. See if you can detect something in a person body language. You will make an instant friend by telling another women that their shoes or dress are beautiful. It’s such an easy complement to give, because the women here often have on fantastic dresses and shoes.
5. Make eye contact: Yes, make eye contact with as many men as possible. Don’t stare them down. Just a quick glance and a nice open and welcoming smile. I can’t tell how many men have said to me, “I didn’t ask her to dance because she never looked at me.” Men really do take avoiding eye contact as a sign you have no interest in dancing them. The fact is, many are very insecure, we women all know that. I used to always glance away if a men walked by my table early in a tanda thinking, I don’t want to make him uncomfortable. Now, I make quick eye contact and give them a relaxed smile, but… never look needy.
6. Not dancing: Move around. We are all creature of habit. If you are dancing a lot, the men assume you are a good dancer, and they want what the others have. If you’re not dancing, they assume you are a bad dancer. Ok, you say, so what can I do? Here is the thing, if they see you in your chair tanda after tanda they think other men don’t want to dance with you, so neither do they. Yes, it’s a bit of the follow the crowd game, but I don’t know how to change human nature. A few suggestions. Of course, there’s always the bathroom ploy. It gets you out of your seat and allows you to be more visible by the men who are not dancing, walk around the long way if possible. In Buenos Aires there is usually someone selling clothes in the front or back of the room. Go take a good long look, even try things on, remember you are using up an entire tanda. If you see anyone in the room you know, go talk to them be social and interactive. I have been known to walk around the entire room acting like I was looking for someone, then shrugging my shoulder as if I was surprised, they were not there. Please, don’t ever assume that the Porteño is not looking. I think they survive by reading body language. It may be the third song of a tanda but trust me here, they will see your shoulders round, a pout come on your face and a sense of sadness fill your body. I have had more than one man say to me, “Why do they come down here and think we own them a dance.” Remember this may be your first trip to Buenos Aires, but they have seen thousands come and go. I’m fully aware it’s hard to stay upbeat after you have followed all the rule and sat there hopefully for an hour or two. If you can’t keep an upbeat attitude, I suggest going to a different milonga, even that same night, remember there are usually 15-20 milongas every night in Buenos Aires or wait a day and start a fresh. Sometimes even moving to a chair in another part of the room helps. Men like things simple, so they tend to ask the women to dance that are closest to them or the easiest to make eye contact with. Don’t fight human nature, you will lose every time. If there are women around you can talk to, ask where they have had better luck. Some milonga organizers let a lot of men in for free, encouraging them to dance with the tourist. Sueno Porteño is one of these and Julia, the organizer makes everyone feel loved and welcome.
7. Where you sit matters: I realize in the beginning you have no idea where the best place to sit might be. I would suggest, always making a reservation. Although this doesn’t promise you a seat where you can easily be seen, it does increase your odds. This too is a matter of preference. Many of my friends prefer to sit in the front, it’s where they feel they get the most tandas. I prefer to never be in the front row. I like being a little further back where I get a broader picture of the entire room. But I also need to be sure, at least at most milonga. I’m sitting someplace that I can be easily be seen or someplace a lot of men walk by, so they can file the information away, if they want to dance with me later. After you have been to a milonga once or twice take a close note of the flow and when you ask for a reservation the next time politely ask if they can put you at a table in that area.
8. OK, so you got that first dance: I have learned through the years that just a polite gracias is not enough. A big Porteño hug and smile, is usually in order and the bigger the smile the better. Porteño men and I am sure women can be insecure about their dancing, just as you and I are. So, tell them how much you enjoyed dancing them with words and your body language. Also, Porteños love their tango music. If they see you understand it and love it as much as them, you will have just moved up on their list. In many parts of the world, tango is about how many steps you know, not in Buenos Aires. Here tango about is passion, connection and the music. Spend less time thinking about your technique and more time listening to the music and making it a part of how your whole body moves. Work on your embrace! Here in Buenos Aires, it’s very close, chest to chest, belly to belly. I personally enjoy a very close embrace. It allows me to feel, that tenth of a second sooner what a man is asking, and lets me know how his body is reacting to the music. I can’t tell you the number of times I have gotten huge hugs and endless compliments for my passion, love and understanding of the music. Until I open my mouth after the first song of a tanda they often assume I’m Porteña. I hear, you don’t dance like an American, you dance with your heart, like a Portena. Yes ladies, dance each and every tanda with your heart! Even if the man can’t step on the beat and has a terrible embrace, your face needs to show that you are enjoying the tanda. Here is a comment I have heard more than once, “If I see a women frowning with a look of disgust on her face when dancing, I immediately take her off my list for a future tanda.”
9. Know your music: If you don’t know your music, start listening to it and studying it. Even if you have to fake it a little. Porteños love it that you have taken the time to learn, about their music or at the very least are truly interested in knowing the music. We consider rock n roll our music, and tango is their music. I have been known to say after the first song of a tanda, “Thank you for asking me to dance, that was one of my favorite songs, or I hate to sit out a Pugliese tanda.” Porteños, like all people love to share their knowledge with you. I have learned much through the years a few simple questions or comments like, “What orchestra is this, I love it,” or “That song was so beautiful I wanted to cry.” Maybe you felt the playfulness in the music, tell them. You don’t have to know the song or the orchestra, but let them know you are really listening to the music with them.
10. Never take it personally: The reason you are not dancing probably has nothing to do with you. There is syndrome down here that I call, the new girl on the block. Many women have been coming here for years, maybe for one month, maybe for three months. The men that they dance with look forward to this. I have been on both sides of this. For a month or two I’m the special one, the one that gets their extra attention. Then a few weeks later I’m again on their regular list and there are other, new girls on the block. I have also noticed that at certain milongas certain men ask me to dance a lot, but at another milonga, they just give me a friendly greeting and are never seen again. They have other regulars at that milonga.
11. But maybe it is you, or me: I try and assess my mood before going out. Is my energy good? Do I have a positive upbeat attitude? If I’m thinking clearly, I stay home. Other nights I think, when I get there the energy of the milonga will pick me up. As you might imagine this can go either way. If I’m lucky, I will get a few great tandas early and my attitude and energy go up immediately. Other nights I’m not so lucky, so after an hour or so, I pick myself up and go home. But here is the interesting part. One the way out several of my regular dancers will come over give me a big Porteño hug and say, “Your energy is not right tonight, maybe a little tired, it happens to all of us.” Like I said, they read body language down here like no place else in the word.
1. Dressing for the milonga
2. So, milonguera you want to dance in Buenos Aires