by Don Rosenberg – Organizer – www.TangoNorthAmerica.com – 5/8/2017
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Some of the most common complaints I hear from my women friends are “there aren’t enough leaders,” and “there aren’t enough GOOD leaders.” or “I’m a good dancer, why don’t I get dances?” I also hear comments about trying to get better gender balance at events and how unfair it is when women have to be turned away from registering.
I’d bet that in 95% of our communities the ladies outnumber the men, sometimes significantly. Notice I am saying “ladies and men,” not “leaders and followers.” This article seeks to start a discussion about how we can attract, keep and develop more male dancers for Tango. So please pardon me in advance for anything that’s politically incorrect.
Face it, with a partner dance like Tango, you need partners. Having ladies learn to be leaders is fine, I don’t oppose it one bit, but this discussion is about male dancers…
Cultures vary, but, in my opinion, men seem to have less interest in dance overall than ladies. I’ve been to events where the ladies outnumber the men two to one. This causes all sorts of problems, ladies getting too few dances, men dancing with only who they think are the “best” followers, men feeling they don’t need to improve their dance in order to participate, etc.
I’d like to hear your ideas on how we can attract new male dancers, how we can retain them, and how we can encourage them to develop their skills.
Here are some starting points for our conversation…
My suggestion is to consider approaching men from their point of view, instead of a dancer’s point of view…
Attracting new leaders.
Almost all of our communities have outreach and beginner classes. Try to make those early lessons simple and fun. Let dancers feel a sense of success, instead of having them leave with the idea that this is a dance no man can learn without ten years of Olympics-style training. Manage their expectations and focus on ways to make them comfortable from an early stage.
Note: When I meet a new leader who has been bitten by the Tango Bug, I often take them aside and tell them that if they focus on the basics and not the steps, they can be successful more quickly and with less stress. I explain that in my experience, men are hunters and want to conquer five, 10, 15 and 20 different “steps or moves.” But the very best leaders can give an excellent dance with just five. I’ve heard from many women that a man who focuses on his embrace, makes his partner feel comfortable and safe, and has developed good musicality, gives a much better dance than a guy with lots of fancy moves who pushes and pulls you across the floor with no sense of music at all!
Retaining male dancers.
A big priority is trying avoid things that turn men away from dancing Tango. I have heard several stories where men with a few months’ experience were discouraged and wanting to quit. Why? Because a woman they danced with told them how horrible they were.
Note: When I had been dancing a couple of years I went out of town and looked for local milongas. The first one I found was very formal and everyone was experienced. I was not very clear on cabaceo, so I just went up to nice ladies and asked them to dance. I thought I did an OK job, but after the dance was over a fiery redhead came up to be and called me rude for not using cabeceo. I had been doing it wrong the entire evening and was very embarrassed. Needless to say, I didn’t feel very encouraged to continue Tango.
“Avoid things that turn off or discourage men.”
Don’t criticize. Leave the teaching to the teachers. If you encounter a new dancer who needs some help, quietly tell the teachers and trust them to approach the man with the necessary advice in the proper manner. Remember, we were all new once!
“Be kind and understanding.”
When someone is new to your community, (male or female) say “hello.” Ask where they’re from and how long they’ve been dancing. If they seem new, make sure they know the rules and traditions in your home town and make them feel welcome. I hear of so many communities who are branded as “unwelcoming” because they don’t reach out to (or dance with) new guests.
“Share the rules.”
Organizers, take a second to print up a flyer you can have available at your events that explain the rules in your community. It’s also a good time to share your organizers’ and teachers’ names and contact information and invite them to approach them with questions. If you have an example of a flyer you use in your town, please share it below.
Helping male dancers improve their skills.
“Be a Tango Angel.”
If you’re a good follower and you see someone who’s not as skilled as you are, say “yes” to a dance anyway. Be supportive and encouraging. SHOW them how a good follower dances and avoid critical comments. Go to open embrace if you need to. The beginner leader you help today may the excellent leader who dances with you in the next year or two. In my time as a Tango dancer I’ve had many supportive followers and I make it a point to always give them a great dance whenever I can.
“Change your approach to Tango classes.”
Teachers, all of you love to dance. After years of experience, you’re willing to work hard at it because you see the value in learning new moves and techniques. But to a man, especially a relative beginner, complexity is very uncomfortable. There is nothing more awkward than being in a Tango workshop and totally lost while trying to learn a series of steps. In a beginner class, try to focus on the basics and make sure everyone is on board before you move to the next section. I’ve seen classes where the more advanced attendees are invited to work with those having a hard time so the class can continue. It’s hard to only have two teachers coaching thirty people.
I know that some communities have tried to have “men-only” classes. This is a great idea, but in most of our cultures, men are very uncomfortable dancing with other men, and our attention span is a bit shorter. The idea below is an example of a possible solution worth considering, or just to illustrate a new approach.
“Men’s Insiders Mini-Class.”
Instead of an all-male, in depth class that goes for 90 minutes or longer, consider a short, 20-minute class that’s for men only that promises to give the “inside scoop” on how to be a successful leader. Instead of a stand-alone class, it could be held 20 minutes prior to a milonga or even a longer class. The teacher would take the men aside in a private setting and just talk with them about how they can be more popular with the ladies and give them good dances. Go over cabeseo, and even consider a brief mention of the value of good hygene in getting women to say “yes” to the next dance. Share tips on leading and ways to learn new techniques. Question and answer time might be the most popular part of this mini-class.
To encourage participation, you might tell them men “if you attend the mini-class you’ll get half-price admission to the milonga.”