Monday, February 04, 2008

Ladies Get Asked to Dance More Often

At the risk of being totally off mark and of divulging too much about myself, I will attempt to answer a question commonly asked by followers, “Why don’t I get asked to dance more often?” There is often no rhyme or reason as to why I ask someone to dance or not. There are however some things that I think most leaders consider when deciding with whom to dance at any given point in time.

1. You are an excellent follower. If you are an excellent dancer able to move easily from one style to another, you will dance more often than most- not always but most often. There are times when I just want to dance with the best possible dancers I can or with my favorite dancers and I will structure my asking for maximum pleasure.

2. You dancing is flirtatious. You may not be one of the top dancers but because you are playful with your dancing, then leaders will search you out. After all, it is not just about technique and execution, it is about having fun in an engaging and flirtatious way. A smile, a playful adornment, and an engaging personality go a long way.

3. You continuously improve your skills. If every time men dance with you, you surprise them with your improved ability to follow, they are more likely to come back for more. We remember a lot about followers and if we forget, it comes back to us right away as soon as we start dancing. So surprise us by improving you skills and make us want to dance with you.

4. You highlight and show your physical assets. All right, I admit it, most men are visually oriented and if you are sharing some of your physical assets, we are drawn to you presence. I know some men have a penchant for dress with slits, myself, never mind. So stimulate us and encourage our imagination to run wild.

5. You are pretty young thing (PYT). If you are pretty young thing, we will ask you to dance- at least initially, until the novelty wears off or until we find another PYT to favor. Most PYT unfortunately do not dance very well and they disappear after they find that the good dancers no longer dance with them or upon finding a boyfriend.

6. You’ve developed a social/personal relationship with the leader. Be sociable, talk to people, and relate to us as individuals and you will find your self dancing more. I do a fair amount of asking around the food and drinks because this is where I get a chance to interact with people I enjoy. So get up off your chair and say more than hello.

7. You ask. In the U.S., gentlemen generally accept a dance request from someone they know. Don’t be shy go ahead and ask. We may say yes though, sometimes, I will suggest dancing later if I am trying to dance with a particular person in the next tanda. We may of course ignore your request or say no. Asking visiting instructors specially when you haven’t taken their workshops or taken private lessons with them may not get you positive results. If men continually say no to you, then make an honest evaluation of your following skills and your social interactions with leaders.

8. You are available to dance. When there are not a lot of leaders, you will dance more. As I’ve said previously, come late and stay till the end if you want to dance more. You will be more likely tire your feet from dancing when the crowd thins out and you are still there.

9. You danced with them when they where just beginning to Tango. There are certain women we will always try to dance with because we remember their encouraging words when we were new to tango. I also can think of a couple of sultry dances I had with particular followers when I started dancing. Those dances are still etched in my tango memory and while we may not always dance with these followers, we do have them in our radar and will regularly ask them to dance with us.

10. You are a beginner. Many of us who remember being a beginner, go out of our way to welcome beginners and invite them to dance. We may not always do it immediately and we may not do it every time we see you, but we will ask you to dance because you are new to tango. This is our way of giving back in appreciation of the women who danced with us when we were still neophytes and stepped on many a follower.

11. You were in a workshop or class together. The leader will feel more comfortable dancing with you because he already knows how you feel and how you follow. He may also want to lead things that only followers in the class or workshop are likely to follow.

While this is not an exhaustive list, it does give you an idea of why some will ask you to dance and what you can do to dance more. It is also a good to look at the flip side of the coin, as there are reasons, some rational others irrational, as to why men will not dance with you.

1. You are correct them all the time. We want to dance not be scolded or told what to do or not do.

2. You dancing is getting worse. Either you are not taking classes or your body is less flexible.

3. You do the same things all the time. You are too predictable and too repetitive. The same old same old is not enticing to leaders.

4. You didn’t dance with them when they were beginners. We have good long term memories and we remember.

5. You danced most of the night already. Sometimes we skip you because you have plenty of leaders to dance with.

6. You refused to dance with them recently. Saying no when we ask you, can bruise our sensitive egos and it takes a while for us to ask you again.

7. You do not have a personal relationship with them. If you are just another face in the crowd, you are just another face in the crowd.

8. We don’t see you regularly. We will tend to dance with followers we see regularly.

There may be other reasons and at any point in time, one or more reasons may apply though the above reasons may not apply to all men, nor all of time and not necessarily in the listed order.

To dance more, I suggest that you become a better dancer by taking private lessons, classes and workshops, entice us visually, get to know us personally, dance playfully, get up off your chair, and stay as late as possible.

Florentino Guizar, a social dancer first and foremost, teaches tango with Isabelle Kay throughout the area.

Different Types of Tango

The many flavors of Tango

When you hear the word Tango, the image that comes to your mind may be radically different then someone else’s. While some will argue that there is only one Tango. In reality, there are several forms of Tango and even several styles within Argentine Tango, as well as different Argentine Tango musical rhythms that call for variations in frame, connection, and movement.

In the US, when most people think of Tango they conjure up the Hollywood image of a couple moving forward in promenade. Unfortunately, this image is Hollywood fallacy.

Dancers, on the other hand, may conjure up more specific but different images of Argentine Tango or it simplified stylized version American Tango. Ballroom dancers will further be familiar with International Tango which developed in England and is popular mostly in Europe. Argentine Tango dancers will think of different Argentine Tango styles such as Apilado, Tango Nuevo, Salon or Fantasia but if you ask them what kind of Tango they like, some might answer, Milongas, Vals Cruzado/Tango Waltz, or Candombes.






American, International






Tango Nuevo,





Vals Cruzado


Argentina /

Rio de La Plata

(Buenos Aires /


Argentine Tango is a complex social dance with virtually unlimited improvisational opportunities. In comparison, American or International Tango have well defined syllabus and dancers learn specific steps and patterns for competitive events.

American Tango arose out of the first exposure of Argentine Tango to the world in the 1910’s, Ballroom empressario Arthur Murray, simplified Argentine tango and adapted it to the preferences of ballroom dancers. Ballroom Tango is only taught in ballrooms dance studio. The steps were codified and fixed to make it easier to teach and judge. For example, Ballroom Tango dancers arch their torsos away from one another and join at the hips. Argentine Tango dancers may join at the chest but generally keep their hips away from each other except for the execution of specific movements.

The English outdid the Americans and thanks to their stiff prudish attitude codified Tango even more and removed any semblance of passion or sensuality from Argentine Tango. English Tango was further codified in the 1920’s and set at 30 bars per minute or 120 beats per minute at 4/4 measure. Interestingly, the music used for Ballroom and International Tango seems flat and monotonous to Argentine social dancers.

Argentine Tango is a social improvisational dance in which the leader is responsible to know and visualize ever step the follower takes, where her weight is at all times, and to continually communicate with and listen to the follower’s response. The leader must do this with confidence, clarity, and musicality while navigating a crowded dance floor that may require aborted movements and getting the follower out of harms way.

In turn, the follower in Argentine Tango focuses exclusively and totally on the leader immediately responds to what is being asked of her by making her legs, torso, and arms flexible and available to the leader’s movement. The follower must trust the leader to guide her movements, protect her, and allow her the space and time to dance elegantly.

The end result of this is typically three minutes of a sensual passionate internally focused connection where two bodies move as one. Some women describe it as “walking meditation.”

There are basic differences between these dance forms.

Argentine Tango

American Tango

International Tango













Head Turns




Head Snaps





Only for shows

Defined Patters








Quick,Quick, Slow

Quick,Quick, Slow










Argentina / Worlwide

US Ballroom

England /Europe Ballroom


Point Down

Point Out

Point Out













Taking Steps

Toe lead/or flat

Heel Lead

Heal Lead

Feet of Ground

Varies by style.



Please be aware that American Tango and International Tango are not appropriate for the Argentine social dance floor as the patterns and steps run counter to dance floor etiquette and the ongoing need to respond to what is going on the dance floor. Locally, ballroom tango dancers are tolerated but certainly not appreciated in Argentine Tango dance parties or Milongas. The wild unpredictably of the Ballroom Tango dancer forces other dancers to stay away at a safe distance. Thus the Ballroom Tango dancer ends up monopolizing an inordinate amount of floor space. Ballroom Tango dancers may even be asked to step off the dance floor if they are preventing the natural flow of Argentine social tango. To dance Ballroom Tango, you have to go to a Ballroom dance party where they dance all the ballroom dance styles. As a Ballroom Tango Dancer, do not expect to be dancing with Argentine Tango dancers, it is like speaking two different languages.

Within Argentine Tango, the different dance styles are characterized by differences in embrace, frame, distance and step size, and the direction of the follower’s head. These in turn cause other differences related to movement and focus of the dance. .




Tango Nuevo






Open on one side


Open both sides





Step Size




Follower Head


To the left



On/Off and /\ Axis

Follower Off Axis

On/Off and V axis

Movement Possibilities

Limited on one side.

Severely Limited






Used in Shows




In Argentina, salon tango is popular where there is plenty of room in which to dance. Salon is also the basis for Tango Liso (Smooth Tang) kind Tango Fantasia (Show Tango) because it allows such variety of movement and connection. Tango Salon is characterized most by open embrace on the leaders left side as well as a flexible frame that can go from open and apart to close and closed on the leaders right. Tango Salon is the most common form of Tango and it’s flexible frame allows for transitioning from Salon to the following two embraces.

Apilado (Piled Up) (erroneously called Milonguero) is danced in crowded Argentine dance venues where dancers have limited space in which to dance usually around square yard per couple or even less. This style of Tango is popular because it is easy to learn, has limited vocabulary, and creates an intense connection between leader and follower- both followers breasts are connected to the leaders chest. Some adherents erroneously purport that this is true Tango, though any visit to Buenos Aires quickly dispels this myth. Dancers eventually tire of Apilado’s physical restrictions and musical monotony and begin exploring the more flexible Salon and Tang Nuevo styles.

Tango Nuevo (New Tango) arose out of the exploration of various Argentine tango masters to expand the vocabulary of Tango by reaching back to movements of earlier tango masters. It is associated with an emerging form of Tango music also called Tango Nuevo or Techno Tango. This tango style is surprisingly popular among the young as it entails less intimate physical contact due to arms apart embrace. (Don’t ask me why!) Tango Nuevo allows the incorporation of both lead and follow being off axis in a “V” shape adding substantial more possibilities than the lean or /\ shape common in Salon and inherent in Apilado.

Within Argentine Tango, there are several musical forms that most common one being the Tango, Vals Cruzado or Tango Walts and Milonga.



Tango Waltz

Techno Tango


























Dancing a Tango is characterized by pauses, variations in timing, speed, and movement. The steps may short or long. Flowing or staccato. This is due to the complex and interwoven musical rhythms in tangos. One can find tangos with habanera, waltz, and milonga rhythms incorporated into the tango sound and vice versa.

Conversely, both Tango Walts and Milonga require continuous movement. There are not pauses and fewer variations in speed. Dancing a Milonga also requires the bodies to be in a close embrace instead of an open embrace as the follower move quickly and easily when there is strong connection. Surprisingly, dancers dancing Apilado can be hamstrung by their posture and connection as it prevents the more fluid below the hip bending and torso movements necessary to dance Milonga and Candombe, an earlier musical form also popular and frequently played. And you will see many novice apilado dancers sit out a good number of dances because they are unable to adapt their frame and posture to the other musical styles.

More recently, Argentine and other musicians have created another musical genre variously know at Techno Tango, Tango Nuevo, Electro Tango or Tango Fusion which blends elements of Tango, House, Chill-Out, Jazz and more. Like a Tango it can have various rhythms in the music and can be typically danced either like a Milonga or like Tango or weaving in and out of each. Many of the most popular Tango Nuevo songs are remixes or new arrangements of traditional Tango compositions.

To truly understand when someone says, they want to learn Tango or are learning to dance Tango, one must ask, which type, ballroom or argentine? American or International Tango? Apilado, Salon, or Tango Nuevo? And if you are learning Tango in order to dance it socially which you can in San Diego every night of the week or to dance Tango in Buenos Aires,, you might want to consider Argentine Tango and start with Salon, that is what the Argentines do.

Note: A version of this article was printed in the January/Frebruary 2008 issue of San Diego Dance.

Florentino Guizar dances socially, teaches Argentine Tango through out San Diego, and performs regularly with Isabelle Kay. Send comments to

DanceTango in San Diego, CA

You can dance Argentine Tango in San Diego every night of the week sometimes in two or three different locations throughout San Diego County. Milongas or Tango Dance Parties usually charge admission for the cost of the room, refreshements, music set up, etc. Sometimes, die-hard tango fans hold them in bars or restaurants without any cover charge, though buying drinks and food are highly encouraged.

Today, you can learn to dance Argentine Tango universities like UCSD, dance studios, and even in some restaurants/bars. You can learn in Chula Vista, downtown, La Jolla, Solano Beach, Encinitas and many other locations. You can learn from a man, from a woman, from couples. You can take group lessons or reasonably priced private lessons. You can learn from local instructors or from visiting professionals.

You can learn different styles- Apilado (also called club or milonguero style), Salon which has an open and/or closed embrace, and Tango Nuevo which is an open style. Some teachers teach one way others can teach different styles and the best teachers incorporate all three styles in their classes.

Learning Tango is a lifelong quest and in the process of learning and dancing you will encounter all the styles Though at first, it can be a bit confusing specially if your teacher teaches one way only and your are seeing couples dance in different ways or you are being led differently. Some dancers prefer one style over another, many (the best dancers) comfortably switch back and forth molding to their partners preference, the available space or to musical inspiration.

In the process of learning Tango you will experience many instructors, some you will like other you may not. Some are great dancers and great teachers. You may like the approach of some but not others. The good thing is that there are plenty of choices for you assuming you are flexible about driving a couple of miles.

Most of the dancers are single men and women but a significant number are couples. You do not need a partner to learn or a partner to go out and enjoy dancing. You will need to take classes, get to know people in workshops, and continually improve your dancing in order to dance with the better dancers. If you are a good dancer, men will ask you to dance. Women will make themselves available to you. The good dancers stand out. Being good looking, or thin or young are not required.

So go ahead, let Argentine Tango capture your heart and imagination. You are not the only one. There are others like you in practically every city of world. Tango is something you can enjoy throughout San Diego and throughout the world and for the rest of your life.

Tango: More than Steps and Patterns

I said last time that Tango is a dance of communication and connection between two people. This is why one does not need a lot of fancy steps to dance a beautiful Tango. In fact, women prefer well executed simple steps to badly executed complicated patterns.

One time at a Milonga in Costa Mesa that featured a live music, I decided to test this theory out. I set out to dance a 3 minute song with just walking, back ochos (figure eights), and front ochos, and cruzada. (women’s cross) To these elementary Tango movements, I added pauses. Sometimes, I paused for one beat sometimes for two, or three even longer depending on the music. I also used simple syncopations while walking forward. Things that beginner learn in order to get out on the dance floor.

At the end of the dance, I waited to see if there was any response from my follower. As I released her from my embrace, I could see a farway look in her eyes, a smile across her face, and she said that “That was absolutely lovely.”

To this day according to her friend, this beautiful lady still recalls the way we danced that evening. And to give her this memorable experience, I just danced using simple, common tango steps.

Recently, after a workshop with Laura Chummers and Tate Di Chiazza, out of town participant shared with me her encounter in the streets of Buenos Aires. There while watching an outdoor exhibition, an old Argentinian woman whom she did not know whispered to her, Tango is not about steps, it is about the connection of the heart and the mind.

Kind of reminds me of the Harvard Women’s Crew team motto: “it is not the meat, it is the motion.” As the above example demonstrates it is definitely not the steps.

In the last workshop on musicality, we explored listening to music, dancing to different instruments, and pausing with simple walking, pauses, and double time steps, salida cruzadas (walking in cross walk). As the organizer, as was a bit concerned that such an exercise would bore the women. But as we the music ended, I looked around and each and every one of the women looked like they had just woken up from a beautiful dream. They were happy, pleased, satisfied.

This leads me to modify my earlier comment and say that Tango is also about the quality of the movement. The musicality of the movement be it with simple pauses, syncopations, double-time steps or with cruzadas and molinetes (walking around a partner) is what give followers the most pleasure.

Steps and patterns tend to make a follower anxious unless led and executed well by the leader. Going trough steps without connection and communication and without musicality removes from Tango the most critical element and what attracts so many of us to Tango, the experience of becoming one with one another, of losing ourselves to the music and surrendering to the embrace if even for only a few minutes.

What does this mean? It means that learning how to move with one another is more important than what we do with our feet. It we can get more pleasure from Tango by focusing on moving well. It means that dancing Tango does not need to be difficult or physically demanding.

Remember, it is not the steps, it is the motion.

Teaching Tango More Than Just Dancing

I said last time that Tango is a dance of communication and connection between two people. From an individual perspective Tango is a dance of movement. This is why one does not need a lot of fancy steps to dance a beautiful Tango. In fact, women prefer well executed simple steps to badly executed complicated patterns.

I did not do it on my own. I’ve had the pleasure and benefit of doing this with two of the best dancers in San Diego, Linda Garwood and Isabelle Kay. Both started taking Tango apart when they jointly developed the Tango Essence, a follower’s only technique class.

I credit Linda for an early desire to dissect Tango and understand good dance technique at a fundamental level in order to share her knowledge with other local dancers.

To this early effort, Isabelle’s contributed her extensive understanding dance and movement to give a solid bio-mechanical grounding to the first real women’s technique class offered locally.

Both Linda and Isabelle are insistent on the respecting the followers space and axis and require the leader to actually lead with his body from his center instead of just pretending to lead by using their arms. Though as they have found out, being a good follower does not make one a good leader. They are separate skills that use different parts of our brain.

Interestingly, their interest in good technique is due in part to the fact that both face physical problems and potential injury when dancing with dancers who had lots of steps but no technique.

I learned that not all local Tango teachers understand how to teach Tango. Some are really ballroom dancers who like to teach step and more steps. Others are bad dancers teach who pass on their bad habits to their unsuspecting students. And others, just know enough Tango to teach but really do not understand good Tango dance technique.

For a long time I did not dance with students from one particular instructor because they always pulled me forward; this instructor danced like a freight train going down hill and so the followers were constantly trying to get out of the way. This translated on the social dance floor as pulling their partners off balance.

Dancing Tango requires humility because it is very easy to pick up bad habits. You can let your ego get in the way of your dancing by refusing to acknowledge and respond to input from other dancers.

Say for example if you hurt someone’s knee or if you are constantly falling over, or if the good dancers don’t enjoy dancing with you, wouldn’t this tell you that you need work on your technique? Sadly, to many it does not and unfortunately, a number of them are teachers.

As for our teaching, Isabelle’s dance background and on-going training in modern, ballet, African, contact and other dance forms give her a deep understanding of dance movement combined with my social dance background and prior teaching experience leading a dance group allowed us to developed an approach to teaching Tango based on fundamental concepts of Argentine Tango dance technique that gets people dancing without teaching steps and that allows even beginners to improvise and create their own steps.

But don’t take our word for it. Ask others in San Diego and now throughout the world about us.

After almost 10 years, I still see myself as a beginner.

People look at me askew when I say that I am still a beginner in Tango. But everyday that I learn more, I feel like I know less about it.

Still others give me a disbelieving look when I say that I took beginner level classes for two years. It feels like they think I am trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

And when I tell them that I paid lots of money to visiting teachers only to be humbled by being told that I needed to work on my walking. I can see the disbelief in their eyes and bodies.

Well, I am, I did and I have. Let me explain.

Compared to other dancers, say those that have devoted years of dancing Tango 8 hours a day dissecting the movements of this dance, creating not just original movements but even distinct styles, say for example Pulpo and Luisa, well I am forced to consider myself a neophyte- someone who is still at the beginning of the journey of discovery.

If I dance well, it is in good part to my receiving a very solid base on the fundamentals of the dance via private lessons and in part because I focused on the basics of Tango- embrace, connection, walking, leading, etc. by taking beginner classes for several years.

I guess you could say that I paid so much attention that I was then able to intelligently dissect the basic movements and create my own way of describing and explaining them.

I did not do it on my own. I’ve had the pleasure and benefit of doing this with two of the best dancers in San Diego, Linda Garwood and Isabelle Kay. Both started taking Tango apart when they jointly developed the Tango Essence, a follower’s only technique class.

I credit Linda for wanting to dissect Tango and understand good dance technique at a fundamental level and for being the first to share her knowledge with other local dancers.

Isabelle’s contributed her extensive training of understanding dance and movement to give a solid bio-mechanical grounding to the first real technique class offered locally.

Both are insistent on the respecting the followers space and axis and require the leader to actually lead with his body from his center instead of just pretending to lead by using their arms. Though as they have found out, it is often easier to say and teach then to do.

Interestingly, their interest in good technique is due in part to the fact that both face physical problems and potential injury when dancing with dancers who had lots of steps but no technique.

I have to confess that I am still working on my walk. One of the benefits of teaching is that I get to practice walking with my students. Walking can be a simple carefree effortless activity or it can be a controlled and precise movement. And, when you are really good, it is controlled and precise movement that looks like a simple, carefree and effortless walk.

Tango not Difficult but Not Easy

Argentine Tango is not a difficult dance to learn but it is not easy. It is not easy because what you see people doing is oftentimes an illusion. One can not expect to pick up Tango in one lesson much less by just going out dancing.

Tango requires effort and patience and the willingness to learn. But, the rewards are awesome. A connection with another human being that some describe as nirvana, some women describe as walking meditation and still others as better and more satisfying than sex and much safer too plus there are no messy emotional entanglements.

I like to say that Tango is dance of communication and connection and that Tango is sensuous, passionate, and elegant. A student recently said that Tango was like a fine dessert with a deliciously elegant flavor.

Tango is dance that can be enjoyed by young people and retirees alike. Even individuals with back or knee problems will find pleasure in the simplicity of Tango.

You do not need a partner to learn Tango. It can be easier to learn on your own than with your boyfriend or spouse! You will learn at different rates. Relationship issues will surface and the friction will make learning Tango more challenging.

On the other hand, Tango can be an endeavor that you can enjoy together and still interact with others. In the process of learning Tango, your relationship, communication and understanding of one another will improve.

One woman said to me that whenever she was considering a relationship with a man, she would first take a Tango class with him as a way of discovering more about what he was truly like. “This is one smart woman,” I said to myself.

If you’ve played any kind of sport, most likely you already understand many of the basic movements and techniques of Tango. And even if you haven’t played any sport and haven’t done anything more physically strenuous than walking, you can still learn to Tango.

Through this column, I hope to share a bit about my experiences learning Tango, share some of my interesting Tango “encounters” with other dancers, as well as bring to your attention specifics of the dance that apply to anyone trying to learn Tango in a simple, straight forward and interesting manner.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, reactions as well as your questions. See you on dance floor!

Printed in La Sonrisa Latina, San Diego, CA.