Becoming a tanguera is a more complex process than becoming a skilled dancer. To a tanguera the dance is one part of the overall picture. She embraces the social, emotional, intellectual and artistic aspects of tango as well as the physical, and tango becomes a part of her as well as part of her dance life. Most tangueras study tango’s origins and many study Spanish in order to understand song lyrics and Argentine instructors.
Argentine history is steeped in turmoil and catastrophic conditions brought about in large part by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of European immigrants following WWI and WWII. Generations of natives and immigrants blended cultures, traditions and mores which laid the ground work for the roots of tango. Understanding the extreme challenges that were met and conquered helps us understand the basis for the melancholy nature of much of tango’s music, and understanding the lyrics is essential for matching the mood and tone of our dance to the music. Tangueras are sensitive to all of this and their passion is enhanced by their knowledge.
Tangueras have a deep respect for early milongueros and the women who partnered them as they experimented, practiced, performed and, in some cases, became famous. They have great admiration and appreciation for early poets, lyricists, composers, conductors and musicians who created the structure of tango music, and for those who followed and have developed a vast variety of styles, moods, tempos and character.
In becoming a true tanguera, there are two basic skills which contribute more than any other. The first is learning to dance from our core, rather than from our arms, legs or feet. This is true for both men and women and is a completely new concept for many. It can take months or even years to learn how to create, maintain and move from our center or axis. When I first heard “axis” I thought ”I have an axis? Where is it?”
In 1996 Graciela Gonzales spent an entire workshop in Portland on how to create, sustain and dance from our axis. She demonstrated by having us reach around her from behind and feel as she lifted her rib cage and…left… it…there. She had us walk as far as we could while holding ours in place and it was haaaard. However, when I could finally maintain mine long enough to make it through a dance, everything, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g changed. I was grounded, balanced and could instantly feel my partner’s energy indicate exactly when and where he was inviting me to step. That skill changed my dance more than any other except for the 2nd one.
The other most important technical skill in becoming a tanguera is mastering the fine art of doing…nothing…zero…zip…nada…at the right times. After each weight change, our job is to idle silently until we feel our leader’s invitation for the next weight change. This assures that he knows we are on our axis and which foot our weight is on. Without that information, there’s a 50/50 chance either we or he may attempt to move our standing leg, and we know how elegant that is.
Learning to wait, not anticipate, and dance from our core is essential in becoming a skilled follower and the reality is that only skilled followers become true tangueras.
At Nora’s Tango Week one year, Oscar Mandagaran explained that a woman prepares to take her first step at a milonga long before she reaches the floor. He said our experience begins when we apply our makeup, fix our hair, and decide what to wear. By the time we reach the floor, we are prepared to offer our best to our partners, to the dance, and to our self, and the key to doing our best is appropriate pacing.
A tanguera does not rush into a dance, during a dance or when closing a dance. She savors the moment she places her hand in her leader’s and gracefully envelopes his right shoulder with her left arm, Depending on the music and her mood, she might add a delicious touch by timing her gestures to match the music. (Men are often awed by this.)
When closing a dance, if she is pleased, she lets her partner know and if she is not she will likely be unavailable the next time he tries to catch her eye. Tangueras are more content with a few excellent tandas than with several so-so sets.
The cabeceo is a significant part of a tanguera’s life and she almost never accepts an invitation without one. An exception might be if she’s talking with someone and they mutually agree to enter the floor. Otherwise, if a leader approaches her without having received her prior approval, she will likely not be available, especially if she has not danced with him before or has and prefers not to again,
Tangueras memorize music and find places that are suitable for embellishments. They experiment with adornments that range from soft to dynamic, that fit the style, mood and tempo of the music, and do not disrupt their partner’s choreography. And tangueras practice. A lot. With and without a mirror, music, partner or shoes. In a private lesson Nora Olivera said she practices every…single…position…of…every…single…move until she is pleased with how each one works, looks and feels. And her dance shows it.
So…how do men respond after dancing with a true tanguera? Some are speechless. Some say they have never had a partner who seemed to read their mind, and many say their perception of what following can and should be is forever changed.
So, is dancing with a true tanguera THAT different and that remarkable? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The time and effort that women invest in incorporating all aspects of tango, especially mastering axis control and silent waiting, prepares and enables us to offer our partners and ourselves tango that is magical beyond anything we could have imagined. Trust me.