It´s a slow Wednesday night at El Beso. As I scan the room with my gaze during the cortinas, my eyes keep wandering hopefully over to the bar area where someone with whom I almost always dance a couple of tandas is standing. He looks hopefully out at the rows of women, but when we make eye contact his eyes turn blank and fuzzy. Across the room, another regular partner of mine does the same — his eyes blinking and unfocused for a second and then sweeping quickly out of reach of mine. This evening, I am not feeling the love and I´m musing on the topic of rejections.

Dancing tango requires a strong ego sometimes. It´s easy to get paranoid, offended or upset. There are some men I would love to dance with who have been ignoring me for literally years. Some of them hug me effusively, chat at length, sit at my table and happily share their champagne, but never ask me to dance. As I have written about elsewhere, being someone´s friend does not oblige you to dance with them.

Once, I was at a private milonga at a friend´s lovely flat with a group of good dancers. We ate risotto and sipped red wine and then someone turned up the stereo and the dancing began. Over the course of a beautiful evening, in the relaxed, celebratory atmosphere, absolutely everyone danced with everyone else in every possible heterosexual combination. With one exception: a man who danced with every woman there, except for me. At one point, the beautiful Donato tango “Sinsabor” began to sound and everyone leapt up to dance and quickly paired off. I was left with Reluctant Man, who was shifting in his seat and looking eager to tango, but when he saw I was his only possible partner he hastily shook his head and waggled a pointy finger back and forth in front of his face. The message couldn´t have been clearer. No, sorry, but I won´t dance with you.

Some rejections, of course, are more puzzling than others. I used to dance repeated tandas with Teeny-Tiny on the frequent occasions that we coincided at milongas. And then, suddenly, the dances dried up. For a while, I continued looking hopefully over in his direction, waiting for the nod that used to come so readily. But eventually I gave up. I only know that almost every follower of my acquaintance has a story of Mr Leader-Who-No-Longer-Dances-With-Me-Who-Knows-Why. It´s impossible to know what is going through someone else´s head when they choose their dance partners and therefore usually best not to speculate.

Occasionally, though, the reasons behind the men´s choices do seem a little more obvious. I have had the frustrating experience of watching women in their late forties and early fifties who are wonderful dancers spend entire evenings as wallflowers. And I´ve often seen fresh-faced blonde foreigners stumbling around the floor on shaky legs in the arms of professional dancers for tanda after tanda, particularly at touristy Salón Canning, a fertile hunting ground for lechers. After a friend spent a third tanda with a lovely Russian girl hanging heavily off his shoulder and tripping over her tango heels, I couldn’t resisting commenting on it. “Doesn´t it hurt your back when you dance with her?” I ask. “A little,” he shrugs. “She is a terrible dancer. But look at her. Does it matter?”

Most dancers, however, are choosier about their partners´tango skills. How well you dance is certainly not the only factor involved in partner choice, but it is an important one. (Of course, it can be a problem breaking into a new tango scene. You may be the best dancer in the world, but many people will not risk a tanda with you if they have never seen you out on the floor.) One strategy for minimising rejections is to try to dance with people at your own level. But this requires one of the most difficult skills in tango, as well as in life: self-knowledge. I have had many awkward conversations with visiting foreigners on this topic. The complaints that I often hear run something like this, “The milongas here are so cliquey. I’m not getting to dance with any of the good dancers. I think Argentines just don’t like dancing with foreigners.”

Almost invariably (there are exceptions), the person confiding in me is simply not very good. Perhaps back in their home town, where the tango scene is smaller and less well established than here, he or she is one of the better dancers and used to getting their pick of partners. Perhaps they have been dancing for many years, but without the benefit of good teaching. Perhaps they themselves are the teacher. Of course, here on holiday, they aim high and want to dance with the best. I am longing to tell them to set their sights lower, to stop gazing longingly at the olive-skinned guy with the lovely enrosques and eye Señor Average instead. I often find myself biting my tongue and trying to keep my facial expression neutral, while someone complains to me, “I know I am a really good dancer. So I know that’s not the reason I am getting all these rejections.”

PS Update: Reluctant Man has recently begun asking me to dance. I have no idea what has changed. The criteria by which some men choose and reject dance partners is still a mystery to me.

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About terpsichoral

A foreigner struggling to improve her tango in Buenos Aires.
This entry was posted in Buenos Aires, Cabeceo, El Beso, Not getting dances, Rejections. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Rejections

  1. Boris says:

    Have you ever rejected Reluctant Man or Teeni-Tiny before they stopped asking you? Could be that sometimes the girls do not realize or do not remember the rejections, which sometimes come in unexpected ways – you could have been looking the other way when the guy was trying to catch your eye. Some guys are very sensitive and never ask twice. For me personally the rejection is an embarassment and I would not want to repeat it again from the same girl.

  2. terpsichoral says:

    Good question, Boris, but I don’t think so. I know guys are sensitive, but I think most BA men are sufficiently used to the cabeceo to know that you can’t reject someone when you’re not actually looking at them. By the way, I do find it frustrating that men will not ask you again if you reject them for whatever reason (usually when women reject better leaders it’s because they’ve never seen them dance). Whereas there are many men who will dance with several tandas with me one night and then, the next time I see them, give me the fish eye. Then, a week or two later they are very keen to dance with me again, and so on. I’ll happily dance with them, if they are good dancers, but there is a double standard involved. Men are free to reject us as many times as they like, but woe betide us if we ever reject them. Another thing I get from men, from time to time, is the “C’mon, let’s go on to La Viruta together (after an earlier milonga ends), because I am DYING to dance with you some more.” And then, at La Viruta, they sit with me (preventing other men from asking me) but don’t dance a single tanda. Really, men can be mysterious creatures. Of course, there are some honourable exceptions.

    • terpsichoral says:

      A personal question for you, Boris. If a woman once rejected you and then, on a later occasion, asked you to dance or made it very clear she wanted to dance with you, would you dance with her? (Assuming she was a good dancer and someone you would ordinarily enjoy dancing with).

      • Avi Ofrane says:

        Someone just sent me this post; very interesting comments, thank you. In my case, I think I am a fairly good leader, but I still get rejections every so often (quite often in Berlin for some odd reason). I do not take rejections personally and I tell myself that there must be a good reason for the rejection (I can’t read minds – yet); and so, borrowing from the baseball world, I will ask a woman 3 times, but after the 3rd rejection, I take it as a clear sign that she is just not interested and won’t ask again. Another clear sign of her lack of interest is her dancing with someone else a few seconds after “no thanks, I will sit this one out”. I also have a problem with so-called “good” dancers (women AND men) who will never dance with beginners (which happens way too often); we’ve all been there and it is frustrating for the poor souls who are hoping to get better; so I make it a point at every milonga I dance with 3 beginners (sorry, but 3 beginners is as much as I can muster in one evening).

      • terpsichoral says:

        We never know why people will or will not dance with us. Personally, if I enjoy dancing with someone, I will happily dance with them even if they have rejected me many times in the past, usually by ignoring me when I looked in their direction, hoping to catch a cabeceo. I don’t hold any grudges because I believe dancing with other people is voluntary and, as you rightly say, it’s almost impossible to know what people’s motivations are for dancing or not dancing with someone. Often, though not always, it is about skill levels. In which case, I just try to improve my dancing and raise my skill levels. Personally, I dance with beginners rather rarely, for many reasons, not least because they are not often a major presence at most of the milongas I go to. You can read more about this in the comments section here, But I do quite often take chances on unknown dancers or dance with people whose dancing I enjoy although it is not by any objective measure very highly skilled. I am often told off for not being choosy enough. But that’s a whole different debate. And of course in smaller tango scenes it is more necessary to foster beginners by dancing with them, whereas in very large scenes, beginners have their own classes, practicas and milonga time and tend to dance lots, but mostly with other beginner or intermediate level dancers.

  3. Boris says:

    Good question as well. Well, I probably would accept her invitation if just to show that I am not an arrogant piece of work. After all I do not even know why she rejected me in the first place – maybe she was with someone or waiting for someone or just tired… But if she would do it over – reject me again, but later on ask me to keep asking her or ask me outright to dance ( I had it with quite an accomplished dancer, but diva attitude)- well, I am not playing games and after 2-3 times I am done with this person forever. As far as the situation you had to experience with the guys giving you a hard time on some milongas but gladly dancing with you on others – well, a lot of people are looking for dates or just playing games or have very high opinion of themselfes or want to show off by showing up with you or some guys are just plain stupid. I would not worry about that, just make my own conclusion – you want to play games with me, okay, but there are always concequences. I would rather sit out, than dance with people who got no respect for me.

  4. terpsichoral says:

    Thanks for answering, Boris. I guess with the guys who blow hot and cold I just try not to second guess what they are up to. Maybe they just like to dance with different women on different nights to get more variety? Maybe it depends on whether or not a girlfriend/ex-girlfriend/potential dance partner or lover/woman they would like to impress is there? I don’t take it personally. In any case, if I enjoy dancing with them, I will happily let them ignore me some nights and take me out on the floor on others. It’s not such a big deal.

    My own main reason for rejecting men, as I said, is that I either know or suspect that I would not enjoy their dancing. Or I have never seen them dance before. I have had too many bad experiences to take pot luck very often. And as a more experienced dancer I am choosier.

    • Boris says:

      Well, as you said there is no single answer to any of that. I personally love to ask visiting dancers. They usually do not play games, have no ambitions and do what they came to the milonga to do – just dance. I think for logistical reasons we get a constant flow of Asian ( from Asia) girls traveling to/from Argentina and there is always someone visiting from Europe/US out of town. I just love to be advanturous and take my chances, very often that pays off handsomely. I find that a lot of girls coming from BA show very decent quality even after relatively short stays and dance traditional style of dancing as opposite to what many local dancers inspire to dance – nuevo, acrobatics and running.
      I also find that by being more open minded I find amazing partners whom I would otherwise ignore – the connection, musicality, ability to follow and to feel the leader very often compensate for underdeveloped technical skills or limited formal training. So, I am a little sceptical about “levels” and “categorizations” – if you enjoy dancing with me who cares what level are we at? At the same time I very well realize that neither of us would want to dance with the person, who is not able to lead/follow.

      • terpsichoral says:

        I couldn’t agree more that it’s not about “levels”, but about whether or not you enjoy dancing with the person. That’s the bottom line. And, occasionally, I enjoy dancing with men for reasons other than the standard of their dancing (see the end of the entry Competing with Hot Women).

  5. Here is a question: Do you think that because you write a public blog, that you my be under subtle censorship by people who would really rather that women not have a voice?
    Just asking, because I believe it happens. And I believe just as much, that the strong leaders, (anyone I really want to dance with) can handle it.
    I know that would not explain all rejections, but maybe some…

  6. Igor Polk says:

    Oho, blinking eyes…. Frankly, Terpsichora, it is a sign that you should take many more classes. Very simple. Igor Polk.

  7. Mikko says:

    I am commenting on this old post as this topic has been in my mind for quite some time, and you linked into it from another post.

    To me it seems that, like Boris says, many men are very sensitive to rejections. Most will not admit to it openly, or even to themselves, as it is very difficult to openly face your own worst fears. They may go to great lengths in order to avoid being rejected, and sometimes it can cause behavior that seems strange. But when you look at it from that perspective, a lot of behavior starts to make much more sense.

    When I first started going to milongas, I would have happily danced with anybody. But one rejection kept me away from there for months. Still, I believe like you do, that there is no obligation to dance.

    It is quite difficult sometimes to smoothly avoid pressuring situations where you want to stay friendly with somebody, but you are not really sure if they would like to dance with you, and you don’t want them to feel the obligation to dance. I suspect men may sometimes play a bigger role here than you realize.

    To me, learning to handle rejections gracefully has been maybe the hardest thing to learn. But I believe it is essential part of becoming a good leader. It seems to me that there are still many very advanced leaders who are afraid of being rejected.

    But you have to remember that every time you exercise your option to reject a person, you are exerting a high cost on the energy levels of that person. Still, you would exert even higher cost on the energy level if you would accept, but then dance reluctantly. So it is preferable to reject.

    To me, having been dancing only for a few years, maintaining the energy levels throughout the evening has very big impact on who I invite to dance at what point. When my energy levels are high, I can expand some of it to contribute to the community, for example to dance with a beginner or somebody else who “leaks energy”. So in some sense, when a follower rejects a leader, she is taking toll on all the other followers, too.

    • terpsichoral says:

      Thank you for this thoughtful, detailed and very intelligent comment.

      I’d like to add a comment of my own, not so much in reply to yours, but just to add to the entry. Since I published that entry, there’s been a lot of discussion on Facebook and elsewhere about the responsibility which followers, in particular, have to exercise discretion about who they choose to dance with. This is not about dancing or not dancing with beginner dancers, but about whether you accept dances from someone who has been dancing for a fair while, but whose dancing has some serious flaws and who is neither taking classes, practising seriously or otherwise working on improving their dance. A number of people expressed the strong feeling that tough love is needed in such a situation. And part of that ‘tough love’ is not to dance with that person. I just add this here as a thought.

      But mostly in this post I am talking about the strange phenomenon that some evenings the very dancers who always ask me to dance all seem to reject me en masse. And almost every follower I know has had this experience. It’s best not to second guess what is happening as there can be so many factors involved.

      But you are absolutely right, learning to accept rejections gracefully is a very important part of learning to be a tango dancer. Thank you again for this great contribution to the discussion.

      • Mikko says:

        Thanks for the kind words. I admire your blog, you write well, and do a marvellous balancing act on writing about something so deeply personal as tango.

        I have seen women in the situation you describe. I do not have any clue to why it happens.

        I offer slightly different viewpoint on “responsibility”. It seems to me that such words are often used when somebody tries to force somebody else to do something against their will.

        For me, real responsibility can only come from inside. It is something that I have consicously decided to take from my own free will.

        There are no obvious or guaranteed outward benefits when I take on some responsibility. And it is actually much more difficult to really act according to the decision than most people seem to realize. So being “response-able” is not for everybody.

        Still, it seems to me that trying to become more responsible is necessary if we want to grow as human beings. And as we bring everything we are to each tanda, it means that trying to become more responsible is also necessary if we want to grow as a tanguero or a tanguera.

  8. Alexis Cousein says:

    I’ve actually had “en masse rejections” that were due to fads a couple of times (a visiting teacher who makes everyone “see the light” and dance only with dancers with a thetan on the same spiritual level until they come to their senses again –and usually revert to exactly the same dancing–. You’d better have been drinking the same Kool-Aid if you want dances during the period of ‘enlightenment’).

    But I don’t think BsAs is conducive to such things.

  9. Mikko says:

    What some commenters seem to ignore is that there are multiple types of rejections, with different impact on the rejectee. You can even “reject” a cabeceo in many ways. For example, you can “reject” it passively (not looking in that direction), actively (acknowledging the cabeceo by looking at the rejectee, but immediately looking away) or semi-actively (your body language or face shows clearly that you have “felt” the cabeceo, but you choose to continue looking away).

    However, I would hesitate to call any of these a rejection. We are social animals, and for me, rejection necessarily has a social component. Rejectee is taking some kind of social risk, that he or she might be being rejected in front of other people, and then the risk actualizes.

    The benefit of cabeceo is that there is much less social component in the rejection. Of course, experienced people will be able to see much eye contact communication, or at least consequences of it: “In milonga everybody sees everything”. But that is beside the point. When cabeceo is rejected, the rejectee may save his face, as he can continue to act as he had not been rejected. Thus he loses much less energy as a consequence.

    I find women are often socially much more aware, for example are able can read body language better. So even when they ask verbally, i.e. on surface “risk” social rejection, they know beforehand whether they will get rejected or not. I believe the experience is typically different for most men. When cabeceo is not actively used, men are constantly taking social risks. I find that it is very rare for women to actually take real risks in this way.

    When I see risks taken, it is often by inexperienced and older women who might not otherwise dance at all during the evening. And they tend to invite considerably more experienced men, who they know will accept all invitations from women as a rule.

    So, based on this, one could even claim that not learning how to use the cabeceo is an actively anti-social act, as it eats from the common energy pool of the milonga attendees.

    • terpsichoral says:

      Cabeceo is situation dependent. At some milongas, there is no choice. You can’t move from your seat and must invite by cabeceo only. At other milongas, the size and darkness of the venue and the lack of fixed seating makes cabeceo impractical and it is rarely used. Personally, I think very few people witness all the cabeceos happening. After all, the window of time for cabeceo is very short and most people are occupied in seeking and giving their own cabeceos. As for women asking men, I wouldn’t like to generalise. When I ask men to dance, it is usually men who I have danced with on a number of occasions before and who seem to enjoy dancing with me. Or, occasionally, I ask a guy who I know is particularly relaxed about this. One of the reasons that many women, however, do not ask men to dance, is that the stakes are higher for us, as some men are so offended by being asked to dance by women that they will not dance with a woman who asks men to dance, even if they would otherwise enjoy dancing with her. As for considerably more experienced men accepting all invitations from women as a rule, this may be the case in your community, but it has certainly not been my experience of either asking men or of witnessing other women doing so, in Buenos Aires and, to a lesser extent, in Europe. I would estimate that if you ask a more experienced male dancer to dance you have a 90 per cent chance, at least, of being rejected. What you may be witnessing is women asking men to dance, in the way that I often do, because they are already friends, already dance with each other regularly, etc. Hence the many acceptances.

      Also, most rejections take a very simple form. When cabeceo is practised, they consist of looking away or not reacting. And when the person is asked verbally, rejection usually takes the form of a simple no, thanks. At least, here in Buenos Aires. So there really aren’t that many different ways to get rejected. And rejection hurts, no matter what.

  10. Mikko says:

    I should have been more clear, I was talking about the situation outside BsAs. It must be clear for anybody with any experience with cabeceo that it does not work in all situations. These are two very different things: to be situation-specific about it and refuse to even try even learn cabeceo when it works.

    We seem to disagree whether social rejection is worse than rejection without the social element. Research seems to suggest that social rejection feels worse, see for example this article.

    • terpsichoral says:

      Ah, OK, now I understand. I’m not really sure what would make a rejection in tango social as opposed to non-social. Do you mean when the rejection is witnessed (as can be the case with verbal invitations) versus not witnessed (as with cabeceo)?

      • Mikko says:

        Yes, that is exactly my point. To be fair, this research did not test exactly that. But from personal experience and what I have observed from the behavior of men in milongas, I believe that the “audience” makes it a “social rejection”. For me, real rejection in front of others still feels much worse than being rejected by cabeceo. And “social rejection” feels less painful when it happens on a festival where I do not know anybody else. Of course, I have learned to handle all kinds of rejections, as it is part of the process of learning to become a leader. But regardless of this, the element of “physical pain” is still there. So, the woman who chooses not to learn cabeceo but still chooses to reject men, is actually causing “physical pain” to those men that she rejects. I claim that causing unnecessary “physical pain” to others is anti-social.

        Also, according to another piece of research, the possibility of being rejected by woman seems to already cognitively impair men. Women do not show similar cognitive impairment. I cannot prove this either, but I have reason to believe that the reason for this is that women on average have more social skills, and will know beforehand whether they will get rejected or not. At least when I have observed a woman to actually get rejected in front of others, they seem to easily become quite aggressive. Men, on the other hand, usually become sulky.

        It actually seems to me that our most fundamental disagreement is about “essentialist differences between sexes”, which is one aspect of the nature vs. nurture debate. I do not claim that such differences exist. Neither of the phenomena above needs an explanation based on “nature”. Still, for me, the nature vs. nurture is an open question which does not seem to have a simple answer. Among certain intellectual circles, such a thought is faux pas.

      • terpsichoral says:

        I have yet to meet anyone, male or female, who has “refused” to learn cabeceo. But I’ll defer to your opinion. I have no idea, incidentally, what you are referring to with the nature-nurture debate. Perhaps this entry:

        I haven’t know many women who were ‘aggressive’ after being refused a dance. In general, many people frown upon women asking men to dance and, as a result, lots of women are timid about it, if they do it at all. But of course this depends on the local tango scene and its culture and on the individuals concerned. As always, I speak mostly from my point of view here in BA — and even then, generalisations are dangerous and there are always exceptions.

      • Mikko says:

        I have no idea, incidentally, what you are referring to with the nature-nurture debate.

        I refer to this. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you can forget that comment. Anyyway, that debate is boring, and does not lead anywhere. I just mentioned it here, as I see traces of it here, and it is often easier to have an interesting discussion when clearly understand the points of departure various people have in their opinions.

      • terpsichoral says:

        Sorry, you misunderstood, Mikko. Of course, I know what the nature-nurture debate is about. I do have some education; give me a little credit. What I have no idea about is why you think it’s relevant to the discussion we’re having. It’s a huge topic and you didn’t make it clear what, if any part, of it you are referring to.

  11. mia says:

    A couple of thoughts – it has honestly taken me quite a while to overcome my “shyness” about the cabeceo, and even still, I find I have to talk myself into it each time – it’s like putting on a different persona, and I could imagine other people having cultural inhibitions with that practice. I also don’t have the best night vision – I don’t wear contacts, and avoid wearing glasses at night – so I sometimes don’t see the more subtle invitations. And finally, I have sometimes looked away from a dancer because I did not feel ready to dance with him, and wanted be at a better level, so that my chances are not completely shot for the future! On the other hand, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to an event, danced with a beginner early in the evening, and been essentially ignored for the rest of the evening. Since I don’t attend consistently (for reasons of work and travel) and am often less known or remembered, I find it better to find a more advanced dancer for making my entry onto the dance floor, and wait till later to dance with beginners. My two cents, fwiw. (Someone should write a dissertation on this topic! It’s fascinating, no?)

    • terpsichoral says:

      It is fascinating! Cabeceo is not such an easy skill and it is particularly challenging if you are short sighted or have poor night vision. In fact, if your vision is really bad it can become almost completely impractical and some people with very bad vision are probably better served by less formal milongas, where other forms of asking are possible.

      I agree with your strategy of dancing earlier in the evening with people you already know (if possible) and good dancers and taking chances on unknown leaders later on or even dancing with beginners (although I don’t dance with beginners very often and find they don’t attend the more formal milongas in large numbers, because of floorcraft issues). Although I must say that I NEVER look away from someone because I think they might be too good a dancer. Actually, rather the opposite.

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