A tango dance invitation is all about the eyes but after the deal has been struck and the couple finds themselves on the dance floor, the eyes become a distraction. The leader needs to scout for obstacles and invariably ends up making eye contact with a bystander or finds himself transfixed by a shiny object, the flash of a thigh or a nice pair of high-heeled shoes attached to a beautiful calf adorned with a devilishly-red, chili-pepper tattoo.
Each of our senses is capable of processing an amazing amount of information. With a direct connection to our brains, our eyes may be the number one sensory input. In a room full of couples dancing, our visual sensors become more of an impediment than an asset.
Once, I found myself looking into my partner’s ear. When the light caught it just right, I thought I could see almost into her brain….almost. I had to consciously restrain myself from craning my neck to get a better view before she noticed my distraction.
Did you hear that? Before she noticed my distraction. That’s right; your partner can tell when you are looking at something that has nothing to do with the dance. This is true for leaders and followers.
I danced with a woman at the 2013 Albuquerque Tango Festival who scanned the crowd at irregular intervals. Not only was this annoying to me, it did not look good on her. A friend confided in me afterwards that she, and everyone else, could see that my partner was conspicuously glaring at the audience.
What a person does with their eyes at a milonga affects the overall ambiance of the group. A woman looking around to see if she is being noticed, or a man constantly ogling the ladies, devalues the collective experience.
I was three years into my tango education before I received useful instruction on how dancers should deal with this dilemma of ocular overload and self-control. It was at a workshop in Summit, NJ, conducted by Diego di Falco and Carolina Zokalski.
At one point in the class, a male student, complaining about the complexity of leading, opined that, “it would be easier if I had my eyes closed.”
He went on to say that it was unfair that the tangueras performed better when they shut their eyes but a tanguero had to listen to the music, choreograph movements and navigate the crowd which meant keeping the eyes open was an absolute necessity.
Diego then instructed us to focus our gaze on the empty space about twelve inches to the left and beyond our partner’s right ear and to rely on our peripheral vision to spot obstacles. This did the trick!
After seven years, leading is now not such an overwhelming activity. I find that I can quite easily allow myself to observe more with my eyes as I plot a course through traffic.
However, I still have to be careful about what I choose to look at. A gathering of tango dancers can be a feast for the eyes. It is up to each of us to try and make the event more like a romantic dinner and less like a bag of burgers from a fast food restaurant being eaten on a park bench. Tango is food for the soul and not something to be consumed in the company of pigeons.
It's still not too late to order a copy of my two books, River Tango and Fear of Intimacy and the Tango Cure, both available on Amazon.