Imagine you are walking down the street holding hands with someone when you both suddenly hear a song that you both love. You begin to sing along and step to the beat of the music. You are in sync with each other and with the music. Now imagine that you decide you want to face each other while you are walking to this song, so one person steps in front of the other and starts walking backwards. Since the person walking forward can see ahead they take on the role of “leading” the couple so that you don’t bump into anything. The person walking backwards “follows” the course initiated by the “leader.” Finally imagine that not only do you want to hold hands and face each other while dancing to one of your all-time favorite songs, but you also want to be hugging at the same time. So you decide to hug on one side while holding hands on the other, and voila! You are dancing tango.
Tango is accessible to almost anyone, regardless of age, gender, or physical ability. It is not uncommon to see twenty-somethings walking alongside dancers well into their seventies. Some dance in a wheelchair or with prosthetic limbs, while others might be deaf or shake from Parkinsons disease. The malleability and adaptability of tango is truly fascinating!
When tango is danced socially, couples walk counter clockwise in lanes, leaders walking forward and followers walking back. On a very crowded night you might see three or four lanes of dancing couples spiraling around a common center like a beehive.
Typically, the etiquette to invite someone to a dance consists of catching a potential partner’s eye and suggestively nodding in the direction of the floor. This is known as the “cabeceo,” and it gives the other person the opportunity to discreetly agree or politely reject the invitation by not making eye contact.
Historically the leader role has been ascribed to men and the following role to women. However, as social tango continues to evolve and grow around the world it is more and more common to see a variety of gender combinations with both men and women fluidly switching roles.
Contrary to a common belief, wearing heels is not a requirement for women in social tango, and is more of an expression of personal style rather than a rule.