The “teacher” and his idea of mirada
It all started with a post in a Greek Facebook group about Tango. One of the administrators has posted a text explaining (in a kind of teaching tone) the main terminology around Tango and especially the rules in milongas. Of course among the terms explained were the cabeceo and the mirada. In his explanation of mirada the administrator wrote that it is a practice that should be avoided because it is used by inexperienced dancers who do not get too many dances. He more or less presented it like begging to be danced by staring at the leaders.
As you can imagine a discussion erupted in the comments about the misinformation spread. The author of the post tried to defend it by saying that he is just trying to inform about the traditions and that he likes to keep traditions. The answer was that first of all, this is not at all what the mirada is and secondly that a lot has changed in Tango since the 40s. If we were to keep traditions then we should be also placing the men in the center of the dance floor to choose their partners at the beginning of the tanda and the women should be coming to milongas with their mothers. At least this is how many old milongueros describe milongas back then.
Finally, he accepted his mistake after pointing him to different sources explaining the mirada and more or less admitted that he wrote this without searching and making sure about the correctness of his own definitions.
Foreplay and the role of women
In general, there is a bit of misunderstanding and a lot of different ideas about what the mirada is. However, according to what I found from a brief search on the internet, mirada is the game of looks during the milonga which aims to show a partner that you are interested in dancing with them. Mirada actually as a word means the look… so it makes perfect sense. It doesn’t have to be that you will necessarily dance the next Tanda. It’s more or less like a silent declaration of presence and willingness to dance with someone. People who know how to play the game… realize when they are being looked at… know who is avoiding them… who wants to dance with them… and they prepare better for when the Tanda starts to select the appropriate partner for them. In general, it leads to a more pleasurable experience in the milonga, and although many times it is referred to as being practiced only by women, it is actually a game that both men and women can play.
Does this game remind you of something? For me it is like flirting before falling in love, like the appetizer to a nice meal, the support group in a concert, the foreplay in… sex! Come on… you thought of it from the first time you read the word “foreplay” in the heading. Now that I have your attention think about how sex has changed in the past decades, especially for women.
Women today are much more active in seeking life and sex partners to the point that there is a whole discussion if this is too much and deprives men of their typical “hunter” role. I won’t get into this discussion because the main point here is to think of the differences in the role of women in society and obviously in sex from early 1900 up until today. If you could travel back in time and tell a woman of that time about today’s women’s rights would think that you are crazy the least.
The sexual liberation and the new wave movements of the 60s and 70s have still left their mark on today’s societies which are dominated by the boomer generation. If you go further back in history, things that today seem so natural, like for example women’s vote, women’s right to abortion and so many more were unthinkable some decades ago. They were taboo like also the role of women in flirting and foreplay. Sadly enough there are still places in this world today that still judge and even kill women for not wearing a scarf correctly! We may have come a long way and we still have a lot to go.
For better or for worse societies evolve. In all different places, time brings changes. In some places quicker than others… in some places different than others… but all in all the world is evolving. Tango is part of this evolving world and obviously cannot stay uninfluenced by the changes happening in it. Therefore, it is inevitable that in cultures and societies where the role of women has evolved, Tango will also follow up. Either by more women initiating cabeceo, using more intensely and actively mirada, or even by more women taking up the leader role. Trying to hinder this evolution in the name of a tradition seems so stupid like trying to stop a bullet with your hand.
Should we stay or should we go?
So in the question of traditions or evolution, the answer (as much as some people resist) is evolution. Traditions should and must be transferred from generation to generation but they should also be able to adjust to the current Zeitgeist in order to survive. This is a healthy evolution which will keep the good parts of the traditions and replace the not-so-good parts with better new ones. After all, change and evolution are in our nature.
Of course, not all new things are better than old ones and not everyone will be accepting change easily. Especially if the current status is beneficial for them and change means losing some privileges. That is why there is a struggle and there will always be. This struggle will strengthen and harden old values that still worth keeping and add new ones to them to further improve them. Given all this, I believe that mirada and cabeceo initiated by women is an inevitable evolution that has nothing bad in it, and even more so… it should be taught and encouraged rather than discouraged.
Communities that adapt and change in this direction will progress dance and make it attractive to new audiences. Communities that will resist will probably eventually be reduced and stay irrelevant to a world that changes at the speed of light.
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango starts with a look, like mirada. But it is not a look of presence but rather a look of abandonment. The guy sees in her eyes the cold look of abandonment and somehow all his illusions that they could be together are destroyed. There is however also a hint of a stereotype of a woman of that time. A marionette, without destiny and luck. A woman who does not have her own voice and follows the wishes of others. We love the song… we dance to it… but… does this mean we want women today to be like that? Definitely not!
So how about you? Have you encountered misunderstandings about tango traditions like mirada? How have women’s roles in society and tango evolved over time? In tango, do you prefer preserving tradition or embracing evolution? Let me know with a comment below, an email, or a PM on Facebook… oh… and if you liked it… don’t forget to share it with your friends.