Dance or not?
Why don't Tangueros Dance at milongas?
The Modern Jive freestyle venue near you is most likely to be a large hall, possibly a church hall or school hall or similar. There will usually be 100+ people there, with minimal seating. The music will be quite loud, most people will be busy dancing or looking for a dance, and there are a few couples or small groups of people, resting or chatting. People are dressed casually-ish, they tend to sweat, and they smile a lot.
Your local Argentine Tango milonga venue is likely to be smaller, much smaller. There will usually be 50-100 people there, with a reasonable amount of seating (chairs and tables), and the music is usually quiet enough to allow talking. Women look gorgeous and cool, men less so. People look quite serious whilst dancing. And most people at a milonga don't seem to be dancing most of the time.
Not much dancing going on
After all, it is a dance occasion, it's natural to assume that one goes to a dance night to, err, dance; at least, that doesn't seem to be a completely crazy assumption to make.
Unlike other factors (such as the "Why don't women ask" thing), this doesn't appear to be a peculiarity of Modern Jive, but one of Argentine Tango. In salsa venues, most people are dancing (or sharking). In Zydeco, everyone dances, until they fall down. And so on.
But in Argentine Tango, it seems that most people want to be there to watch everyone else being there. Maybe we're all just looking at each other's shoes.
OK, so I'm exaggerating. A tad. Clearly some people do dance. But less than in other dance forms, or at least in some venues.
For example, I went to Corrientes (a milonga venue in North London) recently, and I'd estimate that less than half the people were dancing at any one time. I went to Ceroc Chesham a week or so after that, and at least 80% seemed to be dancing at any given time.
Why don't they dance?
I'm at a bit of a loss to explain it.
I don't think it's anything to do with needing to rest more - Modern Jive and salsa are much more energetic, for example. And I don't think Tangueros are quite that decrepit...
It's (probably) not about a massively uneven gender balance - I think that 10-25% "women over" is almost a universal rule in most partner dance situations, and in AT it's more common to encounter women leaders anyway.
Are people simply more picky about choosing their dance partners? Well, possibly. If every new partner represents a 3-dance commitment, then there's definitely more of a hesitation when asking - I feel that myself. But then, you see some of the people that get dances, and your "picky" theory goes right out of the window...
Is it that people don't want to dance? Maybe. Sounds silly, but I've heard people say they go to some venues simply to watch. I can't answer for them, but I know I'd like to dance almost all of the time.
Do people prefer to chat? Are we all a bit hesitant to ask? Are we pacing ourselves to last all evening? Is it the venue layout (more comfortable seating)? Is it the music? Is it the culture? Is it all the fault of George W Bush?
Does it matter?
After all, no-one forces you to dance. If a milonga is mainly about the social scene and not about the dancing, then it's unlikely to tip the planet on its axis. It is what it is.
Except... I wonder, if in the effort to look cool, and rarely dance, we lose some of the fun and spontaneity of other forms. Tango is about connection; if you don't Tango, you can't connect. So if we spent more time dancing with each other, we might spend less time bitching about each other.
- David Bailey