Tango Self-Defence

1st March 2009

(More Unlocking the Milonga articles.)

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting" ~ Sun Tzu


OK I don't know what was going on last night?! It wasn't a full moon (I checked), but it's been a while since I've seen that much lunacy at once...

The Physical


Tango has been around a long time and it's developed a good method of dealing with the inevitable collisions.

  • Don't tense up.
  • Keep moving
  • Keep moving in a circle

The tango embrace is the "best" level of tension against impact damage from collisions. Too relaxed and you'll just crumple. Too tense and it'll hurt more.

Move in circles

Moving objects tend to bounce off each other.

Again moving in a circle tends to mean things glance off of you. You're still in trouble if someone hits you dead on, but you've reduced the angles considerably and so improved your odds a lot. Most advanced parries are based on circles. Actually so are most basic ones.

Are you trying to hit me?

OK now the middle ground, for those times your dealing with someone about to collide with you or dancing like they're going to pretty soon.

If you can, simply get to another part of the dance floor. If you can't, a simple solution is to open up the embrace, for example into a block or a sandwich so your partner can see the danger.

This also helps as some women follow with their eyes closed and this will cause them to open them. I've also noticed that inconsiderate dancers prefer hitting people from behind. Crashing into a couple who are watching you is a while different ballgame - be careful though, there are a few idiots who will...

Running away

A friend of mine jokes that she knows when I'm moving her out of harm's way because it the only time I "mince". The technical term is "traspie" - sounds better in Spanish. Simply lift up on to tiptoes and move taking lots of small steps so you don't step on her feet.

Sometimes the only way to go is backwards against the line of dance. This is not good. Especially as you're going to do it at speed to avoid someone else hitting you. The "best" or more precisely "least worst" way to do is:

  1. Don't tense up
  2. Straighten your back so it's vertical
  3. Stick your bum out a bit
  4. Go up on your toes and take lots of very small quick steps back.

Basically if you do hit someone you want to either bump them with your bum, or hit them with your whole back; if the latter is in normal tango tension it feels more like being hit by a large cushion than a brick wall. Still not fun, but certainly forgivable, especially when you apologise and mutter about the guy you were avoiding in the first place.

Whatever you do, don't take a large step back. Do that with speed and hit someone's ankle, Achilles tendon etc and it'll really hurt.

Forget the rules

Sometimes you literally have to run away. Forget about the whole "collecting between steps" nonsense. Just turn and run, or hop out of the way; whatever gets you out of harm's way. Likewise there comes a time to let go of the follower's hand either so she can get out of the way, or so you can physically block / parry the incoming elbow, hand etc.

This really should be once in a Blue Moon. If it happens more often, seriously consider changing venues.

The Emotional


Sadly trolls aren't limited to online Forums. Some of them hang around in Milonga. They ignore the etiquette and act aggressively to anyone who gets in their way. Examples are:

  1. Someone who wasn't dancing, walking around the edge of the dancefloor and pushing a dancing couple out of the way.
  2. Dancing with no floorcraft the wrong way around the dancefloor, colliding with another couple and having a go at the other leader.


Alas, the obvious solution that the people in charge "have a word" rarely seems to happen.

Thankfully they're quite easy to deal with.

No fear

If you're going home at night and a drunken stranger comes up to you and starts verbally abusing you and waving a knife around, you will get a strong unpleasant feeling. For some it's their chest, others their stomach etc. It doesn't matter. This is a good thing. It's your body going "Oh Hell. This is a dangerous situation." Quite right too.

Martial artists are slowly starting to realise however, that most people go through their whole lives without having to deal with such things. On the other hand most people take some kind of verbal / written abuse at least once a week. So how do you deal with it?

Well in this specific case, understand that it's a bluff. It isn't a dangerous situation. We're not in 19th-Century Buenos Aires, and the guy doesn't want to physically fight. In fact he's relying on the fact that you won't fight in a milonga.

So all you have to do is nod, mutter "uh huh" non-committally and turn your back on him.


Years ago a group of teenagers tried to start a fight with me by swearing at me. Unfortunately I didn't recognize the swear word (though I did recognize the tone) and so innocently asked one of the ones who hadn't said it what it meant.

They explained and their friend then tried it again, at which point I apologised and asked if the new context they'd used it in still had the same meaning?

It was explained again and attempted for the third time, at which point I shrugged and said that I just didn't get it.

That's what you're going for. Not "Grrrrrrr I will kill you!", not mocking or condescension, not rolling over and taking it. Just "Meh".


But surely you've let them get away with it. This is wrong!

Actually no. There's two levels to this. They're only aware of the first which is an illusion. They can't really hurt you unless you let them. The second level is the thing that is going to clobber them, but they don't even know it. Which is useful as it means they won't come looking for revenge.

Remember, in the milonga, everyone sees everything. It's the Golden Rule.

To expand on this, they've completely forgotten about:

  • Their partner
  • The other dancers.

Firstly, imagine how their partner feels - this idiot has just crashed her into someone else. She's felt the impact. Now he's trying to start a fight. She's got her back to you and if you want to swing at him, you might hit her. (A friend of mine once got hit in the face when one guy misjudged a sucker punch and hit her instead of the guy he was aiming at.) It's an awful feeling. Is she supposed to protect this guy? She can't easily get loose because he's literally holding her with two arms like a human shield.

How likely is she to dance with him again? Ever? And what do you think she'll be talking about on the way home?

Secondly, she's not the only one watching this - all the woman sitting down are paying attention too, as are any close by. The bigger the fuss he makes the more attention he pulls.

Here's what people see. There was some kind of collision - fair enough. One guy's started to apologise, the other's acting like an idiot. The first guy (you) turns his back on the idiot and carries on dancing. He's spared the woman further embarrassment and made it clear he meant her no harm. Unlike the idiot using his woman as a shield, you have acted as a shield for your woman and completely protected her. It sends a clear message where your priorities lie.

So the women remember, and talk to each other. And the idiot finds it harder to get dances. If it was a one-off, maybe he had a bad day, then it'll eventually be forgiven, but if he keeps it up, soon he'll only get dances from the visitors.


Ok, but this still leaves you feeling rattled. There's two really good cures to this - dancing and being hugged.

Wow, isn't it fortunate that you're dancing tango!

Resist the temptation to complain about it. Just dance in close embrace, listen to the music and that tangled up feeling in your stomach (or wherever) will be gone by the end of the next tanda.

 - Christopher O'Shea, 1st March 2009

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