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Beginning Tango – The First Lesson
Welcome To Argentine Tango. You have stepped into a world where you will find dance, music, pleasure, history, pain, triumph, relief, patience, hurt, conversation, friends, upset, community, loss, communication, love, layers, and a different kind of reality that spans the entire world. Tango is a family, it is a way of life, a dance, a different lifestyle that will last until the next dance or the next life time. You will meet people from all over the world that more than likely will not speak your native language, may not share you political views, will not know where you live or where you come from or care for that matter. With regards to Tango, none of that stuff matters.
Tango is life (“Tango es vida” in Spanish).
Tango is a way to have a conversation without speaking.
Tango is moving to music that will move you to emotional places.
Tango is technique.
Tango is communication.
Tango is choreographed. (stage or performance tango is)
Tango is entirely improvised. (social tango is)
Tango is a walking embrace.
Tango is a nightmare of sweat with nice shoes and nicer clothing.
Tango is intimate.
Tango is insanely difficult.
Tango is beautiful.
Tango is all over the world.
Tango is the unending onion.
Tango is your worst high school nightmare come back to haunt you.
Tango is sexist, ageist, and gender imbalanced. (yup)
Tango is grace. (depending on your point of view)
Tango is an exercise in personal patience.
Tango is a horizontal desire in vertical form. (uuugh, not)
Tango is an exercise in minutiae.
Tango is study.
Tango is what you make of it.
Tango is ….
One word that is often used to describe the conversation of Argentine Tango, is ‘Connection‘. Tango Topics eschews this word because it rightfully has about 7 different meanings which can be found here in our dictionary of tango terms. The point is that you’ll hear the word a lot in a myriad of different ways. The problem with it is that what one person hears, and what another means by it, may be two very different things! And therein lay the rub, as it were. Some beginners find that the language to describe what’s going on, the way in which something is said, is unclear, inconsistent, and lacks any validity or reality to what’s actually going on. What one teacher describes as X and what another describes as X bear little resemblance to each other. There is no consistency to what X actually is. So you may find yourself going a bit crazy. Arrrgh! For instance, you may hear the word “Ocho” from two different teachers or dancers, and when you watch them doing said ‘Ocho’, what one does and what another does bears little resemblance to the other. There are several reasons for this disparity. Language being chief among them. The problem lay with the fact that there lots of gray areas and no standardization in Argentine Tango. The truth is that anyone can teach Tango without any certifications, but they can teach or show you ideas. And the issue with that is there is no consistency with language or examples and/or any standardized or structured curriculum or what tango is or is not. There is no ‘right’ way to Tango. For most people this is on some level very scary and at the same time very freeing. This mindset opens up the doorway to everything being possible, and also brings up one of the core components of Social Dancing in Argentine Tango: Improvisation. Everything that you’ll see at a Milonga (with the exception of a performance), is entirely improvised!
Which brings up another point with regards to teaching and learning: You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know who’s for reals and who is talkin’ trash. Sometimes a really good indicator of a quality instructor is the size of their class, most times it is not. That just speaks to that teacher’s ability to market and how polished they appear to be. This is not necessarily a good indication of quality instruction. Sometimes the indication that someone is a good instructor is the recommendation from another dancer. However, that recommendation is based on how well that particular person felt comfortable with that teacher and how that person got what they needed to get from that teacher. There may be no objective information there but rather entirely subjective. And sometimes it is the work product of a student thenselves. The ‘work product’ is ideally what you’re looking for. If you like how a particular dance looks when they dance, ask that dancer who they studied with to generate that kind of movement. Ultimately you will need to decide what works best for you. You may change teachers several times to find one that you get and understand. There’s a fly in the ointment with this line of reasoning, and it’s that Tango requires growth, and change, and what you experience now is only a stepping stone to what may come later. The process of learning tango is not through one person but rather many. It is said that to raise a tango dancer in the modern world, it takes a villiage. Tru dat!
You may have it in your mind from TV, Movies, or social media that Tango is a very romantic or passionate dance. While there may be some truth in your own personal perception of how you can understand what you’re seeing. The reality is far from it. The last thing in the world that most of the better dancers in the room, and on the floor, are thinking about is romantic or sexual desires. It is mostly a very distant after thought. The thing that they’re really after is a really good dancing experience. Which isn’t to say that those thoughts don’t happen, it’s to say that for most people in the room (not all, there are always the creepy dudes….uuuugh!) they’re in the room to dance, to see their friends, to hang out, to dress up, to have a nice time and an evening out listening to very nice music. This is what’s called “Social Tango”, and believe it or not this is part of the reason you’re wanting to study Tango at all > to have a taste of the Milonga Experience. Tango isn’t just about the steps, it’s about the culture of the dance that goes with it!
Tango is all of these things, and at the same time, none of them. It really depends on your perspective of where you’re at emotionally, intellectually, and the vantage point that you enter the dance with. As Yoda said to Luke Skywalker before he entered the Cave of Evil, “…only what you take with you“. The same is true here in more ways than you can count. It is here that we start the idea of Tango. Tango is only what you take with you.
In the following article and the video above we address Tango from 3 important aspects.
All three of these things must be studied, practiced, danced, and pursued with equal due diligence, if you want to start on the pathway to being a good dancer in Argentine Tango. Oh and one more thing…and this one you have to get into your head: Instant Mastery ? That’s not going to happen. Tango is going to take you a while, and rightfully a lifetime to ‘master’. Being a beginner, is a good thing in Tango. A very good thing.
That said, let’s dive into Tango Topics idea of Beginning Tango – The First Lesson.
Part One: The Movement of The Dance
Movement ? What does that mean ? It means the foundations of the dance. Tango consists of three simple steps that will rightfully take you the rest of your life to fully grok and understand. As a side note, one our first teachers used to say, “There are really only two steps in Tango! Your left and your right”. And while this was meant as a joke. It’s an allegorical joke with ooodles of truth bombs to it in ways you haven’t even begun to understand yet. However, for the novice dancer, and even the dancer that may read this and pass this along to you > Tango consists of three steps:
A Forward Step. (in the video)
A Side Step.
And a Back Step. (in the video)
For the Follower the important step to learn is the structure of the Back Step.
For the Lead the important step to learn is the structure of the Forward Step.
And for both roles, they use the Side Step in very different ways and level of executions. If all of that sounds really simple, it’s not. It will take years, and we’re not kidding, literally years to perfect these seemingly simple steps. To make them look, and feel effortless, so that they become part of you
The reason why this video, and section, is focusing on these 3 simple steps is because they’re related to a very important construct in Argentine Tango: La Caminata or The Walk. Tango is based on the walk. There’s a Zensunni phrase that goes, “If you can walk, you can dance”. It is the foundation of the dance. The walk is everything in Argentine Tango. Make that walk clean, clear, consistent, stable, controlled, and precise, and you’re onto something. Less than that, and you’ll spend years, quite honestly a decade or three, in tango purgatory because you haven’t resolved how to walk yet. And the really bad part about that is that you won’t know it. Uuuugh! Putting on a pair of tango shoes, and/or nice clothes to go with those tango shoes will not hide a less than desirable walk. An unstable walk (from either partner) will result in an embrace (see the next paragraph) that hangs, pulls, and pushes. Which will result in you either being dragged around or you dragging someone else around the floor. Not to mention back pain, and a neck pain that will more than likely require a visit to the chiropractor. And unstable walk may also, more than likely result in you not dancing. This is why it is absolutely crucial to have a Tango Teacher that focuses on the walk to start with, and continually for several weeks into your Tango training. Months really. Years at the earliest. It will take you weeks to unlearn what you think you have learned. Months to retrain your body to do something very different from what it’s doing today. And years to make it part of you. At its core, Tango is a Walking Dance. The more that you focus on that walk, the easier the dance becomes.
Contained in the walk of Tango is its Embrace. The Embrace is what gives Argentine Tango its iconic look. Most people see Tango as ‘passionate’, or ‘sexy’. The reason is because from where they’re sitting, their frame of reference is of a couple very close to each other so they must be ‘intimate’ with each other, or they’re having some kind of romantic or sexual relationship. That may or may not be true. But the only relationship that the dancing couple is currently having is with their partner, the music, the floor, and the couples around them. The perceptions that other people don’t matter. What you’ll see at a ‘Milonga’ (what is loosely understood as ‘the dance party’) is two basic embrace types: Open Embrace, and Close Embrace. Truthfully there are many types of embraces, which you can explore through our dictionary of embraces. Open Embrace, means that there is ‘space’ between the partnership. Think of it as “Space for Jesus” 🙂 . ‘Close Embrace’ is a lot closer and can be any number of ideas from body-on-body, to body-very-close-to-body, to body-not-touching-but-very-close-to-touching-body and everything in between. More than likely the more common idea that you’ll see presented and danced is “Close Embrace” dancing and its variations. The video above shows you both of these ideas or what Open and Close Embrace is. Realistically as far as the Argentines are concerned, these terms are Norte Americano ideas. Realistically as far the Argentine is concerned, there is only El Abrazo, or The Embrace. There is only one. Theirs. This Open or Close or Vee, or…any one of the distinctions are North American ideas and definitions because we, as North Americans (and really the rest of the world), need the distinction of what we’re seeing coming from the Argentine way of thinking about the dance.
A skill that is used in the video above to initiate and communicate one’s ideas, and which Tango Topics refers to repeatedly as “Intention” is Intention Based Dancing. What’s that ? In it’s simplest form, ‘intention’, is a way to ask someone to do something with you (not for you or to you. this is an important mental distinction when it comes to intention) while dancing to music. Sounds simple enough, right ? There’s just one little caveat to ‘Intention’ and ‘Intention Based Dancing’ > You can not use your head, arms, shoulders, elbows, forearms, wrists, hands, thumbs or fingers to push, pull, compress, or squeeze to communicate your ideas. Rather your entire body is used with a little lean forward, to the side, or backwards. The arms act as a dummy transmitter, they do not add or magnify the intention of what’s being led or followed in any way, shape, or form, from a Leading perspective or from a Following perspective. Doing so would be considered ‘rude’ and ‘pushing’ someone. However, you will hear in other classes from other teachers, another idea called “Resistance” or “Resistance Based Dancing”. In short, Resistance Based Dancing means that we pull, push, use pressure and force, arm and hand compression, and really strength to communicate our desires and responses. Is one more desirable than the other ? In our opinion, ‘yes’. But that’s for you to decide not for us to dictate. You’ll figure out which one is less work, and is far easier to get but difficult to master, and which one will will leave you in a sweaty mess wondering how you pinched a nerve and why your arms feel like they’ve gone 10 rounds in a prize fight!
To be clear, all of the stuff above is Foundation. It is the basis of how we move in the dance. Forward, Side, and Back with an Embrace. More than likely though the thing you’re wondering about is what are the steps, the basic vocabulary of the dance ? There are many ‘steps’ or figures in Argentine Tango. But the Five Common Figures of Argentine Tango is what you’ll run into. Which are: Walking, Ochos, Turns, Crosses, and Cortados.
1.) Walking. Walking refers to how you walk, when you walk, and why you walk. Tango Topics details the Six Ways of Walking. This isn’t how to walk, but rather what you can do with that walk once you’ve got the hang of it.
2.) Ochos. These are a very specific type of vocabulary that can invoke a micro turn or not. There are 8 Types of Ochos that Tango Topics details, and the two more common ones are what we call “Traveling Ochos” and “Milonguero Ochos”. Fortunately for you we have an entire video on this subject and rather than duplicate that effort here, once you’re done with this video, please go load up our Eight Types of Ochos video.
3.) Turns. At some point beyond Walking and Ochos, you’re going to have to learn how to turn, because the Line of Dance isn’t moving or has ground to a stop but the music hasn’t…and you can’t just stop dancing because the line of dance stops, so for that reason, and a whole bunch of others we have to engage some level of Turning with Tango. And fortunately for you, we have a primer on the Eight Types of Turns in Argentine Tango!
4.) Crosses. At some point you’re going to run into a really weird thing that will happen, and that’s what’s called “The Argentine Cross”. Put simply, this is where the Follower is led to cross their feet. However, this is not the only type of cross, there are many types of crosses in Tango but this is the most common of all crosses and we have a FREE video on this topic. Just follow the link above and start your free education today.
5.) Cortado. The last thing that you’ll see, of the basic vocabulary is the beginning of the door opener to other ideas in tango, and that’s the Ocho Cortado. It’s sort of a combination between an MIlonguero Ocho and an Argentine Cross culminating to a Linear Ocho Cortado! These are the Five Common Social Figures of Argentine Tango and they form the basis of what you’ll see at a Milonga when out social dancing.
End Part One. Want to see the all THREE parts ? It’s free. All you have to do is register. Registration is free. Just scroll down to the form below and fill in your name, ane email address and you’ll be good to go. There’s nothing to buy. Nothing to download. Just pure tango information. Go ahead, what do you have you to lose ?