Eight Tips to Desirable Tango
First, let’s get some language out of the way, the title of this article is not “BETTER” tango, but “Desirable”. As ‘desirable’ is a more realistic term towards the idea of ‘Social Tango’. Believe it or not, the descriptives actually matter here. Because what call a thing is what it becomes in your mind! So the clearer you are in that descriptive, the more clear it is to making it a reality! So for that reason alone, we don’t call this ‘Eight Tips to Better Tango’. No. We refer to this as Eight Tips to Desirable Tango. Secondly, the idea that there is a destination here, that you’ll arrive at being amazing in your dancing skills is absolute bullshyte. There is no destination. Get that thought right out of your head. There is only ‘desirable’ and ‘not desirable’. Third and lastly along the lines of language, ‘Desirable’ is a MOVING target. Meaning ? That the idea that you will one day be a magical dancer is not reality, the goal posts for desirable is always, always, always changing. Always.
The more that you have danced, the more that you have learned a way to compromise your body into doing X, Y, and Z that contorts, twists, and mauls you so much so and so often that you erroneously believe that this is how the dance is supposed to be. It’s not. Truthfully the dance is so effortless and easeful that it’s almost scary. The example above shows a couple that is walking together, effortlessly, with ease. Mind you that this ease and effortless ability happened because both partners worked on themselves, individually, on their own technique, in order for the walk to appear as effortless and as easeful as it looks and was. However, you have no idea about this, because you’re so used to moving in your contorted way, using muscled force, hanging, pulling, pushing, and wholly unstable that you think, or believe, that what you are doing is what the couple is doing above. It’s not.
This couple is moving together is an illusion of techniques. The Lead’s walking technique. The Follower’s walking technique. Together this creates an illusion of effortlessness. When it fact it’s very practiced and second nature to them. This is not something that they learned in 5 minutes in a class once and then magically were able to reproduce this. No. This effortless easeful movement of the couple happens through years of diligent, personal, painstaking, detailed, sometimes disheartening, hard work. Not 5 minutes, not 5 hours, not 5 weeks, not 5 months, but years.
The fact is that what you’re seeing is the result of that work. The reality is that if you have to push, if you have to pull, if you have to squeeze, if you have to ‘lead’ with your mouth, if you have to use your arms to direct where the follower is going, if you have to hold on to your lead for dear life because you’re falling all over the place, if you have to squeeze the lead’s arms to stabilize you with every step and on every turn or Ocho, if you have to follow or lead by watching their feet, then you know what ? You are more than likely compromising your body, contorting it to be able to ‘dance’. This is not tango. This is contortion and it is not easeful or effortlessness by any stretch of the imagination.
So how do you get to the effortlessness of the dancers above ? Below are 8 Tips to Desirable Tango towards that goal. It is not the only pathway, and this by no means is an exhaustive list of what has to happen, but it is a good starting point. When reading through these points there is something that you absolutely must keep in mind, something that you must not forget: Most of these points (except the musical one) come from a place of self-honesty. The dancers above achieved their level of effortlessness by blatantly and sometimes more often than not by being deeply and harshly self-critical, honest with themselves and their partners, over and over again. Every nuance, every detail, every aspect in exacting precision was scrutinized, reworked, tailored, taken apart and then put back together hundreds of times. If that. It is only through self-honesty and hyper self-awareness that change can occur. It is absolutely crucial towards becoming a dancer that is desirable to dance with. That said, let’s begin….
Desirable Tip #1
Working your foundation. While you have heard this page say and me say, and every teacher say that the foundation of the dance is walking. That’s not entirely true. Yes the dance is a walking dance, but the dance almost never walks in Modern Tango, it turns. It would be more accurate to state that the dance is a turning one. But that’s not what this statement really means. “Working Your Foundation”, refers to creating a stable platform from which you can walk, or turn, or cross. ‘Stable’ in this case means that you do not need to hang, you do not need to pull, you do not need to push. You are completely aware of your own equilibrium, and as a result do not need to touch someone in any way, shape, or form in order to move with them. Think of it this way: When you’re walking anywhere (assuming it’s not icy out) do you need to hold onto someone else to do it ? Probably not. So why would you need to do this when dancing Tango ? Answer ? You don’t. And anyone that tells you any different is either lying through their teeth or has a contorted way of looking at the dance that you probably want nothing to do with. So ‘Working Your Foundation’ is really about stabilizing the three primary steps of the dance from a leading perspective as well as from a following perspective, individually (not together), forward, side, and back, independent of someone else. Working your foundation will give you the ability to control your own body without holding onto someone else, being independent and that in turn will allow you, when you are in the confines of the embrace, to be 10 times more controlled, and that control gives you the effortlessness and ease that you seek.
Desirable Tip #2
The Onion. Tango is like the unending onion. There is no ‘there’, there is always, always, always something to work on even when you think you have mastered X, you must revisit it constantly with drills and exercises. Constantly. Practice is not, and should not be considered, dancing practice with a partner, but rather should be working the base elements of motion itself – which is stepping forward, stepping backwards, stepping to the side – Forward, Side, and Back. Clean up those things, make those things stable, clear, controlled, contained, consistent, without wobbling, without wavering, without needing to hold on to anyone or anything (no balance bars), and then you’re onto something. The drills and exercises are the onion here because you can always delve deeper into greater and greater levels of control and precision. Finite control is what you’re after here as a Lead and as a Follower! You want to be able to deftly control every aspect of any motion regardless of whether or not you are in an embrace or not! And to be clear, this isn’t about speed, truthfully it’s about slowly, very slow, like a 10th of the speed at which you’d normally do something, it is about doing something thoroughly and slowly and carefully, meticulously detailed and precise control. Through drills and exercises you will gain some measure of finite control, and that finite control will allow you to master forward, side, and back under most conditions.
Desirable Tip #3
Learn to Lead AND Follow at the same time. Don’t put it off to wait until you have mastered X. The fact is that you will never master X. So you may as well start sooner, rather than later. Further still, you will acquire the dance that much faster. Some people are put off by this statement and erroneously think or believe that it means giving up the masculinity or femininity of the dance. Not true. My father always used to say to me “Know Your Stuff”. He meant to educate myself, illuminate the dark corners of topic to know it inside and out. So that when challenged I could speak knowledgeably at the dinner table on a topic and not sound like the proverbial village idiot. The same thing is true here. While you may never use the skill, that doesn’t mean that the knowledge can not and will not benefit you on multiple levels. It does and can do exactly that and a whole lot more. Right now you have a way of seeing the dance as sort of a ‘Black Art of Leading’ and a ‘Screwup skill of Following’. What does that mean ? It means that for Followers they’re afraid or fearful of leading because it seems so hard. The fact is that you know more about Leading than the lead does! Why ? Because you’ve been led by every awful lead in the room that squeezes, pulls, and pushes, and you know what that feels like and you don’t want to do it. From a Leading perspective, you lead something and the Follower doesn’t follow it but they’re ‘supposed’ to. The fact is the reason why they don’t follow it is because you’re in denial about what you’ve actually led. If you lead it, they will follow it. It’s that simple. If they’re not Following it, it’s because you aren’t leading what you thought you were. So swapping roles every time you learn something new will help you to understand how and why X, Y, and Z works. Didactically breaking it down to it’s component elements (forward, side, back). This isn’t about steps and patterns and learning it, it’s about learning how the coupleship works in relation to what is and how something is being led and followed. This isn’t new information folks. It’s old information. Most of the better dancers that you will see and have seen have all learned to lead and follow and some of them do it elegant and some not so much but that’s more than you have done. So if they can do it, why can’t you ?
Desirable Tip #4
Drop your ego. It’s getting in the way. The fact is that you are fearful of making mistakes, and looking like you don’t know what you’re doing. Guess what ? Every one knows that you don’t know what you’re doing. So get used to it. Some of those people that you’re trying to impress recognize this. Some of them don’t and they’re judgmental about it. They point, they snicker, and they talk about you behind your back or so you think. The fact is that some of them just don’t give a rats frak about you and what you’re doing. That’s reality. Look, you’re going to make mistakes. Lots of them. As a matter of fact, those mistakes are absolutely crucial to you learning what you need to learn. If you put on airs and try (operative word ‘try’) to always get every thing right, or proper, and try to over lead every single physiological aspect or follow every single motion, you’ll never learn to dance. Never. Making those mistakes are absolutely crucial to you building a ‘database’, if you will, of motion and movement. And the only thing that stops you from building that database is your ego. Get rid of it.
Have you seen our Practical Tango Advice posts ? Not to toot our own horn but these are like little free classes on bits of information that you already know, but seem to forget when the music starts. Think of these as all the things your teacher would have told you in a private lesson but didn’t have time to do so!
See > Practical Tango Advice
Desirable Tip #5
Learn your music. Seriously. As arcane as Tango music can be, and it can be just that, its also one of the worlds most multi-leveled, multifaceted styles or genres of music ever devised. It’s quite simply the bee’s knees of the music world on multiple levels. This isn’t about knowing the orchestras, or the singers, or knowing the dates, and places of the events those people’s lives. But trust me when I say that that stuff actually helps you. So knowing it is a benefit. As it gives you the insights to the men and their music. No, this is about understanding the structure of the music and how to listen to it. And that starts with not counting beats, ever. There is another way to handle tango music and counting 8’s and beats is not tango music. It’s all about the pauses folks. Learn the pauses and you’ll master tango music in a way that you can’t even begin to imagine. Just as a side note, as a gold+ user of this site would give you access to the necessary tools of hearing the pauses and musical exercises to help you to practice it.
Have you seen our Full Musical Course ? It covers the Beat, On Beat, Off Beat, The 5 Musical Pauses, Tango Music History, What to Listen for, How to Listen, and includes 14 Days of Tango Music, then 30 Days of Intensive Music, and more! For Leads & Followers! Take Your Musical Understanding To A Whole Other Level!
Try > Our Tango Music Course
Desirable Tip #6
Tango is a Social dance. Meaning you have to be a social person. If you’re not, then you’re going to have a rather difficult of a time when it comes to meeting people, which will result in getting dances. While it’s true that Tango can help you get out of your shell, to a limited degree. The fact is that Tango can be very isolating due to its focus on technique and the mastery of that technique. So making friends makes that mastery process seem less daunting. So the easiest thing you can do for yourself is to drop whatever you project about yourself to being true, put on a persona (if you have to) of being nice, and pleasant, and then here’s the hard part > start talking to people. Start with an introduction “I’m ….” and then ask who they are and where they’re from. Probably one of the easiest and the more challenging things to do if you’re the shy type, is not seem awkward around the whole reason you’re there, which is to dance. So here’s a simple solution: Talk to people. Ask what they do, where they come from, how they got here, what their day was like, find out about them. Don’t try to look for a dance. The dancing part will happen. Honest. It will. But probably the biggest piece of advice we can give you is to try (operative word in the sentence) to be friendly with everyone you meet. This is far more important that you can imagine it to be. Yes there will be people that for one reason or another will not like you. Don’t let that get in the way of saying “Hello” to everyone and that includes the people that may not like you. It will drive them mad that you’re nice to them. And the reality is that you are being nice to them for a very good and important reason, because this isn’t about being snobby or trying to get on people’s good side. It’s about generating a desirable attitude for yourself, and really the people that you dance with and ultimately the room. The confines of the Milonga can be really awkward, so all you’re really doing is taking the edge off that awkwardness by investigating who these people are, where they come from, how they operate in the world, how they came to be there, and why they’re still there.
Pro Conversation Tip: Do not ask “Sooooo….how long have you been dancing ?”. Not. Major no-no. You can ask who someone studies with, or where they study, or if they study at all. But if you want to open up a tango conversation beyond the who are you and how they got there, here’s a good one: “Who is your favorite orchestra, and why ?”. Now a likely answer to this is going to be Di Sarli, Canaro, and/or Troilo. However, the more seasoned dancer will answer that question, especially the why part, with the era of the named orchestra (the years) and what specifically was going on for that orchestra at the time. Still another question that will open up a tango dialogue, “Of the three dances, which one is your favorite and why ?”. This one will net you a very varied answer and also open up a wide range of possibilities in places to go with it after that. A very common response from Leads depending on where they’re at in their Tango development either Tango, or Vals. For Follower’s you’ll get a qualified “Milonga with the right Lead!”. Still another one that will open a conversational door is “Where do you practice ?”. An obvious one, “What’s a good Milonga to go to and on which night ?”. And if you live in a small town where they’re only one milonga a week, if that, then a good question to ask anywhere is, “How do you like the Music tonight?”. Which will of course open up a long dialogue on the quality of music, the dj, and the floor’s response.
Have you seen Dancing In A Small Space (DIASS) ? If you’re planning to dance at a Tango Marathon, Festival, Encuentro, Buenos Aires, or your local Milonga is a very crowded and you want to know how to dance well in a small crowded space, then this video is the key to that process.
See > Dancing In A Small Space
Desirable Tip #7
Practica, Milonga, Marathon, Encuentro. Put simply, all the classes, workshops, and private study with X, Y, and Z are practically useless unless you actually use it. This is what I call the neurology of dancing (leading or following). There’s something that happens to you within the line of dance, where you are under stress to perform X, Y, and Z. Where you have limitations that you must execute within a given limitation. Where you have move within the construct of the line of dance IN TIME TO THE MUSIC so that you don’t hit or collide with tables, chairs, or other couples. And that only comes from actual dancing. You have to try this stuff out, refine it, play with it, change it, modify it, work with it. So while solo practice is good, going to classes is also good, private practice is even better, and videoing that stuff to improve on it is excellent. What you’re really doing is ‘vamping’ until you’re at a Milonga! And dancing within the confines of the Milonga experience is really what you’re after. And even this is a skill unto itself (see my video on Preparing For Buenos Aires or Dancing In A Small Space). But that’s what you’re shooting for. Going out social dancing once a week is nice, 3 or 4 times a week is better! Go to every practica, every milonga, and then travel for marathons, and encuentros as much as you can. Don’t just dance with all the best dancers in the room but everyone. Every dancer can teach you more about every possible condition that you will run into out there in the dancing world. The more that you do this, the more you will understand how to handle X, Y, and Z. More dancing, can create a more well rounded dancer and dancing experience.
Have you seen our post on the Seven Basic Moves of Tango ? Quite possibly one of the more educational pieces of our yappage that really breaks down what the vocabulary is all about. The reason we stay that understanding what the dance is comprised of will give you a greater ability to change it to what you want it to be.
Learn About > The Seven Basic Moves of Tango
Desirable Tip #8
Video Practice. The fact is that mirrors and your ego lie to you every time you dance. You can’t see everything because you’re too busy contorting your body to ‘make’ the dance happen instead of dancing. So you quite honestly can’t see what you need to see in order to make things better. It is for this reason alone (and a whole host of others) that you quite literally must video your private practice dances, and then here’s the hard part – WATCH THEM! What are you looking for when you watch them ? You’re looking for how you leg extends, how your foot lands on the floor, you’re looking for signs of compression, you’re looking for signs of bodily contortion (head tilting towards, or away from your partner), you’re looking at arm positions, hand positions, you’re looking for issues of posture, you’re looking for where and how your foot comes off the floor when it should be on the floor at all times. You’re looking for repetition of vocabulary (the same move over and over again) with no variations. You’re looking for wobbling when you walk, the areas of instability in a turn, you’re looking for the lack of indications of a lead, or the over forcefulness of a lead. You’re looking for all of these things and many more, and probably chief among these is what you are doing (as a Lead or as a Follower) in time to the music. Answer this question, “Is what I am doing in time to the beat, the pauses, and musical phrasing of the music ?” If the answer to any one of those questions is “NO” then you have issues that need to be addressed and I got news for you, it’s not about going back to school to learn to count. It’s about learning how to hear the music properly.
In conclusion, we’re not saying that any one of these things, and the levels of excruciating, and exhaustive details will change what you’re doing. we are saying that they all will! Doing them on a regular basis will start you off in the right direction that you need to have, so that you change your dance into a far more satisfying dancing experience.
The fact is that no one likes to be criticized and singled out for their dancing, and then to have it characterized as ‘awful’. We all like to believe that what we’re doing is perfect and wonderful and amazing. The reality is far from this. To witness this stuff and have it pointed out to us is embarrassing and personally painful. However, the sad fact is that this is exactly what does happen and is happening to you and around you in a myriad of different ways. One of them is people saying “no” your cabeceo or mirada (especially from the better dancers in the room), or you sitting most of the night (and not because you want to sit either), or you not dancing because you don’t want to look like you don’t know what you’re doing. There’s a way around all of that: Study, practice, and take private lessons to up your game because the reality is that you need them. Yes, they can be expensive, especially with the more popular and better teachers but you need their honest and clear feedback. And if you aren’t taking privates and you felt like you haven’t gotten a lot out of them, then look at our Five-Point Guide to Private Lessons. It can really help you to getting the most out of your private lessons with almost any teacher!
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