The educated Tanguero

Essential Tango Knowledge

How to develop your Tango skills ?


Tango is mainly a social dance (apart from Tango show-dancing, which is NOT the subject here) and having completed a beginners course, we want to dance and enjoy the marvelous music and the atmosphere of Milongas. So why progress ? actually Tango is not a highly structured ballroom dance, Tango movements are almost completely improvised and thus communication is the name of the game. If communication does not happen, that makes things difficult and the amount of fun limited. You will feel that during the dance and also when you count the numbers of dances during a Milonga. Beginners usually have problems to find a dance partner (leaders may notice that lots of cabeceos are ignored and followers will sit more than dance). Of course tangueros are polite (if they aren´t they are no real tangueros), but this is a well-known problem. Please do not confuse that with physical attractiveness. Of course it helps a lot looking like a supermodel, but most of the real tangueros would always prefer a better dancer (even if the partner doesn’t look like a supermodel). So for advanced dancers, skilled in tango communication it is definitively easier to find a dance partner. For a typical beginner after completing a first beginner’s course, what can be done to improve? Here are some simple hints for you:

1. You can´t learn tango without doing it
Go to tango events frequently and dance. Take enough time (at least once or twice a week) to dance socially and learn. Try to dance with partners of your development level and learn together. It somehow helps to have a permanent partner, but you also have to practice your skills with other dance partners.

2. Learn the language of tango
Learning some step sequences is good for the start, but finally we want to talk to each other, so we need the words of this language. Words in Tango are technical elements like ocho, pivot, gancho and back step. You have to learn how to lead and follow these elements both as a leader and as a follower. Then learn how the elements can be connected. In the beginning it helps to practice usual sentences (Like the typical parada, sandwich, pasada combination), but later you will improvise your own sentences.

3. Pick the right teacher
Teaching is very much related to personal communication style and philosophy. Pick a teacher who actually can deliver a message you can understand. It doesn´t need to be a native Argentinean and it also doesn´t need to be Mr. World Champion, but the teaching should make sense and it also should be affordable. Don´t go to teachers who just teach sequences, they should teach you the language of Tango, the words and how to use your body to communicate. Finally a good teacher should be able to analyze and correct your mistakes and help to overcome your personal problems.
It may be difficult to find such a teacher, so visit classes of different teachers and decide.

4. Learn to use your body
While we are learning tango, we have to create a better command of our body in terms of balance, tone, posture and agility. You will develop that while you are learning the tango, but some people find it helpful to develop that with special practice sequences. Others find it helpful to attend classes like yoga, feldenkrais or pilates or general workout in the gym. Remember our body is the instrument to express our feelings in dance, so the body has to function in a way corresponding to your expression needs. Talk to your teacher, especially, if you have limitations (BTW, in social Tango nobody will ask you to do the splits).

5. Know your music
As we have to express the music with our body, it definitively makes sense to know a bit about music. I was once asked, why I easily can dance a nice finishing move exactly onto the last beat of the song. My answer was “because I have counted the beats of the final musical phrase”. Actually I know most of the typical pieces and by having danced them over and over, I actually can predict the end almost exactly. Being a DJ helps here definitely, but it also helps to know at least some basics of Tango history and to know some of the big tango orchestras.

6. Dress for success
Believe it or not, dressing up will improve the dancing for some people significantly. So dress like you feel and enjoy the Milonga. Actually for dancing tango, your clothes should allow for all the movements without impeding your dancing.
Actually I want to talk about shoes. Shoes should have two features. First of all, they should support the foot and they should be well connected to the foot in order to prevent injuries. Second, the soles should fit to the type of floor you are normally dancing on. This means, you should have a safe balance between feeling slippery or sticky, so you should be able to pivot without risk of injuries. So you need a pair of dancing shoes. The good news is, that even cheap ballroom shoes for less than 100 $ will do (specially on timber floors). Again, if you have questions, ask your teachers or experienced tangueros. And yes, I know how much money you can spend just on shoes ……

7. Be open minded
Like different teachers have different ways of teaching and may be in favour of different styles, styles in tango do not matter. Most tangueros are even not able to describe a “style” or to pinpoint differences.
Tangueros should be open minded, so visit different milongas and practicas and learn to dance with partners of different style groups.

8. Be polite and stick to the rules
Visit different Milongas and try not to collide with other dancers. Stick to the rules (codigos) and adjust your dancing to the situation on the dancefloor. Adapt the energy of your dancing to the space (if you want to do high voleos, check whether the airspace is free, if it is crowded, high voleos may be dangerous and should be avoided).
Accept the music, discover it and dance to it. If you go to a traditional milonga, do not complain that only the old hackneyed pieces are played (lots of people love them….) and if you happen to be at a modern type milonga do not complain that they play modern new songs (i.e. Nuevo). If you want to dance to a special song or orchestra, simply ask the DJ.

9. Understand the cultural background
Get translations of some tango lyrics and try to understand the idea of tango as a trinity of music, poetry and dance. Try to understand where and how Tango has developed and what people had in mind. Understand the development of Tango as connected to the history of Argentina, Uruguay and other countries. Try to talk to people from Argentina and listen to their stories.

10. The path is the goal
This sounds like asian wisdom, but it is actually a German proverb (“Der Weg ist das Ziel”). It means, nobody can tell you how long it takes to become a real advanced Tango dancer. During your progression you will find out that the amount of things to learn is constantly growing and you will never reach mastery (it feels like approaching lightspeed in special relativity). This is definitely true, so many of us still consider themselves as beginners (another proverb: Aren´t we all beginners ?). What we have to distill out of this is that the real reward for us is following that path. Enjoy the dances and the opportunities to meet interesting people and keep on going. And if you ever happen to arrive – give me a free lesson 🙂



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