Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Keys to Learning Tango for Beginners

A Tango only truly happens when the feelings in the music move you and your partner into it's realm.

So the first way to seek it's beauty and its rewards is to listen to the music a lot - even when you are not practicing or dancing. In the kitchen; in the car; as you prepare for sleep. A certain familiarity with the music is the key to getting your body to move nicely with it. It has to be inside you for it to work. If you notice you never get tired of listening to it as the months go by, you will find many pleasures and rewards in Tango for the rest of your life.

On this website ( I have a few pages about the great Tango orchestras and who I call "The Big 8" Maestros, whose music embodies the essence of Argentine Tango. Knowing a little about the recordings, like being able to immediately identify, "That's Di Sarli!" or "Ah, Pugliese!" will really advance your abilities through understanding - not because of "what" you know, but because of what you will have gone through in listening to know it. Trust me.


1. The first responsibility - of both the woman and the man, is to really listen to the music. The more open you are to its influence, the sooner it will carry you along to its Heart. Listen before you move. Every song. Always bring yourself back to this basic starting point.

2. Slow down. As you get excited, you lose it. So I mean slow down your inner workings. Thinking is not doing. The time to concentrate on details is in your own practice time. On the floor, it is only time to lose yourself in the moment. That calls for a certain unconcious competence. Here's the practice part coming in ...

3. Only practice will get you going smoothly. And each Beginner must practice regularly alone at first to get sure of the basic movements. Your solitary love of moving with the music is the beginning point for being able to enjoy the dance with another. The follower must be able to do her ochos, for instance, without holding on to someone or something. The leader must work out in his mind what he will lead next - and compose little combinations he likes of the figures he has learned. Fluidity will come. Keep your "frame" up at all times when you move by yourself. Act a bit - move as if you were a great dancer already. Be one in your mind! Tango isn't about your feet, it's about all of you - spirit , mind and body. A good frame supports your desires.

Now practice with partners. Don't just always dance with the same partner.

Remember it's your Body Memory that is most important. The moves have to become automatic for it. Figures or "steps" are for your body memory, not your head. In this way, it becomes automatic and you're on your way.

4. Go social dancing often for the fun and pleasure of it!

By the way, there are more pages on this site about learning Tango, challenges and rewards.

An exchange on Tango-L with the subject "beginner/intermediate":

This has been a helpful topic for me. The struggle I have is that I will be dancing with a good lead, but my body gets confused. Last night, he clearly lead a rear ocho, and instead of stepping back with my left I stepped forward with my right. Duh! It's like the signal gets crossed in my brain.

My instructors classify me as an "early intermediate", and I dance about 3 - 4 times a week. Any recommendations, suggestions, thoughts as to why I do this?

Fransesca, Pasadena, CA

Keith wrote:

Your post was also helpful in how it was put, I'm sure.

I suggest the issue is your weight shift commitment. After-all, leading AND following is about this.

There is a place between steps where you are leaving the last step, but have not committed to the next. You find it by not getting excited, not being in a hurry, not thinking. You find it when completely lost in the music and feeling where your partner's weight is NOW. Don't anticipate or guess. Feel it precisely "now." Waiting - suspension - is the key for both followers and leaders. In this place of almost nano-second suspension, tango magic happens. The real communication. The conversation.

When I lead, I'm always waiting/listening for my partner. In every beat, more-or-less. When following, it's all about where is the leader's weight. I say this from my bias of believing tango is essentially a walking dance. One foot, then the other. But not in a hurry. Even in milonga - feel it it slow-motion.

So, think about not automatically committing your weight to another step. Make nothing "automatic." Find the nuance of the suspension moment, and when you are there, there are no "mistakes." Only adjustment, communication. You'll feel - sense - the direction your leader's weight is going to.

Not trying to sound like I have all the answers! (Would that I did).


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