Another Awkward Year in Tango

After I wrote An Awkward First Year in Tango, I realized there was much more to say. Here are a few more things I realized.

#1. My heels were too high. Don’t buy the first pair of 3.5 inch heels you find – that height may not be the right height for you. I spent 2 years dancing in heels that were actually too high for me. It wasn’t until I bought a pair of lower heels for a “practice shoe” that an instructor mentioned they were the perfect height for me based on how they positioned my body for tango. Tango is way easier now that I’m in the right shoes for my body.

#2. Posture matters. This isn’t just about standing tall and looking nice from the outside. It’s about what you are doing internally with your entire core. A professional will tell you all the secrets on what good dancers do with their body – on the outside and inside to make the dance work effectively and beautifully. Concave bodies aren’t easy or fun to dance with. Bad posture can also be painful and incredibly awkward for your partner.

#3. Learn the rhythms. Timing is the one thing that keeps partners on the same page. I was late to the game on learning rhythms of tango music. This is an easy thing to gloss over especially for ladies who depend on leads to direct the show. But knowing when to step is a huge factor for being desirable to dance with. If you are chronically off time, it can throw the lead off or make him work harder to adjust for your wanton disregard of musical structure.

#4. Forget moves; just learn how to walk. Tango is a walking dance, so… learn how to walk. Yes, this will take years to refine. But I truly believe that if you can’t do a basic tango walk, I’d venture to say you can’t dance tango. In just learning how to walk, you’ll get to work on timing, posture and a ton of technique that you’ll apply to virtually everything else you do. Learning how to walk gives you a transferable skill that is immeasurable and widely applicable. I would have spent a lot more time working on my walk before trying to learn styling and moves.

#5. There will be egos and insecurity. And I don’t just mean yours – I mean from other people. Some people may not be friendly or welcoming and you’ll have no idea why. You may come onto the scene and be dismissed as the “flavor of the week”. Some ladies may view you as the reason they are sitting out all night. If you are a high potential dancer with a drive to be the next rockstar, some people may feel threatened. Even guys have told me that they experience coldness from other men.

#6. You’ll be critiqued. You show up at a milonga. There are tables surrounding the dance floor with people sitting at them… watching the dance floor… perhaps with guarded expressions. Men are trying to determine who to cabeceo next. Ladies are making mental notes of who to avoid – and who to mirada. Someone is probably watching the floor and muttering, “No one here can dance“. I had to learn to get comfortable with feeling insecure – which tango will do to you. We need thick skin for tango.

#7. It’s truly a partner dance. Tango isn’t like Lindy where people happily dance with anyone and everyone. Some people stick primarily with their partner or a select few. You will quickly realize that you will want practice partners and friends to attend classes, workshops and milongas with (or at least a few who get excited when you show up). If you start to feel like everyone is always paired up while you are politely sitting out, this may be why.

#8. Learn from the best instructor you can afford. Some teachers may simply parrot what they learned from their tango gurus – but parroting is not teaching. Good teachers have years of being able to 1) diagnose what to correct (and in what order and when), 2) break down complex concepts and 3) explain concepts in a variety of ways. If you are going to spend money; spend it wisely with someone who is truly a master instructor (not just a great stage dancer).

#9. Practicas are a must. If you can’t afford private lessons, take advantage of practicas where a pro will provide some guidance and everyone is encouraged to share feedback. If you are serious about your dancing, you don’t want to learn years later that everyone you’ve been dancing with has been secretly miserable about how you crush their hand or crouch over them. Actively seek – and insist upon – honest feedback.

#10. Don’t forget the pedicure. Those sexy, skimpy tango shoes show off the entire foot. Your feet can easily be a focal point when you are dancing. And some photographers like to focus shots on dancer’s shoes. Tango is an elegant dance; from head to toe – so don’t neglect the toes.

In the last few years, I’ve watched many people get totally turned off, madly frustrated or emotionally wounded by their tango experience. Tango isn’t for everyone. We need to do the boring, gritty work. We need thick skin. Tango demands hard work, humbleness and total surrender to the learning process. But if you can survive the first few years, I guarantee you’ll find it’s all worth it.


About Epiphany

epiphanies on life and spiritual living as I chase wisdom - one insight at a time.

Posted on May 12, 2017, in Dance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Item #7 is almost exclusive of places other than Buenos Aires. Going to milongas or lessons in a “couple” is not fun. You will become an outcast in Buenos Aires at least.
    I realize in Europe and many other places in South and North America, most or many people go in “couples”. They get my instant rejection, including patronage rejection.
    Just think of La Ideal: If you go in a couple, they seat you next to the men’s restroom. Much the same in Gricel. Gricel runs a couples milonga on Saturday nights just for couples.
    Part of the problem in Europe is that they even encourage formation of couples by reducing a bit the admission fee in lessons and milongas. Instead of constantly rotating couples during lessons and encouraging cabeceo in the milongas.
    Couples cause severe damage to tango de salon. Not much to do with escenario, where a couple is a must.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a good insight for people who travel to Buenos Aires… thank you for sharing that. I came into tango after doing many years of lindy, west coast and blues where most people happily dance and socialize with anyone and everyone. I very much believe in being a social dancer and was surprised to see how many people would show up at milongas and then stick to only their partner or small group of friends. When I see people who do that, I kind of “write them off”… I sense they don’t really want to be part of the overall community, so I don’t seek them out.

    My preference is to go to events where I know at least a few people – but with the intention of dancing socially as much as I can (including with the people I know). I’ve been to a few where I didn’t know anyone and was surprised at how hard it was to get dances.

    If you are open to sharing more about this, I’d love to hear more about why couples are so discouraged at milongas in BA.


  3. Frederic Rizzo

    Please look at “Tango Secrets – Chicago” on Facebook. I recommend you start at earlier posts at the bottom.

    I like this article.



  4. It’s not that couples are discouraged in BA, it’s just part of the codigos that if you arrive with someone, and SIT with them, no one will cabeceo you as you are showing that you are taken. This is less true of men. And generally less true of foreigners. Couples who want to dance with others sit seperately–woman with the women, and the man with the men.


  5. Adrián Moreno

    I often go with 3 female FRIENDS to Gricel (La Rioja 1180, BA), but NOONE ever saw us crossing the door together.
    Usually I dance at least one tanda with each during the night, so we can show we can dance, sort of a demonstration. I get all the dances through cabeceo exclusively.
    One Thursday night there was a really nice woman seated next to my friend Mirta in a female’s table, and while dancing with Mirta, y asked her about the woman seated next to her:
    –“…do not worry, she is married, and her husband is seating not far from you” (at the other end of the salon). Needless to say, I never danced with that pretty woman. I go to milongas for fun, not for trouble.


  6. Sucks that tango has become so snotty. This shit is exactly why i stopped dancing. It’s supposed to be fun!


    • I hear you. On the flip side, I know many people who quit tango because they were frustrated by how many people who were too busy having fun to bother with learning the basics like proper posture, timing and walking technique… or people who never bothered to go to practicas or train with a pro because they were only doing it for fun.

      The part that is really sad for me has to do with the egos and insecurity, the constant critiquing and the tendency for people to stick to a small group of select dancers. I know a lot of people who have quit due to those factors too.

      I get that for most of us, having fun in tango involves us doing it skillfully, but I do think it’s possible to have fun with dancers of all levels. I do my best to embrace whoever is before me with openness, support and compassion. But it is frustrating for me when someone thinks they don’t have to learn the basic stuff that make the dance enjoyable and safe for their partner.


  7. aydandunnigan

    P.S. The tango dance community in Edmonton is relatively small, although a large city, which means that everyone knows everyone whenever they go to a milonga, and you pick a milonga according to who is going to be there. This eliminates the “checking out” and judging” that goes on in bigger dance communities. In our small dance group (20 -30 an evening) we make an intentional effort to be inclusive, supportive to all levels of dancers, even a few with physical disabilities. The community experience becomes as important to the attendees than the dancing. THanks again for the blog.


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