When I first got interested in tango, I would go to a milonga and pay $15 to sit and be eyed suspiciously for three hours. I knew about the cabaceo, tandas and why I shouldn’t say “thank you” at the end of every song. But there is so much more…. Here are a few things I wish I had known in my first year.
#1. Your hair style matters. Fluffy, voluminous, 80s hair isn’t going to help you get dances. It’s a dead giveaway that you are new at this. Pull your hair back or away from the right side of your face. This is due to the head positioning you will have with the lead in close embrace. He doesn’t want to visually navigate the floor through a tousled mass of your hair.
#2. Tango is not a forgiving dance. Don’t bank on being able to fake it, especially if you are coming over from another dance style. Don’t expect your partners to happily compensate for your lack of tango technique all night. Tango dancers take their dance skills very seriously and will invest tremendously in private lessons, classes and workshops. If you want to dance with good dancers, invest in classes and private lessons to get your basics down solid. People will engage you when they see your dedication and development in advancing your technique and skills. Some may pass you over until they see you making real progress.
#3. People may watch you for a while before they ask you to dance. This could be hours, weeks or years. If you’re sitting out a lot, use the time wisely; study the people on the floor. Even better; start socializing.
#4. Attitude matters. Leave entitlement at home. You are not entitled to dance with the best people in the room simply because you showed up and have a general idea of how to dance. Be gracious. Stay humble. Don’t hound people or dominate them. Don’t start off with a reputation for being aggressive, rude or desperate.
#5. The outfit matters. It’s another clue on how legit you are as a dancer. If you decide that tango is for you, invest in tango shoes. Your flats/dance sneakers/Jessica Simpson heels say you are brand new at this. While advanced dancers can get away with wearing jeans, Pumas, tiny shorts or midriff baring tops to a milonga, a beginner is probably better served by going with a more traditional, elegant look.
#6. Don’t rush into the embrace immediately upon hitting the floor. Before you embrace, engage your new friend with some light conversation. You might chat for 30 seconds before the lead initiates the embrace. What do you talk about? “Is this your first time here?” or “How are you enjoying your evening thus far?” or “I love the music tonight!”.
#7. When dancing, don’t talk. Followers, just close your eyes and be in the exquisite moment of that embrace. Immerse yourself in the dance and focus entirely on your partner (not the mirror, not the rockstar dancer 10 feet away and not your feet). This is the time to dance and connect, not entertain your partner with engaging conversation.
#8. Love nuevo? Awesome. Just dial it back at the traditional milongas. Big, showy, flashy nuevo moves will definitely get attention – namely, scowls and frowny faces. They may even get you kicked out of a traditional milonga, so don’t go there to show off your fancy stuff.
Lastly, I feel like the social environment in tango is kind of like going to a party… walk in, greet the people you know. Say hello to the host, find your table, introduce yourself to new people as appropriate. When I leave, I do my best to thank the DJ (especially if I loved the music), the host and to say good-bye to friends (old and newly met).
Treating people kindly and warmly, and with gratitude, respect and interest goes a long way – whether it’s inside or outside the milonga.
Tonight I was a bold, wildly enthusiastic and utterly chaotic dancer. I did my first Zumba class. Despite being a reasonably skilled partner dancer, my technique, timing and ability to follow basic choreography was exceptionally low tonight. But I had gung-ho spirit, an adorable outfit and unwavering determination to survive 60 minutes of random bouncing.
Tonight I was a beginner. And despite having skills in a related area, I was immediately humbled by this new world. From the start, I was chronically behind and lost. I looked insanely stupid as I randomly flailed, kicked and hopped along to the up tempo songs (Elaine Benes would have beat me in a dance-off). Half the time I was so lost, I just kept bouncing while I tried to figure out what the move was.
And from the start, I was totally okay with this. Looking stupid? No problem. Being totally lost? Who cares! I was reminded that as a beginner, there were only 3 things that mattered.
I showed up and I got in the game. You know how many people never become beginners in the first place? Think about how often you hear someone say, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to try rock climbing!” or “I would LOVE to learn tango!”. And they NEVER get around to just showing up the first time and giving it a shot.
I didn’t care how I looked doing it. I know I’m a beginner; it ain’t going to look pretty and it isn’t going to be perfect. I gotta be okay with that. Go ahead and gawk… At least I’m DOING it and not just watching someone else have all the fun. You get total freedom to look stupid when you are a beginner because no sane person expects it to look perfect. You included.
Engage enthusiastically. Okay, so I spent good chunks of the first class facing the wrong way. But I kept bouncing along and even if I wasn’t doing the right move, I was at least doing some kind of movement. And I got in the front so I could see the instructor and myself in the mirror. Which was super entertaining (read: mortifying) for me to witness. Regardless, the point is to try everything (within reason) that is thrown at you. You might impress yourself.
Being a beginner is always humbling. And that’s a beautiful experience that I need to chase continually throughout my life… maintaining that humbling beginner mindset. Where I show up and engage enthusiastically without caring what others think. And with Zumba, I loved every minute of it.
Zumba honestly is a super easy and fun workout… Definitely give it a shot. 🙂