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.
My tango journey started the same as many before me. By being snubbed.
I started tango in a beginner friendly community. Most people were lovely. But I quickly realized that I was clearly invisible to certain people. Some were advanced dancers who made their disdain obvious. One was an instructor who overtly snubbed anyone not currently taking lessons from her. Others were friends who grew distant as they got more serious with their dancing – suddenly hesitant to say hello out of fear it would end in a dreaded invitation to dance.
In some cases, people don’t snub you for long… some start teaching or promoting. They soon realize the people they snubbed have value after all. Those people can pay cover charges, attend workshops, share posts, and build their image as a scene leader.
Hey. I’m more than a $15 cover charge and a body filling up space in a class. I am a human being worthy of basic courtesy – even if I’m not taking private lessons from you, attending your event or have rockstar dance skills. Our dance community is about connection. It’s not about opportunistically using people.
Being a good dancer doesn’t entitle you to forego being well-mannered and polite. It DOES mean that you have to get smart about how to manage your night gracefully when 90% of the room wants your time, energy and attention.
I’m far from perfect with greeting everyone – sometimes my mind is elsewhere or my introverted side trumps my desire to be social. And I’ve been guilty of writing off those who clearly want nothing to do with me. But, let’s be honest; there is always time to smile and say hello.
I get why I don’t always get that warm hello. Once I got serious with my dancing I began drawing the attention of the better leads. And that’s when I saw the difference between someone snubbing me versus someone not really noticing me. Some were simply focused on dancers who were a better match for their skill level and interests.
Not everyone goes to a dance to be social. Not everyone wants to greet everyone in the room. Some people simply focus on the people they already know, their closest friends and favorites. Some people don’t want to invite a lengthy encounter when they are simply there to dance or catch their favorite partners. I don’t take any of that personally.
However. Sometimes it IS intentional.
Sometimes being snubbed means the person has made a judgement of one’s value and acceptance. I’ve seen many cases where it left someone feeling very hurt, broadsided or even mocked. I’ve heard a lot of ugly stories. And sometimes it is a passive-aggressive method of conveying that you are less than. Unworthy. Undesired. Unwelcome.
No one wants to go where they feel snubbed. Check yourself. Check your friends. Check your venue culture. Check your scene leaders. This isn’t about dancing with everyone in the room or getting to know everyone on a personal level. It’s simply about being kind and polite.
Years ago, a guy I know wrote: “We NEVER forget the ones who snubbed us”. The dancer you snub today may be the one who blossoms in unforeseen popularity or skill. The one who becomes the most sought after dancer in the room, or your perfect match for a partner. Today, that guy holds a tango championship title. That guy had the power to make a fool out of the ones who snubbed him.
Therefore, I don’t mind being snubbed. Because I’ll be working on my dancing. Expanding the light and love I bring to the community. Challenging myself every day to be a better, more compassionate, loving human being – and hey, if things go well, a dancer who is in high demand.
So, if you’re feeling snubbed, go “make a fool out of those people”. Become the best dancer you can become. Become known for doing or being something amazing. Have a phenomenal embrace, impeccable balance, brilliant musicality, or an exquisite walk. If dancing isn’t your main forte, become known for being an extraordinary person; having a brilliant wit, the warmest heart, the best stories, profound wisdom, exceptional insight, a hilarious sense of humor or an invaluable friend.
And forget about those people. Let your gifts be their loss. And keep your focus on the many beautiful, warm and loving souls in our community.
Related: Why Tango is Snobby
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.