We know that tango is an addiction that provides so many mental and physical benefits. And when we start gaining a deeper understanding of it, we become eager to share what we’ve learned with others.
That’s when we realize how much we actually know when beginners start coming to us for help. For so long we’ve grown accustomed to being the ones seeking knowledge. Now it’s disorienting to find ourselves dispensing it.
Too often, experienced dancers are short with beginners. And they use a tone of voice that implies frustration when newcomers “don’t get it.”
Even though we might be right in showing beginners how to tango the right way, we’re presenting the information in a way that makes our community appear exclusive…or even snobbish. This can turn away a lot of good people, then we’ll be left wondering why our tango community is dwindling.
When we encounter motivated beginners, we can generally infer several things:
– They are brave
– They are hard-working
– They are likely to be perfectionists
– They are highly self-critical
Beginners don’t need us to be hard-asses. What they need from us (but what they usually never ask for) is patience.
Patience is often conflated with coddling and a tolerance for sloppiness when, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Being patient means we understand that no one masters something like tango over the course of a few lessons and practicas. Patience is about knowing when to give feedback, and when to let the beginner’s own self-critical thought process fill in the blanks.
Learning tango and explaining it are two different things. The key to doing both of them well lies with patience.
There’s no moment when we wake up and just feel “advanced.” Moving up in tango skill level isn’t like transitioning from one school grade to the next. And there’s no diploma or piece of paper that officially gives us the title of advanced dancer
Since the process of improving seems so gradual, in time we may be considered high level even if we don’t realize it. Sometimes, it’s better not to be 100% sure.
When the desire to discover what we don’t yet know becomes more important than the desire to be labeled as an advanced dancer, we’re on the right track.
We’ve invested a lot of money and time into our tango. To maintain our level of dancing, it’s true that we should spend a lot of time dancing with those who are at a similar level; they’re the ones most likely to both challenge and keep up with us.
With this idea in mind, it’s perfectly reasonable to be selective about our partners.
But at the same time, we need to understand that we’re part of a community. Taking the time to spare a few tandas with motivated beginners might encourage them to stick around. Chances are, advanced dancers helped us when we were first starting, right? And if those beginners end up investing the same kind of time and effort into tango that we once did, the whole community stands to grow and benefit.
But spending too much time encouraging beginners can take time away from our own development. As advanced dancers, we should be neither too self-interested nor too altruistic. No one benefits from either extreme. So focus more on being good, instead of being too nice.
We’ll all discover steps that we’re good at. It’s definitely good to “specialize” in certain tango figures, because it gives personality to our dancing. It also helps build confidence as we become more experienced.
But there comes a point when our strengths become the very things that hold us back. Our expertise with certain figures or step combinations can become predictable and boring. So every once in a while, we need to shake things up. To expand our dancing knowledge, we have to seek learning experiences that might make us feel like beginners again.
It’s uncomfortable and even requires some pride-swallowing, but this isn’t just about learning new stuff. Doing this keeps the dance feeling exciting and new.
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From June 8, 2013
As we learn more and more tango, we’ll inevitably gravitate towards certain steps (after getting a more solid grasp on our fundamentals). Which steps do you love? Sacadas, molinetes, ganchos, volcadas, the basic cross? If you have a favorite step, or several favorites, I’d argue that it’s best to focus on getting really good at those few moves.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a well-rounded dancer. Well-rounded means being familiar with a bunch of figures. But will you excel at any of them? Or just be mediocre at all of them?
If you really like sacadas, for example, be the one (or few) in your community who’s known for being really good at sacadas. Or if you’re great at boleos, be known for being really fun to do boleos with. Whatever step it is that you like, develop it. Practice it until you can do it in your sleep. Having a specialty will make you more memorable.
You only have so many hours in a day – wasting them on improving weaknesses only robs time away from honing your strengths.
A tango community is not a faceless mass. It is made up of unique individuals, so don’t be afraid to stand out (as long as you remember to respect the line of dance🙂
If we all do in our own ways, the community becomes more exciting as a whole.
We’ve been doing something wrong this whole time!
Maybe it was a sacada, a gancho, the way we’ve been walking, or maybe a detail in our embrace. The good news is, we caught the problem and were shown how to correct it. The new knowledge makes a huge difference.
But applying the correction is tough, especially if the change is really important for improving our tango. We often slip back into the previous bad habit, and if we don’t catch ourselves, our instructors quickly do. Altering the muscle memory requires intense focus, like walking a tightrope with a glass of beer in each hand while being told not to spill a single drop.
For a time, implementing change feels like an impossible task. We question if we’re able to maintain such a high level of concentration, and that’s when it becomes tempting to question our abilities. It’s also at this moment when many find excuses to quit.
But by pressing on, we gradually adapt. Concentration becomes less mentally exhausting, and the new habit finally becomes second nature. To learn tango is to push our brains into achieving what we once thought impossible. It’s a tiring – and sometimes excruciating – process, but our brains were designed to handle it.
In order to be a bad tango dancer, you don’t always have to get blind drunk and stumble around on the floor like a flopping fish until someone tosses you out. After all, drinks can be expensive, and booze isn’t even available in some venues.
So in case you were wondering, here are four surefire strategies on how to suck at tango.
Let’s get started!
1. BE NEGATIVE…ALL THE TIME
Made a mistake? Blame the floor. It’s too sticky. Or too slippery. Or both.
Let’s not forget to blame our partners, too. After all, everything that goes wrong couldn’t possibly be OUR fault, right?
And the dance venue itself? It’s too small and crowded. Or maybe it’s too big and appears empty. Maybe it’s too dark, or the lighting’s off in some other way that affects our concentration.
Make sure most thoughts in our heads go like this: “If only [insert uncontrollable external factor here] was/wasn’t taking place, I’d be dancing so much better.”
Then, as we’re sitting by ourselves, it’s important to complain about how rude everyone is for not inviting us to dance. And while we’re sulking, let’s not waste the opportunity to judge what everyone’s wearing.
2. BE OBLIVIOUS
I love milonga! It’s so fun to grab my partner and flap my shoulders to the beat. Pretty soon I’ll bounce around so much my partner’s contact lenses might fly right off her eyes!
Line of dance? What’s that? Never heard of it. I was having too much fun sticking my elbows out and spinning around at random.
Oh, and I’m getting kind of sweaty. No problem! In fact, that’s my cue to dance more close embrace with everyone. I’m sure they don’t mind that I ate a bunch of garlic, have gas, didn’t bring an extra shirt, a towel, or that I forgot deodorant. I’m also sure no one will care that I only showered twice this week.
Actually, it was probably only once.
3. BE A CONTROL FREAK
Followers are meant to be pushed and shoved into submission, and leaders must be back-led through every tanda while I do ochos on my own. Every step I lead/follow must go EXACTLY the way I want, when I want…or else the world will end and we will all die.
4. GIVE IN TO SELF-DOUBT
Believe the nagging, self-critical voices in our heads that tell us:
– we need to be perfect in order for people to like and/or respect us
– we need to be perfect in order to even have fun
– we’ll never be good
– that we’ll never achieve our tango goals
– that this is too hard and the “good”dancers were just born with talent
So there it is. Four sure-fire ways to suck at tango. Fortunately, the vast majority of dancers out there are rebels who break these rules🙂