When we feel like we’re actually dancing, we realize that we’ve let go of anxiety and the mental struggle of remembering countless technique points. That feeling of smooth movement, even if it’s fleeting at first, gives us a sense that we can indeed become tango dancers after all.

The sensation is like riding a bike for the first time, when the person teaching us lets go of the seat and leaves us to balance on our own. On the dance floor, we capture that feeling when we start making a better effort to move with the music.

We may still stumble every now and then as our muscle memory takes shape, but the key to our next tango breakthrough is closely tied to the music. So let’s pay closer attention to it, trust it, and not be afraid to let it take us.



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Not too long ago, I wrote a blog entry on the importance of being bold and taking “big steps” in order to move our dancing forward.

But in the past, I’ve also made the case for paying attention to “smaller steps,” such as fundamentals and the finer details of body awareness.

I’m sure other tango teachers have given similar advice emphasizing one approach as well as the other. So which is it? Is there a right way? Should we choose one according to our personality, then stick to it?

Perhaps the answer is a little more nuanced. I’ve found that when choosing to go the “bold” route, we definitely accomplish a lot. But at some point, we come to a place where we have to step back and work on fundamentals and finer details.

But I’ve also found that when choosing to focus heavily on basics and small details, we eventually find ourselves pressed to take bigger, bolder leaps. This can include going to a festival for the first time, taking a more challenging class, or attending a milonga in a different city.

The issue isn’t about choosing one path over the other. It’s knowing when to transition from one to the other – and perhaps back again – while motivating ourselves to break the mold each time.

At every turn, it seems that tango won’t let us stay in any comfort zone for long.

choose path2.jpeg

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Getting better at tango technique leads to us developing muscle memory. Not surprisingly, this makes the dance feel more comfortable over time.

But muscle memory is a tricky thing. In tango, we often utilize muscle memory the same way we would when doing everyday tasks such as tying our shoes, putting away the dishes, or locking the front door after leaving home.

In other words, we may associate muscle memory with using less brain power.

But while letting muscle memory do its thing during tango, what happens when we keep our brains active? Do we notice the minute movements in our core and legs through every step? Are we really tuned in to the way our partners are moving? Are we communicating our movements clearly, even when executing a figure we’ve done a thousand times?

Unlike more mundane activities in our daily lives, developing muscle memory in tango invites us to think more, not less.

human brain on a running machine

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-Making the effort to keep our feet together when we collect…
-Finishing a pivot first before stepping…
-Maintaining a solid frame even when we’re tired…
-Leading/Following every ocho instead of doing them while on mental “autopilot…”
-Making the effort to lead/follow a clear cross, even though it’s a step we’ve done a million times…

When we’ve already got so much to mentally keep track of, all this seems like extra stuff to worry about. Why overload our brains even further?

But these extra tango “details” aren’t afterthoughts or little decorations. Paying close attention to them not only makes our dancing look more polished, they help keep our thoughts organized. And from there, it’s easier to achieve that hyper-focused state of mind that drew us to tango in the first place.

Basic figures like collecting properly and finishing basic cruzadas might not be eye-catching or dramatic. But we’ll notice how much our dancing suffers without them. They might feel like small details, but let’s treat them more like essentials.

tiny sculpture

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As we learn more figures and start feeling better about our tango, something interesting starts to happen. More and more, we’ll encounter moments in our dancing when we feel we’ll either get the step right, or mess up completely.

It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Our brains are split between stepping boldly, or holding back to avoid the mistake.

Keeping safety in mind, it’s better to step boldly. Tentative dancing never feels good, nor does it look good. Remember, mentally holding back to avoid mistakes will also hold back our dancing.

polar bear

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It doesn’t matter if you’ve only started tango a year, a month, a week, or even a day ago. Go to practicas and milongas as soon as you can, and start putting whatever skills you have to the test.

Focus on gaining experience, and if you’re a novice, don’t worry if you know only a few steps.

Building experience feels scary at first. And after those first few shaky tandas, you’ll feel as though you need to take more lessons before you’re “ready” to hop onto the dance floor again. Don’t give in to that thinking; don’t wait until after your next class.

Yes, lessons are important (I have to say that because I’m a teacher), but nothing moves your dancing forward like experience, practice, and the act of doing.


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We may find it difficult to articulate why we enjoy tango so much. Simply saying “it’s fun” doesn’t cover the depth of satisfaction we feel while we’re on the dance floor.

Over the course of our tango journey, interesting things happen. For example, we discover a lot about ourselves, and experience moments when our tango learning helps us deal with other life issues or bad habits.

So let’s keep dancing and improving; Let’s just go wherever tango might take us. This might seem like an excuse to be aimless, but it’s quite the opposite.

We can’t impose a meaning on tango before we start. Rather, we have to let the meaning take shape on its own. At some point while we’re in the middle of dancing – and if we’re paying attention – the answers will come.

negative space

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