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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-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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One of the challenges of learning is trying to remember everything being taught. It’s hard keeping so many details straight in our heads: Posture, keeping the shoulders relaxed, disassociating when pivoting, staying on balance, keeping track of where our partners are stepping, knowing when and where to step, listening to the music, keeping the line of dance, etc…

It’s impossible to consciously do everything we’re supposed to. But we don’t need to. Remembering a few key items, or even one, is a good place to start. Once our muscle memory starts becoming accustomed to a few of the “right” dance techniques, more tend to follow in a chain reaction-like effect.

It takes a while to trust and “delegate” certain tasks to muscle memory, but it’s easier on the brain than trying to juggle dozens of details at once.