After a fun milonga, we often wake up with sore shoulders the following morning (or afternoon). Either our partners, ourselves, or both parties, put too much tension into the embrace.
We want to get better at tango, and we know it’ll take effort. But those sore shoulders mean we’ve been conflating effort with power. In this dance, the two literally don’t go hand-in-hand.
Effort is about mental focus, detailed body awareness, and self control. Although tango requires some degree of exertion, raw physical power should largely take a backseat to effort.
At the end of a milonga, we’ll know we’re on the right track when our brains are more fatigued than our muscles.
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Our best tango effort…
It’s not like currency that can be saved, and then “spent” for a special occasion. The greatest amount of excellence we can muster shouldn’t be reserved only for milongas, our favorite dance partners, or when we’re wearing our favorite outfits or shoes.
We can’t just decide during one particular tanda to put forth extra effort, and expect tango excellence to simply materialize.
We’ve all experienced those magical evenings when our tango felt so good, and that we were really in a flow. Those moments of brilliance may feel spontaneous, but they aren’t. They reflect hours of constant, consistent effort. Dancing is much more enjoyable when being at our best is an unconscious habit.
At a tango workshop, we understand the new figure being taught, yet are barely able to keep up. Afterwards, we’re not sure if we’ve fully grasped it.
Even when we apply strategies to make our learning more efficient, sometimes practicing that new step is simply a grind. For days, weeks, or sometimes even months, we do the new figure wrong for what feels like a million times before we get it right.
But the alternative is to scale back the effort, to just be “good enough” in order to get by. It’s far less painful, and seems like an acceptable strategy to advance.
But “good enough” reinforces lazy habits, such as pulling one’s partner around instead of leading. “Good enough” becomes a need to re-learn fundamentals, and results in a learning curve that ends up taking even longer than the grind.
The effort we take to grind through our progress, to endure the frustration happening now, pays off in the long run. It saves us not only time, but the additional pain which comes with only being “good enough.”
When learning new tango steps, we start with an idea of how much effort is needed in regards to completing forward steps, back steps, side steps, or pivots.
That idea is almost always wrong. What we think is enough, often isn’t.
In most cases, we’re required to step farther, or pivot even more than expected. In tango, as in life, average effort isn’t enough to satisfy us. We’ll always have to give a little more in order to make things pay off.
“This is harder than I thought,” we’ll say to ourselves when we first realize this.
“But I can do this,” usually comes next.