Regardless of our tango level, we’ll sometime have bad dances with people. Some of the reasons will be obvious (death grip embrace, leaning on each other, a little too much wine, etc).

But sometimes, it won’t immediately be clear why we’re not connecting with our partner. This is uncomfortable, and in an effort to correct the situation, we might inadvertently make the situation worse. Here are 5 things to keep in mind:

Avoid black-and-white thinking
Don’t assume it can only be the other person’s fault, or that we alone must be the culprits. In fact, don’t expend too much mental energy trying to figure out who’s responsible. Instead, switch to an action-oriented attitude, and…

Go back to basics
Breathe. For both leaders and followers, let’s focus on our balance and axis. And let’s make sure we’re executing the fundamental technique of every step, no matter how simple. If we happen to be leading, cut out the fancy figures. Go back to doing a nice, calm walk in time with the music.

Don’t force it
If something isn’t working, stop trying it. For one tanda, it won’t kill us to refrain from doing our favorite complicated steps or adornments. Our egos aren’t that fragile, are they?

Take it in stride
One bad tanda isn’t the end of the world, especially if we and our partners are making a sincere effort. Let’s focus on the parts of the dance that are working, and stick with those. And when we’re back on the dance floor for the next tango, let’s have the attitude of a fresh start instead of carrying baggage from the last experience.

It’s okay to not know why
Unless every dance we’re having has been an utter disaster (which is unlikely), it’s smart not to dwell on one bad tanda for long. Technical issues can be found and corrected during classes and practicas. So don’t panic, enjoy the rest of the evening, and know that there will be better times ahead.

We’ll all have moments on the dance floor when things don’t go our way. Like bad moods, they’ll pass. They are only moments, and they don’t define our dancing as a whole.


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What? Just four?

Well, I suppose I could have come up with a few more, but I hate being long-winded and your time is precious. Besides, who wants to keep a laundry list of details in their head while tango dancing?

So here are four, easy-to-remember strategies to help your future milongas go more smoothly.

Keep things simple: Never underestimate the value of a good, solid walk. It’s so simple, and all its individual elements are pretty clear. It’s arguably the most important figure in tango, and feels great when it’s done right. Although it takes effort and time to master, it’s easy to practice. If you prefer to just walk for most of the tanda, don’t be shy about letting your partner know (at least here in the US). Doing so could be a way to weed out bad partners, too.

Use the corners: This one’s more for leaders, but worth mentioning. Consciously using the corners of the dance floor makes the most efficient use of the space. The more we avoid cutting off or passing other couples, the more fun we’ll all have. It isn’t hard; it just takes a little bit of extra awareness.

Breathe: We’re nervous. And we’re either holding our breath for long periods of time, or taking short, fast ones. This only creates more tension, and pretty soon our physiological state matches that of someone sitting in a dentist’s chair. And even though most of us would prefer dancing at a milonga to having our teeth drilled, we can’t control how jumpy we feel. But we can control our breathing! So unlike Bill Clinton, we should inhale. Slowly and deeply. Then, exhale just as slowly. Just because a particular song is fast doesn’t mean our breathing has to be fast, too.

Have some bad dances first: I hate to say it, but we only get to the good dances after having several bad ones. When things go sideways, it’s not entirely our fault, of course. But we need to own the parts that are. What should we have done more (or less) of? What do we need to practice? What would we really like to improve?

So, hopefully we’ll have an easy enough time remembering this short list of concrete strategies, and that it’ll make a difference during the next milonga. As long as we keep progressing without taking setbacks too personally, good dances will be inevitable.



Either because we’re still new to the dance or for other personal reasons, we often tango while in a state of fear.

Our limbic systems, also commonly referred to as the “lizard brain,” doesn’t like uncertainty. And as an improvisational dance, tango is full of uncertainties.

Fear is a primal reaction to unpredictable circumstances; it’s our instinct to interpret them as potential dangers much in the way that other animals do. This was useful to our ancient ancestors, when stuff like wild beasts were a very real threat. But in our modern civilization, such beasts aren’t much of a problem. Most live in zoos, and probably won’t pounce on us while we’re waiting in line at the local coffee shop.

And even though our “lizard brain” won’t equate dancing with encountering a python or charging lion, it will still try wreaking havoc on our emotional state as we attempt ochos at a crowded milonga.

And if we surrender to our animal instincts, we’ll wallow in fear for the duration of the tanda. This deprives the prefrontal cortex, or our “more advanced brain,” a chance to process all the fun and beauty that defines tango.

We might not be able to switch off the limbic system, but we can choose whether or not to take it seriously. The “lizard brain’s” alarm bells are almost always overblown, so think twice before you decide to be animal on the dance floor.

falling penguin


Remember that really good dance you had? Were you dancing with someone you know, or a stranger? Where and when did it happen? Which outfit did you choose to wear? What were you doing earlier that day?

Where exactly on the dance floor did you start the tanda? Where were you when it ended? Were you surprised at how well the dance turned out, or did it go the way you expected?

Which songs do you like? You don’t have to know the composer, orchestra, or even the titles. You just know them when you hear them.

You love some songs, and maybe you hate other ones. What emotions or pictures in your head do they stir up?

Hundreds of small details shape your tango experiences. They influence your growth and form memories, both good and bad. They are unique, private moments that you carry. Taking time to meditate on them, you’ll find that they are often meaningful. You’ll want to share them, but these experiences can only be discerned through your eyes.

Only you will understand them.

We all have a personal tango story. Don’t hide yours – it belongs in the dance. Bring it to the next milonga.  



Sometimes we’ll have bad tandas. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault; it just happens and there’s no way to predict whether or not we’ll connect with a particular partner. But don’t dwell on it for too long.

Keep dancing.

And sometimes, we’ll feel really off at a private lesson, or attend a workshop where everything goes so wrong that we start feeling discouraged. Or at a milonga, there will be nights when we really don’t feel like we’re moving well.

But keep dancing.

Yes, it’s true that the more dancing we do, the greater the likelihood we’ll have one of those amazing tandas.

But there’s more to it than that.

As long as we’re motivated to improve our tango, the simple act of showing up and dancing has big payoffs in the long run. If we’re always (or only) searching for that perfect tanda, we’ll find frequent disappointment and frustration.

So we just need to keep dancing…not with the expectation of finding the perfect dance partner, but more so with the goal of improving ourselves a little more each time. While focusing on that, we gain experience. And not only will we increase the chances of encountering that great tanda, we’ll probably be the main reason that it happens when it does.

keep dancing


At a milonga, each step takes us and our partners along that familiar, counter-clockwise circle around the dance floor. But in tango, a step is more than a mere physical, technical, or tedious act designed to transport us from one spot to the next.

Each step, forward or backward, tests our balance.

Each step is an act of communication. And if we’re paying attention, can provide insight on how to better connect with our partners.

Each step, and every brief moment in between, should be enjoyed like your favorite wine.
There’s no need to rush. Get everything you can out of each one. And make every one of them count.

A good walk turns into a good dance, which becomes a good tanda, and from there, a good milonga.



So we try showing off, because showing off is easy and gets attention more quickly.

Or…we could focus more on making our partners look good.

We could take the time to adjust each individual dancer, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. We can try to figure out which figures they’re most comfortable with, which ones they do well, and play to their strengths.

Song by song, tanda by tanda,

It’s a process requiring lots of time and patience, but that’s how a good tango reputation begins.

And eventually, word gets around on the dance floor.

It never hurts when our fellow tangueros see how good we are. But in the long run, it matters more when they hear about it from their friends.