I’ve been a firm believer that you can dance Tango to anything, pretty much anywhere, but can anyone dance Tango? What does it mean to Tango? Is it the act of dancing the steps of the Tango, connecting with the partner, having musicality, or something more? Can anyone do any or all of those things? I think anyone can do it, whether someone is willing to put in the time and effort to get to that point is dependent on them. Anyone can Tango, but you need to put in time and effort, and be able to do the below!
What to learn first?
Anyone can indeed dance Tango, but it boils down to a few things on how to not only get started, but what to learn. You need to identify what style of Tango you want to dance. This website is focused on Argentine Tango, and thus are most of the topics and focus. There are other styles, there’s the American (USA) style of Tango, different branches in Europe, and I’m sure more around the world. Lets break things down for Argentine Tango.
Focus on you!
To start with the Argentine Tango, you need to focus on yourself, your balance, comfort, posture, confidence, and being self aware. Most classes don’t focus on this, and that’d because I’ve found, it’s a really personal thing. It’s really tough to properly teach a group on how to connect internally when everyone is so different with life experiences defining them.
Focusing on oneself is not an easy thing, you can spend months and years in Tango and still be doing that, constantly changing and evolving. It’s not easy, it’s tough, and requires commitment! While you’re focusing on yourself as being number one, you can still continue to learn other aspects in Tango. If you aren’t conscious of yourself and your body, Tango dancing will constantly be a challenge and road blocking you. If you have problems with balance, and are aware of it, you can work through it and try to compensate. Same with body mechanics, if you have nerve damage or injuries that are limiting you, Tango is a great way to try and explore how to work with it, to not only dance, but other aspects in life. Having these unique aspects about you isn’t the limiting factor, it’s your willingness to work through them or around them, while being aware of them and doing what you can!
Focusing on yourself is something YOU need to work on. You can get help with this from teachers, on how to help with balance, or posture, or aspects to help you feel comfortable in Tango. Sit up straighter, keep over yourself and on balance from one step to the next, not being just on auto-pilot with your movements or decisions are all things you can do daily.
Connection – With a Partner
After you are comfortable with yourself, or while working on that aspect, you should then focus on connecting with a tango partner. Some people try to work on getting steps or combinations together, yet from what I’ve noticed, those who focus on steps or combinations usually limit themselves in Tango. Those who focus on connection with a Partner, especially those confident with themselves, grow to amazing heights in Tango. With a good connection, you can walk, just walk in a straight line with someone, doing nothing else, and have a wonderful time! Those that can connect with their partner, automatically connect to the music a huge majority of the time, making the simple (not so simple) act of walking forward all you need to have a good dance.
What does connecting with a partner mean? It means syncing up with them in an embrace (practice, open, close, mirror position, non-touching, etc) and feeling where your partner is. It’s not just feeling where their feet and balance are, it’s also feeling the other persons breath, feel their stress and tension, maybe even their heartbeat. If your connection is good enough, you can feel their mood, what energy they have, are they happy or sad, sluggish from just eating, playful, etc. This connection starts to happen before you even get onto the dance floor, it happens from eye contact, posture, self awareness, and then body connection.
Being able to feel where someone else is, is part one of connecting with them. The goal is taking this connection, feeling where this other person is, knowing where you are, and then molding each other together in harmony. If you feel someone has a lot of energy, but you don’t have much, you try and meet somewhere in the middle, where you’re comfortable.
The embrace changes, breathing changes, movements change in intensity. Once your connection is complete, you can dance.
If you have problems connecting with someone, could be energies, could be body mechanics, or many other things. It’s not always possible, could be you, could be them, either way you need to make an effort. You might only be able to connect and feel balance and guide someone to dance, or be guiding and dance where you feel. Hearing people say they LOVE dancing with someone and watching them, I’ve seen bad posture, weird steps, and a whole gamut of different things, but the one thing they seem to have is that connection. You don’t need the best posture, a large collection of movements, but you need that connection, which also comes from being self aware of yourself (going back to the above point).
Now what? Musicality, Steps, Outside Awareness?
If you can connect with your partner some way, are aware of yourself to make that connection, then what else do you need? There are a few things that you need to know, but what is most important? Depending on your level and your community, this varies, but there are a few things of note. The first is being aware of your surroundings! You are comfortable with yourself, can connect with your partner, now you need to connect and be aware of everything around you. Where is the line of dance going and your direction, what lane are you in, who is around you, how to keep in line, are people trying to get on the dance floor nearby. Knowing your surroundings while dancing is the similar to when you drive. Sometimes things happen, and you will need to compensate, no matter what role you have in the dance.
What about musicality? If you can connect to all the above, connecting to the music your bodies should both be able to do that automatically, but not always. You may need to focus on the music, anticipate, and get used to the music styles and incorporate that. You can dance Tango without good musicality, but the rest needs to be in good standing to do so. You can find yourself limited to steps you know/memorized if you don’t let the music move you.
How about the step repertoire? You don’t need much to dance Tango, but expanding slowly is the way to go. You will get more steps the longer you dance. Watching people do a step and trying it, if it feels right at the moment for you and you partner is what matters. If it doesn’t feel right and things don’t feel right in your connection to make it happen, you don’t do it. That is the secret to good tango and what steps you do, you do what feels right collectively with your partner. If you don’t feel it is right, don’t do it, regardless of what role. This is why connection and being self aware are more important!
How about technique? Technique is important in Tango, but you need to be comfortable with your body to make the technique work for you and help out. Having bad steps can be a detriment, but can be made up in other ways to a point. This comes with time and good teachers. You can get technique in specific classes, normal group classes, or way more in depth in private lessons. This takes time, and money, but is important. But you can’t go to a technique class without some self awareness, thus it’s not super high in my list.
Proper shoes and dress are important, same with hygiene. The right shoes, the right dress code, being well maintained all play a part. Do you want to dance with someone whose body odor or breath is repelling? No. Do you need the flashiest shoes? No, but you need something comfortable and something that allows you to do the moves and feel the floor. Do you want to dance with someone in shorts and a torn shirt and dirty shoes and unwashed hair? No. So dress and be prepared for what you’re getting yourself into. Now if you’re at burning man and want to dance tango, you dress appropriately, so it all depends on your situation, so plan accordingly.
Tango requires all of the above and sometimes a few more things. You need a basic understanding of all the above, in some capacity for Tango. To get even a basic understanding takes MANY classes and commitment every week! You’ll find your ego and understanding break as you get more and more into Tango. Sometimes it can take a year or so just for a basic understanding, at least a few months.
Even with all the above, you can struggle with Tango. Tango is much like every other aspect of life, you can go somewhere and not get good dances, or even a single dance in a night. You put all this effort, but you don’t get a dance. It’s one of the toughest things, and feels bad, but you continue through. If you’re learning and starting, you need to build a connection with someone and keep dancing, keep at it! You might not be the best dancer, you might just be starting, or a veteran in the scene, but there is no guarantee on any given night. You do this, and prove to yourself. People have preferences when it comes to dancing and who they dance with, but by proving and committing, people notice and become more open and welcome to dance with you. It’s tough, but rewarding!
There are people in communities I’ve never danced with and who I’ve tried to dance with, and I’m even on a first name basis with them off the dance floor. It’s not just you, it’s everyone, and it changes all the time. There is only so much time a night, only so many Tandas, and it’s a community with friends, who become a family. When you do get that right dance, with the right person, and everything clicks, you find all the time and commitment, money spent, is all worth it!
Can anyone dance Tango? Yes, anyone can if you’re willing to put in the time and effort for the above. Is it for everyone? No, Tango isn’t for everyone, but if you are willing, anyone can make it, how long it takes is up to you.