Four years… at this point it has been over 4+ years since I started my Tango Voyage. Never thought when I started that I would ever keep with it. Starting with an ego, got into it thanks to a wonderful and beautiful friend, learned tough lessons right away, took on the challenge, and fell in love with the dance on a business trip. Years have passed, I still think I’ve been dancing even longer than just these past four years, as I’ve been actively dancing more than anyone else that I know of in the community I’m in, and more than others who I converse and dance with at festivals.
I kept adding 6 months to what I told people and got to the point I was saying over 5 years… because time does indeed fly and I never imagined it has been such a short period of time, seems like forever that I went to my first festival, or when I bought my first pair of dancing shoes. It has been over 4 years, and there have been many lessons I’ve learned, and I’m wishing to write them down before I forget!
Lesson 1: You Know Nothing
That’s right, my first lesson was that I know nothing, and I still maintain that I do not know anything and always have something to learn, something to work on, to accept feedback (where appropriate) and to keep taking lessons and classes.
When I first said yes to attending a beginner tango class, I did what any technologically savvy person does, I search for instruction and videos online for basics. Better to go into the lessons knowing something than knowing nothing. This was my mistake, trying to take what comes from videos and bring it into a class where I actually am dancing with others, thinking the dance was memorized steps and such. I KNEW NOTHING! This was my first lesson, that I knew nothing, as it’s not something you can watch a bit and get into, there is so much more.
Knowing nothing is where you are best to start, and knowing that you know nothing means you can learn and are open to learning. Having the thought I know something after watching videos and being told to forget all that because I didn’t know anything and to listen and learn was the big step. Did that make sense? Hopefully so, either way, coming into the dance with nothing, than the illusion you know something.
Where does this leave me at over 4 years and counting? I still don’t know anything in my mind, I can still watch people and see something, still ask questions, when I dance with someone, I can feel what isn’t right and what to improve, because I’m still learning. I am always learning. As I learn how to improve one thing, I need to review what I was working on years ago as they may have gotten sloppy, or realize what I’ve been doing for years actually can now be improved with my new insights. I’m always learning, and that’s the best thing, to not think I know something, because there is infinite depth to what this dance brings, so I still know nothing, and it’s a wonderful feeling!
Lesson 2: Investments Pay Off
Starting with my first lessons, they were discounted, I didn’t put much effort into practicing, it was difficult, my ego and being told I knew nothing discouraged me, and I didn’t invest into the dance. After a few months of one lesson a week and getting through from beginning to end of a 8 class series, I finally had my moment where something clicked and things started to make sense. I finally felt like my tiny bit of time I put into the dance started to pay off. It is indeed as people will tell you, this is a hard dance, especially so at the beginning, but put in your time, and learn and it will pay off.
Putting in another day a week, going to a different class, getting a different teacher and prospective, these all helped me, but it was still slow. Only after travelling for work, and dancing for a few weeks straight with the guidance of a friend, did I finally get so many insights and became hooked for good.
Those 3 weeks in another city, dancing just about every night, whether it was a different area with a different teacher just once, or going to a milonga and just watching. By the end of my time, I was on the dance floor most of the night at each milonga I attended that last week. Just took investing my evenings, just going out, and being open. Around 20 nights straight of going out for tango, that was about as many total I had even done up to that point. I had nothing else to do with my evenings, so it was a great opportunity.
IT PAID OFF!
That time and repetition investment made my dance go place that would have taken me most likely a half a year or longer to get to. If I put in this effort sooner, I’m sure it would have helped even more. Ever since coming back home from the trip, I’ve made it a point, for 3.5 years, of dancing a minimum of 3 nights a week.
You put in the time to learn and improve, you will see rewards, put in a few extra hours and stick to it. I’m not saying throw yourself in at 20 hours a week, if you’re just starting, increase your time by an hour or two a week.
Take a Private Lesson
You don’t need a private lesson every week or multiple times a week. I find a single private lesson from a good teacher should give you plenty to work on for the next two weeks minimum, if not for a month. You will need to practice what was taught, otherwise your next private you wont get much new. Having private lessons gave me direct insight into what important to work on during my additional hours tango dancing.
The Right Equipment Helps
Having proper tango shoes is a great motivator, but is a pretty big investment. Once you do get a proper pair of Tango shoes, you never want anything else. Until then, great thing is you don’t need top of the line shoes right away. Dancing in socks can work for practicing, yet having smooth soled shoes is going to give you the right feeling. Heels that strap over and stick to your foot and allow pivoting and shape your foot and don’t stick out a few inches passed your toes is great. You can sometimes find good options even at thrift store. My first dance/dress/practice shoes I got were from a second hand store. For men, light, comfortable dress shoes that also don’t stick inches passed your toes is needed.
Lesson 3: Dance & Have Fun!
Finding my own tango after these years, I’ve noticed there is such a high pressure to improve and get better, be the best, and more. One thing that is missed in my opinion, especially when it comes to new dancers, is actually dancing and having fun. This isn’t really a problem down in Buenos Aires, but became evident here in the states. You need to enjoy the movements, music, partners, energy, and not take it so seriously. You do need confidence, but if you are trying for perfection, you lose the dance. You want to dance, you want to move, and you need to do that in Tango.
The idea of getting your steps perfect, the moves, and the million other things with the dance, you need to remember, you are dancing. Can you move to the music by yourself, does it inspire you, does it make you want to get out on that dance floor? You need that, without that feeling, why are you there?
Not saying you will have that right away, but you need to turn off the “work” aspect of practicing, and have a fun time, especially at a Milonga. Regardless of who I danced with in Buenos Aires, I was able to dance, I didn’t worry about the other persons balance, didn’t worry if the move was perfect, didn’t worry about all the pressure because people wanted to dance. So we danced, and it was tons of fun!
Dancing and having fun myself, so did my partners, and I found, many “moves” or “combinations” or “sequences” I was having problems with, the issues disappeared. When both parties are dancing, it opens options to do all those different things and you feel when you can do that with your partners. Such an amazing feeling when you are dancing together with someone, and not trying to dance someone or move someone somewhere, but have a conversation through the dance.
There are many other lessons I’ve learned, like balance, confidence, rules of the floor, etiquette, how to do a move, connection, and more. Those are all minor things (or major needing it’s own post) that being written out I don’t feel is important or helpful at this time for a list. Coming into the mindset that I don’t know anything and being open to learning, putting in the extra time and additional avenues, and remembering to dance and have fun, all ring as my top points for these past 4 years, and I would say for the rest of my Tango Voyage.