Getting Started

You never forget your first Tango teacher!

If this was a good experience, you were lucky.  Many are not lucky enough to find Tango teachers that inspire, and a great many potentially good dancers give up in their early days.  There are things to avoid and ways to improve your learning of this beautiful dance, and hopefully this article, along with the others on our website, will help you to decide what works for you.

Tango is an enormously enjoyable and rewarding dance, but, there are no short cuts to learning everybody learns this dance as a beginner.  Once you’ve come to terms with this, you can progress at a pace that’s natural to you.

Good Teachers
There are many teachers, and many teaching this dance in a variety of ways.  It’s important to begin your Tango journey by finding teachers that works for you.

People learn in different ways and the way you process information may well be dissimilar to your friends, but this doesn’t make the teacher wrong.  It’s just that particular teacher is not right for you.

If you are left wondering how on earth the friend who recommended this teacher found them so illuminating, then don’t waste your time, find someone else.  Sticking doggedly in the hope that things will change just because they’re only down the road, will often be in vain.  This sadly can lead to you feeling you cannot learn Tango.

Learning at your pace, in a way that suits you is paramount, so it’s important to find teachers who can coach and guide you whilst being supportive and helpful to you from the outset.

You may find that the pace of some teachers is far too fast for you – especially in the early days.  This is not a fault of you being unable to keep up, this is invariably a pace set by the teachers, often in the misguided fear that they need to cram in lots of stuff. We are amazed just how many teachers think that they have to teach an elaborate decoration from day one to keep dancers interested and get them to return next time.  Don’t be beguiled by this approach.  This often results in pupils being so overwhelmed and under taught, they give up.  Sadly they then get the impression that they are too slow or cannot grasp the dance.

Recently, we watched in horror where a teacher was getting her Followers, of barely 3 weeks, how to do a combination of high Boleos.  If only there had been a video to record this!

Forward Ocho

If your first few introductory weeks your teachers include blocks, sweeps, ganchos, boleos, volcadas etc – find someone else!  Your first weeks should be about learning posture, balance, axis, connection, starting, stopping, walking, side steps, weight change, cut step, using double and single time, moving through the floor, plus floorcraft.  AND all this in time with a variety of tango music.  There is no point learning this dance to anything other than traditional tango music and, being able to use this repertoire and varying it to different rhythms in single and double time where necessary.

Tango is a difficult dance in the beginning, but you don’t want that difficulty made more complicated with teaching that does not work for you, or with combination of steps that in themselves are just choreography.  You need to be shown these movements in such a way that you can combine and vary them according to the floor, your partner and the music.

Here’s some suggestions to give you a good start on that journey:

– all good teachers have a first programme of several weeks, designed to give you the very best possible start on your Tango journey.  ‘Drop in’ classes absolutely do not work for Tango, and our advice is to avoid them.  For continuity and your progress, you should try to have the same weekly teachers, especially in the early days.

– avoid the temptation to also attend the second, and more experienced class.  Some teachers may be quite relaxed about this, but just be aware it will not hasten your progress, on the contrary, you will be confused and over-whelmed, and inhibit the more experienced dancers to progress in their class.

– you need a certain level of commitment to get started and a designed programme will help you to develop and maintain the key Tango skills: posture, balance, axis, connection, embrace, leading & following, walking, starting/stopping. These are the core foundation elements on which to build.

– remember, teachers can only show you how to do certain elements in class, but time is limited.  To stand any chance of memorising it you need to practise regularly outside your weekly class.  One hour once a week is simply not enough to get it into your muscle memory, to make progress, or even keep up with the class content.  Practise at home.

private lesson – a perfect investment to assess the way prospective teachers coach whilst not having to waste several weeks at classes finding out the hard way.  Private lessons work at their best when being taught by a couple, so one teacher is always working as an observer. This is especially important for new dancers whether you are attending alone or with your own partner.  As well as giving you a good head start, a private lesson also gives the teachers an opportunity to fully understand how best to teach you and then integrate that into their classes when you attend.

– explore listening and practising to a variety of Tango music, which involves much more than just following the beat. 

Gentlemen apart from learning their own steps, men are busy learning the intricacies of leading, understanding how the ladies body moves, interpreting the music, and floorcraft.

Ladies need to develop their technique: good posture, balance and “neat feet” – heels together in neutral, and for example, being able to pivot with your heels together.  These are essential to follow responsively (but not passively).  It is also preparing the way for beautiful decorations a little later.

Core Elements
There is a lot to learn in the core elements and it’s unrealistic to expect you will get it all first time round, but with a good supportive coaching approach, it will soon start to make sense.   If you are new to Tango you would be wise to cover your first Programme at least twice alongside your next class/es – the second time you will have a much better understanding of how it all fits together – or as many times as you can.  It will also help to eliminate bad habits that always seem to creep in.  So subsequent re-visits are where you will continue to improve your core foundations, to develop your own dance and learn how to “protect it” – more about that here  You will probably notice experienced dancers doing just this.  This is similar to professional dancers doing their regular work at the barre, or musicians practising their scales.

It’s pointless learning any new material unless you can remember it and use it innovatively in your dance.  Avoid the temptation to move onto new steps too quickly.  Using the Foundation elements as your base, teachers need to be very mindful of how to add new material progressively, combining and integrating it with your existing repertoire, so it’s there, available in your mind and your body when you want it.

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Embrace

The Tango embrace is an important feature and takes time to develop.

Salon Style – this is what you should be aiming for from the outset, which is suitable for the social tango scene in the UK and worldwide. Mainly close, and the lady is in her own axis, but it is still dynamic, sometimes close and sometimes open, and you need to learn how to adjust your embrace to fit the movements you are dancing.

Open hold – some schools only teach in an open hold. This style is completely different to Salon Tango.  It will limit your partners to those you’re familiar with, and will limit the number of social events that cater for this particular style.

Some schools start in an open hold for the first few months – they believe it keeps dancers keen but primarily it’s easier and quicker for teachers to add more content.  But the same problem arises, this is a different style and when they start teaching the close embrace, you will have to learn everything all over again in the Salon style.  But even worse is that you will not have learned how to avoid treading on your partner’s feet or being trodden on.  You may well develop bad posture and back ache.  For example, poor posture, leading by pulling / pushing with the arms and looking down at your Partner’s feet, can be physically challenging and difficult to change later.
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Tango Repertoires
Over the years we’ve noticed that many Tango dancers have three distinct “repertoires”.

Firstly – there are things they have been taught at various Workshops and Classes which everyone has immediately forgotten, and you never seen being danced at a Milonga.  This is one of the drawbacks of teaching only by demonstrating and focusing on sequences.  If you cannot use it it’s a waste of your money.  It’s also not improvised Argentine Tango.

Secondly – there are things they can manage on a good day, usually when repeating them in class with a partner who knows what’s coming next, but which are never integrated to the point they can use them with ease when dancing socially.

Finally – and by far the smallest set, are the things they regularly include in their dance and with different partners.  Having only these things available can lead to a rather limited and repetitive evening.

The Goal  – is  to develop an  innovative style of dancing with a variety of improvised movements that can be adapted to the music, your partner and your surroundings.  This ability is developed by not just linking a group of steps in a familiar pattern, but being able to change the pattern to create  different combinations.  The best way to do this, is to slow down and have pauses in your dance.  Your don’t have to move on every beat.  The best place to develop these skills is during the practice time after your class, or at a Práctica.  We love Prácticas, they’re fun, relaxed, you meet like minded people and you can practice properly.

Progress at the Right Pace for You
Some dancers may be able to fast-track the initial learning stages.  Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to keep up with them.  We have noticed that it’s not always the fastest starters who end up as the best dancers.  People who take to things easily have sometimes failed to develop perseverence and patience, two qualities you need for Tango.  Their easy come easy go attitude can lead them to give up once the going gets a little tougher.  Also don’t expect your progress to be along a straight and steady line – there will be ups and downs.  If you’re having problems you need to discuss it with your teacher to find a way through that suits you.  Good coaches recognise this as their aim is to help people learn and improve their Tango, at pace, and in a way, that suits them.

Some dancers migrate towards Tango because their current dance no longer holds a challenge for them.  This itself can be difficult if the dancer is experienced in another style, and has an expectation that they are skilled enough to by-pass the basic foundations of Tango.  Without doing the necessary foundation work, they often reach a plateau sooner than they would have expected.  It can be very hard for them, because at this point they need to make a decision – are they prepared to go back and really integrate their key foundation work, remain with the frustration, or give up.

The conscientious dancer systematically works through their technique concentrating on repetition to get the movements into their muscle memory.  The fast-tracker tends to forgo experience and repetition for content. They may be on different paths initially, but eventually you’ll meet…
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Remember
– good foundation skills are the pre-requisite to becoming a good dancer –
there are no short cuts

– good foundations means having all the key elements working together –

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© Jennifer Hudson – Tango Nomads, 2017

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