The following behaviors are common among beginners: (1) They want to learn fancy movements but neglect basic skills. (2) They don’t follow the instruction carefully. (3) They start to run when they still cannot walk well. (4) They imitate the movements but don’t pay attention to technique details. (5) They lean back to avoid intimate bodily contact. (6) They use the arms and hands to lead and follow. (7) They grasp hold of the partner to do steps. (8) They focus on personal performance. (9) They don’t listen to the music. (10) They dance according to their own will and anticipation. (See Learning Tango: Imitating Steps vs. Developing Skills.)
These are all due to one reason: they see tango as steps and think if they can do the steps, they can dance tango. That wrong perspective leads them to neglect many other aspects of the dance.
Tango is not steps but what the steps express, that is, the feelings stirred by the music. The emotions of the song affect the dancers and arouse their sympathetic feelings. Tango is the expression of that feeling through movements. (See Tango Is a Feeling.)
The two partners who listen to the same music share their feelings via direct bodily contact, which is intimate, personal and soulful. Dancing tango requires the dancers to use the sense of the body to feel. Different body movements carry different messages. For example, when the man’s right chest becomes tense and pushing and his left chest becomes soft and pulling, that indicates he wants the woman to swivel her hips to his right, and when his left chest becomes tense and pushing and his right chest becomes soft and pulling, that indicates he wants the woman to swivel her hips to his left. Often, the movement of the body is so subtle that it cannot be seen and must be felt. Tango is a sophisticated body language. Learning tango is not primarily learning steps but learning that body language, learning to feel, communicate, lead, follow, comfort and bring contentment to the partner with the body. (See Tango Is a Language (1).)
This perspective requires the dancer to lay emphasis not on the steps but on the embrace and connection, to use the sense of the body to feel, to pay attention to the music, to listen to the inner voice and feelings of the partner, to share with the partner what you feel, to agree and cooperate with him/her, and to please him/her with your body. Tango is created to feel. It is the dance of feeling.
The transformation from a step-oriented, self-centered and single-focused beginner to a feeling-oriented, partner-centered and multitasking team player is a long process. Beginners will not fully understand the essence of tango until they have accumulated enough personal knowledge, skills and experience. But right perspective from the outset can help shorten the process and save them from wasting time and efforts on wrong approaches. (See The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey.) Unfortunately, many students get this too late.