Tango challenges your multi-tasking ability. Among all tasks, listening to the music must be the first priority. You dance the music, not the steps. Don't fix your attention only on the steps and forget about the music. Instead, follow the music closely and let the music lead you to dance.
Be calm and unhurried, go slow. Take your time to finish the step and don't rush to catch up the beat. If you miss a beat, wait for the next. Don't be hesitant to pause, suspend, and dance in slow motion when the music tells you to do so.
If a tango is mono-rhythmic, it is palling to dance to. But if its rhythm is too irregular and unpredictable, it is unsuitable for dancing either. Not all tangos are created equal. There were periods in Argentine history in which tango as a dance was suppressed, but musicians continued to produce tango music for listeners and not dancers. A good DJ knows the difference and plays only the best danceable tangos in the milonga. (See My Two Cents on Music Selections.)
A danceable tango has a lucid rhythm that is crisp, forceful, steady and easy to dance to, accompanied by a melody that is beautiful, supple, sentimental and fluid. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.) Dancers can choose to follow the rhythm or the melody, or jump from one to another, depending on their interpretation of the music and how they want to express their feelings at the moment. Some dancers are more rhythmic. Others are more melodic. They develop different dance styles according to their musicality. (See Dancing to Melody - Poema.)
Within each piece of music there are different movements. Some are shorter or longer, others are slower or faster. They express different emotions - sad, happy, romantic, passionate, sentimental, melancholy, nostalgic, etc. Dancing to the music does not only mean stepping on the beat. It also means dancing to the mood of the music. A good dancer steps on the beat. An excellent dancer dances to the mood of the music.
Tango music is quadruple time. It has four beats in each measure. The first and third beats are strong beats. The second and fourth beats are weak beats. The dancer usually steps on the strong beats, but there are many possibilities. For example, you can step on the weak beats, or a combination of strong and weak beats, or just on any one beat or all beats, or take two steps on one beat, or pause to skip few beats, etc.
A small step takes less time. A larger step takes more time. A fast step takes less time. A slow step takes more time. A 180-degree turn takes more time than a 90-degree turn, but less time than a 360-degree turn. A good dancer can use different steps to play with the music.
Too many tango students pay too much attention to the visible steps rather than invisible musicality, but what is invisible is more important than what is visible. Musicality is an art only few have mastered. Unless you master it you can’t reach excellence.