Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of connection, love, unity, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

December 8, 2013

Women's Common Mistakes in Tango

1. Refusing to surrender
For two people to dance as one coherent body, one of them must take the lead and the other must follow. Otherwise the two will be conflicting with each other and impossible to reach oneness and harmony. The woman must overcome her ego, surrender to the man and follow his lead. Novice women often have a strong ego and refuse to surrender, just like a young bride still so accustomed to her single status that she needs some adjustment before becoming a qualified wife. It is often more comfortable dancing with a married woman than with an unmarried girl, because the latter is still too self-centric. For a woman, learning tango is much more than learning steps; it is also learning to surrender and be one with the man. Women who focus on themselves and do not surrender cannot dance tango well. (See Tango Is a Relationship.)

2. Leaning backward
A woman not surrendering often tries to keep a distance from the man by leaning back rather than leaning forward into him. This creates two problems. First, in absence of bodily contact the two partners have to use their arms and hands to lead and follow, resulting in communication problems, confusing signals, coercing, discomfort, lack of intimacy, lack of sync, etc. Second, when the woman leans back, the man cannot lean forward against her and has to adopt a vertical posture also, causing a gap between them. The original A-shaped frame thus is changed to an H-shaped frame, and the dance that emphasizes intimacy and synchronicity is transformed to one that focuses on individual performance. (See The Fourteenth Pitfall of a Tanguera.)

3. Interfering with the lead
Individual performance is particularly evident in societies where there is a strong presence of individualism and feminism that advocate the independence of the woman, disapprove her surrender to the man, and encourage her to interrupt the lead and insert her own steps. Such propositions are in clash with a dance that emphasizes unity, synchronicity and harmony of the union rather than personal performance of the individual. In tango, the action of the woman is not initiated by the woman, but is brought out by the man. The woman's job is to beautify the dance, but her movements and embellishments must be in unison and not in conflict with the lead. She should not initiate the steps or interfere with the lead. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.)

4. Anticipation
After a step is made, a novice woman often takes the next step automatically at her own anticipation. For example, she hastily chases the beats and cannot slow down, or makes the second, third and fourth ocho after the first one until the man has to stop her. Although an experienced man is able to lead her accordingly, her initiation could derange his intent. If the man is unskilled, then there could be frequent conflicts. The woman must stop speculating and develop the habit of waiting and dancing step by step according to the lead rather than her own anticipation.

5. Using arms and hands
Surrender means relaxing your body to allow the man to lead you easily. An unskillful woman not feeling at home with her craft often concentrates on the steps, so her body is prone to tension and stiffness. In her nervousness she often grabs the man subconsciously and relies on the help of the arms and hands to execute the steps. Without knowing who has the jitters she blames the man for her sour wrist even though that is caused by her own tension. Dancing tango requires the dissociation of the arms and hands from the body, that is, let the arms and hands be completely relaxed and execute the steps only with the torso, hips and legs without the help of the arms and hands. Using the arms and hands not only causes her own discomfort, but also causes the physical exertion of the man. In my experience that is the most common and disturbing problems in tango. Once the dancers stop using the arms and hands and switch to using the torso, their experience will be greatly improved. Of course, the woman still needs to learn how to follow the lead with the torso in order for her arms and hands to be truly relaxed. (See The Functions of Various Body Parts in Tango.)

6. Spaghetti body
Dancing with a soft spaghetti body is also a common problem among novice women. An inexperienced woman tends to curve her body easily, which looks wilt and inelegant. The correct way is to keep the body tenacious and straight and move the center of the body so the whole body moves as a whole. The man leads the woman by using his torso to actuate her, but she should not just move the part of her body that receives the lead. For instance, when she feels that the man pushes her on her chest, she needs to move her whole body back and not just bends her torso backward. When she feels that the man tilts her torso to his side, she needs to move her whole body to his side and not just bends her torso to his side. She should dance with a straight body, not a curved spaghetti body.

7. Heaviness
Another common problem is heaviness. Heaviness may be related to the body weight but more often it is the consequence of technical errors, such as grabbing the man to put forth her strength, holding on to the man for her own stability, resorting to the help of the arms and hands to execute the steps, resisting or wrestling with him, etc., which not only make it hard for the man to lead her, but also cause discomfort, fatigue and loss of interest on his part. In order for the man to enjoy dancing with a woman, she needs to surrender herself, relax her body, maintain her own balance, be agreeable and nimble, synchronize her movements to his, and not physically exert herself with the help of the arms and hands, clutch him and use him for her stability, or disobey or wrestle with him. A woman who is light and easy to lead is much sought after by men. (See Balance and Lightness.)

8. Breaking the connection
However, if the woman is too light, that is, if her body is too void to be felt, it could cause problems also because in close embrace the man cannot see her movement and must feel it to know where her axis is, whether she has switched foot, whether she has completed the hip rotation or embellishment, etc., in order to decide how to lead the next step. If he cannot feel her, it is easy for him to take a conflicting lead. Novice women often focus too much on the steps that they forget about the embrace. Some deliberately lean back to evade the bodily contact with the man. Others fail to keep the tenacity of the body so it becomes too void. Still others do not follow properly, such as fail to do the cross in position five, fail to swivel the hips in back ocho, fail to return to the home position after a step, fail to change weight when they should or add a step when they shouldn't, etc. due to the insufficient connection that impedes the communication. Women having this problem need to change their attitude, improve their embrace, increase the tenacity of their body and meliorate the connection to allow the man to feel them better and allow themselves to feel the man better.

9. Not returning to the home position
Since the torsos of the partners are connected in the embrace, the woman needs to swivel her hips in order to step around the man. (See Dissociation and Gear Effect.) After she completed the step she needs to turn back her hips and collect her free leg, that is, return to the home position, in order to take the next step in the opposite direction. A novice woman often fails to turn back her hips and collect her leg, which not only causes the delay and rush of the next step or even makes it impossible, but also causes her body to seem loose and miss its elegant line. A woman must develop the habit of returning to the home position in a timely manner after each step to stand ready for the next step in any direction.

10. Unrefined musicality
Tango steps can be divided into two groups: that of featured steps, such as the forward step in ocho, the rock step in ocho cortado, etc., and that of ancillary steps, such as the collection of the leg, the unwinding of the crossed leg, pivot, the swivel of the hips, the switch of the foot, embellishment, etc. A novice woman tends to focus only on the featured steps and overlook the ancillary actions. She may be able to step on the beat, but her pivot, hip rotation, weight change and embellishments are often made off beat. A woman needs to understand that dancing to music is not just stepping on the beat. All movements of her body, including that of ancillary and decoration, must all match the rhythm, tempo and mood of the music perfectly. Cultivating refined musicality is a long-term goal, but it is the most important and fundamental skill of a dancer that she must make efforts to develop.

11. Lacking of agility
Tango music has four beats in each measure. The first and third beats are the downbeats, the second and fourth beats are the upbeats. Dancing tango, one normally steps on the downbeats - the main action is on the first beat, the ancillary action is on the third beat, in the speed of doing two actions in each measure. However, it is often necessary to do two actions, such as taking a forward step and then immediately making a rotation, or stepping back and then immediately crossing one leg in front of the other, or taking a step and then immediately changing weight to the other foot, etc., on two consecutive beats - the main action is on the downbeat, the ancillary action is on the upbeat, in the speed of doing four actions in each measure. Sometimes the main action and the ancillary action even need to be completed on a single beat, in the speed of doing eight actions in each measure. The ability to act swiftly is particularly important in the advanced level that involves very fast leg movements. Skilled dancers are prepared for continuous actions and can move swiftly, ready at any time for the next step, thus can dance at ease and have time to do adornments. Beginners, on the other hand, are often too reluctant to act. Their movement is heavy, and they can only step on the downbeat but not on two successive beats, let alone taking two actions on one beat.

12. Passivity 
Following is not passively responding. It is an active action that requires focus, agility, wit and creativity. The woman must follow with feelings, sensitivity, concentration and responsiveness. She must not follow passively and indifferently. Novice women often are reserved and reluctant to act. Some take a perfunctory attitude, others are not focused or not emotionally involved, still others hold back their originality and personality and become the shadow of their partner. With such passivity it is impossible to dance tango well. A good follower is actively engaged, totally committed and going all out. She fully displays her emotions, musicality, creativity and personality while being in complete unison and harmony with the man in the dance. (See Activity and Passivity in Tango.)

13. Gender neutrality  
Some women are too egotistic and independent in the dance thanks to the influence of individualism and feminism. They replace the embrace with an open dance hold to remain independent, refuse to surrender, deny gender differences, disobey the lead, hanker for individual performance, reverse gender roles and advance same-sex partnership, etc. If that kind of tango is what you are after, then good luck. However, if Argentine tango is what you want to learn, I suggest that you respect its essence of intimacy, oneness and harmony. In Argentine tango, the woman assumes the feminine role. She surrenders to the man, follows his lead, expresses her feelings and femininity, comforts the man with her body and shines the dance with her colorful footwork. By these she will be fully repaid because her efforts will make the man cherish her, care for her, reciprocate the hospitality and fulfill his responsibility as her partner, supporter, protector and leader. In tango, the relationship of the two sexes is only meaningful when they remain who they are as man and woman. Without femininity tango will lose not only its splendor and charm, but also its value of existence. (See The Gender Expression in Tango.)


  1. The way tango is danced and taught in Buenos Aires is changing largely due to a foreign influence. A foreign friend attended a practica recently in which the female teacher changed everything about his embrace in five minutes so she had more freedom to do her thing. This teacher is only one example of many who are keeping up with the times and putting aside the milonguero embrace.

    The last paragraph is a summary of the woman's role in tango. It's masculinity embracing femininity. If we lose that, we lose its essence.

    Fortunately, there is still a milonga in Buenos Aires where men are men, and women are women in the dance: Lo de Celia Tango Club at the corner of Humberto Primo and Entre Rios.

  2. Ah! I've learned such a lot about when to be strong and when to be vulnerable through this dance. The pre requisite for harmony is the balance of opposite forces.... Balance is the key word.....there is such a lot of freedom in good relationships....we have to give ourselves and each other the freedom to be authtentic in our freedom to be who we were born to be ...

    1. Freedom has different connotations. See my post: The Freedom in Tango.