Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating idea, philosophy, culture, and lifestyle. In many ways, tango is a metaphor of life. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit 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 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. If you share this conviction, please join the conversation and let your voice be heard, which is urgently needed and long overdue.

Together we can awaken the world.

December 8, 2013

Women's Common Mistakes in Tango

1. Refusing to surrender
For two partners to dance as one unified body, one of them must lead and the other must follow. Otherwise the two will be conflicting with each other and impossible to reach synchronicity, oneness and harmony. The woman must overcome her ego, surrender to the man and obey 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 refuse to surrender cannot dance tango well. (See Tango Is a Relationship.)

2. Leaning backward
A woman not surrendering herself often tries to keep a distance from the man by leaning backward rather than leaning forward into him. This creates two problems. First, in the absence of bodily contact the two partners have to use their hands to lead and follow, resulting in confusing signals, communication problems, coercing, discomfort, lack of intimacy, lack of sync, etc. Second, when the woman leans backward, the man cannot lean forward against her and has to adopt a vertical posture also, leaving a distance 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 Thirteenth Pitfall of a Tanguera.)

3. Interfering with the lead
Individual performance is particularly evident in Europe and North America where there is a strong presence of individualism and feminism, which 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 the dance that features intimacy, oneness, cooperation, synchronization and harmony rather than individual performance. In tango, the action of the woman is not initiated by the woman, but is brought out by the man. The woman needs to embellish the dance, but her embellishments have to be in unison with the lead, not in conflict with it. She should not initiate the steps or interfere with the lead.

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 a skilled man in such situations is able to lead her accordingly, her initiation could interfere with his intent. If the man is unskilled, then there could be frequent conflict. 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 hands
Surrendering yourself means that your body is completely relaxed. 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 the woman may subconsciously grab the man, relying on the help of the hands to execute the step. Without knowing who has the jitters, she blames the man for her sour hand, even though that is caused by her own tension. Dancing tango requires the ability to dissociate the hands from the body, that is, letting the arms and hands completely relax and executing the steps only with the body, hips and legs without the help of the arms and hands. Using hands not only causes her own discomfort, but also causes the physical exertion of the man. In my experience that is one of the most common and disturbing problems in tango. Once the dancers stop using the hands and switch to using the torso, their experience will be greatly improved. Of course, even then one still needs to know how to lead or follow with the torso in order for the arms and hands to be totally relaxed. (See The Functions of Various Body Parts in Tango.)

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

7. Not returning to the home position
The woman needs to swivel her hips in order to move around the man. (See Dissociation and Gear Effect.) After each step she needs to turn her hips back to face the man and collect her free leg, that is, to return to the home position in order to take the next step in perhaps a different direction. A novice woman often fails to turn back her hips and collect her free leg, which not only cause the delay and rush of the next step, or even make it impossible, but also cause her body to seem loose and missing 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, usually the opposite, direction.

8. Unrefined musicality
Tango steps can be divided into two groups: that of main or featured steps, such as the forward step in ocho, the rock step in ocho cortado, etc., and that of ancillary, transitional or decorative 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, and embellishments, etc. A novice woman tends to focus only on the main steps and overlook the ancillary actions. She may be able to step on the beat, but her pivot, hip rotation, weight change and embellishment are either made too hasty or slow. A woman needs to understand that dancing to music is not just stepping on the beat. Every movement of her body, including that of ancillary, transition 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, which she must make efforts to develop.

9. Lacking of agility
Tango music has four beats in each measure. The first and third beats are downbeats, the second and fourth beats are 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 backwards and then immediately crossing one leg in front of the other, or making 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 within one beat, in the speed of doing eight actions in each measure. The ability to act swiftly is particularly important in the advanced level, which involves very fast leg movement. Skilled dancers are prepared for continuous actions and can move agilely, ready at any time for the next step, thus can dance at ease and have time for adornments. Beginners, on the other hand, are often too slow to act. Their movement is heavy, and they can only step on the downbeat but not on successive downbeat and upbeat, let alone taking two steps on one beat.

10. Being too light
I’ve mentioned heaviness. However, if you are too light, it could cause difficulties for the man also because in close embrace he cannot see your footwork and must feel it to know where your weight is, whether you have switched foot, whether you have completed hip rotation or embellishment, etc., in order to decide how to lead the next step. If he cannot feel you, it is easy for him to take a conflicting lead. The cause of being too light could be: there is a lack of torso connection and communication, your movement is too subtle to be felt, your weight change is unclear, your upper body remains too still, or you fail to follow properly - such as crossing the leg instead of rotating the hips, making a back step in place of a cross, switching foot while you should not, or not switching foot while you should, etc. Such could cause the man unable to feel you, or make a wrong judgment on your movement. Women having this problem need to improve their connection and communication to allow the man to feel them. Of course, it cannot be overdone. Neither too light nor too heavy contributes to coziness and harmony.

11. Passive follow
Following is not being dragged around. It is an active reaction 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 reluctant and reserved. Some accept an invitation unwillingly and take a perfunctory attitude. Others are not focused or 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, fully committed and going all out. She maintains her creativity and personality while being totally in harmony with the man in the dance. (See Activity and Passivity in Tango.)

12. Lacking of femininity
Under the influence of feminism, Euro-American tango exhibits a tendency of gender neutrality and "political correctness". Many Euro-American women replace the embrace with an open dance hold, remain independent, refuse to surrender, deny gender differences, disobey the lead, reverse gender roles, hanker for individual performance, 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, synchronicity and harmony. In Argentine tango, the woman assumes the feminine role. She surrenders to the man, follows his lead, works closely with him, comforts him with her body, attracts him with her femininity, inspires his imagination and creativity, and shines the dance with her beautiful footwork. By so doing the woman will get the full return, because her devoted efforts will make the man cherish her, care for her, reciprocate the hospitality and fulfill his responsibility as her leader and protector. In tango, the relationship of the two sexes is only meaningful when they both 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 Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I) and 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.