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.

July 20, 2019

Learning Tango: Imitating Steps vs. Developing Skills

One reason beginners are eager to learn steps is that they want to dance in the milonga as soon as they can. They regard tango only as steps and think if they can do the steps, they can dance tango. As soon as they managed to imitate a step they start to copy another. They believe in that way they can learn faster and be able to dance sooner.

What they don’t know is that whether they can dance is not decided by the number of steps they know, but by the behind the scene skills upon which the steps are built: embrace, posture, connection, communication, torso lead/follow, lightness, flexibility, balance, stability, pivot, dissociation, gear effect, cadencia, musicality, and basic steps like walk, salida, resolucion, cross, front ocho, back ocho, media luna, molinete, giro, rock and traspie. These are the building blocks of all tango steps. Those who have a solid grounding in these basic skills can dance beautifully even with few simple steps. Those who lack these basic skills, their dance looks awkward and ugly even though they may know a lot of fancy steps.

The purpose that the teacher teaches steps is not just teaching steps, but more importantly teaching the basic skills. For example, the teacher may instruct the students to use dissociation or the swivel of the hips in front ocho and back ocho, because that skill is important not only in ocho but also in many other tango steps. But the students don’t understand that, they only try to imitate the step by crossing one leg in front of or behind the other leg and leave out the hard work of swiveling the hips. Instead of taking the pain to develop the skill, they take a short cut to get quick results. Consequently, although they may have learned a lot of steps, they have mastered none, their basic skills remain poor, and their dance does not have a tango feel.

The eagerness to succeed is a big obstacle to learning. Students must understand that it is not the fancy steps but the basic skills that decide the quality of their dance. Instead of focusing on copying the steps, they should focus on developing the basic skills, so what they learn in each step may become a building block for the next step. By proceeding in an orderly and gradual way, by carefully following the instructions, by paying attention to technical details, by taking pains to do drills, and by obtaining a solid grounding in basic skills, they will achieve twice the result with half the effort overall. That is the only way to become a good tango dancer. (See Tango Is a Language (I).)

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