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 people and species. 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.
March 7, 2013
The Four Stages of Your Tango Journey
If tango to you is only what you can see it, the steps, then you are at the first stage of your tango journey. The intangible part of tango is still beyond your comprehension at this point. But you should not let the step fool you. It is only the tip of the iceberg. Tango is a comprehensive art. Although you need to know the steps to dance tango, there are things more important that you must know also. At this point your main attention should be placed on developing good posture, embrace, connection, stability, balance, dissociation, pivot and walk. (See Tango Is a Language (I).) Many students take lessons beyond their level to learn advanced steps when their posture is still ugly, their body is still stiff and heavy, their embrace is still broken, their walk is still clumsy, and they still need to hold on to the partner for balance and stability. As a result, the fancy steps that they are learning have little meaning to them, only enhance their bad habits. At this stage you need to overcome your eagerness to achieve quick results, proceed in an orderly and gradual way, take time to improve your posture, embrace, connection, balance, pivot, dissociation and walk and correctly learn the basic steps in accordance with the standard of tango. (See Learning Tango: Imitating Steps vs. Developing Skills.) This approach seems slow, but it will lay a solid foundation that promises fast progress.
Once you’ve laid the foundation and started to dance socially, you enter the second stage of your tango journey. At this stage you continue to learn steps, but your attention should be placed on correcting your bad habits and cultivating good ones. If your personal praxes do not meet the tango standard, or if you have picked bad habits during the first stage, you need to fix them now. This stage could be a long and painful period because the wont that you have accumulated in your lifetime is not easy to break. It takes patience and hard work. You need a good teacher to work with you and help you to correct your wrong habits bit-by-bit. You can practice in front of a mirror or videotape your dance to analyze your posture, embrace, connection, balance, coordination and movements. You need to constantly make conscious efforts against your old habits until you have habituated yourself to the correct way of dancing tango and internalized right posture and movements that meet the aesthetic standard of tango.
As your dance starts to have that unique tango feel, you enter the third stage of your tango journey. At this stage your attention begins to shift from on the external to the internal. Once the steps are no longer the obstacle, you are able to work on the intangible side of the dance. You need to improve your musicality, familiarize yourself with music of different genres, rhythms, tempos, moods and orchestras, and learn to dance to different pieces differently. You need to learn to express your emotions, to pause, to adorn your steps, to dance in slow and fast motions and with more advanced techniques aiming not only at the look but also the feeling of the dance, such as cadencia and gear effect. You need to improve the flexibility and coordination of your body and the ability to use your body to effect and harmonize the movement of your partner’s body. You also need to go beyond the techniques and become a socially acceptable dancer. For that you need to learn the philosophy, culture and etiquette of tango. With the growth of your abilities and the widening of your vision, you will start to see beyond yourself.
The ability to see beyond yourself marks a significant change in your dance, with which you enter the final stage of your tango journey. At this stage you start to pay attention to the relationship with your partner, to feel his/her emotions, to listen to his/her interpretation of the music, to be adaptive to his/her dance, and to be one with him/her. You no longer dance to show off your skills, but to give comfort and pleasure to your partner. Tango to you is no longer steps, but an expression of love. Your lead becomes less difficult and forceful, but gentle, thoughtful and suited to the ability of your partner. You want her to feel free and enjoy the dance. Your follow becomes less bumpy and interruptive, but light, smooth and in harmony with the lead. You want him to feel comfortable and enjoy you. You start to understand the essence of tango and see tango as what the milongueros see it. Now, you are at the top of the game.