Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of humanity, connection, love, unity, harmony and beauty, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us into individuals, but tango unites us into a team, community 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, accommodation, 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. But you should not let the step fool you. It is only the tip of the iceberg. Tango is a comprehensive art form. Although you need to know the steps to dance tango, there are things more important that you must learn also. At this point your main attention should be placed to developing good posture, embrace, connection, balance, stability, lightness, 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, stability, lightness, pivot, dissociation and walk, and correctly learn the basic steps in accordance with the standard of tango. (See Imitating Steps vs. Developing Skills.) This approach seems slow, but it will lay a solid foundation that promises fast progress.

Once you’ve passed the introduction stage 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 to correcting your bad habits and cultivating good ones. If your personal praxes do not meet the tango standard, or if you picked bad habits during the first stage, you need to fix them now. This stage could be long and painful 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 the right posture, embrace, connection, movements and techniques 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 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, orchestras, and learn to dance to different pieces differently. You need to learn to express your feelings wth the dance movements, 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 feel of the dance, such as cadencia and gear effect. You need to ameliorate the flexibility and coordination of your body and improve 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 fourth stage of your tango journey. At this stage you start to pay attention to the relationship with your partner, to feel his/her emotions and feelings, to listen to his/her interpretations of the music, to be adaptive and accommodating 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 smooth, light and in harmony with your partner. 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.


  1. Hi Paul,

    This one was very interesting. As I read it, I think back at the last four years since I started Tango. The four stages are exactly as it happened to me. I feel I am at stage four, at the top of my game (but still have so much to learn and improve). My partner is all that matters to me now. Listening to every thing she has to say with out speaking a word and adjusting as needed. I have so much more fun at Milongas now than ever before. I may not dance much but when I do, it is a wonderful experience (most of the time). I focus more on the quality and not quantity of the dance.

    I do have one question for you. Do you think that some people get stuck in one of those early stages? The reason I ask is because I know some people that have been dancing much longer then I have, yet they seem to dance the same way every time. Some will explain or teach their partner during a tanda because they are trying to do some fancy complicated steps that their partners are not familiar with.

    Thanks for posting. I always learn some thing when I read your blog.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you very much for the comment! You are fortunate to have discovered what took me much longer to discover—the joy of dancing for my partner. I do agree with you that some people seem get stuck in themselves. That’s why I want them to see beyond. In fact we can’t draw a clean line between the stages. People who find the joy in dancing for others may still need to improve their skills in order to truly be able to dance for others, or dance better for others. Our tango journey will never end. Your experience is an encouraging example. Thank you for sharing!


  3. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the reply. Well, I have to tell you that it was your blog that help me discover the fourth stage. I was stuck some where in the early stages before reading your blog. I have read every one of your post, some of them numerous times. I had to reevaluate what I wanted out of Tango after reading your post. The funny thing is, I have stopped going to all the Tango workshops. I really never got much out of them or at least any thing useful for a social Milonga. I only take private lessons from two teachers from Buenos Aires. One is a man that helps me from the leader’s perspective and the other is a lady that helps me from the follower’s perspective. The advantage of taking private lessons is that I have control over what I want them to teach me. I tell them what I want to learn or work on. Where as in a workshop, they teach what ever they think students want or need to know. The other interesting thing is that I found my self going back to the basics. I work a lot on the basics such as walking, cadence, embrace and a few other things.

    Sorry for the long reply. Please keep sharing your thoughts, knowledge and experience with us.

    Take care,

  4. Sadly, I approached tango in a different way, through musicality and respect for partner, and I had no idea about steps. After two years, I really wanted to learn how to stop. I got a break through when I saw an old guy I respected dance, it was almost the complete opposite of what I had been doing.

    The reason why i say sadly is because I haven't been able to progress sequentially. I am not confident. I can dance with a woman now and feel like a complete klutz. Why? Because I have always followed the follower. And if that follower tries to lead, I am done for. If they are generous enough to simply keep following, then there is a chance we achieve tango.

    You have progressed in a method which is solid and dependable. Sometimes I yearn for that. But it has not been my way. I respect your method, but my life would be easier if people recognised it was not the only method, and may forgive my... more unorthodox approach to each and every dance.