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.

December 8, 2013

Women's Common Mistakes in Tango

1. Refusing to surrender
For two people to dance together 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 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 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, 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 a dance that emphasizes the intimacy, unity, synchronicity and harmony of the union rather than the 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 (see The Gender Roles in Tango), but her movements and embellishments have to be in harmony 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 an experienced man is able to lead her accordingly in such cases, her initiation could interfere with 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 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 her steps. Without knowing who has the jitters she blames the man for her sour hand even though that is mainly caused by her own tension. Dancing tango requires the ability to dissociate the hands from the body, that is, letting the arms and hands be completely relaxed and executing the steps only with the torso, 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, the woman still needs to know how to follow with the torso in order for her arms and hands to be completely relaxed. (See The Functions of Various Body Parts in Tango.)

6. Spaghetti body
Dancing with a soft spaghetti body is also a common problem. An inexperienced woman tends to bend her body forward, backward or sideways easily, which is inelegant. The correct way is to keep the body tenacious and straight, and move the center of the body rather than just move the upper body or the lower body, so the whole body moves elegantly as one piece. The man leads the woman with his torso against her torso, but she should not just move the part of the 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 instead of 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 soft spaghetti body.

7. Heaviness
Another common problem is heaviness. Heaviness may be associated with 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 help of the hands to execute her steps, holding on to 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 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 obedient and nimble, synchronize her movements with his, 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 and Lightness.)

8. Weak connection
However, if the woman is too light, it could cause problems also because in close embrace the man cannot see her footwork and must feel it to know where her weight 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. The cause could be that she does not connect to him well, or that her body is too soft or void to be felt, or that she does not follow properly, such as failure to cross in position five, failure to swivel her hips in back ocho, failure to return to the home position after a step, failure to change weight when she should, or adding a step when she shouldn't, etc., due to the insufficient connection with the man that causes her unable to feel his lead or causes him unable to feel her movements. Novices who feel uncomfortable of being intimate with a man tend to lean back to avoid chest contact, or break the embrace and focus on the steps. Women having this problem need to change their mindset and improve their connection with the man to let him feel them and let themselves feel him better.

9. Not returning to the home position
Since the torsos of the partners are connected in tango, the woman needs to swivel her hips in order to step around the man. (See Dissociation and Gear Effect.) After each step she needs to turn her hips back to face him 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 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 main or 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, 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 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 backwards and then immediately crossing one leg in front of the other, or making a step and then immediately changing weight to the other leg, 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 for 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 successive downbeat and upbeat, 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 emotion, ability, 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 maintain their independence, 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, displays her feelings and affection, comforts the man with her femininity, and shines the dance with her flexible body and colorful footwork. By such the woman will get the full return because her efforts will make the man cherish her, care for her, reciprocate the hospitality and fulfill his responsibility as her partner, supporter, leader and protector. 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.