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 regard tango only as steps. They think if they can do the steps, they can dance tango. That is why they only focus on imitating the steps rather than developing the skills. As soon as they can imitate a step they start to copy another one. They believe in that way they can learn faster and be able to dance sooner.

What they don’t know is that what makes one a good tango dancer is not the number of steps one knows, but the behind the scene skills upon which the steps are built: embrace, posture, connection, torso communication, lightness, flexibility, balance, stability, pivot, dissociation, gear effect, cadencia, walk, rock, traspie and musicality. 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 a step is not just teaching the step, but more importantly teaching the basic skills. For example, when teaches ocho, the teacher instructs the students to use dissociation because that skill is crucial not only to ocho but also to many other tango steps. But the students may not understand that. They only focus on copying the movement by crossing one leg in front of or behind the other leg and leave out the hard work of dissociation. 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 meet the tango standard.

The eagerness to succeed is a big obstacle to learning. Students must understand that it is not the number of steps they know but the basic skills they obtain 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. Rock, for example, is not only used in the change of direction. It is also the base of ocho cortado and traspie. By carefully learning each simple skill, by proceeding in an orderly and gradual way, by following the instructions and paying attention to technique details, by taking pains to do drills, and by obtaining a solid grounding in basic skills, one can 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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