Looking for tips about learning Argentine Tango dance?
From absolute beginner to a great milonguero/a Tango dancer.
Because you have realized the value of Tango, namely that Tango is highly important to you, I am offering here a guide into your Tango journey.
You’ll become more yourself within a community.
Our human nature makes us social beings: we cannot survive in isolation, hence, success is possible for an individual only with the support of one’s peers.
That is to say: you learn to dance Tango not only because of your personal taste and choice. There is also a group of people who share your affinity for Tango, and even you will not agree (and you do not need to agree) with everyone in matters of taste and choices, your success regarding Tango will be always tied to how you relate to those other dancers.
Even if you never dance with most of them, you will still be sharing the same dance floor and seats around it at the same milonga.
Not everybody has the same sensitivity.
If you are willing to take the challenge, as a great milonguero/a does: aim for the highest, most beautiful, most poetic, and most sublime.
For me, that is Tango.
With such people, I feel at home, and that is my environment.
That is what I would like to share with you.
My reason for doing so is that my goal is always to become a better dancer, and by inviting and challenging you to have the same goal, I count on you to challenge me in the same way.
We mutually challenge each other to become better dancers.
This is not going to make us rivals or enemies. On the contrary: we will develop a deep friendship.
I won’t be distant (like on a stage). I will be approachable. I will dance with you or next to you on the same dance floor. I may have more experience than you, but it may turn out that you are more talented. However, on the dance floor of a milonga, we are equals in essence.
The goal of becaming better dancers cannot be quantified.
How do you quantitatively express a good example of a human being?
How do you quantify excellence or the admiration that someone awakens in you?
It is easy to get confused in a world that values quantification the way our civilization does.
For instance, does the number of members in my Facebook group express the level of my dance?
I could set a goal to end the year with over 2,000 members.
That is really easy to do. By the end of this year, I will achieve this goal. Will that make me a better human being?
Let’s make a thought experiment (you now know I like them):
An alien comes to our planet and meets with several people. He meets an industrialist called Henry Rearden, a writer and poet called Oliverio Girondo, Gordon Gekko (a banker), Doug McKenzie (a garbage collector), a nurse called Ratched… etc. and a milonguero called Blas Catrenau…
What this alien will immediately perceive is the egalitarianism and spontaneity of the milonguero, who approaches him the same way he approaches everyone.
He will be surprised he even hugs him as a greeting.
Another aspect is the way the milonguero moves, his expressions, the way he walks: he seems easily in control of himself.
His words are sometimes a little cryptic. He speaks assuming that the alien understands what he is talking about.
However, he speaks with such comfortable self-confidence that the alien cannot avoid agreeing with Blas, even he does not know what Blas is talking about.
For Blas, and for any milonguero in general, it does not matter the way you look, your degrees, your wealth, or your job. If he has something to say about you, he would say it only if you ask his opinion, and only in regard to your dance.
Now you can continue on your own with this experiment.
Imagine any other characters (anyone you want to include) and let me know how you see the alien’s experience meeting them. You can write it here:
Back on Earth, once you’ve made up your mind and accepted that there is no better way to spend your time in life than making it a work of art and that in this endeavor you won’t find anything that makes more sense than dancing Tango, hence, becoming a great dancer (a realization that can take you a period of time ranging from one day to many years), then, the following advice may help you:
1. Be disciplined, regular, and committed to your study of Tango. While dancing Tango is amusing, it is also different from other ways to amuse yourself. Choose these unique characteristics of Tango to be the main core of your dedication to learning it. Steps, choreographic patterns, socializing, close proximity to partners, are all aspects that Tango has in common with other dances and other kinds of activities. On the other hand, its music is unique; and, also, unique is the approach that milongueros have in relation to Tango: for them, Tango is not a “way of life”, but “Life” itself.
2. If Tango is life, then your Tango teacher is a life-coach. He or she is teaching you how to live Tango. Your relationship between you and your teacher is based on trust, mutual understanding, sympathy, and patience. Tango makes both of you meet at a very humane level, where both need to accept their own limitations and flaws, as well as good qualities. The potential for improvement of Tango is infinite. In the face of such a wide-open horizon, both student and teacher are students of Tango. Your teacher is your guide through Tango, but also your road companion. Choose carefully.
3. Tango is a world. Your Tango teacher is a bridge to it. Allow yourself to know that world, its inhabitants, its culture. A Tango teacher who is doing a good job will have different levels of approximation to your definitive contact with Tango and, eventually, living-breathing-existing-embodying Tango. The first pool in your “decanting” to Tango will be your teacher’s inner group of students. Not anyone who shows up to class, but those who show up in class regularly, and are noticeably there to learn about Tango. Be perceptive of this difference. Then, your teacher with or without this inner group will take you to your first local milongas. New questions will arise there, that you will need to discuss with your teacher. Eventually, you will visit Buenos Aires. You must trust your teacher with this. He or she, if authentic, is your most reliable connection to Tango in Buenos Aires.
About virtual Argentine Tango classes and private lessons online
Our virtual classes online work on the assumption that it is a temporary measure to keep us engaged and improving, having always in mind the ultimate goal of dancing embraced again sooner or later.
I have to admit that I did not have much confidence in this channel for Tango instruction, but online classes turned out -unexpectedly- to be a wonderful way to observe in detail our students dancing, and a powerful tool to organize the presentation of our knowledge to them.
Of course it doesn’t appeal to everyone, since many seek physical contact in Tango, and/or are more incline to learn in a rather kinesthetic manner.
However, even though these physical/in-person/kinesthetic aspects are what Tango has of unique, offering them in subtle and poetic ways, attracting and seducing us to its adoption and incorporation into the core of our lives, we will always need the aid of visual presentation, clear explanation, meticulous observation and distanced objectiveness that are a fundamental part of the Tango instruction, but which are amplified in the case of the technology that we are obliged to use now.
As your Tango teachers (and here I ask myself about the relation between teaching Tango and life coaching), we strongly advise you not to miss this opportunity.
Learning Tango is hard, frustrating some times and humbling often, and all this may become even worst learning in virtual classes… or maybe not, and perhaps you’ll find, like I did, that it is wonderful, that it is powerful, and that thanks to a certain sense of “estrangement” it helps you to understand things differently, making you pay attention to aspects often passed on at the in-person classes, and facilitating you to make your communications more clear and efficient.
All of these apply to either students and instructors.
Here we want to share with you what we consider important for you in the process of virtual Argentine Tango instruction online:
Be open minded.
Definitely the online class will be light years away from in-person classes.
However, if you come into the classes avoiding the expectation of similarity with, or make up for the in-person class, you will be much more prepared to take advantage of what only virtual classes can offer to you, and are only on-the-side aspects at the in-person classes.
For instance, since your teacher cannot dance with you or physically move you, he or she will break down the movements into its most elemental constituents, helping you to fully understand what movements and how to execute them, in a way that, being more abstract, will provide you with the opportunity to practice the move in a “timeless” and “spaceless” fashion, a more thoughtful way, and eventually a more aware way.
Let the experience teach you.
Since this is going to be a novel way to learn Argentine Tango, you will find on your path problems that will be only resolved with later corrections.
For instance, your floor may not be the best for dancing Tango, or your furniture gets in your way, or your internet connection is too slow.
All these are problems that get fixed much more easily than fixing your Tango. Go ahead and move your furniture, look at hardware stores online for plastic tiles that you can put over your carpet, call your internet provider (now they are offering discounts on upgrades).
At each class you will get a better set up for your learning environment. And since we are a community, please share your questions regarding solutions to these challenges. I like to ask my students how they are fixing their particular problems, so I may be in the possession of an answer for you already.
Avoid distractions. If you are not alone at home, let your relatives and spouses know that you’ll be “away” for one hour.
Even though you are physically at home, you are virtually at your Tango class, and let me tell you, this “virtuality” is very real. You need to be fully engaged in your class. You won’t be able to be in two places simultaneously.
Even if it is your living room or garage, it is the classroom for the duration of the lesson.
Do not hesitate. Your instructors need constant feedback to know that the communication is effective.
Let them know you did not understand something, or you could not see it, or whatever passes your mind that is related to what is worked on during the class.
Your teacher has modified his/her teaching style to the online channel, so you need to change your usual learning actitudes. Even technical questions related to the technology used for the class are admissible questions. Remember that.
Plan your class.
You will need to adapt your teaching style to the TV or computer screen’s two dimensional space.
Keep in mind that your student needs to see you all the time. That is why turns are particularly challenging to teach in the virtual class set up.
My solution to this problem is to segment the turns in its constituents, in order to keep training a fundamental element of Tango, avoiding making students having to look at the screen while they turn away.
Have the right tools.
Supply yourself with a good camera and a good microphone. Since your communications will be exclusively visual and auditory, you need the best tools that you can provide yourself.
I’ve been using a mini iPad for the camera and a wireless microphone. I like to show the moves having students behind me, so I am doing the with the camera at my back, so the microphone has been essential to make the sound clear even while I am talking looking away fro the camera.
Although I have to say the iPad and Zoom (the video conference system that we use) are very sensitive in picking up the sound waves.
Have good lighting.
I am using all the lights of my home studio pointed at me, and added an extra lamp with a styrofoam board to reflect light on my face when I get close to the camera.
Use screen sharing to play your music.
This will make your students hear to the music you choose for your class with much better sound quality than if you make it stream from your microphone.
Keeping things in order.
Use the waiting room feature and close the admission at ten minutes into the class to avoid interruptions.
You can also have an assistant to work as admin. That is my case but it may not be yours.
This is what I have to say for now. Please let me know if you have any questions. I will be happy to answer.
The pandemic has demonstrated how much we need to act as a community, and I am very happy to see that everyone in the Tango community worldwide has that attitude.
¡Viva el Tango!
Long life to Tango!
Here are some examples of what we have being working lately in our virtual classes online:
Learn more about Argentine Tango watching: “Tango, bayle nuestro”
“Tango, Our Dance” (English Subtitled)
Interviews with milongueros, Argentine Tango masters and performers in 1987.
Director Jorge Zanada spent years researching and recording the Tango’s place in Argentine culture.
The sensuality and stylized ritual of the tango are captured in this illuminating documentary.
Most riveting are the milongueros-the amateur dancers who preserve the pure, traditional steps.
Their intimate stories about their personal experiences reveal the intensity that feed their individual Tango styles.
Numerous tango aficionados, including actors Robert Duvall and Juan Carlos Copes (star of Broadway’s TANGO ARGENTINO), make special appearances. A passionate valentine to what Martha Graham called “the most beautiful dance of this century.”
Watch this movie in YouTube (no subtitles)
Rent or buy this movie:
More movies about Argentine Tango selected for you:
Dancing Tango and vals on 19-01-2015 at la Practica del Beso.
Susana is the key figure in today’s tango milonguero style. Her work as a teacher has influenced tango not only in Buenos Aires but also in the world of tango outside of Argentina. As the maestra of other tango teachers, Susana has worked with most of the famous teachers of tango milonguero, and today she continues to train a new generation of professional instructors.