Beginning Tango

21st February 2009

"The beginning is the most important part of the work" ~ Plato


Learning tango is a bit like learning to drive a manual car. Your first problem is simply being able to get it into gear and go forwards smoothly without stalling. Being able to change gears is useful too. But really at that point, you are driving.

Then you learn more skills which enables you to pass your driving test. For most people that's it. Some however go on to gain a deeper understanding and eventually take their Advanced Driving Test.

Similarly, when you begin tango you will learn to walk. It'll be a bit rough at first with a certain amount of stalling, but soon you'll be able to do it reasonably smoothly. You may even be able to change speeds. Congratulations, you're now dancing tango.

Then come the intermediate classes. After a while of doing these most people decide they're dancing tango "properly" and just dance socially. After all you don't keep taking driving lessons after you've passed your test.

Advanced Tango

That said, a few go further and study "Advanced tango".

When people talk about taking "seven years to learn tango", they're talking about advanced tango. Mercifully you can learn to dance tango much faster and will probably be having fun by the end of the first lesson.

One dance or four?

Although you think you're learning tango, you are in fact learning "Salon tango" or "Salon" for short. You'll discover "Vals", "Milonga" and "Nuevo" also exist.

Many tango dancers hate Milonga. It's almost the complete opposite of Salon; it's fast, bouncy and to be honest usually looks really sloppy. It's also not taught much.

Vals is halfway between the two.

It's worthwhile learning to "get by" in Milonga and Vals for one simple reason. It's physically and mentally demanding dancing Salon for any length of time. Occassional Milonga and Vals dances are incredibly refreshing and will keep you going all night. Whereas merely sitting them out will cause you to get more and more tired as the evening draws on.

"Nuevo" is a fairly abused term, but generally means dancing to modern music. It's a more playful "street" style.

A Tango Syllabus

There is no universal agreement on this, but generally a Beginner learns

  • Tango hold
  • Walking
  • Pivoting
  • Leading the lady to cross one foot in front of the other, imaginatively called "The Cross"

Your First Lesson

Understand that the teacher is trying to teach a group enough to get them going without stalling. Yes, advanced tango is mind-numbingly hard; thankfully beginning tango isn't. You've got many years experience of walking already! Try not to over-think it.

The aim is to get moving smoothly, not to try and do 50,000 technical things at once.

There is one thing you need to do - enjoy it and relax. It's incredibly hard to dance tango if you're tense and worried. Mind you, listening to the teachers is probably a good idea too...

- Christopher O'Shea, 21st February 2009

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