The Tango FAQ

Here are some questions I and others have asked about Tango.

Why should I learn?

Maybe you shouldn't - Tango's not for everyone, that's for sure. When I first tried it, around 1999-2000, I remember seeing the women, looking gorgeous, just walking around the men - I couldn't see any lead (no moving hands) so I just assumed that it was a made-up dance with no lead-and-follow component (I also remember Clive James trying to chat up my girlfriend there, but that's another story).

Anyway, after that, I did a few classes - but it was mainly teaching the Basic 8 figure, which bored me. It took me 5-6 more years of dancing salsa and Modern Jive, before I realised how little I knew, and how good Tango felt when it all came together.

So, Tango teaches you technique. It teaches you connection. It teaches you body-leading.

If you learn Tango, you're Modern Jive will almost certainly improve. But don't learn Tango to do better Modern Jive - you should learn Tango if you want to dance Tango - if you like the look of it, the feel of it, and the sound of it.

What's It All About, then?

Woooo... how long have you got?

Unlike Modern Jive, Tango has a long and distinguished history, stretching back over a century or more. It has many variations, it has a lot of different music, it has a richness and a depth and a breadth that, frankly, is indescribable in a short answer. But, in short, Tango is about experiencing an intense connection with your partner during dancing.

But isn't it just like Modern Jive?

Er, no. Some differences are mentioned in this article.

In addition, the typical class format is vastly different. Tango classes are

  • small (typically 20 or less people
  • taught in the round (that is the teacher is in the centre of a circle of paired-up students)
  • based on technique rather than moves (see below)

So why does it look so boring?

Well, it doesn't - look at some Show Tango demonstrations and you'll see that.

However, OK, social-dancing tango can indeed occasionally seem a little dull to those of us used to watching people jump, spin, dip and drop all over the place. Social tango is all about how it feels - not how it looks. You can have a good dance just walking forwards and backwards in Tango, for example. Which, visually, may not look that great, but can feel like an emotional rush.

As I said, indescribable.

Why aren't I learning lots of moves in Tango classes?

Typically, tango classes are not move-based. You won't learn a sequence which you can use in your freestyle later on. You'll learn moves, yes - but usually they'll be done simply to illustrate a point of technique, not as a sequence to memorize and write down in your Big Black Book Of Moves.

And, be clear, this is A Good Thing. You're learning how to dance, not how to dance moves.

Once you learn how to dance, you can do any moves you like, and they'll all look and feel fantastic. But if you don't know how to dance, being able to use 600-odd moves won't help you.

Do I need to hold a rose in between my teeth then?

Err, that'll be Ballroom Tango you're talking about. Ballroom Tango is the one with the dramatic-shaking-heads, and the rose thing. It's naff. Don't do it. Argentine Tango is the real deal.

There's an interesting article about the differences here in Mshedgehog's blog.