The Power Of Three

11th July 2009

A tanda is a set of pieces of music, usually between three or five, that is played during a milonga (place). Most commonly the music is a tango, a milonga or a vals. Between two tandas a cortina (tango) might be played. ~ Wikipedia


One of the many codigos (codes) of tango relates to the number of dances you have with your partner - the expectation is that, by default, you should have three dances with your partner. If you have only one, or only two, then you're basically making a statement that you're really not enjoying the dance with that person. This can catch you out, if you're used to other dance forms where 1 / 2 dances per person is the norm.

(Another code that may catch you out is saying "thank you" at the end of a song - basically that means "I've had enough, goodbye")

Anyway, there is a reason for the "3-dance" rule - it allows you to establish connection.

Connection, you say?

Yes, that mysterious word again.

Basically, connection is That Thing Which Allows You To Partner Dance Well. I won't try to define it now - just that, like many things, you'll know it when you feel it.

One of the points about connection is that it takes time. In the same way that it takes a while to get used to a new friend, a new lover, or a new brand of pizza, it takes time to establish connection with a new dance partner.

So, you need to take your time to achieve a good connection - and that's good advice with friends, lovers and pizzas as well.


The problem with this is that traditional tango tracks are short - often around two and a half minutes.

So as a leader, sometimes you feel an urge to get started quickly, because you feel the time ticking away. It's a strong impulse, to get as much "stuff" in as possible, during such a short time.

My advice is: resist this impulse.

Unless you're a smeller, yanker, or perv, then you've got three dances with your partner. That's at least 7.5 minutes, and possibly 9 - 10 minutes. So you've got a lot of time to play with. It may be useful to think of this as a single dance, divided into three sections.

So much time...

So now we've established that there's oodles of time, how to use it?

A typical way of dividing your three dances might be:

  1. Establish connection: At the start, get into hold, get comfortable in that hold, and ensure your partner is comfortable also. Don't rush into dancing; if it takes 10-15 seconds to get comfortable, then take that time. It'll pay off later. Once you do get started, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Small movements, no variations, no fancy schmancy kicks and other rubbish. It's completely fine to simply walk around the room for a couple of minutes. A good follower will love that, in fact.
  2. Develop the connection: Start improving things. Add more musicality, and maybe some step variations. What the hell, go wild and lead a couple of ochos...
  3. Use the connection: at the end, you should be "One body, four legs" with your partner - if you've established and developed your connection, you can do anything. Dance your own style, do whatever you like now.

But, don't dance like a dervish from the first second - or you'll quickly get a reputation as "The Dervish", and that's if you're lucky.

- David Bailey, 11th July 2009

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