Tango for Beginners
Hello and welcome!
If you are reading this, it may well be because you have either just started to learn Tango or are thinking about learning tango.
Thinking back to the very first day that I started dancing Argentine Tango I remember distinctly wanting to run away and just get back to the comfort of my own home - this Tango was difficult, you have to be precise, there's so much to think about AND you have to dance close to someone you don't know! I also remember choosing to try Tango as I had been influenced by certain TV shows, what I saw in front of me that first day looked nothing like the passionate and acrobatic dance I had visions of myself doing.
But let me reassure you if you have any doubts similar to mine or maybe completely different.
When we decide to start along our Tango journey, we will encounter many different challenges along the way, but equally the rewards are worth it.
When one first starts learning a technically difficult dance like AT (Argentine Tango - I'll refer to it as AT from now on for brevity) one can be overwhelmed with the number of things we suddenly have to pay attention to, our posture, how we walk, how we transmit information to the other dancer, it can all seem like too much - but don't worry, I don't think there is a single person who found AT easy on the first day, or in the first week, or months.
But that is not to say that it can't be fun, as along the way good friendships begin with people who you would never meet in other circumstances, and across all ages. You become more body and self aware, you get to listen and to know some phenomenal music, and along the way with a bit of carrot and a small stick you will start to dance.
Here are some points that might help if you do feel a bit wobbly about it all.
1. We were all beginners once and we were all awful to start with!
2. There is no fixed end point to learning AT, it is just a journey, and some are just further down the road than others, so enjoy the learning process.
3. We all think that everyone is thinking how terrible we are at dancing, whereas in fact they are more than likely actually worrying that you think they're a terrible dancer.
4. Don't worry if you feel that you have a physical hindrance that may stop you from dancing.
No-one is perfect, and as you will discover many dancers have found tango actually helps with some physical difficulties they may have. It improves balance and posture and can help with general well being and fitness. It is not high energy, but requires maybe a little more stamina.
5. We don't ask that you go into close contact with anyone if you don't feel comfortable. But over time you may find that actually you become more at ease holding someone you don't know, as you realise there is nothing more to it than the dance.
6. When you find yourself one year down the AT road, you will look back at your first day and you will see how far you've come and you should feel proud!
Now, if your feeling a bit lost with some of the terminology that we use, here is a brief overview of the some of the main words we use.
Leader - Of the two dance partners - the person leading in the dance
Follower - Of the two dance partners - the person following in the dance
Zero position - our foot position when we have our feet together, heels touching and toes slightly apart creating a comfortable 'V' shape.
Balanceo - the action of changing weight from one foot to the other while standing in Zero position, we use this to determine to our partner which foot we have all our weight on, and which foot which we'll step with first.
Parallel system - stepping as if mirroring one another i.e. when facing your partner stepping into your follower with your left foot, they will step back with their right
Cross system - stepping on the same foot i.e. when facing your partner stepping into your follower with your left foot, they will step back also with their left foot
Intention - We use this term to refer to the drive from the chest that we use to lead and follow
Dissociation/Separation/Isolation - The technique by which we are able to move one part of the body without subsequently moving another part of our body in the same direction.
We commonly send the upper body (bottom of rib cage up) around in one direction while leaving the lower body facing the other way (top of hips down).
Cruzada (The Cross) - one of the first combinations of movements we use in AT. When the Leader invites the follower to cross her left foot over her right foot while walking backwards.
Ochos - Figure of eights: Backwards and forwards, A crossing and pivoting movement. Executed as a walking step with flexed knees and feet together while pivoting.
Ocho Cortado - Cut eight: when a forward ocho (for the follower) is cut short and her weight is sent back, sending her into a cross foot position.
Vals - Tango with a 3/4 time signature i.e. waltz
Milonga - (the dance) An associated dance which predates Tango, with a 2/4 time signature, usually danced at a faster pace than Tango.
A Milonga - (the social dance occasion) The event where Tango dancers go to meet and dance socially with one another.
Tanda - Commonly a set of either 3 of 4 Tangos, or Vals or Milongas, played straight after one another. When invited to dance one would normally dance a whole Tanda with one person, then sit down when the *Cortina starts.
Cortina (no - not the car) - The short musical break (could be music of any genre) not usually danced to, played between Tandas which allows anyone on the dance floor to return to their seat and everyone can look for someone different to dance with.
Mirada - The look: I.e the method in which the follower looks for who they would like to dance with. When they have decided who they want to dance the next Tanda with, they maintain eye contact with them so that the leader is aware that they would like to dance.
Cabeceo - The Method in which the Leader invites the follower to dance using a look and usually a nod of the head, only when the follower either nods or shows agreement to dance, does the leader walk around the dance floor to collect the follower to dance. The follower tries to keep eye contact with the leader as he makes his way around the floor, but does not stand up until he is in front of the follower and there is no mistake who he wants to dance with.
Line of dance - we always dance counter clockwise around the room, never clockwise, diagonally, or zig zagging!
Floorcraft - The navigation skills one needs to acquire while learning to dance, so that one doesn't collide with, cause log jams, or cause insult or injury to other dancers on the dance floor.
And finally the last thing, a line from the song
"T'ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)"
This epitomises our concept of Argentine Tango, it is not all about the number of different 'moves' you can do, it's about the way you perfect them.