Friday, December 16, 2016

Rules for A Crowded Dance Floor

(This is a repeat of a blog I published last year. but with all the holiday milongas on the schedule, I felt it was a timely reminder.)

 Dancing on a crowded dance floor is much like driving in heavy traffic, and the rules are much the same.


1. Use caution as you enter the dance floor. Wait for a break in the flow of traffic. Make eye contact with the approaching leader so you know he sees you. Merge into the flow of the dance like a driver merging onto the highway - smoothly, with no sudden stops.

2: Travel counterclockwise, in the line of dance. Avoid stepping backwards, just as you avoid backing up on a busy street.

3. Be aware of the flow of traffic. On a crowded dance floor dancers travel as a group, starting and stopping together. Maintain a consistent distance between you and the couple ahead of you,

4. A crowded dance floor will have multiple lanes of dancers - an outer lane, one or two middle lanes, and maybe an inner lane. Stay in your lane. The more crowded the dance floor is, the less you should consider passing or changing lanes. And avoid passing on the right. That puts you in the leader’s blind spot

5. Keep your dancing small and simple. Enjoy the music and the connection, and save the fancy steps for a less crowded venue.


1. Be aware of your surroundings. Do not dance with your eyes closed unless you know your leader can be totally trusted to follow the above rules, and the overall level of dancing is high. Do not step into another couple just because your leader leads it. This is your dance too.

2. Keep your feet on the floor, and your heels down. Those stilettos are a pair of weapons attached to your shoes. Polite people do not aim weapons at others.

EVERYONE: a crowded dance floor is not a good place to show off your fancy moves. So don't. Keep it small, keep it simple, be polite to the other people on the floor, and you will come to appreciate the trancendental experience of immersing yourself in the dance.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Take Care of Your Tango Feet

Dancers know that painful feet can take the fun out of Tango faster than just about anything. So it pays to take care of our feet. Here are some things you can do so that sore feet do not interfere with your Tango bliss.

  Oh, Those Gorgeous Shoes!

We women just LOVE the look of high, stiletto tango heels. But unless we also love dancing on damaged feet, we need to take special care when we buy Tango shoes.

Podiatrists recommend that women avoid wearing heels that are higher than 3 inches. Anything higher stresses your joints in a way that can cause permanent damage. So ideally, for healthy feet, we should wear a heel between one and three inches. The higher the heel the more padding you will need under the pads of the toes. High heels throw your weight on the front of the foot, which can cause metatarsalgia. This is especially true in middle aged or older women, because the natural padding in the front of the foot decreases with age. I know you have heard that padding under the ball makes it harder to feel the floor. But so does pain. So we need to decide what is more important. I choose a somewhat lower heel - 2.75 inches - which lets me get away with less padding.


 You know how some teachers tell you to press the ball of the foot onto the floor when you walk? This may create a lovely line, but it also creates overpronation. Overpronation happens when your weight is distributed toward the inside edge of the foot, rather than being centered in the middle of the foot. Overpronation causes all kinds of foot injuries, including achilles tendonitis and plantarfasciitis. The solution is to concentrate on keeping your weight in the center of your foot. 

Dancing on your toes:

 There was a time when a lot of teachers encouraged women to dance on their toes - to never let the heels touch the ground As a result there are a lot of Tango dancers suffering from metatarsalgia. Fortunately this has gone out of fashion. But if you are still doing it, stop. Not only is it bad for your feet, but it shortens your extension and interferes with balance.

 Take care of your feet. Remember - you want your feet to be able to Tango in 10 years -or 20 - or more.

Friday, December 2, 2016

THE WALK: It May Not Mean What You Think

 Over and over, when you are first introduced to Tango, you are told: It's all about the walk. You have to have a good walk in order to dance Tango.

 But "walking" in Tango does not mean what it does in everyday life. Normally, when we go for a walk, it involves getting from one place to another, in a straight line, and in a fairly regular rhythm. But when we talk about the Tango Walk, we are not talking about destination, or direction, or tempo. We are talking about technique.

 In Tango, we can "walk" in any direction, forward, backward, side to side, in place, or in a circle. We can even "walk" while standing still.

 Learning the Tango walk involves learning HOW, not WHAT. How do we use our feet to gather energy from our connection to the floor? How do we find and maintain our axis? How do we keep our connection forward, toward our partner?

 If you watch any good dancer, in demos or at the best milongas, you will note that they seldom take more than 3 or 4 steps in a straight line before stopping, or turning, or changing direction. Tango is not a linear dance. It moves, then stops. It turns, one way then another.

 Teachers need to recognize this, and realize that learning the Tango Walk involves learning to stop, every bit as much as learning to step.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Welcoming Beginners to Argentine Tango

 A healthy Tango community is one that is constantly growing. As people leave, new people join. And integrating new dancers into your community is a big part of that process.

 Beginners need two things to entice them to join a Tango community. They need to be intrigued or inspired by the dance itself, AND they need to be made to feel comfortable in the social environment of a milonga. The first is already accomplished by the time a beginner shows up for their first class. It is the job of a good teacher to keep encouraging the student's interest in the dance.

 The second - comfort within the Tango community - is the job of everyone at the milonga. So what can you do? Here are 5 things you can do that will encourage your beginners to keep coming, and to keep learning.

1: Dance with them. This is the number one, MOST important thing you can do. A beginner neither needs or expects to dance every dance. But if they dance no dances, again and again, they will not come back. So ask them to dance. It is OK to ask for the third song of the Tanda if you do not want to commit to the whole set.

 2. Talk to them. Introduce yourself, if it is the first time you have met. Offer them refreshments if any are available. Talk about Tango, or anything else. Be a good host.

 3. Don't overwhelm them. Feed them information about Tango in digestible bites. Leaders, if you ask them to dance, use this opportunity to lead a simple Tango. Followers, shelve the adornments, which can distract or confuse a beginner leader.

 4: Don't criticize or correct. For example, if a beginner asks you to dance verbally, do not get on your high horse about the cabeceo. If he stays with Tango he will absorb all that soon enough. Likewise, do not make a point of trying to fix your partner's dancing. No teaching on the dance floor, remember?

 5: Make them part of your community. If a group of you go out for coffee after the milonga or practica, invite them. Let them know of other Tango opportunities, and convey the idea that they would be welcome to attend them.

 Remember, you were once a beginner yourself. All the best dancers were once beginners. If beginners feel comfortable in your community, they will keep coming back. And if they keep coming back, eventually they will not be beginners any more.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tango Trust

Argentine Tango is an intimate dance. We dance in the arms of a person we may not know well, or even at all. When we step out onto the dance floor, we are implicitly agreeing to this intimate physical contact - cheek to cheek, breast to breast. And trust is a necessary component of this agreement.

Tango is essentially an impersonal intimacy. While there are no physical boundaries, there are firm boundaries of expectation. Tango promises nothing, beyond the bliss of translating the music into a shared experience.

 Tango is not a seduction. If you use your Tanda for that purpose it is a betrayal of trust. The embrace is for dancing, not for flirtation. If you use the embrace to stroke your partner's back or tickle his neck, or deliberately rub her breasts, you are breaking trust. And once that trust is broken, Tango is no longer a shared intimacy. It has become a trespass.

 Does this mean you can never flirt with a Tango partner? Of course not. Flirtation can add a wonderful intensity to Tango. But do not initiate a flirtation on the dance floor. It is not fair. Wait until the tanda is over, and your partner can accept or refuse without pressure. Once you have established a MUTUAL flirtation, you can, if both parties wish, continue it on the dance floor.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

You Might Be A Tango Snob If....

Face it. We all have a bit of the Tango snob in us. How can we help it? No other dance combines intimacy, creativity, artistry and culture quite like Tango. So it is easy to become a bit chauvinistic about it.

So in a spirit of lighthearted fun, see if you recognize yourself.

 You might be a Tango snob if....

 You never have fewer than 3 pairs of Tango shoes in your car - and they are all Comme Il Fauts...because you would never wear anything else.

 You refuse all verbal requests to dance. Real Tango dancers cabeceo!

 You serve mate at your house milonga.

You have been heard to express the opinion that Nuevo is not REAL Tango.

You never arrive at a milonga during the first hour.

Your computer wallpaper is a slide show of La Boca.

 You refer to Tango stars by their first names only.

 You discuss Tango in Spanish....even though you don't speak Spanish

 You complain if the DJ plays anything recorded after 1948.

You don't understand why anyone would ever dance anything but Tango.

Friday, October 14, 2016

As I Get Older....

Those of us who have been dancing Tango for many years, who are now in our sixties, or seventies, or eighties, are confronting a sad reality. There comes a point where no matter how many classes I take - how many private lessons - I am never going to get better.

 I have reached the pinnacle. And there is no place to go but down. As my body ages, things that were easy ten years ago become less so. And as I struggle with the aches and pains that naturally come with getting older, Tango is no longer the effortless joy it once was.

 I get asked to dance less. I sit and watch while lovely young women dance every dance. And I grieve for what I have lost.

 Many Tango dancers, when they reach this point, stop dancing Tango altogether. But not me. That is partly because the joy of teaching Tango - of nurturing a new generation of dancers - never grows old.

But more importantly, aging has a way, in Tango as in life, of burning away the nonessentials, of annealing the experience. What is left is the true meaning of Tango - creativity in intimacy.

 I may have fewer tools with which to be creative, as my body refuses to execute some of the dramatic nuevo steps. But Haiku is just as beautiful as dramatic verse, and just as satisfying.

I may dance less, but the dances mean more because they are with partners I cherish; partners I do not need to impress because that is not why we dance Tango.

 When I was a young Tango dancer I used to watch the old milonguero couples dance together. Their dancing was beautiful in a way that brought tears to my eyes, and touched me in a way I could not really understand.

 Now I do.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Tango Drama: Just Say No - Please!

Tango drama -

 It is hard to resist.

 It is impossible to avoid.

 Which teachers are feuding? Who is sleeping with their student? Who is dating whom? Who has broken up, and who is to blame? Who is cheating on their spouse? Who are the sexual opportunists? Who are the dance creeps and stalkers? Whose feelings are hurt and by whom?

 Some people enjoy the drama. I am not one of them. If you are another who does not appreciate Tango drama, I have a few suggestions:

 1: Don't date within the Tango community. If you choose to disregard this advice, don't talk about your relationship with others in community. And be aware that if you break up, especially if it is a hostile breakup, one or both of you will probably find yourselves uncomfortable returning to familiar Tango haunts.*

 *I made one exception to this rule, 16 years ago when I began a relationship with a former student. But we kept it so private that when we got married 5 years later many in the community didn't even know we had been a couple.

 2. Don't gossip about other people in the community. Thoughtful news is one thing - salacious gossip is something else. Who just got back from Argentina is appropriate to talk about; who they slept with while there is not. If someone starts a conversation about another Tango dancer that drifts into unpleasant gossip, smile and change the subject. Be aware that if you talk about someone in your Tango community it WILL get back to them.

 3. If you have a personality conflict with another dancer, handle it yourself. Do not drag the rest of the Tango community into your personal relationship problems. The exception to this is the groper or the stalker. Such antisocial behavior, if it persists, needs to be brought to the attention of the local organizer. And if you have any reason to believe the behavior is part of a larger pattern, your fellow dancers should be warned. And teachers and organizers need to be willing to warn and, if necessary, ban serious offenders.

 4: Support your local teachers, but don't involve yourself in their drama. It is fine to praise your favorite teacher, but avoid criticizing other teachers.

And teachers: Avoid criticizing other teachers and promoters, even if they trash-talk you. Don't try to embroil your students in a competition between teachers.

 These are rules that I have developed over 20 years as a Tango dancer, teacher and promoter. Every time I have broken them I have regretted it - except the one time that led to marriage. (in Tango there is always an exception).

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Some thoughts on "Back Leading"

"Backleading" is a term leaders frequently use when the follower did something he did not expect, and as a result the connection broke. But that term implies that the broken connection is the follower's fault. I really want to try to stop thinking in terms of fault.

 A broken connection can happen for many reasons, including a communications glitch, a balance problem on the part of either person, or differences in style. Blaming all these things on the follower is counterproductive. Let us look at them individually.

 Communication between partners is a two-way street. All too often when there is a problem, the follower is told she didn't "listen" to the leader, or didn't "wait for his command". News flash - tango is not a master-slave relationship, or a teacher-student relationship. It is the job of the leader to listen to the follower, every bit as much as it is the follower's job to listen to the leader. True, the leader starts the conversation. But after that, it is a dialog, with the leader making suggestions and the follower adding her ideas.

 Lack of balance is one of the most common reasons for a broken connection. This can cause either person to take an unexpected step. In a good partnership, each person is not only responsible for their own balance, but also for avoiding causing their partner to go off balance. Only practice can solve this connection problem.

 Style differences are a frequent cause of broken connections. This is why we dance tandas - it gives us an opportunity to resolve those differences, and work toward a mutual accommodation. Compromise is the key. A leader who merely accuses the follower of back leading, and who puts no effort in reaching a compromise, is not a partner. He is a boss. True, sometimes the styles are so different that dancing together will never be enjoyable. In that case both people should "agree to disagree" and find other people to dance with.

 When you step onto the floor at a milonga, you have agreed to dance together. Maintaining the connection is the responsibility of both people. Sometimes that means the follower becomes the leader and the leader becomes the follower - either intentionally or unintentionally. Stay connected. Dance with your partner. Forget blame. This dance is about "us", not about "you" or "me".

Friday, September 23, 2016

Give That Dancer A Ticket!

Many Argentine Tango teachers start beginners off with the so-called 8 count basic - the leader steps back, side, forward to the cross, then a forward-side resolution. Most of my students know how I feel about that.

The 8 count basic starts with two extremely disruptive, often socially unacceptable moves - a back step against the line of dance, followed by a side step toward the center of the room. Neither step is intrinsically wrong. But both can be very wrong in certain contexts.

 Consider that side step. When dancing Tango, I often think in terms of a traffic lane. When you are dancing Tango in a large open uncrowded space, your lane is quite wide, and you can comfortably step to the side without leaving your lane. However, on a very crowded floor the lanes are very narrow. The only way to take a side step without leaving your lane is to take it along the line of dance.

 It is like the difference between moving into the left lane on a divided highway, and moving into the left lane on a crowded 2 lane city street. The first is both common and exceptable. The second will get you a ticket.

 Ditto back steps. Example: if you are driving down a deserted country road and you miss your turn there is no problem with stopping, backing up, and making your turn. But if you did it on a crowded city street you would get a ticket. Same with back steps in Tango. The more crowded the floor the less acceptable they are.

Side and back steps are a part of tango. Everyone uses them. If the floor is crowded we use them carefully, sparingly, with great awareness for those around us, and keep them very small. If the floor is packed like a subway car at rush hour we cannot safely use them at all.

 There are no Tango police handing out traffic tickets for dangerous navigation at a milonga, thank goodness. So we must police ourselves, dancing with courtesy, care, and consideration.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

How to Choose a Tango Teacher

Disclaimer: I am a tango teacher. I think I am a pretty good one. Over 30 years of dancing Tango, I have taken classes from many excellent teachers, and from teachers that did not impress me. Over the years I have tried to incorporate teaching techniques from the best teachers, while avoiding the worst mistakes. So here is what I look for in a Tango teacher.

 How well do their students dance? Equally important, DO their students dance? This is the first thing I look for. Go to a milonga. Watch the dancing. When you see a good dancer, ask where they learned their Tango, and what local teachers they recommend.

 Once you have some recommendations, it is time to check out a class or two. Here are some things I look for.

 Does the teacher talk for most of the class? Find another teacher. Students learn by dancing. If the students are not dancing for more that half the class time, go elsewhere.

 How clearly does the teacher explain things? This is very subjective. Can YOU understand the concepts the teacher is trying to impart?

 How is the class pacing? Does the teacher spend enough time covering a topic before moving on? Do you feel overwhelmed with material? Conversely, does the class drag to the point where you are frustrated and bored? Again, this is subjective. Students learn at different rates, and teachers have to try to accommodate multiple learning speeds. So look for a teacher whose pacing works for you.

 Can the teacher lead and follow equally well? If not, they cannot teach each part equally well.

 Do you like the teacher? In the long run this is very important. I have taken some excellent weekend workshops from teachers whose personalities rub me the wrong way. But over time personality conflicts do matter.

 Do your research. If you are lucky you either live in a community where you have multiple choices, or the local teacher is a good fit. But do not hesitate to travel reasonable distances to find a good teacher, rather than settling for someone who doesn't work for you.S

Saturday, September 10, 2016

It's OK To Be Average

At any milonga there are always a few dancers that catch everyone's attention. Their dancing is superb; their lead and follow is effortless; their musicality is outstanding.

 And then there is everyone else. They are the dancers whose style is not particularly noteworthy, whose lead and follow is adequate, and whose musicality at least shows that they are listening to the music.

 It is not necessary to be the best. It is not even necessary to be the best you can be. It is OK to be average. Most people are. I would much rather dance with an average dancer who is seriously into sharing the experience than a superb dancer who is seriously into his own dancing.

 It is OK to love Argentine Tango without being fanatic about it. Passion is intoxicating, it is true - and Argentine Tango can certainly inspire intense passion. But it is also Ok to merely enjoy Tango. It is OK to dance Tango without spending all your excess hours and dollars on Tango classes and lessons. It is OK to relax, be yourself, and enjoy interpreting the music in the arms of a congenial partner, without feeling inadequate because you are not one of the best dancers on the floor.

 A very wise Tango dancer once said "Competitive Tango makes as much sense as competitive kissing". Striving to be the best at Tango is kind of like striving to be the best at sex - or meditation. There is always more to learn, but if you allow what you do not know or cannot do to spoil the pleasure of the moment, you have missed the point.

 Once you have learned the basics of floor-craft, and how to lead and follow comfortably, you have all you need. Two average dancers can love the dance together just as well as the best dancers on the floor.

 So dance your own Tango, based upon your own desire, ability, and resources. It is your Tango. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Tango Menace

The Tango Menace is familiar to all who have spent much time dancing Tango. This is the person who constantly bumps into other dancers, or who uses more than his share of the floor - who causes confusion and sometimes injury. Usually he is the leader, since the leader has most control over the shape of the dance.

 Learning to handle The Tango Menace is a necessary skill for any tango community. But there are different types of menace, and they require different handling. Here are some of the most common.

 The Beginner Menace

It  is just a fact - new dancers on a crowded dance floor are a menace. They do not yet have the skills necessary to navigate a crowded dance floor, and are concentrating so hard on what they have recently learned that they really can't pay attention to where they are going.

 The solution: Give them plenty of space. The good news is that beginners tend to be fairly predictable, so you can usually avoid problems by not crowding them too closely. Encourage your beginners to dance at the beginning of a Milonga when the floor is less crowded, and avoid later hours when there are more people on the dance floor. And teachers, introduce the concept of good floor-craft EARLY.

The Ego-Driven Menace

The ego-driven menace is often an excellent dancer. He is frequently a superb performer, and many women love to dance with him. The problem is that on a crowded dance floor there is no room for individual ego.

The focus on a crowded dance floor should be on becoming one with the room - dancing with every other couple on the floor. This concept is foreign to the ego-driven menace.

The ego-driven menace seldom collides with other dancers. He is too competent for that. But he leaves multiple collisions in the turbulence of his wake, as he uses far more than his share of the floor, and dancers are driven to take unexpected steps in order to give him room.

The solution: An intervention. Have a respected member of the community, preferably the organizer, meet with the offender and explain that his dance style is causing problems for other leaders. This has to be very direct. A general announcement to the community will have no effect, since the ego-driven menace will never believe you could be talking about HIM.

Chances are, even if an intervention is handled reasonably tactfully, the ego-driven menace will get insulted and find another place to dance. Problem solved.

Very rarely, the ego-driven menace is the local dance teacher or organizer. You might still try an intervention, but it is unlikely to be successful. If you have the option, dance elsewhere. Otherwise, do your best to avoid this menace, and be hyper-alert when he is on the floor.

 The Clueless Menace

 This leader has studied Tango for years, danced in numerous places, and runs into people wherever he goes. He cannot help it. He has no spacial awareness, is lacking in coordination, and has little ability to improvise on the fly. And it is unlikely he will ever be able to change.

Solution: Stay out of his way. There is nothing else you can do but give him plenty of room. There is no point in trying to correct him; it won't work.

 The Weaponized Menace

 This is the follower with 3 inch stilettos, who loves off-the floor embellishments and high boleos. She is especially dangerous when combined with an ego-driven leader. 

Solution: As with the ego-driven menace, an intervention is the only solution. Explain that on a crowded dance floor, heels must remain on the ground, even if the leader is trying to fling them around in the air. A follower is responsible for her own weapons. She is well within her rights to refuse a gancho or to keep all boleos small and on the floor when dancing on on a tight floor.

 It is often up to the organizer and the experienced dancers to set the tone of the milonga. If the best dancers are dancing conservatively and thoughtfully when the floor gets crowded, the example they set will encourage others to do likewise.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tango - It's Not Hard

Argentine Tango is not a hard dance to learn. You can learn enough about Tango to start dancing after an hour - and you will still be learning 50 years later.

They say "If you can walk, you can Tango". And it is true. It may take a bit of time to get accustomed to walking while embracing a partner, but after that, you are good to go.

A beginner's Tango should be a simple Tango. Listen to the music. Let it soak into your heart and bones, then move to it. Walk to the music, slowing down or pausing when the music pauses, speeding up when the rhythmic tempo is faster.

That is it. It you can do that, you are dancing Tango.

As you learn more, you can add pivots, turns, elegant variations on the walk, dramatic figures. But it still all comes down to what you learn at the very beginning - Embrace your partner. Feel the music. Move to the music with your partner.

See? Simple.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Amateur Tango Teacher - Blessing or Curse?

There was a time, back in Tango's Golden Age, when there were no professional Tango teachers. You learned Tango from your father, your uncle, your brother, from watching your parents and their friends dance.

 With the renaissance of Tango in the late '80s and early 90's, there also grew a class of professional Tango teachers. Some were stage tango dancers who supplemented their income by teaching Tango. Some were traditional dancers who found they could make money teaching people (mostly tourists) to dance Tango. Some had a strong background teaching other forms of dance; some had never taught anything in their lives.

 The difference between professional and amateur Tango teachers is quite simple: Professional teachers get paid. Getting paid does not automatically make you a good teacher. I have known a number of amateur Tango teachers who are better teachers than some of the paid professionals. But generally, when we talk about amateurs teaching any skill, there is an implication that amateurs are less knowledgeable and less capable than people who teach for a living. And certainly there is some truth to this. If you charge for teaching a skill or an art, you had better be good enough to give value for the money. If you cannot give value, very soon you will find you do not have students.

 So what about amateur Tango teachers? Should they be discouraged?


 What, even if they are not good dancers or teachers?


 The most important thing a teacher can convey to a new Tango dancer is an appreciation of the dance, a love of the music,and a desire to know more. This can be shared by the newest beginner as well as by the most experienced teacher.

 So what, then, is the problem with amateur teachers? The main problem is that they have a tendency to confuse or overwhelm the new dancer - especially new leaders. This is the number one cause of new Tango dancers giving up too soon. Experienced teachers know how to avoid this problem by properly pacing classes or lessons.

Amateur teachers can also misconvey information that they have misunderstood from classes or videos, leading to the sharing of bad habits. I remember many times when a new dancer showed up at a milonga, saying "I have been learning Tango with so-and-so amateur teacher" and a part of me shudders. But the larger part of me recognizes that the amateur teacher taught his student enough that he felt comfortable enough to show up at the milonga and dance. Bad habits can be fixed. And an enthusiastic Tango dancer is usually happy to extend his or her knowledge.

 I think on balance, the enthusiasm advantage outweighs the disadvantages. Ideally, someone who wants to learn Tango should find an experienced teacher, whether professional or amateur; someone who is good at conveying the necessary knowledge, and whose students are a pleasure to dance with. But one can also learn from every partner, and at a practica one can learn from other dancers.

 So, professionals, do not discourage or denigrate your amateur teachers. They are a powerful force for growing a community.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Milonga is NOT a Fast Tango.

No, Milonga is NOT a Fast Tango.

 It is true that most milongas average faster than most Tangos. It is also true that we can use some similar step combinations in both dances. But Tango and Milonga are not variations of the same dance - they are different dances, with different music, and they are danced with different techniques. 

The first difference is in posture and connection - milonga is danced closer, and somewhat tighter. While we do not crush our partner to our chest, there is a less flexible connection in milonga,which is necessary to convey the lead of the faster steps and rhythm changes. Often the man places his hand lower on the woman's back to better transmit the rapid weight changes. Another way to say it is that in Tango the emphasis is on conversation - in Milonga the emphasis is on unification because there is no time for conversation.

 The second difference - in milonga we dance ON the beat. In Tango we dance THROUGH the beats. We use a different technique when stepping on rather than through the beat. In Milonga, we go to the foot. In Tango we travel across the foot. Milonga thus has a much more staccato look to it. In tango the foot glides across the floor in an extension. In milonga we dance much more from foot to foot. In Tango we smoothly pass the axis to the front of our foot - in milonga the axis goes more from split weight to split weight.

 The third difference - Milonga is a 2 beat dance, while Tango is a 4 beat dance. In Tango our basic rhythm steps on every other beat. In milonga we step on every beat. We will frequently put two steps on one beat in milonga - 1&2, step-step-step, but almost never one step on two beats - 1-3, step and step. Thus steps that require 2 beats to perform - ochos for example, which use one beat for the step and one for the pivot -.are not milonga steps, unless you do them without the pivot, and step on every beat.

 So in milonga we generally step on every beat. This creates a somewhat different model for the follower:
- In Tango, the follower assumes she will not step without some sign from the leader that she is to step.
 - In Milonga, the follower assumes she is going to step on the beat -every beat - unless the leader specifically indicates that she is not to step.

 Finally, in Milonga there is a more dramatic use of the upper body. The contra body, the strut of the shoulders, are not only part of the milonga style, but also part of the lead, giving the follower cues as to where the leader wishes her to step. If you want to dance to milonga music, take a good milonga class.and expect to take as much time learning to dance milonga as you would take to learn any other new dance.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Difference Between Ballroom Tango and Argentine Tango

You can tell from their first words whether someone dances Argentine Tango or Ballroom Tango. Argentine Tango dancers will tell you they dance "Tango", in the same way Salsa dancers will tell you they dance "Salsa". Ballroom dancers will tell you they do "THE Tango", in the same way they will tell you they do "THE Foxtrot" or "THE Waltz".

 This semantic difference is very significant, because unlike Ballroom Tango, which has a set list of basic steps that pretty much everyone learns, and very specific standards for how to do them, Argentine Tango has no "basic steps" and no set standards. There are many different styles, many different ways to express the music, and all of them are Tango.

 In Argentine Tango there is no one true way. Heel leads? Sure! Ball leads? Fine! Big, sweeping steps? Lovely! Small rhythmic steps? Of course! Hands held at eye level or shoulder level, or overhead? All good. Bent knees, straight knees, upright posture or stick your butt out, head upright or inclined forward, all have their aficionados.

 We each dance our own Tango. The only truly universal principles are - connect to your partner, and connect to the music.

 There is no One True Way in Argentine Tango.

 And so we do not say "The Tango". We simply say "Tango".

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How to Nurture a Tango Community

As someone who has been running a successful weekly milonga for 20 years, I have some firm ideas on this subject.

The first step is to establish a weekly milonga.  You must commit to being there every single week, week after week. If for some reason you cannot be there, line up a substitute. It is permissible to close on major holidays, or to take the summer off, if you let people know way in advance.

You need a knowledgeable DJ, someone who knows how to assemble a tanda, who has a wide selection of music, who can "read" the dancers, and who is capable of adjusting a playlist on the fly. If you plan to DJ yourself, take the time to learn your music, put together workable Tandas, and be willing to listen to feedback from longtime dancers

 Establish a welcoming atmosphere. When someone walks into your milonga, they should be made to feel like an honored guest, whether it is their first visit or their hundredth. They should be greeted at the door by name, or asked their name so they can be greeted. And remember that people come to a milonga to dance. I invite a few people every week to come for free, whose specific job is to make people feel welcome, and to make sure everyone dances at least one tanda. I also encourage my regulars to dance a tanda every night with someone new.

 Include a beginner lesson before your milonga. Encourage experienced dancers to join in.

Regular classes by a good teacher are an absolute necessity if a community is to grow. If your community has good teachers, support them. If not, try to bring in guest teachers from a neighboring community on a regular basis.

 Avoid drama (This is not always possible, since there are always people who enjoy drama). But don't feed it. Don't gossip about the dancers, don't say anything not nice about other promoters, be positive and upbeat about everyone in your community.  When it comes to the larger Tango community, use a cooperative model rather than a competitive one. Encourage dancers to support all Tango opportunities in your community. Do your best to avoid scheduling conflicts, so that people are not forced to choose between events. Reach out to other promoters to work together to avoid conflicts, and to let them know when you are adding something special. Invite other teachers to attend your events at no charge.

 Make sure you have a social media presence, and nurture it weekly. Post your events, but also post all other Tango classes, milongas, and practicas.

 Every now and then, plan a  "Tango Family" activity - a road trip to another city, a cookout, or a night out without tango. Keep track of birthdays and mark  them - a shoutout on facebook, or Birthday Dance at the milonga.

Growing a Tango community is a frequently thankless job requiring time, passion, and committment. But if successful, the rewards are worth it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Different Accents of Tango

Tango is a folk dance, or, as I like to call it, a "barroom" dance. As such, it lacks the rigid rules that apply to Ballroom dances. There is no one true frame, no one true posture, no one true way to do a "step".  And because of this, new Tango dancers frequently find themselves,when dancing at an unfamiliar milonga, in the uncomfortable position of finding that much of what they were taught is "wrong" - at least in the context of that milonga.

This can be unsettling, at the least. When a woman who has been taught to wait for the lead to the cross finds herself dancing for the first time with a man who expects an automatic cross, the results can be confusing. When a woman who has learned strictly milonguero style dances for the first time with a partner who frequently opens the embrace, she feels abandoned. And her partner may feel smothered.

 Every Tango community has a unique accent. Every Tango dancer has their own accent as well. The reason we dance tandas is that it often takes at least 3 songs to learn your partner's accent, to adapt your own dancing to that accent, and finally, to blissfully enjoy the dance for a song or two.

 Whenever I go to a new community, I try if possible to take an introductory class or two with the local teacher. I find that to be the quickest way to learn the local accent. And I usually learn something. A good teacher will generally explain, if asked, why they teach one way and not another (it may be as simple as personal preference). This is a great way to expand your own Tango horizons - as long as you do not waste it by complaining that your own teacher does it differently.

 Experienced dancers know not to judge. They know that differences in style do not necessarily reflect lack of competence. We all have our preferences, and that is OK. But if your preferences are solely due to unwillingness to be open to different accents, you miss out on one of the best parts of Tango - the joy of creating a new dance with each new partner.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Who Says Ballroom Dancers Can't Dance Tango?

I have often found that there is a scorn for Ballroom dancers among teachers of Argentine Tango. This manifests itself in numerous ways.

I disagree, and would like to address some of the more ridiculous statements.

- "Ballroom dancers can't understand Tango".
No one can understand Tango until they learn it. Even the most advanced Ballroom dancers are beginners when they start to learn Tango. Why in the world would you hold Ballroom dancers to a different standard than everyone else?

- "Ballroom dancers can't learn Tango"
This is just flat-out absurd. Yes, Ballroom dancers have to learn a lot of new concepts. Ballroom is a lot more structured than Tango. There is less room for improvisation. But anyone who has danced with a really good Ballroom dancer knows that it is not choreographed, and can be very creative. Once Ballroom dancers get past the idea that there is a step pattern for everything, and master the concept of an embrace rather than a frame, they usually do quite well.  They ARE dancers, after all.

- "Ballroom Teachers can't teach Tango"
Obviously, you cannot teach what you do not know.  But dance teachers can teach both, if they know both.

The problem is when a Ballroom teacher decides to teach Tango as another ballroom dance, teaching a set series of steps. Tango does not work that way. I do not understand why a Ballroom teacher who spent years mastering their craft would assume that a few workshops and youtube videos would qualify them to teach Tango. If a Ballroom teacher wishes to teach Tango s/he must put in at least the same hours of study that they put in to learn Ballroom, and must approach the process with the mindset of a total beginner. If they do so, it is quite possible for a teacher to be competent in both disciplines.

- "I have never been able to teach Ballroom dancers to dance Tango"

This is a common complaint among Tango teachers who have no Ballroom background. If you do not understand how the dances differ, it is hard to explain it to your students. I firmly believe that every Tango teacher should spend enough time learning Ballroom to be able to understand the differences.

- "I don't want to - like to - teach Ballroom Dancers"
This is just dumb. Here you have a huge community of people who ALREADY enjoy partner dancing, already understand the basic concept of partnership connection and musicality, and you do not want to teach them??? Yes, teaching Ballroom dancers can be a challenge. It is always harder to change habits than to make them in the first place, and Ballroom dancers arrive with a whole slew of habits that, while quite proper for Ballroom, do not work for Tango. But they also arrive with a whole slew of skills that, with proper guidance, can be effectively used in Tango.

Ballroom dancers and Tango dancers differ in a lot of ways, but they share one thing, and it is the most important thing - They love to dance. And for that alone we should welcome them.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Why We Should Dance With Beginners - It's Not What You Think.

We all know that encouraging beginners is necessary to grow a Tango community. A Tango community that is not constantly growing eventually dies. And the best way to encourage beginners is to make sure the experience is rewarding - by dancing with them.

 Beginners need to dance with good dancers in order to get better. Beginner leaders need to dance with followers who actually DO what they lead, so they know when they are leading correctly. And beginner followers need to learn how to follow - best done by following a competent lead.

 But there is another reason advanced dancers should dance with beginners - - to improve their own dancing. Think about it. What better way to improve your lead than to dance with someone who only follows the clearest of leads? What better way to improve balance than to dance with someone who not only does not compensate for balance errors, but has their own balance issues? And what better way to increase your improvisational ability than to constantly deal with the unexpected?

 Dancing with a beginner lets you practice making the simplest moves interesting. It gives you the chance to find opportunities for musical interpretation in unexpected places. Leaders get the opportunity to practice adapting a follower's misstep into a lovely expression of musicality. Followers can take the opportunity to adorn the long pauses while a new leader is deciding where to go next. 

There is also the occasional emotional vacation you get when dancing with a partner who assumes you never make mistakes. You can just relax, and enjoy the music, knowing that no one expects you to do an amazing Tango with a beginner.

 So the next time you are at a Milonga, take the time to dance with a beginner or two. It is good for them. It is good for you. And if you get out of the mindset that it is some kind of sacrifice, you may even find you enjoy it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

What is Real Tango Music?

Tango is a style of music, based on a specific rhythm known as the Habanera rhythm - "duuum da-dum dum" or "dum-dum da-dum dum", often simplified to just "One - THREE Four". These rhythms are primarily what makes a tango, just like the syncopated "1 & A 2" is what defines a swing rhythm. It is generally found, not in the melody, but in the bass line.

 The Tango rhythm is found in many songs that we do not often think of as Tango - Tom Waits' "Little Drop of Poison" is a good example. So is "In the Deathcar" by Goran Bregovic with Iggy Pop, or "Dance with Me" by Deborah Morgan (which is actually based upon a famous tango). And "The Phantom of the Opera". If a song has that specific rhythm, then it is a Tango. And you can dance Tango to it.

 But these are not Argentine Tangos. Argentine Tangos are not just songs which contain the tango rhythm - they are songs performed by, or in the style of, the great Tango orchestras of Argentina.

 Can you dance Argentine Tango to other forms of tango? Of course. And it can be a lot of fun. But the dance grew and developed around the specific music, and for me at least, is most naturally satisfying when danced to that music.

 Can you dance Argentine Tango to completely nonTango music? Again, of course. You can dance Tango to just about any 4/4 music of the right tempo. I have a few favorite songs I will happily dance Argentine Tango to that are not tangos at all - "Turn of the Card" by Sting, "Dance Me To The End of Love" by Leonard Cohen, "My Immortal" by Evanescence, for example. But these are not Alternative Tangos because they are not Tangos at all, just songs you can dance Tango to.

 Some of the so-called Neo Tango is not real Tango either - it is Disco. But if you like it, you can Tango to it.

 There are also some lovely waltzes that work well - "Vals de Amalie", "Hallelujah" by Rufus Wainright", "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri. Alternative valses are actually easier to find - anything in a fast enough waltz tempo will work.

 You CAN dance Tango to these songs. But should you?

 I think you should dance whatever you enjoy dancing, to whatever music you enjoy dancing it to. You can dance Lindy Hop to Rock and Roll, or Swing to Cha Cha. And you can dance Argentine Tango to any type of music you want. My husband and I will throw in an occasional Tango at a Swing Dance. But that is in the nature of a one night stand. The true, long-lasting relationship with Tango is found in the wedding between the beautiful music of Argentina and the wonderful dance that grew out of it and with it.

 When I DJ I will usually include one set of Alternative Tangos - actual tangos which are not Argentine in origin. They may be Turkish, or Klezmer, or Russian, or Finnish, or American, or French, or Australian. Sometimes, depending on my mood and audience, I may include a tanda of alternative nontango music that you can dance Tango to. Make no mistake, these are not real Argentine Tangos. They are a different type of Tango experience. And that 's OK.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Can We Please Stop Talking About "Advanced" Dancers?

We have all had this familiar experience: We go to a workshop or a festival, and there are classes listed "For Advanced Dancers Only".

Then there is usually a codicil - often in parentheses (for dancers with 3 - or 4 - or 5 - years experience).

And the class usually consists of a complex choreography, with fancy footwork, that no one would ever use anywhere except on the stage.

The problem with talking about "advanced" dancers is that there is no one standard for the definition of "advanced" , so the phrase is really meaningless. Someone who has danced more than 5 years? I don't know about you, but I know a LOT of longtime dancers who dance 
Iike crap. Someone who can execute the perfect planeo or colgada? I know a lot of superb dancers who do not use either figure. 

I personally do not care if a dancer is "advanced", if the experience of dancing with him is one of unadulterated bliss. I have had that experience with dancers who have been dancing less than one year, as well as with dancers who have been dancing over 40 years. I have also had dances with local "tango gods" that were nothing short of disastrous - all over the floor, running into other couples, insisting on leading inappropriate steps. Yet they considered themselves "advanced".

The problem with talking about "advanced" dancers is that we start to put benchmarks around Tango. To get past "Beginner" you need to know these figures. As an  "Intermediate" dancer you should know these figures. And an "Advanced" dancer should know these. Rather than focusing on cherishing our partner, and dancing to the music, we focus on what our feet are doing. Now, I admit that a knowledge of where the feet can go is part of learning to Tango. But when we start labeling dancers based upon how many "steps" they know, we are putting Tango into a very limiting box.

I would prefer to see such labels as "For dancers who are comfortable with most partners", or "For dancers who can relax and enjoy themselves at a milonga". Or at the other extreme "For Dancers who need practice at navigation", or "For Dancers who want to improve their connection". That is assuming we need labels at all. Most of my classes are a mix of dancers, with different skill sets and areas of competence,  the classes focus more on "how" we dance,  and "why" we do things in a certain way than on "what" we are doing. The "what" is only one of the tools we use to explore the "how" and "why".

By dropping the labels we can focus on what is really important - "Why do people enjoy dancing with certain partners?" And "How can I become a more enjoyable person to dance with?"

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Myths of the Tango Walk

I remember going to a workshop some years ago and being told, "In Argentina they used to make you walk for 6 months before they let you do anything else."


And when I was a child I had to walk 6 miles to school in the snow.


Both ways.

I have danced Tango for 30 years, all over the world, with dancers who started dancing Tango as long ago as the 1940's. Not one of them ever spent 6 months "just walking" - if by "just walking" you mean pacing around the floor by yourself, in eternal search of "the perfect walk".
But Tango is a walking dance. So let's explore some of the myths of "The Tango Walk".

Myth One: "There is one Ideal Tango Walk. And we all aspire to it"

There are many different ways to walk in Tango, and none of them are the "One True Way". Here is a suggestion: google "great Argentine Tango". Watch how the couples dance. You will notice that the walking styles look very different. They use their feet and knees differently. Some walk heel-toe, while others appear to walk toe-heel. Some lean forward, or stick their chests out. Some stand straight over their feet.  Chances are you will like some more than others. That's OK. Tango leaves lots of room for personal style.

The best dancers have many different tango walks. A good dancer will modify his or her walk to fit each new partner, to fit the music, to suit the quality of the dance floor or the quality of the other dancers on the dance floor. You do not dance the same on a concrete surface as on a smooth wooden floor. You dance differently on a crowded floor than on an open floor. Even the shoes you wear can slightly change your walk.

Myth Two: "You can learn the Tango walk by yourself"

You can practice such things as finding your axis and balance, transferring your weight, forward and backward swivels, and so on by yourself. But it truly takes two to Tango, and you cannot really learn the so-called Tango Walk without doing it with a partner. Balance changes when you have to take into account the balance of your partner. Swivels feel different when done with a partner. The axis of a partnership is not exactly the same as your individual axis. Your walk does not really become a Tango  Walk until you can do it with a partner.

Myth Three: "You need to learn how to walk before you learn anything else"

OK, there is some truth here. But not the way we often think of it. Walking in Tango involves far more than just mechanically schlepping around the floor putting one foot in front of  (or behind) the other. Tango is all  about walking. Everything we do in Tango involves walking. We learn to walk to the heartbeat of the music. We learn to speed it up or slow it down. We learn to change directions. We learn to incorporate rock steps,swivels, and turns. But this is ALL walking. Everything we do in tango involves learning to walk, improving our walk, finding different ways to walk. In Tango we never stop learning to walk.

 Myth Four: "All a leader (or follower) needs to be an enjoyable partner is a good walk"

Again, yes and no. Certainly without a balanced, comfortable walk you will never be a truly enjoyable partner. But if all you know how to do is put one foot in front of the other you will NOT be an enjoyable partner, no matter how elegantly you do it.

You need a whole lot more to be a good tango dancer - things you should be learning from the very beginning. You need to be able to dance to the music, which involves listening to and understanding the music, and interpreting it with rhythm changes and pauses. You need to be able to maneuver in traffic, which involves learning how to dance in place. A"good walk" must include all these things. As a leader, you must not only be able to do these things; you must be able to lead them. And as a folllower, you need to be able to do all these things as your leader leads them.

 What you don't need is a whole lot of fancy, impressive figures. Those can be learned later, if you like. But most, while fun, are unnecessary, and indeed, are impossible to execute safely on a crowded dance floor.

A good Tango Walk is balanced, relaxed, comfortable to the partner, and done to the music. Everything else is personal style. Yes, a good walk is important. But it is less important for how it looks, than for how it nurtures the partnership connection. Because that connection is the one truly indispensable aspect of Argentine Tango.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Argentine Tango and West Coast Swing are Natural Soulmates

Whenever I travel to different cities, the first thing I do is check out the dance scenes. I look first for Argentine Tango, of course. But if there are no milongas or practicas on a given night, I check out opportunities for my next-favorite dance - West Coast Swing. And quite frequently I see the same faces dancing West Coast Swing, that I saw the previous night at a milonga. There is something about these two dances that often attract the aame people.

On the surface, West Coast Swing and Argentine Tango could not be more different. West Coast Swing is primarily danced in open position. Tango, of course, is danced in an embrace. West Coast Swing is full of underarm turns and spins. Tango - not. West Coast Swing is danced to Blues - the archetypically American music. Tango music is just as archetypically Argentine, with very few obvious similarities.

And yet, these two very different dances often attract an overlapping crowd. And when you think about it, it is not hard to understand why.

Both are Barroom dances, rather than Ballroom dances. Neither has the strictly codified styles, and the set patterns of the Ballroom dances. Both allow a great deal of individuality.

Both encourage, nay, require, improvisation. And both allow the follower to take an active role in the shaping of the dance, through decorations and added footwork.

Musical interpretation is fluid. Both dances encourage the dancers to play with the tempo, the syncopations, the pauses, in their own way and based upon their own feeling of the music.

And the music - ah, the music! Both Argentine Tango and American Blues reach out and grab the emotions - all the emotions! From pathos to playfulness, to sexy seduction.

Some years ago, as this natural pairing became more recognized, people started throwing Tango moves into their West Coast Swing and calling it Swango. Talk about the best of both worlds!

So if you are a West Coast Swing dancer, looking for new frontiers, consider exploring Argentine Tango. And if you are a lover of Tango, consider exploring what West Coast Swing has to offer. You can never have too much dancing, after all.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

It Isn't Always the Leader's Fault

How many times have I heard it?

 "He arm-leads".
 "He muscles his followers".
"He overleads".

 So I want to talk about one of the main causes of overleading:

The Follower.

 There are 3 major ways that followers cause the leader to overlead:

1: The Passive Follower
 Followers, I know you have heard over and over again, "Wait for the Lead". That is excellent advice. BUT that does not mean "Make him tow you around like a broken-down car". Drive yourself. As soon as you feel where he wants you to go, GO THERE. You may be wrong. Risk it. Trust your instincts. They tend to get there faster than your brain. The more experienced you are, the less likely you are to be wrong.
When you are walking backwards, you do NOT need to wait for the lead for each step.  As long as he is not stopping, he IS leading. Just keep walking, while listening for a lead to tell you to do something else. Likewise, gyros need your own energy in order to work. Let him guide you. Do not make him push you. The lead is not a tow chain - it is a turn signal and a break light.

2: The Floppy Follower
 This applies mostly to open embrace, and isn't as big a problem in a connection where the lead comes straight to your core and not so much through the arms. If you are getting the lead through your arms, then you must maintain the integrity of your dance "frame". If you let the shape collapse, his arm will follow it, looking for connection.

3: The Unbalanced Follower
If you are not on your axis, the leader literally has to support you. This means he has to work much harder to lead almost everything. Balance exercises are, in my opinion, the absolute MOST important exercises the follower can do on her own.

First step - try to find a relaxed, natural stance. Stand up straight. Lift your head. Relax your back. Pull your hips lightly back so they are over your feet.

Do not artificially collect your feet. The position with your weight on the ball of the foot, legs glued together, is about the most difficult position there is in which to balance. We are dancing Tango, not Ballet. So let your feet collect naturally in the course of the dance, and try to spend more time with the legs apart and the heels touching the ground.

Second - learn to find your axis. Your axis is the line that passes from the top of your head through your center of gravity, straight to the floor. It can be on one or both feet. If it is on one foot, it will pass straight through the point where that foot connects with the floor. When we walk, we pass it from foot to foot. When we pivot it must be through one foot only.

Third - ground yourself. Let your standing knee be soft - not super bent, but not straight. Let them act as shock absorbers as you take your steps, bending and straightening in a natural way. Dance with your whole foot, pushing through it, using the floor for your energy. If you start to lose balance, soften the knees a bit more and find the center of your foot.

Fourth - Get off your toes. Walking on your toes is the most unbalanced way there is to walk. And tango is all about walking.

To sum up: Do not blame your leader for over leading unless you know you are not contributing to the problem. While a good leader can neutralize some of these problems, there is only so much he can do.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Use of Cabeceo In America

Mirada - the meeting of the eyes - and the cabeceo - the nod of the head - traditionally, this is how you choose your partner in Tango.

"But this is America!", we hear. "In America we just ask someone to dance. And women don't passively sit around and wait for the man to ask."

Mirada and cabeceo actually give the woman at least as much power in choosing a partner as the man. The woman initiates a mirada from her side - scanning the room to find someone she wants to dance with, meeting his eyes with a steady gaze and a small half-smile. If she does not want to dance with him her eyes bypass him and move on to a more desirable partner. If she meets his eyes, he nods, or tilts his his head toward the dance floor - the cabeceo. She can answer with her own cabeceo - a smile and nod. They have agreed to dance.

This is far from passive on the woman's part. In fact, American women often have to overcome their initial reluctance to be willing to boldly meet a man's eyes.

So how can mirada-cabeceo fit into a typical American milonga? I believe we can make use of the basic principles without necessarily being rigid about it. (Footnote: My preference is for the traditional mirada- cabeco, but I recognize that a lot of communities do not use it, and a lot of Americans do not like it)

I am specifically addressing American milongas. The rules in Argentina are much more specific. Part of the difference is that, traditionally in Buenos Aires, single men and women sit separately, and do not mingle except on the dance floor.

Men - if a woman is talking to someone, or looking down at her cell phone, or sitting rubbing her feet or holding a drink, and not looking expectantly around the room, she probably does not want to dance. So don't ask. That does not have to be the end of it. If you know her, you might say "hi" and add "save me a dance?". To which she can reply " How about this (or the next) tanda?", or the less encouraging "Maybe later". If the latter, don't ask again without some more positive indication that she is ready to dance with you.

The flip side of this for women - If you do want to dance, make it obvious. Look around the room. Sit or stand in an accessible location. Put away the phone.

Most venues in America are OK with women asking men to dance, but women should observe the spirit, at least, of mirada-cabeceo. Make eye contact. If the man ignores you, and won't meet your eyes, is looking down at his cell phone, don't ask him to dance. If he meets your eyes, YOU can make use of the cabeceo - smile, and nod toward the dance floor. Or if you know him, you can yourself say "Save me a dance?"

When you go to a new milonga, observe the customs. If it is clear that a verbal invitation is the norm, go ahead and ask. But make eye contact first if possible. Courtesy dictates that you do not force yourself on someone who does not want to dance with you. Courtesy dictates that you accept a refusal graciously. Mirada- cabeceo represents the most courteous way to accomplish this.

Friday, April 22, 2016

You Don't Learn To Dance In Class

I had just finished teaching a drop-in beginner class to a group of 14 students. The music for the milonga was playing, and  one couple from the class started to change their shoes. I encouraged them to stay a bit and dance. One of them replied "We want to get good first".

This reflects a major fallacy among a lot of tango students - that they can learn to dance in a class.

You cannot learn to dance in a class. Classes give you tools for dancing - tools that you can then use to learn to actually dance. But classes do not teach you to dance. Neither, in spite of what many dance teachers tell you, do private lessons.

You learn to dance by getting out on the dance floor and putting to use all those tools and concepts you have been learning in classes and private lessons. Until you do that, you have not begun to learn to dance.

This is even more true for Tango than for most partner dances, given the improvisational nature of the dance. Almost anyone can learn choreography in a class. But improvisation can only be learned on the dance floor.

Beginners who start dancing socially from day one become good dancers much more quickly than those who wait. Don't be afraid of developing bad habits. Bad habits can be corrected.  And don't be afraid of what other people think. The ones who matter will respect your determination to learn.

So get out on the floor and dance - it really is the only way to learn.

A brief note to experienced members of a tango community. Encourage your beginners! A tango community that does not grow eventually dies.

Rules For a Crowded Dance Floor

Dancing Tango on a crowded dance floor can be a sublime experience of  communal bliss - or a nightmare of bumps, kicks, and confusion. To promote the former and avoid the latter, here are some rules for a crowded dance floor.


1. When you enter the dance floor, wait for a break in the flow of traffic. Make eye contact with the approaching leader so you know he sees you. Merge into the flow of the dance like a driver mergimg onto the highway - smoothly, with no sudden stops.

2: Travel counterclockwise, in the line of dance. Avoid stepping backwards.

3. Be aware of the flow of traffic. On a crowded dance floor dancers travel as a group, starting and stopping together. Maintain a consistent distance between you and the couple ahead of you,

4. A crowded dance floor will have multiple lanes of dancers - an outer lane, one or two middle lanes, and an inner lane. Stay in your lane. The more crowded the dance floor is, the less you should consider passing or changing lanes.

5. Keep your dancing small and simple. Enjoy the music and the connection, and save the fancy steps for a less crowded venue.


1. Be aware of your surroundings. Do not dance with your eyes closed unless you know your leader can be totally trusted to follow the above rules, and the overall level of dancing is high. Do not step into another couple just because your leader leads it. This is your dance too.

2. Keep your feet on the floor, and your heels down.  Those stilettos are a pair of weapons attached to your shoes. Polite people do not aim weapons at others.

EVERYONE: a crowded dance floor is not a good place to show off your fancy moves. So don't. Keep it small, keep it simple, be polite to the other people on the floor, and you will come to appreciate the trancendental experience of immersing yourself in the dance.