Tag Archives: Learning

Sweating and Tango; Something is Wrong

After reading an excellent post on My Tango Diaries about odors and sweating, we were inspired to write about sweating from a different perspective.

Unfortunately, we cannot remember where we heard or read this:  Argentine Tango is one of the most efficient dances that exists.  We tried googling it to no avail.  Regardless, we agree with this (possibly imagined) statement completely.

In our pre-Buenos Aires times, we were quite the profuse sweat-ers.  Jorge insists that K doesn’t really sweat at all, but that’s only in comparison to him.  Don’t do it – don’t believe that sweating is only reserved for larger-bodied individuals.  When Jorge el Flaco sweats, he drips it and it doesn’t take much for him to do so.  For this reason, it never seemed strange that we used to start sweating after only the first song of a tanda.  We had heard the “efficiency” comment, but we didn’t know how that made any sense.  That was until we began learning (from our maestro) in Buenos Aires.

Our pre-Buenos Aires Tango was a muscular affair.  Our backs were tense, our legs and butts were flexed, and most of all, our arms were tight and ready for all the leading that was supposed to happen through them.  When we finally learned to relax our bodies, activate our core and arms rather than flexing them, and in other words: to lead/follow properly, we finally stopped sweating.  That combined with relaxing the legs and making room between them, putting our weight in, and thus our hips over, our heels instead of the often taught idea of having your weight on the balls of your feet (weight in the balls of your feet = flexed toes and legs), and using our bodies to lead/follow rather than arms, resulted in our understanding of Tango being the most efficient dance.

If you are sweating easily and feeling tired after a couple of dances in a cool room, you are without a doubt using your body incorrectly in Tango.  Clearly, other circumstances can create sweaty situations and a bit of moisture is only understandable.  Pay attention to your body and attempt to feel what your muscles are doing – from the tips of your toes (ladies, are your toes gripping the floor?) to the top of your head (is your neck stiff and your head stuck in one position?).  Tango is all about the embrace.  You cannot possibly enjoy a beautiful embrace if you are flexing muscles and have tension throughout your body.

As as aside… whether or not you sweat, remember to be showered and wear deodorant EVERY TIME you go out to Tango.

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An AGE Old Question

We agree with the idea that one should learn Tango from the people who danced it long ago and who have danced it for years and years (i.e., Milongueros).  However, what do you do when it’s extremely difficult to find these Milongueros and to find Milongueros who teach?  Being able to dance does not mean you are a good teacher.  What do you do when each Milonguero has his own idea of what is “right” in Tango?  For example: toe first vs. heel first for the man or arm around the neck vs. wherever is comfortable for the woman.  What do you do when some of these Milongueros actually don’t feel all that great to dance with?  That’s right, not every Milonguero feels incredible.

These were our dilemmas until we found a teacher who was able to change our overall dance with every lesson while most teachers were only changing “things” within our dance.   This teacher is not a milonguero, although he plans to be one.  He is young, but has offered us and our dancing more than anyone we’ve come across in Buenos Aires.

Another factor that helped us with this AGE old question is that we don’t want to dance or look like the old Milongueros.  Well yes, we do want to dance together as harmoniously and musically as some of these Milonguero couples do and yes we hope to one day find our Tango the way they have found theirs.  However, that is not our point.  What we’re trying to say is: We’re young!? Jorge can stand straight and doesn’t shuffle when he walks.  K can straighten her legs and walk easily in heels.  How ridiculous to think we should look to the Milongueros as VISUAL  examples.  There is a reason that many Milongueros completely respect some of the younger dancers.  Only a few weeks ago, we saw Alberto Dassieu praising Javier Rodriguez after his performance at Sunderland.  The same Javier Rodriguez that has been criticized for dancing choreography, dancing too big, not knowing how to dance socially, etc, etc, etc.  All things spoken in ignorance.

As young individuals and fairly new Tangueros, we allow our incredibly talented, young teachers to improve our dancing.  It is with time and the experiences of life that Tango will find us.

Everyone says it takes a lifetime to learn Tango.  We don’t believe that.  We believe:

It takes a lifetime to Tango


The Tango Plague

There exists a plague within Tango, found in Tango communities around the world, and perpetuated in blogs and by many tangueros alike.  It feeds on the very notion that Tango, unlike every other dance, is more special, more elusive, and more unique.  Death is slow and painful.

Symptoms of The Tango Plague

Those afflicted with the Tango Plague show signs of confusion.  They begin to believe that they do not need to practice or take lessons.  They believe that the best place to better their craft is on the dance floor of the milonga dancing with the best “Milongueros” (although there are no actual milongueros in their community).  They don’t believe that there are dancers that range from beginner to more advanced even though it is often plain to see which dancers are better and which are worse (one only needs to look at the dancer’s musicality, embrace, posture, and movement).   Finally, the infected are often the first to say, “You never stop learning.”

Treatment

The Tango Plague can be remedied very simply.  First, the infected must realize that like ANY hobby, sport, or interest, one must learn and practice in order to maintain and better oneself.  They must remember some people are good at their chosen interests and exhibit a talent for it, while others struggle to acquire the basics.  The aftermath of this plague leaves us with communities full of dancers who stopped learning after taking one 8-week Tango session; dancers whose dance is infected with little more than bad habits.

We were traumatically reminded of this topic when we went to a neighbourhood matinee Milonga here in Buenos Aires.  The dancers were respectful when navigating the floor and were quite musical.  However, most men shuffled along the floor even though there was space and their bodies were able (EVERY teacher here from the young to the Milonguero has instructed us to take bigger steps when there is the space), and most had embraces that were visibly of the death-grip variety.  K danced with six men, two of which repeated the EXACT SAME PATTERN for FOUR WHOLE SONGS!?  Jorge danced four tandas with three different women, two of which decided the steps for him (if these women danced with the men K danced with, it’s no wonder they anticipated/decided the movement before it was lead).  These women, although appearing to be average dancers, could not maintain their own axis or even follow at the most basic level.  Why?  Because they dance with the men of this milonga who lead by force rather than by invitation and have a non-existent vocabulary of movement.  K would have preferred to walk to the beat for four songs than repeat “Ocho Cortados” the whole time.  That said, we have come to the realization that a large number of men here cannot walk and that the walk is one of the most difficult concepts in Tango.  It is far easier to lead and follow variations of ochos than walk.

We are not suggesting that these Porteños start taking lessons.  Our point is only to open people’s eyes to the MYTH that dancing in the milonga (even and especially the milongas of Buenos Aires) will in itself (or at all) a better dancer make.  Those outside of Argentina with the financial means have no excuse to stop learning and/or practicing.  The whole point of taking classes (learning technique) and practicing in practicas (applying technique) is to SET YOU FREE.  When the embrace, musicality, leading/following, maintaining your axis, and maintaining your posture, are no longer challenges, you are able to experience Tango in the realm of absolute FREEDOM.

Our plea to the Tango Universe: Stop telling people that they don’t need to take classes, that they don’t need to practice outside of the milonga, and that they will learn everything by dancing in a milonga.  Tango is no different from any other dance or skill.  The ability deteriorates without proper use and practice, and updating one’s skill is necessary to maintain even a stagnate level.


Beginner-Intermediate-Advanced

Tango learners seem to have a hard time picking the appropriate classes to attend – especially here in Buenos Aires.  Our egos like to get in the way.  Besides what we think is an obvious fact that students are of different levels (even in this elusive dance), classes are most definitely being taught to different leveled learners.

Learners are often too caught up in wanting to learn new moves that they fail to realize they are not at a level to learn such things.  Here is what we have observed the levels to mean (specifically in Buenos Aires):

Beginner Class: There is a focus on learning to walk, pivot, disassociate, and listen to the music. Very basic sequences are taught.  The pace of the class is very slow, but appropriate for the Beginner Learner.

Beginner Learner: This person is still learning how to walk with and without a partner, how to maintain their own axis, how to follow or lead at a basic level, how to maintain their posture, and dance with the music.  This learner needs movements/steps broken down for them and needs a lot of time to put movements to use.  The Beginner Learner may have just started Tango or (as is often the case) may have been learning for years.

Intermediate Class: There is a focus on more in-depth technique for the walk, pivots, disassociation, and turns.  An intermediate level sequence is taught that incorporates these techniques.  The class moves ahead more quickly than a beginner class and is easily held back by Beginner Learners.  Sequences are shown up to 10 times with the movements broken down only slightly.

Intermediate Learner: This person can apply most of the basic techniques for the walk, pivots, and turns.  This learner still has problems following lightly and leading clearly, and maintaining their axis and posture. Some time is needed to watch the sequence before attempting to replicate it.

Advanced Class: The pace of the class is generally very quick.  Sequences are shown 3-5 times and are not  broken down.  Only trouble spots are dealt with after learners have attempted the movements on their own first.  Sequences are then built upon as learners accomplish each section.   Teachers help with more advanced concepts such as disassociation during enrosques, maximizing posture, and maximizing musical expression.  Intermediate Learners in this class will often have great difficulty replicating the sequence and will slow down the class if they demand attention from the teacher.

Advanced Learners: This leader can replicate a taught sequence after seeing it 3-5 times.  He is able to somewhat clearly lead the follower in this sequence on the first few tries.  This follower does not spend any time trying to learn the sequence, but rather, focuses on watching the technique of the female teacher.  She is able to follow what is lead while maintaining her posture and axis.

All Levels Class: There is a focus on basic concepts that learners of all levels can benefit from.  A good All Levels teacher is able to give more in-depth advice on technique and more complex modifications of the taught sequence to the more advanced learner.

Although the idea of the Advanced Learner still going to a Beginner Class seems like a wonderful idea, the truth is the pace of the class is enough to have the Advanced Learner pulling their hair out.  There are excellent classes and practicas here in Buenos Aires that are perfectly suited for more Advanced Learners wanting to focus on basic concepts and technique.


Never Stop Learning

While in Buenos Aires, we witnessed many Tango teachers from abroad taking lessons.  We even saw a professional stage dancer and teacher, who is the son of a prominent figure in the history of Tango in Buenos Aires, take lessons from another professional dancer (in the company of us “normal” dancers).  And this is the way it should be!  Too many Tango dancers stop taking lessons too early in their Tango education.  More importantly, there are Tango teachers who have even decided they don’t need or want to learn anymore.

In most careers you’ll hear about the importance of learning new skills and/or keeping your existing ones up-to-date.  Why would this be any different in Tango?

“The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live.”

– Mortimer Adler


Learning How to Move vs. Learning Moves

As we become more advanced, we realize that the walk is the most beautiful and satisfying part of Tango. If one is bored by only walking (as leaders or followers), to us, that’s a sure sign that one hasn’t found Tango yet.

Like most people, it is easy to become fascinated by steps and sequences.  Fortunately, our private lessons rarely focused on such things. We worked on the embrace, the walk, leading/following, posture, and overall technique. We were always learning HOW to move. Even when we went to group lessons where teachers were teaching sequences, Jorge would pick it up right away… and forget it just as quickly once we left. We were told/taught that we would pick up the “moves” once we understood how to move. How true that was and is.

The unfortunate fact is that it is difficult to motivate people to try Tango and stay with the dance when you teach them only how to walk. Especially if these people have no dance background. Having a dance background has allowed us to view the learning of Tango dramatically different from those without. Yes, we enjoy getting caught up in the technicalities of the dance, but with that, we are able to appreciate learning and dancing the basics of the dance; the basics that make up Tango.