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.”
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.