I am currently devoting more than 12 hours per week to dancing and studying Tango. I go
to sleep and wake up seeing Tango dance movements. I am now or have taken Beginning,
Beginning Intermediate, Intermediate, Advanced Intermediate and Advanced group classes and
practicas under Bruno, Alex Krebs, Bill Alsup, Peter, Megan Pingree, Steven Payne/Maija Wells,
Alicia Pons, Robert Hauk/Maija Wells, Clay Nelson and Sue Cole and Felipe/Kat.
My private lessons are with Carlos Rojas. I am immersing myself in every
Tango Fest, ValenTango and workshop I can manage to attend.
I am sure you are asking, "Why would anyone devote so much concentrated time, money
and energy to the pursuit of Tango?"
If you already dance Tango this needs no explanation. You know how seductive the dance can
be. It is a dance that makes you want to dance it well. It is a demanding dance but the
demands are no greater than those you impose upon yourself. You want to be good at it. Then
you see some of the Masters perform and it blows you away. You feel if you are going to
continue to dance Tango, you MUST become good at it.
Compounding this, it is my nature to try to a thing well or don't do it all. Further I
could not stand to be good at Latin dances and mediocre at Tango.
It is my goal to teach "all" the intricacies of Tango.
from Beginning to Advanced. What took most people 4 to 10 years to learn I am announcing
my goal is to accomplish this in less than a year and a half. I invite you to follow my
journey and Love Affair here. On this Tango Web Page I will share with you the trials,
tribulations, mistakes and successes of my learning Argentine Tango and the noteworthy
encounters with dance partners and instructors I meet along the way. Perhaps someone will
get some encouragement and learn from my experiences as I improve my Argentine Tango dancing
I have discovered that once one gets to a certain level of dance skill there are dozens of
benefits that are gained from dance as I have listed below. Some I have listed with tongue
in cheek but don't giggle too soon. There is more truth and reality in these benefits than
what you may at first believe.
I find that learning a new dance comes less painfully if you are already good at one or two
other dances. It will give you an advantage with rhythm, musicality, body movement, balance,
timing, similar patterns you can anchor new concepts to and with overall confidence.
Every dance, fortunately or unfortunately, has peculiar body positions, movements and lead
and follow responsibilities that don't work in other dance genres. For example Ballroom
structure, disciple and controls have little if any place in Night Club/Street Latin
Dancing. ...and The gyrating body and Cuban motion of Latin Dancing has little if any place
in the smooth, flowing graceful lines and movements of Argentine Tango. ...and the jumping
jive of Swing doesn't fit with any of the above.
GETTING RID OF THE BAD HABITS FROM OTHER DANCES
So my first and biggest task to learn for Tango was to get rid of the bad habits of these
other dances. After spending years at learning these skills I now had to quickly rid myself
of them to dance Tango.
My Cuban motion of the hips was one of the first casualties. NO LATIN MOTION WITH THE HIPS???
There goes my pride and joy!
Then I had to loosen up my embrace. The arm is not held tightly around the follower and you
don't (for the most part) lead with the arms. WOW!!!!! I have been complimented on my strong
lead for years and now it's gone. NOT TO WORRY. I can still have a strong lead but it is done
with the body and movements and indications, "Intent", etc." ...more about this later.
LEARNING NEW DANCE MOVEMENTS AND STRUCTURE FOR TANGO DANCING
While unlearning certain movements and structures one must also be learning a new body frame
structure and myriad of new movements and patterns like ochos, cross feet, crosses, close
embrace, sacadas, ganchos, centering, connection, ocho cortado, quebrada, etc.
Help!!!!!!!! No wonder I am waking up dreaming about Tango movements.
ABOUT TAKING ADVANCED TANGO CLASSES BEFORE YOU ARE READY
The first class that I felt like was over my head was one with Felip and Kat during the
6th Annual Valen Tango Event in Portland. It was not brain surgery however. Nevertheless
a little brain surgery might have helped!!!!!.
I was unfamiliar and untrained on many of the movements that were required to accomplish the
patterns yet I was happy to be able to try them. That initial exposure to these movements,
patterns and timing created a visual, rational, subconscious and body dynamic memory in me.
I am confident that when one of my instructors teaches me these dance patterns in the near
future I will be more prepared and receptive than if I had never seen them or tried them
before. Thank goodness we rotated partners regularly so the ladies were not stuck with me
the whole time. The women were very special. They were patient and helped me.
THE TRUE LADIES OF TANGO AND OTHER DANCES
My thanks go out to all the patient ladies who helped me while they themselves were trying
to learn. There is a class of women who have more class than the definition can express.
I have met them everywhere from the time I began to learn to dance. They have patient
with me as a beginner and in classes, practices and dances when their skill level exceeds
mine. A BIG THANK YOU KISS! You are the true definition of a Lady. As my skill
level increases I remember these women and they are my true dance friends. I pass on this
kindness by helping and being patient with women who are also just learning or at a skill
level below mine.
There are a few women who have snooty attitudes towards beginners. They don't remember the
time when they too were at that stage. They were told it's okay to turn down requests for
a dance by avoiding glances or making excuses about being in a conversation with their
girl friend, etc. They hide behind this innocent Tango custom but many of them are showing
their true selves - spoiled, cold or arrogant. That is the way they have always been even
before they learned to dance. Remember them as your skill level matches or
exceeds theirs. Let them wonder why you don't ask them to dance.
One word of caution men... If your dancing is really awful and you have almost no rhythm and
timing don't hold it against women who don't want to dance with you until you improve. You
need to know the difference. The "true ladies of Tango" will be happy to dance
with you even as a beginner and they are very supportive and encouraging. They will even
walk up to you ask "you" to dance. They will still want to dance with you even if you tell
them you are just learning and they will help you around the floor with patience. Special
thanks to Ellen. At my very first tango dance during October Fest at the Viscount Ballroom
she saw me sitting the most of the night without dancing and asked me to dance. I asked her
to give a chance to take a few lessons first. She told me not to worry about that ..."Let's
just take a nice walk around the floor." Thanks Ellen. I will always remember that. Althought
I did not dance that night she was one of the first "True Ladies of Tango" that I sought out
to dance with when I got a few lessons under my belt.
THE GHOST OF A STREET PUNK
Recently I had a dream. I was suddenly confronted by a number of men who looked like they
were straight off the waterfront of some old black and white movie. At the front was a small
man with black hair and weathered brown skin. He looked like he was angry at the world.
The left side of his face was deeply scared from what appeared to be a knife cut. There was
a steel cold look in his gray eyes like that of jackal defending his turf. He wore oversized
pants and a belt made of hemp rope. His shirt although clean was tattered, well worn and
nearly colorless. Despite his lack of refinement he stood with a macho stance that shouted
out "listen to me or I will personally kick your ass! He told me that he and his friends
were the original Tangueros - that they created the dance. He said, "Alberto be true to our
dance. If you dance it, dance it well! For more than a hundred years my friends
and I have seen our dance become a wimpy sissy waltz. We danced with heart and courage.
We danced as MEN! The thrust and the parry was real. It drew blood. It was our
life - our blood. We danced with anger and fury! When we loved women we loved hard and with everything we had.
It was all that we had".
Man to Man
mano a mano
"Yes... we were "street punks"! Women were few. Our dance was a ritual of men -
our affirmation of life... and our frustration It was "street punk" trading blows with
"street punk".-- not punks dancing with punks. To the victor go the women. Be true to our
dance Alberto. Bring back the fury. Dance the Tango like a real man! We will be
I never got to say a word. I woke up in a cold sweat and knew what I had to do.
Early Dance Mistakes That May Be Common To Many Tango Beginners and Intermediates
Early Mistakes made in walking
I had the rhythm but I was contacting the floor on the balls of my feet (as one does in other dances)
instead of bringing my heels down.
Later Mistakes discovered in walking - Ahhh Yes!!! The Tango Walk!!!
I was feeling like I was getting it ...and starting to dance Tango fairly well (for what I
knew at this point). At least I thought I knew how to walk to Tango. Wasn't I way past that?
I was already doing multiple patterns and interpreting rhythm.
NOT so fast!
It is easy to overlook fine details. Maija came up to me in a class and stopped me as I was
walking to practice some moves we were learning and said, "I've been thinking about how you
walk to Tango." She suggested that I give more energy from the body to the forward thrust of
the walk and leaving the trailing leg behind until the last moment when I have to bring it
forward. I instantly recognized what she meant and wondered why no one had seen this before.
Of course I had heard something like this in other group instruction and I had seen it.
Somehow I had not incorporated it into my walking rhythm. All professions need
specialist and Maija is a diagnostic surgeon of Tango. Thanks Maija! ...but now I
feel like I have to learn to walk again. I can't wait until I perfect that "Tango Walk!"
Early Mistakes in the body frame
It took a while to get it. It's not easy to consistently keep a good strong connection with
the body from the chest to the pelvis. It is an unfamiliar connection and I was certainly not
used to leading from this connection point. Even when you think you've got it your body has
to maintain it consistently throughout the dance. The exception is with dance patterns that
require the connection to be broken.
I had danced with many women many times when one said that I should bring my hand up a little
higher on her shoulder blade. Since she was the only one who had said something about the
position of my right hand I started to ask every woman that I danced with if my hand position
was okay before I decided to make an overall change. All the women that I asked said that
my hand position was okay with them ...except for one other. When I asked Rose she answered,
"Hold me like you mean it!" Thank you, Rose!!! You made my day.
I did find out from Maija in class on a later date that the best position for my right hand
is just below the follower's right shoulder blade.
Early Mistakes in following
With great cultural resistance I have reluctantly learned some of the basics of following.
The first mistake made is putting the weight on both feet at the same time. Only one foot
at a time should bear the follower's weight at any one moment. The other foot should remain
slightly off the floor or be swayed until the follower senses the weight shift of the lead
to the other foot. The follower shifts weight to the foot that is directed by the lead.
It is also very necessary to keep pressure against the lead resisting (to a degree) his
forward motion even thought you are walking backwards as the follower. This keeps the
connection strong. The tendency to lean backwards when walking backwards must be overcome.
Early Mistakes in walking cross feet or on the right side of the follow
When walking outside the follower the tendency is to walk too far away/outside her. Most
likely this is due to fear of stepping on her feet. Then when attempting to step directly
into her tracks there is a tendency to contact her toes causing you to slightly trip. This
I have found is mostly a problem of the rhythmic timing of the step and not initiating the
movement with the upper body first.
I have also found out and been told by some instructors that although the lead can walk
in parallel feet on the outside (right side) of the follow it is not advisable for more
than two steps and then step back inside (unless you are going to lead a cross).
Some follows who are used to crossing automatically without a strong lead as soon as you
walk outside. It becomes confusing. So don't do it.
Early Mistakes made in leading the cross
I found that half the women followed my lead into a cross with no problem and another half
of them always crossed early before I intended for them to cross. At first I thought these
where the women who crossed automatically as soon as the lead stepped outside of them but
that was not the case. One of my dance partners helped me walk through it until I discover
that the initial step with my left foot was actually going to the side instead of straight
forward thus giving the follower a strong lead to my left and when my next step with my
right foot to the outside of her right caused more movement in that same direction and led
followers into a cross (and occasionally into an ocho). Why wasn't this problem discovered
in classes by the instructor and the women who were dancing with me in the class? The answer
probably is that women in a class with you are already "anticipating" what you are
practicing and unwittingly assist you at it. That's not a good thing but they are learning
too. From the view point of the instructors the error in the movement is so slight they can
not see it if it results in a cross as intended. These error only come to light when you
dance with someone who is not in your class and is following your "real" movement and lead.
A light bulb went on. Every movement of the lead will produce a corresponding movement from
the follow. Duhhhh!!! So the directions I give by my movement, however slight, must be
correct and definitive.
The realization of this point alone I believe is the essence of the "TangoConnection". It is so easy to
take this for granted. Even when you are told this it does not mean anything until you
make a breakthrough like I did.
Early Mistakes made in leading the ocho
I found that I led some women into the ocho very fluidly with very little effort. Other
women didn't seem to respond and did not go into an ocho on one or more attempts. I found
myself trying to twist and turn my body and sometimes sneaking in a lead with my arm to get
these women to start their ocho. In short I was very uncertain about what I was doing wrong.
I give credit to Maija who finally showed me that lead into the ocho was much simpler that
I had imagined. She made it clear that the quick step that I take to get into cross feet was
all that I needed to initiate the ocho. Duuuhhhhhh!!!!! Was it really that easy?????
The final mistake that I was making in leading the ocho was that after the quick quick slow
step to initiate the ocho I was not continuing a fluid forward movement of my body. I had a
little delay in my forward motion which should not have been. It was smooth sailing after that.
My mind was now free from this anxiety to focus on dance elements like circling while the
follow does the ocho, maintaining stability with both feet with stepping diagonally forward,
varying the degree of the follows leg swing while she ochos by varying my speed forward,
slowing down at the axis point of the leg swing of the ocho for a different effect,
crossing over to the follows outside foot and leading a cross to exit the ocho or exiting
the ocho with another quick quick slow step to get back into parallel feet.
Uhhh Ohhh!!! Just When I Thought My Ocho Lead Was Perfected..."Heavy Follows"
Just when I was feeling good about my ocho lead the very next week I danced with a couple
women who continued to walk straight backwards even after a couple of my attempts to lead the
ocho. Initially this blew my newfound confidence. I wondered why my lead worked perfectly
with most women and not at all with a couple others. These women were not beginners. I knew
that they were at least adequate dancers. I tried a little more upper body lead to initiate
the ocho and it worked perfectly. Conclusion: There are some follows who do not have the
energy level of many other women. Their frame in not as quick and light to twist and change
direction as many other women. They need a much stronger lead and a more definitive lead to
get started with the ocho. This lead can still be smooth and subtle.
Ohhh No This can't be!!! A New and Different Ocho Lead Problem - "An Ultra-Sensitive
Feather Touch Follower"
At this point in my dance I was having no problem leading a backwards ocho. I was dancing
in class with a follower who was quite good and really expressed that she enjoyed my dancing
because she smiled and her eyes lit up with joy when we danced or practiced a pattern being
taught in the class. Then all of a sudden when we did an ocho she stopped abruptly and
couldn't follow me. I tried again and again and it didn't work. She said it was too much.
In her limited Russian accented English she was telling me that I was putting too much
torque into my lead to get her ocho started. I tried a softer movement still to no avail.
Then Robert came over to help us. Even though consciously I accept that a problem is
usually (okay always...) the leads fault, the thought that something was wrong with her was
lurking just below the surface.
Of course Robert was able to lead the ocho with no problem with her. That disposed of any
lurking suspicion about who was the problem. ME!!!. Robert said that I was causing
her to do too much work by stepping more to the side that forward in a diagonal. That's all
it was. Thanks Robert! She's smiling again.
Problems with exiting the ocho
One method I learned for exiting the ocho was to step over to the follows outside foot and
and lead a cross then continue by stepping forward with my left foot. This is an interesting
and fun variation for exiting. The problem was that when I finished her cross and stepped
out I was still in cross feet and had to quickly adjust or else we would trip. Thanks
again to Maija who is extremely good at diagnosis of subtle problems I learned that I should
step right through the follows cross without a delayed step. It worked! We now come out in
Problem #2: Oooops! She's in another ocho How did that happen?
Over rotation. Stopping the momentum.
Frequently I found that when I stepped the follower out of her ocho on the next step she
was right back into the ocho.
The answer is that didn't stop the follower's momentum. She rotated out of the twisting
momentum of ochos and into a cross. Without a lead to stop her momentum and center her on
her axis the next step can send her back into ochos. It's a 50 - 50 possibility so it is
better not to leave it up to possible confusion. It's not kind.
Sometimes learning a pattern is mind boggling, embarrassing, frustrating, painful,
stressful, seemingly impossible, sweat provoking, profane, ugly, scary, no fun, masochistic,
demoralizing, demeaning, depressing, and downright evil!!!!!!
Thank you Babette!!! Thanks for your patience and the practice after class.
Learning to lead complex patterns like front ochos and back ochos that move into the planeos,
then into the secadas, then sandwiching the foot of the follower, then a ghost pivot
leading into parada (a lead's stop of the followers momentum and leading a step over of
the leads foot) with a pivot, step back and then walk out. Help!!! I can't
even describe it correctly how could I do it?
I know it's simple once you get it ...but the brain pain at learning the lead...! At first
(and at second!) remembering and piecing together the individual pieces of the pattern series
is mind boggling, embarrassing, frustrating, painful, stressful, seemingly impossible,
sweat provoking, profane, ugly, scary, no fun, masochistic, demoralizing, demeaning,
depressing, and downright evil!!!!!!
Thanks to Babette a dance class-mate and Alex, the instructor, who spent a few minutes
after class with us I almost have it. ...but it still ain't pretty!!!!
The "hardest" "easy" lead I ever made.
Thank you again Babette!!!
Open up the shoulder on the left or the right to lead the follower to step in that direction.
That's easy. Right? NOT!!! Not at the early stages of learning Tango. After years
of leading with the hands and the arms it is a major re-education for the body to learn to
do it by opening up a shoulder in the direction you want the follow to step. Something gets
in the way initially of doing it naturally. I think part of the brain is focused on what not
to do like not using your arms. Part of the brain is trying to access the memory of what
piece of the pattern is next. Another part is trying to make sense of the visuals such as
which way the follow is facing now ...where her feet are ... and which way do you want her
to go or turn. ...not to mention the music and timing. By the time you process all that and
your insecurities of the moment there is NOT much brain power left to remember a simple
thing like which way to open up the shoulder.
So thanks again Babette for your patience and for helping me at that shoulder junction.
When is drilling good and when to stop doing it by the numbers
No matter how many dances and dance patterns I know when I am shown something entirely new
I feel like a total beginner again. I need the instructor to show me the pattern or steps
many times until I can remember each step and movement. Then I need to try it over and over
with help and correction from the instructor until I get it right. Every person has a
different threshold where they break through to the place that they have learned a pattern,
a movement or new steps.
In a group class where time is limited and there are many things to cover with many students
it is difficult if not unlikely that everyone will arrive at that point of mastery of a pattern,
a movement or new steps. I have found that the best instructor will conduct a drill and practice
the movement in parts and pieces over and over and over until it comes together for the class.
Once the mind has transferred the newly learned pattern to the body it is time to stop doing
it by the numbers. Turn off the head and let the rhythm be dictated by the music.
Early mistake made while stepping backwards
While stepping backwards either as a lead or a follow it is important to maintain a good
connection. This is not done by cheating with the arm. It is done with forward intention
even though you are moving backwards. The lead must give a quick and subtle indication or
invitation that he is about to move backwards and proceed when the follower gets it and
is ready to go with you. This happens very quickly and almost imperceptibly but it maintains
a good connection and makes smoother transitions. Thanks Stephen and Maija! This has
been an important element of my dancing ever since.
Diagnosing the pieces of the pattern
It sounds simple but it's not.
Some instructors are better than others at diagnosing small problems with the pieces of a
dance pattern and at instructing you how to fix it. The reason that not all instructors can
see the problems is that they are very subtle and require subtle fixes. Often the student
thinks he or she is doing the movement correctly but is not. One such problem that I had
was slightly losing my forward intention and insufficient rotation of the shoulders to my
left while stepping back -crossing my left foot behind the my right - to lead my follower
into a twisting turn to my left and around my axis.
A helpful fix - "Make a fist"
While in Maija and Robert's class, Maija pointed out that I still had a tendency to
push her hand out or pull it in with my left hand while leading some movements or turns.
This not only moved the followers axis and made the movement awkward but it also altered
She reached up and curled my left hand inward so that the knuckles faced inward and my
palm faced outward with her hand in mine. To me it looks like a loosely held fist turned
inward with the fingers loose and relaxed. It also has the image of a violin or cello
player's left hand curled around the neck of the instrument. It occurred to me that I had
seen this hand hold many times before on other lead dancers. It is amazing how much it
helps (When I remember to do it).
Creepy Arms - No! Don't be negative. It's not what you think
I was just dancing along and practicing whatever pattern we were doing in class at the
moment. I was feeling pretty good that I was dancing fairly well when Alex comes over and
brings my arms and hand down to earth. "They shouldn't be higher that the follower's
shoulder," he said. A few minutes later my arms had "creped" back up again. Some followers
actually are guilty of pushing their arms up too and I find myself having to bring us both
back down to earth. Thanks Alex. I never noticed it before.
It's Coming Down To Earth - Literally and Figuratively
Painting the dance floor with your "Sweat, Blood and Tears".
The way you dance to Tango defines your style of dance. Your dance is you. It is an amalgamation
of all your experiences in life, love, frustration and successes. I see the dance floor as my
canvass and the music as a beautiful scene, a picture, an image or a concept in my mind.
It is a story that wants to be told of many lives, happiness and sorrow. The music demands that
I express it and paint it on the floor with the brush strokes of my dance. The
intensity and life fullness of Tango demands more than a few pastel brush strokes on the canvass.
Should we not labor to perfect our individual expression of each musical phrase? To do true
justice to the art should we not paint the floor with a little of our own "sweat, blood
and tears"? It will be a while longer before I have the skills to dance like I want to but
each step will bring me closer.
How am I doing
I hesitate to say this because some dancers will expect too much from me when they see me
dance or dance with me. Others will look for opportunities to criticize my dancing to knock
me down to size. Nevertheless I will share some feelings that I am having. I have started to
get sincere compliments from many women that I dance with. Many are saying things like,
"That was great!, ...or "You are getting good! ...or making nice satisfied sounds at the
conclusion of our dance. Many just show it when their faces light up or they smile with
satisfaction after the dance. One woman who I have never danced with just said to me as I
was leaving a class and she was arriving to take a class, "I have seen you dance ...and I
want to get good enough to dance with you." First of all I am embarrased. It has not been
that long since I started to learn Tango. As I am writing this I have only been studying
Tango for 2 1/2 to 3 months. I know that I am not that good yet. Yes I had a head start
because I teach other dances but I know that I have a ton to learn and many fine point to
refine. What these women are sensing is my interpretation of the music, my rhythm and timing.
my sensitivity to their balance and weighted foot.
Even at a limited skill
level, musical interpretation, rhythm, timing and sensitivity to your partner's foot
placement, weighting and balance will make a dance wonderful!
Click below for my tango poems:
The 4th Man Tango - The Last Tanguero-
The Mystery Melody of Tango
La Femme Fatale - Tango At The Café de Sal
Dance of Love
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