Ask Arlene… Can Anybody Become a Good Tango Dancer?

I am going away for a few days and will leave you with this until next week.

From Wildcard:

Can anybody become a good tango dancer?

Dear Wildcard,

No.

If anybody could be a good dancer why are there still so many bad ones out there?

I used to think that if you wanted to learn how to do something badly enough, had proper training and lots of practice, then you could be great at it. Unfortunately, tenacity isn’t always enough for some people, and I believe that the key to becoming good or great at anything, one must already possess the necessary material to transform it into your strength.

I am naturally athletic and am able to participate in many sports activities and with practice can be quite competent.  I am happy to settle for being competent, as at this point in my life I don’t have time to focus on one particular thing.  Dancing is just another sport in some respects.  I don’t know if I will ever be a great Tango dancer as it is not that important to me to become great, but I know I am competent and I really feel the music.  Some nights with the right person and music, I can be pretty amazing!  I’ll settle for that.

There is a wonderful little book called StrengthsFinder 2.0 that I came across a couple of years ago.  It is particularly useful in determining peoples’ strengths, especially in these challenging times.  In the first chapter they talk about society’s relentless focus on people’s shortcomings and improving those..and that they discovered that people have more potential for growth when they invest energy developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.’

To dance well, one must possess tenacity, musicality, and a passion for what you are doing.  I also think that one needs to be relaxed and confident.  I suppose one can learn about musicality, but how can one be taught to feel the music?  I am not sure that is possible.  I think there is more to being a good dancer than learning the moves.  I think it has a lot to do with what is inside you and that feeling inside is put into the dance.  You either have it or don’t.

I have danced with men that are still in the process of developing their technical skills, but because they have such feeling about the dance, and wonderful musicality, I can still enjoy the dance with them.  I have danced with men who have the skill, but I can feel nothing from them.  It is just mechanical.  Am I wrong to say that he is not a good dancer?  Even though I feel the music and try to impart that feeling to my dance partner, sometimes I feel blocked by the other person.  I can’t dance like that.

Some people just don’t have the aptitude for dance.  That doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy music.  Some people can sing Tango music like an Angel, but they can’t dance.  Some people can play Tango music, but they can’t dance.  Some people are excellent DJ’s, etc.  There is a place for everyone in Tango, not just as a dancer.

That’s my opinion.

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28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. irenicon
    Mar 31, 2009 @ 08:41:10

    I guess we have to start with what does ‘good’ mean in this context. To me, it means dancing the music and oneself as inspired by a partner and that self includes the context of one’s own body and its limitations/history/structure.
    The answer to that question is yes if one does not struggle with a choreography or steps that are way beyond one’s competence. Then one can relax and connect and enjoy. I don’t always manage this, but this is where I am working and when it works I am ‘good’ and when it does not, I am err ‘practising’.

  2. Steve Morrall
    Mar 31, 2009 @ 08:58:45

    No.

    But I believe everyone can become a better tango dancer by using a few simple tenets:

    Understand and practice fundamental (and authentic) technique.
    Believe that you can be creative in your body movement.
    Move simply and slowly with your partner with the music.
    Nurture an intimate knowledge of tango music.
    Clearly define your axis and balance in every step.
    Extend your dance through the feeling of axis and balance in your partner’s body.
    Humble yourself to the process of learning, applying and nurturing all the above.

    Steve Morrall
    Tango UK

  3. Steve Morrall
    Mar 31, 2009 @ 14:56:41

    [Syncronicity at work.]
    This link was sent to me today by another dancer which I think feeds into this discussion:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_competence

  4. Sophie
    Mar 31, 2009 @ 16:31:27

    Sorry everyone, I disagree. I think everyone can become a good dancer. Not everyone can become a great dancer though.

    If I make my definition of a good dancer “someone who is described as a good dancer by most people in milongas all over the world” (since we need a criteria, why not the one of the mass?), it takes dedication, effort, relentless pushing on one’s limits, and never thinking you’re there. It takes going back to basics all the time, admitting when you don’t know and seek to learn, and putting your self into your dance.

    It may take more or less time depending on natural skills and competences, but I do believe everyone can become a good dancer, if they really want to. Most people just don’t really want to, or think their own definition of “good”.

    PS interesting link Steve, thanks

  5. Jessica
    Mar 31, 2009 @ 18:12:20

    I basically agree with your comments, but I did want to leave a comment to emphasise this: it’s really important to encourage those people who may not think they have it in them to dance tango, but might surprise themselves if they tried!

    I say this as someone who thought “I’ll never be any good at dancing”. Several years later I’m delighted to find that, though I’ll never be a great dancer, and still have a lot to learn, I actually _am_ a good dancer. [I keep adding in caveats and qualifications because it feels arrogant and scary to say this – and then taking them out, because I do think it’s true!]

    It strikes me most people who say “can anyone become good at x?” are worried that they may not be able to do x because they’re not young enough, or fit enough, or experienced enough, and so on. Whereas in my experience being humble enough to wonder about this is actually a good sign!

    In particular, having low starting fitness or flexibility, lack of musical experience, weak ability to memorise steps, or having a hard time learning the dance when you first start are _not_ necessarily signs that you can’t be a good dancer.

    On my list of signs that you can’t be a good dancer I’d include: lack of sensitivity to other people, inability to stop showing off, inability to connect emotionally/physically to music, and any arrogance that blocks the ability to learn.

  6. El Chupacabra
    Apr 01, 2009 @ 00:38:34

    I’m encouraged that most people seem to agree.

    It is a shame that beginners may give up because some else has greater flexibility or memory for steps. Yet some of these beginners can connect emotionally and are sensitive and responsive .. and they are great dancers and will be greater dancers.

    That’s what is great about Tango – you can be a great dancer because of your heart and head, and not because of your body or muscles. It evolved as a social dance for all shapes and sizes after all.

  7. tangobob
    Apr 01, 2009 @ 00:57:04

    I agree with Sophie, although for some dancing comes naturally, others struggle for years, but in the end if you put the effort in anyone can learn. That is not to say everyone does, some people never put the effort in, or belive that they are too good to be taught. The concept of two left feet is a nonsense, when you walk you step one foot after the other, why shoul you not be able to do the same when the music starts.

  8. Mr Walker
    Apr 01, 2009 @ 14:15:43

    Hi Arlene

    I think this says something about what a good dancer is…..

  9. Sophie
    Apr 01, 2009 @ 15:27:43

    Jessica – I like your thinking. Except those “signs that you can’t be a good dancer” are not really just about tango, are they? they’re relevant for any human interaction, be it dancing, asking for directions or building a relationship, aren’t they?
    Which makes me think… If one strive for development, progress and achievements, then they should do pretty well at tango. They would do in dance as in the rest of their life: blinding themselves of reality, settling for little, aiming for more, etc.
    Best
    Sophie

  10. Sophie
    Apr 01, 2009 @ 15:37:29

    mmm my last comment didn’t come out right but I think everyone will get the idea. so much for blurbing about tango while trying to get work done (or is it the other way around?)

    Sophie

  11. David Bailey
    Apr 01, 2009 @ 17:41:18

    Yes.

    Not only can anyone become a good dancer, I think anyone can also become a great dancer.

    There’s an interesting book “Outliers” – one of the basic premises in that book is the so-called 10,000 hour rule (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10,000_hour_rule).

    Putting it extremely simplistically, people who’ve achieved greatness have typically spent approximately 10,000 hours of work (practice) to get there. That’s not the same as saying that if you spend 10,000 hours working on almost any topic, you’re likely to achieve greatness. But it does say that a large factor in greatness is sheer hard work.

    I believe that anyone who spend 10,000 hours of well-structured learning on tango will certainly become a good dancer, and quite possibly a great one.

    Sure, some people are better than others, but I suspect that this “natural dancer” meme is largely a myth; almost everyone has to work hard to improve. Similarly, I think that anyone who wants to dance can learn; I’ve never encountered a dancer who can’t be improved.

  12. Fatty Arbuckle
    Apr 01, 2009 @ 21:26:22

    Dear Wildcardie

    I haven’t got a clue what makes a good dancer. Forget that, take a look at the crypt; where Paul makes extremely good cakes, he sadly plays endurance tango videos, which only causes a bit of a stampede at the tea and cakes stall and I get a bit squashed in my rush from the floor. God knows what it will be like when they introduce the empanadas and Barbie. I’m looking forward to this. Are you? Mmm I’m salivating now.

    Fatty

  13. Fatty Arbuckle
    Apr 01, 2009 @ 21:31:52

    I forgot he does play one great tune. I have heard people say it is from Captain Correli. My friend says its pants but I love it. It goes Lalala la lala lalalalala Lalala la lala lalalalala Lalala la lala lalalalala Lalala la lala lalalalala .
    Do you know the tune?

    Fatty

  14. irenicon
    Apr 01, 2009 @ 21:53:45

    Years ago I studied ballroom dancing. When I started I could hardly move, never mind dance and it was a major struggle to be on the correct foot, never mind alignments.
    About 7 years later at a dance somewhere a woman kindly said to me you’re such a lovely dancer aren’t you lucky it comes so naturally to you
    I was a bit put out and wanted to say actually it took years of hard work to become the (average) dancer I am today. But I didn’t.

    I no longer dance ballroom but I am working hard on my dancing. Another 20 years or so I might get somewhere as long as my hips hold up! :::)

  15. Todo Bien
    Apr 02, 2009 @ 09:55:09

    Fatty

    Don’t you mean
    nana nana naaa naaa
    nana naaa
    nana nana naaa naaa
    naaa naaa naaa naaa?

    Youre mates right – it IS definately pants- and its not even proper tango music.

    Todo

  16. yabotil
    Apr 02, 2009 @ 10:04:05

    Yes – but good is very relative. Its not hard for a candle to shine in a dark room. You can be “good” in some venues and not so good in some others.

    Just like what David said, if you work hard enough at it you can be a good dancer – at any venue – thats if you want and are willing to.

    Everyone starts with their first step. Then what they need is the desire to learn and some good teachers to get them started and guide them in the right direction.

    If you sail for 10,000 hours you could end up lost somewhere. What you occasionally need is to check a compass to ensure that you’re still heading in the right direction. Thats what good teachers are.

    Then its up to you – are you willing to stay working at it for 10,000 hours given that you can leave the ship and any stop inbetween? You might become a good dancer half way through but you always know that you can be a better dancer if you stay on the path.

  17. Fatty Arbuckle
    Apr 02, 2009 @ 22:40:57

    Sorry Todo

    It’s not quite the same but I like the sound of that tune too. As long as it keeps them on the floor allowing me to get at the cakes. So for all of you leaving the cakes alone ..tatata tatatatatata.

    Fatty

  18. El Chupacabra
    Apr 02, 2009 @ 23:52:19

    Irene – you are lovely to dance with.

  19. Tit and Tackle
    Apr 04, 2009 @ 00:09:12

    Dear Arlene

    We are in the process of setting up our new anarchic online Tango magazine called “Tango Tit and Tackle”. Some of our main features will be a tango horrorscope, top tango tips and a weekly tango rap. We also hope to be conducting interviews with top tango personalities in London like yourself, Valerie(wine Bar) Nikki, Danny Israel and Sally Potter.

    We will also have our resident Pychic/psycho Lucky Lotta who will help to predict your tango fate for each week. She says you feel like a Gemini and she sees a lot of water around you at the moment. Your best tango day will be Sunday.

    We will of course allow our many writers to continue to contribute to your excellent pages in their own individual styles. They already feature heavily on many blogs around the world. However, we will respect their confidentiality by not telling you who they are.

    The following is a sample page which we would like to see on your blog to assess the feedback.

    This weeks Tango Rap:

    Hey it’s like a jungle out there –
    sometimes it makes me wonder
    how I keep from going under
    ha ha ha ha.

    Don’t push me cos Im close to the edge,
    I’m trying not- to- lose -my-head
    ha ha ha ha.

    Next week………. Dizzy Rascals Tango Lyrics

    This weeks Top Tango Tips
    Heres our Top Tips for your survival in that Mad Mad tango world from our expert team of writers : Slipper, Spangle, Buttocks, Dropped One, Slime and Chillie beef. More will

    Laydeez why waste all that money on those expensive commies when u can buy a bling pair of stilletoes at barretts for a tenner. Stick a banana skin on each of the soles. You’ll literally glide round the floor better than any Commie!
    Slime

    Get free entry at a milonga by dressing up as Pablo Veron and Sally Potter. Men – grow a beard and put on a scousers curly perm wig. Add combats and a back to front baseball cap. Women – dress in a long black apron, leggings and a pair of PRACTICE shoes . Go on try it – No-one will notice the difference.
    Slipper

    Feign popularity at the milonga by cunningly arranging for several beginners to find you for the next dance, all at the same time. Act surprised when they all rush up to you sitting near the DJ. This not only makes you look popular but also important and in real demand. Repeat until you are bored or until an Argentinean or a teacher arrives.
    Chille Beef

    Laydeez – increase your chances of getting good dances by passing out special garlic flavoured chewing gum to all the best women dancers in the room. Just sit back, relax, and watch the male dancers turn away – tee hee.
    Buttocks

    Ladies get more dances by wearing skirts so short that we can see the lines your spray tan missed on the cheeks of your arse. WARNING – Do not do this if you have legs like a snooker table or an arse like a sack of potatoes.
    Slime

    Impress the Argentineans with your knowledge of their culture. Sit on the stage at Negracha. Get out your Ginsters Cornish pasty and tell em all it’s a giant empanada. Argentinians will be swarming round you like flies round shite.
    Spangle

    If you realise that you’ve just dropped one on the dance floor, quicjkly do a giro and turn away from the people in front and say to your partner “ ooohh…was that them or you?”
    If your partner apologises then you are the smelliest couple on the floor and I was right behind you at Negracha on Friday
    Dropped-one

    Cause mayhem at the Crypt by giving out free entry vouchers for beginners at Negracha the night before. For an extra explosive reaction make sure its Nikkis night!
    Slipper

  20. Tit and Tackle
    Apr 05, 2009 @ 01:09:32

    Oh and we nearly forgot this weeks star tip.

    Feel like tango celebrities by bringing your own champagne type wine and a special reserved notice for your table. As always, sit near the DJ to maximise effect. Invite people to your table – and just watch them kiss your ass!
    For added glamour bring a bouquet of flowers as well and have someone present to you on the dance floor at the end of a dance.

  21. El Chupacabra
    Apr 05, 2009 @ 01:33:18

    April Fool?

  22. Fatty Arbuckle
    Apr 05, 2009 @ 22:57:52

    T&T

    I love it. A little light hearted humour goes a long way. I like Ginsters pasties.

    Fatty

  23. Fatty Arbuckle
    Apr 09, 2009 @ 12:58:36

    Where are all the witty comments now? T&T I love it. Get on with it now.

    Fatty

  24. Tango totty
    Apr 10, 2009 @ 20:11:11

    I definately agree with Arlene – although many people have the potential to become a competent dancer not everyone can become a good tango dancer. This is because to become a GOOD tango dancer you need the right combination of fundamentals – good technique, balance, elegance, control etc AND the feeling for the music. I do not believe that you can have one without the other. Even if you have excellent footwork you cannot be a really good TANGO dancer if you have no response to the music. But by the same token you cannot be a really good tango dancer if you feel the music but you have poor technique because this is going to limit your response to the music and your partner. The problem is that many people can learn the technique if they are prepared to train and put in the hours – but you cannot learn musicality – feeling for and interpretation for the music and the rythmn is something extra that cannot really be learned – you either have it or not. These are my feelings anyway.

  25. The Voice of Reason
    Apr 11, 2009 @ 17:07:12

    Hi Arlene and Fatty

    As I was leaving Negracha last night I did a bit of market research on the food front. You will be pleased to hear that out of a sample of about 15 people, 100% of them said that they would really welcome empanadas and other Argentine food to be sold at Negracha especially at the end of the night. Apparently this can be arranged if enough people want it. So Fatty, see if you can set up the real Argentine food at Negracha campaign and lets all lobby Ivan!

    VOR

  26. Fatty Arbuckle
    Apr 12, 2009 @ 19:13:40

    VOR

    I wouldn’t really like to trouble Ivan. I expect that he would have enough to do in organising negracha after finishing his other job. I would also prefer food that I really liked cooked properly. I know they have a kitchen in Negracha, I have researched this myself. I think Ivan should hire a chef to prepare some excellent Argentinian fayre. He could set up downstairs as a restaurant area. this would make a lot of sense to me.

    Thank you very much for all your efforts in supporting this campaign. I think I saw you and a rather tasty lady at the door. Who was she? Does she contribute to these pages and does she like Empanadas. I think she would be the ideal compliment to this campaign. Perhaps she could become the face of food at London milonga’s. Perhaps I might entice her to partake in some Dulce de leche? I’m sure she wouldn’t need to worry about the calories. We could always dance it off.

    Fatty

  27. Igor
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 23:11:25

    In search for helping to define what is good tango dancing and what is not one needs more of classification. Here is one attempt:
    http://www.virtuar.com/tango/tango_weblog2009.htm#20090502

  28. JeanZ
    Sep 10, 2009 @ 08:47:32

    And there are people which can’t dance but even teach it.

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