Ask Arlene…What is the best way to improve as a Tango dancer?

From: Mr Milonga

Ask Arlene,

I’ve heard many people say that they have learnt more from dancing in milongas than they have from going to classes week in, week out.

Many women believe that once they’ve picked up the basics a good leader should be able to lead them. Other women are fed up of going to classes where they outnumber the men and have to spend time waiting for an available man who might be a poor leader.

Many men are happy to be able to lead the basics, as they are not interested in leading ’show moves’, choosing to develop their style in a milonga.

Some people hate learning sequences as they are ‘artificial’.

So Arlene, in your opinion what is the best way to improve as a tango dancer and why?

Dear Mr. Milonga,

I don’t know the best way to improve as a Tango dancer.  I only know what works for me, right now.  I did all of the lessons and classes in the beginning and then added going to the Milongas.  After awhile, I stopped going to classes and focused on the Milongas, partly because of time constraints and partly because the classes didn’t do anything for me.  I also had private lessons, and have been to a few workshops.

I have been very lucky to dance with good and experienced dancers when I was a beginner.  I am still dancing with those nice men that are still around.  I am selective when dancing as I don’t go out much these days, but I am open to dancing with people I don’t know and that seem to have some musicality and dance close embrace and don’t do too many tricky moves.

If I were to give advice to someone starting out, I would suggest what I always do – networking.  Go to beginner’s classes from a good teacher and before the Milongas.  Get to know people.  Go to practicas.  Try and dance with people better than you, if possible.  Practice, a lot.  They say practice makes perfect.  I don’t really believe there is a cut and dried formula here.  As with any dance form, the more dancing one does, hopefully the more one will improve.  Though there are those that started when I did and they seem to have gotten worse.  I really don’t get that.

I am sure there are a few people out there that may have an opinion on this one.  Over to you.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jantango
    Aug 20, 2009 @ 03:36:49

    Spend several weeks (or months if you can) in Buenos Aires going to the milongas to watch the dancing and absorb the atmosphere of tango. Nowhere else can you devote ten hours a day for an intensive experience that will jumpstart your enthusiasm to dance well. After a week of observation, start dancing with the local women and feel the difference.

  2. Sophie
    Aug 20, 2009 @ 20:03:16

    Me, I swear by classes. I wasn’t gorgeous enough to be picked up over and over again in milongas so I figured out it’d be easier if I got better. I certainly enjoyed much more the milongas as I had a better idea of what could/not be done, and what it was likely that lead was for. I also learned a lot in technique class and got a dancing and everyday posture that preserves my back and makes it easier to dance. I think classes and milongas are very very different, I really like both. I now also enjoy practicing with my partner – we work things out to dance better – it’s fun, educating, enriching and entertaining. And bears spectacular fuits! Final note on classes: I wouldn’t know tango as intimately as I do now if it had not been for passionate teachers who explained it to me a morcel at a time. They helped me get accointed with this amazing beast.

  3. El Chupacabra
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 02:37:21

    Inspiring stuff Sophie- lovely to hear your story!

  4. Mr Milonga
    Aug 26, 2009 @ 23:26:32


    How about an answer which can benefit those of us who can’t afford to fly to Argentina?

  5. jantango
    Aug 29, 2009 @ 17:36:48

    I don’t have one. You won’t find milongueros anywhere else but in Buenos Aires. Hurry before it’s too late.

    Where there is a will, there is a way.

  6. TangoTom
    Aug 31, 2009 @ 20:35:35

    Tango is so rich – there are so many different approaches – I think it really helps to make a few decisions about what you are trying to get out of the dance. I decided fairly early on that I wanted to keep a good posture and build from a firm foundation of technique, with an emphasis on simplicity and elegance – the Villa Urquiza style (I can’t afford the time to shortcut to more complex styles). I was lucky enough to get a couple of one-to-ones with Adrian and Amanda, which were incredibly helpful. But I have also had excellent input from Liz, Grant & Greg at the Tango Club, Claire at Tango South London, Eleonora at Tangology and Pablo Alonso (who taught me the benefit of structuring sequences, rather than stringing together sets of elements which might be confusing for a less experienced follower). It is so good to find people who will actually articulate and teach real nuts and bolts stuff. But I think practicas and milongas are essential, to develop fluency and the real dialogue which is so much the beautiful essence of this dance. My first experiences were quite horrible – as was my leading ability. However, I think it is poor etiquette for more experienced dancers to tut, slouch and exhibit unconcealed boredom when they are dancing with beginners. Honest feedback from partners is very hard to come by, and some of the feedback you do get can be very unhelpful, so there is a lot of personal guesswork, thinking and choice (and going home to lick your wounds) which goes into the development of each individual dancer. In the end, it’s a funny mix of humility (being honest with yourself and your partners about your level of skill), selfishness (trying to get dances with more skillful followers and to elicit feedback from them) and generosity (taking responsibility for ensuring that you dance with beginners, dance appropriately to their level, and offer [without imposing] appropriate feedback they can use – one adjustment and two positive observations). Basically, give and take. But don’t imagine you can do without classes or you may find yourself using milongas to entrench your bad habits and teach them to others, which would NOT be a welcome contribution to the tango community…! Jantango is undoubtedly right that it is best to go to the source, and I look forward to doing that, at some point. But, in the meantime, there is plenty of progress, good company, and joy of learning, to be had here in London. I wish you the best. – T

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