You can’t learn Tango from YouTube!

I am going to have a little rant.

I read Tango Bob’s post about YouTube and it got me thinking.   I jokingly told Bob that one could possibly learn something from watching videos.  However, most people wouldn’t actually know what to look for.  How would someone know what is good or bad if they are just starting out?  I read a lot of Tango Blogs and a lot of people post YouTube videos of people who they think are wonderful dancers, teachers, etc.  It even happens on Facebook. Being ever open-minded, I usually play the video.  I usually end up watching things that make me cringe.  I have to restrain myself from leaving a comment like: You gotta be kidding me?!  After all, I was a beginner once.  Most of it is nuevo or show crap.   A gancho here, a lift there, an open embrace and kick to the back of your head here.  Need I say more.  That is NOT Tango, and it certainly isn’t the Argentine Tango that I have learned and have fallen in love with.

What particularly irks (and saddens at the same time) me is that a lot of beginners think that this is the real deal, and they all want to do the fancy moves that they see in the videos.  Please, don’t.   Some of what you are seeing is show or stage Tango.  All that acrobatic stuff is for the stage, where it belongs, and not for the dance floor, where you can really hurt someone doing that.  The people who perform stage Tango on stage are highly skilled and trained dancers.  These videos should be labelled with a hazard warning:  FOR STAGE USE ONLY – DO NOT TRY THIS IN A MILONGA.  Every time I see a stage performance like Tango x 2 or Tango Fire I inevitably hear someone say, “I couldn’t possibly do that!” and I am thinking,  ‘You are too damn right about that, and neither should you try!’  I have nothing against stage Tango and have enjoyed going to several performances, but that is where it should stay.

As for nuevo, well, I have done my fair share of that when I started out and didn’t know much better.  I can do it, but I prefer not to.  I no longer take classes because people teach moves.  I don’t want to know moves.   Besides, I’m a follower and I don’t need to know the move!  I just need to know HOW to move.  A YouTube video will not teach you that either.  As for my issues with nuevo, it isn’t that I don’t like people who do it.  I dislike it when people do it badly in a milonga, when they are being annoying and not following the line of dance or are bumping into people.  I do know of people who dance large in the milongas and they are mindful of others, but there are very few of those and they are the exception to what I consider to be the norm of nuevo dancers.

Another thing that irks me about some of these YouTube videos is the music.  One can pretty much guarantee that at least a third (I am under guestimating here) of the so-called Argentine Tango dancing is done to non-tango music.  What the heck is that all about!?  Some of it isn’t even Tango-inspired music!  I just don’t get it and I don’t really want to.  As far as I am concerned, Argentine Tango is about the music and when you dance it to non-Tango music, then it changes the concept of the dance and just makes it contemporary.  If I want to look at contemporary dance, I will go to an Alvin Ailey performance or something like it.

Look, to me, if you dance Argentine Tango to non-Tango music, you might as well learn Ceroc instead.  Ceroc is meant to be danced to any kind of music and I have even danced it to Gotan Project at the Casbah in South Kensington – and that was weird.

So, back to my rant about YouTube.  I don’t have anything against YouTube or the people that put up their videos.  In fact, there are some lovely videos of people dancing Argentine Tango to authentic Tango music.  I am sure something can be learned by watching these videos.  After all, people can learn by watching others.  The other thing people can do is to talk about what you are watching.  I have been very lucky to have more experienced dancers discuss what was happening on the dance floor with me.  This is nice because…and that is not nice because…..  My gripe is when beginners think that just because they see something on a video that looks cool, it must be a good thing to try.  Well, don’t.  If you don’t know how to do something, don’t do it.  Have someone teach it to you instead and then you might just be able to do it without injuring someone.  Thats’s what we have teachers for!  But if teachers are going to be teaching show Tango moves…well, that is a rant for another time!

29 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. cherie
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 09:56:21

    Totally right on, Arlene! You said it, and said it well. Thank you.

  2. Arlene
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 10:03:07

    Thanks Cherie,
    One can only hold these thoughts in for so long before they eventually burst out!

  3. tangobob
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 13:59:16

    What have I started! Perhaps we should get together and have a common rant.
    If you keep up the message from the south and we keep it going in the north maybe one day we will meet in the midlands.
    Seriously, the world needs more people who realise what tango really is, there are too many fake tango teachers out there.
    Keep up the message.

  4. TP
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 15:02:37

    When I started learning tango, I tried to watch every single video available online: Youtube, google video, etc. I haven’t watched as often now, as I progress in tango and am getting more selective of what I am watching.

    Can some one learn anything by watching Youtube? Absolutely. Can anyone learn something by watching Youtube? Absolutely not.

    And I agree with this post: You have to know what you are looking for.

  5. Arlene
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 15:06:55

    Yeah Bob!
    This has been preying on my mind for a long time. Loved your last comment on your post. Problem is, every teacher that posts something on YouTube thinks they are great. Ha!
    (I’m a bit edgy at the moment as I am having issues with my estate agent and it has to come out somewhere, otherwise I would swear! Or who knows, maybe I have been a bit too PC and this is the real me coming out!)

  6. Arlene
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 15:16:50

    Hey there Pilgrim! (sorry, couldn’t help myself)
    Thanks for stopping by. I guess that when we get excited about learning something, we want to know as much as we can about it. I did exactly the same as you. Fortunately, I don’t lead, so it wasn’t too much of an issue in my case. I am also glad that I had some lovely ladies to keep me on the Tango straight and narrow!

  7. jantango
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 17:03:31


    You covered it all in one post, and I am in total agreement. We have to accept the immense control that YouTube has on the minds of many tango fanatics. They have been brainwashed and may never discover the real tango, thanks to many Argentine teachers who don’t know it themselves. It’s all business. All those stage moves are made to impress others, so dancers will continue buying them to feed their egos.

    The reality is that this is all going on in Buenos Aires where it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find the true essence of tango.

  8. Jaimito
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 17:37:33

    Throughout the whole post, I cannot help but notice the condescending tone to “beginners”. How long, I wonder, do you have to dance to be promoted to intermediate or advanced? Long enough to become close minded to anything other than the comfort zone of milonguero? Get over it

  9. Arlene
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 18:02:33

    For someone who is a wannabemilinguero (that’s what your e-mail name says) I am surprised at your comment. Beginners are the intermediates and advanced dancers of the future. It is unfortunate that there are so few people that teach the basics effectively and they don’t even bother to educate beginners properly about Tango. I am one who has had to learn the hard way. I am lucky that there were people around me who bothered and cared about my dancing to tell me otherwise. Because of the popularity of dance programs on TV, people think what they see on TV is the real thing, when it isn’t. Because of these programs, there are a huge influx of beginners dancing that weren’t there when I first started and they all want to do fancy moves. There are many teachers willing to teach them these moves without explaining the appropriate protocol when dancing in a Milonga. Hence the popularity of Adrian and Amanda Costa and a few others here in London who teach the basics without pandering to the expectations of the masses.

    If there are intermediate or advanced dancers out there with the beginner mentality (and who rates them intermediate or advanced?), then they really should know better.

    Oh, and I choose not to get over it when I come across some newbie thinking he’s so cool dancing large and charging around like a bull in a china shop, doing some cool move he saw on YouTube. And people wonder why I choose not to dance?

  10. Evaldas
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 18:06:26

    I agree with every word in the post!
    And “FOR STAGE USE ONLY – DO NOT TRY THIS IN A MILONGA” must be copyrighted :)))

    But this didn’t started with YouTube. Just nowadays professional teachers must be professional stage performers. What else to do if the whole market knows tango from stage shows.

  11. Arlene
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 18:27:17

    Yes, like the cigarette packet warnings, the videos could come with the following warnings:
    Just a few I thought up. Anymore would be welcome.

  12. Jaimito
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 20:12:17

    First things first. I wrote down my e-mail, but it’s set not to be shown publicly. Please respect my privacy.
    Onto more important things, don’t get me wrong. It also pisses me off when I see people on the milonga floor with utter disregard of others, thinking they are on the stage, doing moves that do not even belong to tango. What irked me about the post was not the explicit content itself, but the attitude of “I’ve been dancing for so and so years, and I have found the holy grail that is old fashioned tango. All else, nuevo and salon included, is garbage” kind of mentality. Although, as you remarked, I am an aspiring milonguero, I am all for innovation in nuevo as long as it respects the space and physical integrity of others. There is no holy grail in tango.

  13. El Chupacabra
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 23:36:48

    The contents of this youtube video are for entertainment purposes only. Any similarity to tango, salon or otherwise, is purely coincidental….

  14. David Bailey
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 23:58:46

    Actually, Ceroc (or “Modern Jive” technically) is meant to be danced to a specific set of music, and to a fairly narrow tempo. It only really works within that band.

    On the Youtube front, it’s an interesting way to get ideas for nuevo combinations, but of course you can never learn AT technique from watching videos of show tango. On the other hand, you couldn’t learn Modern Jive from watching videos of Ceroc competitions or showcases. I assumed that was obvious. Is it not?

    That doesn’t mean videos are pointless – they can be an aid to education if done right. I think a video accompanying a set of trainee notes would be a good idea for people attending a course, for example.

    What this means is that most AT teachers don’t care about teaching tango, they simply want to sell their product. Again, I assumed this was obvious.

    Maybe I should stop making assumptions…

  15. David Bailey
    Nov 22, 2009 @ 00:06:07

    As for
    “As far as I am concerned, Argentine Tango is about the music and when you dance it to non-Tango music, then it changes the concept of the dance and just makes it contemporary.”

    I’d 100% agree when talking about salon tango. If you’re walking along in LOD, you should be doing it to music which is designed for you to do that.

    Tango nuevo, no. In fact, Tango nuevo, to me, seems a separate dance in the same way as Vals / Milonga are separate. It makes no sense to do lots of fancy flowing kicky flicky movements to trad tango music – so it seems fine to me, to do tango nuevo to other musical styles.

  16. Arlene
    Nov 22, 2009 @ 08:33:36

    I love it! Argentine Tango is old fashioned Tango. Well, I first witnessed this old fashioned Tango many years before I was in a position to go out and take lessons. Unfortunately, what I was learning wasn’t what I saw and I had to go and find new teachers. I was lucky to find someone that taught old fashioned Tango and have been continually frustrated by teachers that claimed to teach Tango, but may have been teaching some new style. Nuevo has it’s place in my opinion, but not necessarily on a crowded dance floor. I am not going to get into an argument with you about this. The point of the piece was that one cannot learn Tango from YouTube videos, especially if one is a beginner and doesn’t know what to look for. Oh, I did respect your privacy and did not publish your e-mail. Thank you for your comment.

  17. Arlene
    Nov 22, 2009 @ 08:48:00

    LeRoc, Ceroc, Modern Jive (tomato, tomahto) – I have seen these danced to everything – they just pump it up a bit.
    What is obvious to some isn’t to others, especially ones that don’t know better.
    And you know what they say about making assumptions! How do you spell assume…?
    Just trying to edumicate the uninitiated.

    As for Nuevo, I agree it is a different form and should be danced to non traditional music. I don’t actually mind dancing nuevo style, but I can’t do it to traditional music as the music means too much to me to take my attention away from it in order to play around with the dance.

    Thanks for your comment.

  18. ChrisJJ
    Nov 23, 2009 @ 23:35:23

    Jaimito wrote:

    > I am all for innovation in nuevo as long as it
    > respects the space and physical integrity of others

    Me too. The way for nuevo to respect the space and integrity of tango is for it to take place on a different dance floor.

  19. Arlene
    Nov 24, 2009 @ 00:20:51

    Nice one Chris!

  20. Voice of Reason
    Nov 29, 2009 @ 16:14:21

    Hi Arlene
    I enjoyed this post. I would just like to add that the combination of kung fu tango and commies could indeed be a lethal combination.
    I would also like to defend Youtube as there are some fantastic performances by people which simply shows excellent technique and execution. e.g. Geraldine Rojas (who many of us saw at Conway Hall). I would encourage any women to try and emulate her performances. A lot easier said than done. She has it all.

    VOR x

  21. Pete @ The Tango Notebook
    Dec 02, 2009 @ 15:44:02

    Rap music is slowly sneaking into alternative milonga playlists. There is one particular YouTube video that depicts to Tango dancers interpreting a rap song by 50 Cent and Snoop Dog.

    It can be done, you’re right, but it branches off into another area of Tango that is misleading to beginner dancers, even if it looks good at times.

  22. Arlene
    Dec 02, 2009 @ 17:03:19

    It’s not my kind of Tango, Pete!

  23. Isabelle
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 10:04:27

    Hello everyone –

    Arlene, as it is the first time I pop by I just have to say: great! Your ideas and comments are excellent stuff, and as beginner I found the dressing section etc very useful. This post was also very interesting, as I must confess to occasionally spending some serious time on Youtube…

    I do agree with you all, that tango cannot be learnt from Youtube.. However, as I started out just this February, I found that soaking myself in tango possibilities lead to me learning faster. Luckily enough, I knew enough about tango before I started to at least fairly well separate show tango from the more authentic one.

    Now, without having enough skill to judge the teachers’ skills, I found it very helpful with step-by-step videos. Seeing a gancho be performed gave me the opportunity to study the movement on my own, so when some more skilled leader suddenly thought that it “might be fun”, I had a clue even though I haden’t done the movement before. That said, I think that when you learn more about the authentic tango, you quit fantasies of beating the show-people, if you ever had any. And hopefully that will come before you start hurting yourself and others in the Milonga.. easy does it.


  24. Arlene
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 14:39:30

    Hello Isabelle,

    Glad to know that there was something useful for you here. Thanks for stopping by!
    All the best,

  25. Mademoiselle Non
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 06:31:15

    “These videos should be labelled with a hazard warning: FOR STAGE USE ONLY – DO NOT TRY THIS IN A MILONGA. ”

    Hahahahaha, I couldn’t agree more.

    Hey there, my curiosity was peaked after your last comment mentioned this post and of course I had to find it. Great post!

    When I started out, I watched videos of a dancer my teacher had recommended. That dancer was Guillermina Quiroga. If a beginner watches videos of true tango greats, that’s one story. But it’s so easy to stare at something that’s just NOT tango, think it is, and want to emulate everything you see. (Hey, that was me in the beginning, too, and I am sure everyone was there at one point or another.)

    But as we grow as dancers, I hope our tastes grow and mature as well, so that eventually, we can differentiate between “good” and “bad” tango.

  26. Arlene
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 08:56:21

    @ M’amselle Non
    I think we have all been there with the videos. Unfortunately, when we start out, we don’t always know what we are really looking at or who we should look out for. That comes with experience and exposure to those who are more experienced. We live and hopefully learn! Thanks for stopping by.

  27. ChrisJJ
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 12:11:17

    Jaimito wrote:

    > “I’ve been dancing for so and so years, and I
    > have found the holy grail that is old fashioned
    > tango. All else, nuevo and salon included, is
    > garbage”

    Salon isn’t “else”. Salon is traditionally danced in BsAs milongas.

    > I am all for innovation in nuevo as long as it
    > respects the space and physical integrity of
    > others.

    If you can show an example of nuevo dancing respecting the space and physical integrity of others, I’d be surprised. Whereas tango dancing is the product of a social environment, nuevo dancing is the product of a commercial one, and respect for other couples is no part of it.

  28. Albert
    Oct 26, 2010 @ 03:46:28

    I agree with Arlene to a great extent on dancing Tango and the music. However, I do not mind people putting up videos on Youtube. This is a free world. What is out there is for everyone to see and choose. I believe strongly that it is not possible to learn anything from the video for a beginner. But as a seasoned dancer in many forms of dances, I do scan these videos to see how other people dance;- enjoy those that show good dancing and note those that dance badly.

    It is true that there are many six thirty dance teachers around who mislead their students. However, I have also come across some ‘good ‘ and reputable dance teachers who are selfish and money faced who take their students around the bush for many years before they finally teach a fraction of what the student should know about the dance.

    Tks anyway Arlene for ranting out. You speak for me on many issues about dancing, whether on Argentina Tango or other dances.

  29. Chris, UK
    Oct 26, 2010 @ 14:03:41

    > I believe strongly that it is not possible to learn
    > anything from the video for a beginner.

    Sadly it is possible for the beginner to learn a great deal – of rubbish.

    In this respect, videos are not much different from typical beginners’ classes, where likewise the student learns primarily by watching dance rather than by feeling it.

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