These tips are not in any specific order of importance since it is extremely hard to give a hierarchy to things like connection, embrace and music. They are topics frequently discussed and/or needed as you dance and evolve as a social dancer. They do not apply if you dance alone… but hey it takes two to tango… keep adding people to the dance floor and these things all become more and more important.
Get a dance across a crowded room in the blink of and eye! In Argentina, the ‘Cabeceo’ is the standard way you get a dance, it is no big deal it is just a natural part of the culture. You make eye contact with a person you’d like to dance with and nod, or a smile, or a tilt of the head toward the dance floor. It might be considered disrespectful to ask someone for a dance if you do not know them give them the social grace of bowing out.
If someone is at the milonga with their significant other, it might not be the best idea to pursue a dance unless it seems they are free to dance with anyone. If the couple is sitting together at a table, it may be more polite if the man asks the other man if he may dance with his date instead of sending the woman a cabeceo. On the contrary, it is not customary for the woman to seek a dance with a ‘spoken for’ man.
Tango starts with embracing. It’s the first connection into the dance. The embrace in tango is like an embrace in life: it has to be natural and with affection, otherwise it will not live. Embrace your partner as though you are about to dance the dance of your life. The man must hold the woman securely but with freedom to move, must lead, not force. The woman must relax in the embrace and feel each intention of the man’s lead, but know her own axis. It must always be a two-way experience. Each embrace is different just as each person is different. They say that you can tell whether a person can dance tango from the feel of the first embrace. The embrace is yours… find ‘yours’ and own it!
Music is another point of connection to your partner. Don’t just listen to the music; feel it. In tango, we dance to what we feel, either melody or rhythm; there are no counts. Be sensitive to each of the instruments that make the beautiful tango song. Neither partner should feel the music on their own. Each has to understand what his/her partner feels in the music…and then dance to that. When the couple hears the music as one — that’s when tango happens. Once you’re on the dance floor, stop thinking about the sequence you learned in class or the cool move you saw on YouTube, and just let the music sweep you away. It wouldn’t make sense to dance if you’re not dancing to the music, would it?
There are many elements to creating a connection: the embrace, the music, technique… but the most important one is the intention of connecting. You are not dancing alone; you are dancing with another person. Forget about yourself, forget about making mistakes, forget about the coffee you had in the morning, and forget about your to-do list. Give the 3 minutes of the song to the person you are dancing with to make the dance ‘ours’ and eternal.
Posture is very important. Although tango has grown from the streets of Buenos Aires, and was not originally as structured of a dance as it is now, working on your posture will enhance your whole experience of this dance. In order to connect well in an embrace so that your partner feels comfortable, to execute variety of sequences with ease, or to own the integrity of tango, a better posture is key. Straight spine, head level, chest lifted, core strong, relaxed, and confident. Not only does it please the eye, you won’t end up kicking your partner in the shins, stepping on their toes, or breaking their back. This will likely decrease the chances of people running away to avoid dancing with you.
If you can’t tango walk, you can’t tango. Walking is the foundation, the basic, of tango. It’s not the well known 8-count basic that is taught in many beginners’ classes. That is just a convenient sequence that puts together some of the basic tango movements. If you go to a beginner tango class in Buenos Aires, they will not let you move on to anything else until you understand how to walk, and then walk with a partner. It may appear simple, but it’s a challenge, and when executed correctly, beautiful. They say it takes at least 5 years for a working couple to be able to walk together. The best advice once you’re dancing is: keep practicing your walk!
Quality Vs Quantity
So you’ve been taking tons of classes and you feel like your mind is a database of cool tango moves. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make you a good tango dancer. Tango is about the quality of the movements, not the quantity. You can use just the same three steps and create a beautiful tango. You can put 1,000 steps into a tango and create the ugliest dance ever. Why are we moved by an old milonguero couple that simply walks to the music? Refine each movement, understand the technique, listen to the music, make sure your partner feels comfortable, and then execute them on the dance floor. If not, I advise you to walk- and just walk. In Buenos Aires, you’ll see heads nodding in approval.
Line of dance
There are social etiquettes for the dance floor; the first one being the line of dance. The line of dance moves counter-clockwise. The dancers must keep moving around the pista (the floor). The circle on the dance floor has the biggest outer circle, the circle within that and so on. The best dancers dance on the very outer circle taking longer steps on the biggest circumference, also being able to show off their quality dance to the audience sitting right around the floor. The beginners get kicked into the center of the circle where they are stuck muddling around in the center. So try to find your spot on the outer circle. BUT, you will only have the right to dance on the outer circle if you can keep the direction of the dance, otherwise they might push you into the center. When you start a dance the man must face the line of dance or the outside of the circle. You must not take back steps against the line of dance (back steps should be eliminated or taken only towards the line of dance or towards the center of the circle) and the intention of the dance is to keep moving forward. Each sequence or figure should end up facing the line of dance and not backwards. Never pass anyone on the dance floor, stay behind the same couple you started behind throughout the whole tanda. Do not crash into other couples and protect your partner. It’s just like driving a car — follow the rules of the road so you don’t get into any accidents!
Tandas / Cortinas
Usually 4 songs make up a tanda and there is a song in between the sets which is called a cortina (curtain). You might want to ask someone to dance on the 1st song of the tanda if you know you enjoy dancing with them. If you’ve never danced with someone, perhaps you will ask them to dance on the 2nd or 3rd song. It is customary to finish dancing with the person after the tanda is done and return to your individual seats. During the cortina, no one should be standing on the dance floor. If you enjoyed a certain tanda and wish to continue dancing, you can propose to dance later on that night. Unless there’s a mutual agreement, always thank your partner and graciously end the dances with the tanda so you can give each other the opportunities to enjoy more dances. With a start and an end, that makes the 4 songs you dance even more special.
Although tango is a worldwide phenomenon, it remains a part of the history and culture of Argentina. You cannot dance tango without fully appreciating this. Tango lovers travel to Buenos Aires to understand and feel what tango is really about. Tango is not just a dance you learn. It is a way to love life. In Buenos Aires, you will meet many old milongueros with great years of experience breathing the tango as their life, where you naturally would want to show your respect to their knowledge and profound presence. The tango music has traveled around the world, carrying an eternal harmony to be continuously explored. Respect this before you jump into alternative music. Dress cleanly and appropriately when you go to a social floor, greet the other dancers, and follow the rules of the floor. Once you respect the tango, the tango will come to you.