Improving your social dancing

Another blogger wrote about her dilemma on finding the time and money to improve her dancing.  Tango is a booming industry because of an addiction adults have for taking classes for years in the hopes of dancing like their favorite professionals.  The ego is never satisfied with how well you dance.

I know American women who paid Argentine tango professionals one hundred dollars or more for an hour private lesson.  Did it help their social dancing?  Did the men dance with the women in a milonga?  No.  But the women got to tell their friends about dancing with world-famous tango stars.

What is the best way to improve your social dancing?

1. take lots of group classes, weekend workshops, private lessons?

2. focus on technique and choreography?

3. find a practice partner?

4. dance in the milongas, preferably in Buenos Aires

No. 4 is the best way.  Classes may get you to practice some, but a class of beginners doesn’t help many improve beyond a basic level.  Ladies, you need to dance with men who know how to dance.  Workshops with teachers who disappear in three days with your money do you no good, especially those with a championship title who sell choreography instead of improvisational skills for the milonga.

Case in point.  Jean arrived for her third visit in Buenos Aires.  She danced very little in the milongas during her first two trips because she was too busy with classes and going to the wrong milongas.  She came to improve and gain confidence as a social dancer.  I gave her a milonga schedule where I knew she would dance.  I told her to forget classes with teachers whom she would never see at a milonga.  She followed my advice.  She went to the evening milongas and danced every tanda for four hours, something she never does at her local milonga.  I filmed her dancing in the milonga at the beginning of her trip and at the end.  I pointed out one thing to practice.  Her dancing changed by the end of three months.  She had to adjust to a different partner for each tanda.  The result was she gained confidence and improved her dancing.

Many of the milongueras I know learned to dance in the milongas.  They didn’t learn in classes.  There were no technique classes to attend.  Their private lessons were tandas with the milongueros at Club Almagro and Club Buenos Aires.  The milongueros know how to dance well, and the women learned by dancing with them.

Teachers avoid explaining the embrace because they don’t use it themselves.  It is what sets tango apart from all other social dances.  Any milonguero viejo will tell you that the key to dancing tango is the embrace.   It is the vital element in the tango conversation.

I know many of you are thinking there is no way you can go to Buenos Aires to improve your dancing.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Find a way before the milongas and milongueros are extinct.  Or at least stop taking classes that don’t help your social dancing one bit.

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11 Responses to “Improving your social dancing”

  1. Berrnie Says:

    Love this … go to BA and ” dance every tanda for four hours” … sounds a blissful way to learn.

    Am wondering how realistic it is though? In BA are the “men who know how to dance” really that keen to invite the not so good learners from afar to dance socially in a milonga? Am especially sceptical when it comes to learners of a ‘certain age’ like me?

  2. Dieudonne Says:

    Great post, what you are suggesting can work only if one is willing to be with “not knowing” unfortunately, these days, not knowing something is not an option, so people hide their lack of knowledge behind a bunch or classes and workshops as in the case of Tango. The old dancers are saying “this is the way” and the three-thousand-hours-of-classes-under-their-belts professional students are saying “no, no, no this here! is the real way of tango”
    Give them time, Tango will lead them to itself.

  3. Berrnie Says:

    PS Will be in BA soon and would love to know the names of milongas where milongueros more likely to invite me to dance :-))

  4. jantango Says:

    I suggest it because I saw how it worked for my friend Jean. She wasn’t comfortable using the cabeceo at first because men in her town don’t use it; but once she got the hang of it, she had an invitation for every tanda. The men don’t know how you dance until they dance with you. Jean and I are mid-60s and the right age for the men in the afternoon/evening milongas.

    The mistake so many women make is going to the tourist circuit of night milongas where they don’t get to dance. The key is going in the late afternoon until about 10:00. Don’t waste time in women’s technique classes.

  5. jantango Says:

    I’ll give you a list of options when you arrive. It’s up to you to put out your antenna and get to the dance floor. Go alone, not in a group. Go to the same places each week so you become a familiar face in the crowd.

  6. Chris Says:

    Well said, Janis.

    And Dieudonne. Yes, what we have here is two increasingly diverging kinds of dancing – club tango and class tango. Some students genuinely want to do class tango, preferring the segregated dictated social environment of the class to that of the clubs, and that’s fine. But it saddens me to see the others – the many students mislead into believing that class tango is a route to club tango. This belief makes it so much harder to learn to dance club tango. The best cure is as Janis says – immersion in the BA milongas.

  7. jantango Says:

    Thanks, Chris, for making an excellent point — that the experience in classes isn’t anything thing like the milongas. How many classes include cabeceo practice, entering the floor, escorting the woman off the floor, crossing a crowded floor to meet a partner on the other side, etc. Immersion in the milongas is the only way to obtain those skills that teachers don’t mention.

  8. T Says:

    “How many classes include cabeceo practice, entering the floor, escorting the woman off the floor, crossing a crowded floor to meet a partner on the other side,”

    I think that was one of my first classes.

    Thing about lessons is feedback. In the culture here, women don’t refuse dances, so not even that crude level of feedback is possible at local milongas. Teachers give feedback. And sometimes fellow students also feel comfortable giving feedback during lessons. This helps me become a more comfortable lead.

    RIght now I don’t take any lessons, but I might again in the future.

    ‘Lots’ of classes wouldn’t help me though. it would either be private lessons targeting a specific area of weakness.. or group lessons to expose me to different approaches to leading, which I may or may not adapt and adopt for myself in whole or part.

  9. Ronan Says:

    5. Listen to music over and over and over again until you hear with you feet and dance with your ears

  10. Tom Says:

    Does the same advice fit for men who are learning tango? Or is there some asymmetry? Is there a minimum threshold for a guy before they can get practise through dancing in the milongas?

  11. jantango Says:

    Only you know when you feel ready to dance — not practice — in the milongas. You need to be prepared to drive in heavy traffic, protect your partner, feel the music and dance it.

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