My newbie years

Most topics posted recently on the Argentine Tango section of Dance Forum relate to newbies and beginners.  I want to share memories of my beginning steps and introduction into the world of tango.

I had the advantage of dance classes and piano lessons from a young age, so dance and music were second nature for me.  My parents were ballroom dancers who had a collection of tango recordings by American orchestras in the 1950s.  My sister and I were learning tango at home and dancing in the living room.

I started taking social dance classes at a Chicago studio in 1988.  There was a small group of Argentine tango enthusiasts who studied with local teacher who had been to Buenos Aires.  A man from that group who also had been to Buenos Aires offered to teach me what he learned.  We met regularly at my apartment building clubhouse to practice sequences for performance.  We watched videos by Gloria & Eduardo and Los Dinzel.  There was no connection to the music or my partner.  This version of tango focused on sequences.  After only six months of practice, we performed at a dance studio.

In 1992, I heard there was an Argentine couple on sabbatical in Chicago who were giving classes.  I signed up for private and group lessons.  I thought I was learning the tango danced in Buenos Aires milongas, but it was tango de salon for exhibition.

In 1993, I attended a Tango Week at Stanford University where Juan Carlos Copes taught his choreography for stage.  I added tango to my social dance classes at community education classes and park districts.

I thought that Chicago should have a tango week like Stanford, so I started planning it with Northwestern University for June 1995.  The teachers invited were not milongueros, so classes had nothing to do with social tango. The week was a success, but a disaster as far as learning social tango in the embrace.

International Argentine Tango Congress teachers – Chicago 1995

Finally, in March 1996, I went to Buenos Aires to see the tango in the milongas for myself.  I was still too brainwashed by all the classes over five years to immediately notice the differences.  The crowded floors were something I hadn’t seen before.

In February 1999, I moved to Buenos Aires.  It was a slow learning process that took years of development.  I didn’t grow up on tango music from the 1940s like the milongueros.  I couldn’t tell one orchestra from another.  I had to work my way up from the bottom of the barrel, dancing with horrible dancers, and recognizing the difference.  I knew I had come to the right place when I felt tango when embraced by the milongueros.

Tango is not something anyone learns quickly.  You need to know the music and that takes years of listening.  It takes time being comfortable in your own body as an adult who never danced as a teenager like the milongueros did.  They had time to practice, and time to create their own personal style.  There’s no hurry when you’re young.  Today adults who want to learn tango have no self-confidence and very little patience.  They expect proficiency in a short time.

Take it from a one-time newbie who had to start over from the beginning after learning performance tango for years — give yourself a break, take your time, feel the music, forget about your feet, and let your dance come out of you.  Don’t think tango, feel it.

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