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word of mouth 27-05-2015

We’ve had some really nice comments from students joining our classes that we thought we would share with you. It’s good to hear that people are recommending us and that we’re still doing things right:

“I would ask people where they go for classes and your names consistently came up.”

“All the ladies on the dance floor who had beautiful footwork seemed to come from your classes!”

“When I went out dancing, all the guys I seemed to enjoy dancing with most were your students.”

“I was going to be working in London for a couple of months and I wanted to continue taking classes. My tango teacher in Toronto recommended you.”

“I asked my teacher in Buenos Aires if she knew anyone teaching in London so I could continue learning back home. Her face lit up and she said she knew exactly who to recommend.”

Thank you guys for your lovely feedback!

Last night, David & I attended the LUKAS Awards Ceremony in London to pick up our Double Award: Tango Teachers of the Year and Tango Performers of the Year 2015.

Our two new trophies will take pride of place next to our trophy from 2014!

We feel proud to hold these awards, which were based on public voting and a decision by judges (including a choreographer from Strictly and four Tango World Champions).

Thanks to everyone for voting for us, supporting us and believing in us! We promise always to give more than 100% in every class we give!

Love always,

David & Kim

Adornments. One of my all time favourite things.

Of course, there are many, many things I love about tango - it would be too difficult to choose a favourite. The spine-tingling music, the enveloping embrace, the feeling of being swept away by my partner and into another world. Adornments are just part of that story. Yet, for me adornments add another dimension to tango and somehow complete the picture.

Often referred to as decorations, embellishments or “adornos” (from the Spanish), what are adornments? How, when and where do I use them? And finally SHOULD I use them?

What Are They?


Look up the word “adornment” in the dictionary and you’ll find a somewhat simplistic definition:

adornment[uh-dawrn-muh nt]
noun
something that adds attractiveness

Not much help if you’re trying to explain to someone what a tango adornment is! So I’ll take the plunge and make my own attempt at a tango definition:

tango adornment[uh-dawrn-muh nt]
noun
a movement executed by either the leader or follower in tango, independent of the lead, to add attractiveness, interpret the music, play or connect with one’s partner and to generally express oneself.

The most important defining feature of an adornment is that it is not part of the lead in tango. Accordingly, either the leader or follower can choose to do an adornment at any time he/she feels like it, provided it doesn’t interrupt the lead or connection in a negative way.

Why Do Them?


Tango is unique for the feeling of connection with our partner that it gives us. Much emphasis is placed on this when we learn. And rightly so because it is a very special thing and without it, the heart of tango is lost.

But tango is not exclusively about connection. It is a dance. Every human being is born with an innate urge to express themselves when they hear music that moves them to dance. Also important is how we choose to move and express ourselves in tango and that we exist as individuals, not just as somebody’s partner.

In particular, adornments for followers - who do not have control over any of the movements in the dance - create a unique opportunity to add personality and creativity to the dance. Indeed, it is only through adornments that the follower can contribute to the musicality of the dance.

However adornments don’t necessarily break or detract from connection. Adornments allow the follower to express to their partners how they are feeling and how they hear the music, so creating more of a two-way “conversation”. Ultimately in my experience, adornments can enhance the couple’s connection.

How Do We Learn Them?


When I first started to learn tango, I was told by several teachers that adornments could not be taught. I was told that they had to be felt, that they just somehow happened once you’d been dancing tango for many years. And that was the end of the conversation.

I felt a little bit dubious about this. Everyone learns in different ways, but I felt that if I wasn’t shown how to do them, I would be waiting more than a lifetime before they just spontaneously came to me! Besides, adornments are simply movements. What was it that couldn’t be taught about them?

What perhaps is difficult to teach about adornments is how to use them creatively and expressively. But this is not something that is unique to adornments. It is the challenge we face in any art, whether movement-based or otherwise. Techniques may be taught but then it is up to the individual to create.

Take the leader in tango, for example. He will be taught the “tools” - steps, techniques, principles - but then it is up to him to make the dance his own, by listening to the music and working creatively.

It may not be possible to teach creativity in the most conventional sense, but it can certainly be encouraged and harnessed by a good teacher. In our classes, we try first to explain the technique of a movement and then we try to inspire our students to use it creatively. I’m always excited when I see my students using adornments I’ve taught them musically or in ways I’ve never myself used them. That’s when I know I’ve done my job!

The Challenge


One of the greatest challenges of adornments is spotting the right moment to do them, without interrupting the dance or kicking yourself/your partner in the shins (unfortunately, we’ve all been there!).

This is more difficult for the follower than for the leader as she doesn’t know in any one moment what the leader will do next. The follower needs to be able to judge two things:

1) where to add an adornment and,

2) whether there is time for the adornment.

I often jokingly tell my students that the time they have to do an adornment is roughly the time it takes to think: “Shall I do it?”. But actually there is quite a lot of truth in that - the time we have is fleeting and we need to be decisive!

Three Stages to Learning Adornments


1) Master the Movement

It is a significantly more difficult to do an adornment during a tango if you haven’t yet mastered the movement itself. And you may be biting off more than you can chew.

Take time on your own - either in a class or at home (or in the supermarket, who’s judging!) to practice the movement. Repeat it so that your body knows it and it is no longer too taxing for you to execute it. Producing the movement in the right place and at the right time will then become much less of a challenge.

2) Put It into Practice

A lot of followers say that they find it difficult to know WHERE to do adornments. The best way to get started is - like most things in life - step by step.

Let’s say, for example, you are practicing a figure in a class and that figure starts with the leader’s side step to the left. Tell yourself that for just one class you will practice a certain adornment every time you feel the leader take that side step. Yes, it will be overkill but overkill is fine when you’re in a class (you will tone it down in the milonga) and it’s all about practice, practice, practice!

You may even get to the point that the adornment after the side step becomes so automatic for you, that you have to make an effort NOT to do it!

3) Feel It!

The first two stages may appear little mechanical but it is only once we’ve incorporated a movement into our body and our dance that we can start using it to express what we feel and what we hear in the music. The movement will start to smooth itself out and feel more natural. We’ll feel less time pressured when we slot it in. This is - in brief - what we are aiming for and what will give our adornments meaning.

SHOULD I do them?


Sometimes students feel that they are not advanced enough to do adornments and should wait until they have more experience.

It is true that both leaders and followers have other very important skills to focus on that should be given priority over learning adornments. If focusing adornments is distracting you from either leading or following, then you should perhaps put them aside for now.

However, there is nothing to stop you practicing adornments on your own in preparation for the time you are more ready for them. This will give you a head start. And actually when the movement itself is very natural to you, you may find that slotting in becomes a much easier task, presenting much less risk of distracting you from your partner’s movements.

Fear Barrier


Sometimes students report being held back by the fear that we’ll get it wrong and what that entails - perhaps a sore toe or the embarrassment of stumbling a little bit.

I tell my students that they need to try to overcome the “embarassment barrier”. Again, set yourself a goal. Tell yourself you’re going to practice a certain adornment one evening. Tell yourself that you don’t care if you get it wrong. I find that it works wonders and will set you free to express yourself.

Not All That Glitters Is Gold


And finally, just as an aside, try not to feel pressure to do adornments all the time. They are lovely yes, but it is possible to go overboard. Remember stillness can have a simple elegance and exude a quiet confidence. And just as you wouldn’t wear all your jewellery at once, nor do you have to throw in every adornment under the sun in one dance.

Sometimes dancers get so drawn by adornments that they run the risk of becoming the main show for them. Decorations should be simply the icing on the cake, adding to the moment but not ever taking over the moment itself. Too much focus on adornments can lead your partner to wonder whether you are actually dancing with or for them.

To get the balance right always stay true to yourself and the music - dance from the heart and - where you’ve put the practice in - the adornments will just flow.

This Saturday (and Next), It’s All About Adornments!


David and I have dreamed up a course starting this Saturday (and next) to help you put some of this advice into action.

We’ll have drills and exercises to help get your feet adornment-ready! And we’ll be at hand as always with clear instructions to dispel any confusions you have and help give your dance a unique elegance!

Suitable for men and women (and at times the class will be split in two).

When: Saturday 16th & 23 May 2015

Time: 1 - 3 pm + free mini-practica

Where: Marshall Street Leisure Centre, 15 Marshall Street, SOHO, W1F 7EL (5 mins from Oxford Circus)

Price: £25 - 1 week; £47 - 2 weeks

Level: Improvers Upwards (we usually have a mix of Improver, Intermediate and Advanced dancers in our Saturday workshops)

For more info: click here

Places will be offered on a first come first served basis. No partner necessary. No obligation to attend both weeks! Please contact us to pre-book.

We'd love you to join us!

A beginner student of ours recently revealed that he had gone to a milonga.

For the uninitiated, the “milonga” is the club where we dance tango socially. In fact, it is what it’s all about: what we go to classes to be ready for. And there are many milongas, not just in Buenos Aires, but in London and around the world.

And in class, to a certain extent, we recreate the conditions of the milonga. We dance in an anti-clockwise direction (the line of dance), try to avoid collisions with other couples and learn to improvise so that our steps can adapt to the ever-changing shape of the dance floor. We even change partners at regular intervals - by eye contact - just like in the milonga.

A question I’m often asked is how long one should wait before going to the milonga for the first time. A question I always find tricky to answer.

The first thing to know is that there is no such thing as a “milonga licence” (like a driving licence) gaining you entry to the milonga. Anyone can turn up and dance. But whether you would want to without a bit of experience first is another matter.

As it happens, the beginner student in question hadn’t asked me when he should go to the milonga. After 3 or 4 classes with us, he simply decided to go.

And how did it go? “It was really traumatic”, he reported smiling ruefully “I couldn’t remember anything, everyone else seemed to know what they were doing and there was this guy behind me who kept tutting at me like I was getting in his way”.

I was quite struck by his description of his experience as traumatic and it was this that inspired me to write this piece. After all, we dance tango for pleasure, therapy and as an antidote to the stresses of everyday life.

Don’t get me wrong, I know he wasn’t genuinely traumatised - but let’s just say he definitely didn’t enjoy the experience. And no doubt it knocked his confidence a little and put him off returning to the milonga for quite some time.

This is something that as a tango teacher - and we as a tango community - should definitely want to avoid. Luckily, the guy in question hasn’t let the experience put him off, has come back to classes and is working doubly hard on his tango.

So when is the best time to go to the milonga for the first time and how do we make sure it is as positive an experience as possible?

Why Is the Milonga So Different?

Theoretically, going to the milonga shouldn’t be so different to going to class. And if you can get round the dance floor in a class without too many collisions and improvise your steps, it shouldn’t be that big a deal to go the millonga …right?

As we so often find out, theory does not always translate into practice. It seems it is quite common to get a bit of “stage fright” when we go to the milonga, however irrational we know it to be. We know that everyone else there is just getting on with having a good time. We know there is no panel of judges who will be giving us the thumbs up … or the thumbs down. And yet, we can’t seem to shrug the inescapable feeling that this is the REAL THING. We don’t want to let our partner down. We don’t want to get in the way of the others on the dance floor. And are those people on the sidelines enjoying a quiet drink or are they watching us? Our palms begin to perspire …

So When to Take the Plunge?

Listen to your teacher and listen to yourself. Most students start to go to the milonga after a few months of classes. They may be encouraged to start by someone they have met in class and it may all just seem to happen naturally.

Everyone is different. I’ve had students who haven’t waited at all. I’ll never forget one happy-go-lucky guy who just threw himself into the deep end in his first week of tango without any trauma at all. But it was his nature to let very little ruffe his feathers. Another (very competent) dancer could not bring himself to go for more than a year, despite regular classes and our regular prompting. Again, it was just his personality to take a more cautious approach and he wanted to wait until he felt truly comfortable.

Illusion of Expertise

One thing most people report feeling when they go to the milonga for the first time is that everyone else seems to know what they’re doing.

I remember feeling exactly the same myself. I hadn’t been dancing tango for very long at all and I remember staring at all the couples on the dance floor, wondering how on earth they knew where to put their feet. They all seemed like experts to me.

Now, I’m not denying that there will be good dancers on the dance floor. However, in most milongas, this will not be universal. Yet, somehow our eye only sees the group as a whole and filters out those who are less experienced or even struggling a little. If you look a bit more carefully, you will spot those people and it might help you feel less conspicuous.

It is also important to realise that right now others may seem impossibly advanced to you but in a few months’ time, they will appear less so. And after a few more months still, you may seem impossibly advanced to another newcomer. Don’t believe me? I’ve seen it happen many times before!

Knowledge of the “Codigos”

It’s not the purpose of this piece to explain the “codigos” (milonga etiquette) in any detail. Most teachers will mention them in classes. And there are many articles out there on the web.

But in fact, you may find you know some of the most important ones already.

In class, you will have been dancing in an anti-clockwise direction and it is amazing how quickly this becomes entrenched. We rarely see people walking in the wrong direction even in our Absolute Beginner classes.

And a lot of the other codigos are quite logical and would apply in every day life, like for example trying not to bump into other people or if someone doesn’t accept a dance with you, not harassing them about it.

The rest you’ll be able to “learn on the job” and you’ll probably find the extent which they are applied in practice varies from milonga to milonga, so you will need to play it by ear a little.

But just to be on the safe side, here are a few definite DON’TS for the dance floor that should help smooth your way for your first time at the milonga:

1) Don’t walk across the dance floor at any time - always walk around edge of the dance floor even if the music has stopped.

2) Don’t have a chat while dancing. Wait until the music comes to an end for the small talk!

3) Don’t stay on the spot for too long. Be conscious that there will be people behind you as well as in front of you.

4) Don’t ask someone to dance without hearing the music first. You don’t want your first dance with the girl of your dreams to be a milonga tanda (group of three or four songs where the music is much faster!). Even if you’ve studied milonga and you’re ready for it, more experienced dancers usually wait to hear whether they like the music before asking someone to dance.

5) Don't correct your partner’s technique on the dance floor.. This is fine in a class (when done tactfully) but the milonga is the place where we simply enjoy ourselves and it is considered inappropriate to correct someone.

First Time Survival Guide

Here are just a few tips for making sure you have a positive first experience:

For Leaders

Keep it simple, stick to what you know and keep your eye on the road ahead!

Believe me, your partner will be more than happy if you simply walk with her and stop before you bump her into the couple ahead of you. Tango is in its essence a beautiful, harmonious walk. Never underestimate how lovely this is.

Your partner will be rather less happy if you try steps that you haven’t fully mastered yet. Contrary to what you may think, this will do the opposite of impressing her! Those steps are you for to experiment with and polish in class. You can think of them as still being in the “workshop”, and not yet “milonga-ready”.

Remember you have just as much right to be on the dance floor and enjoy the experience as anyone else. In fact it is often said that dancers who have just a little bit of experience can be more disruptive to the “ronda” (flow of the dance floor) than Beginners as they try and do more elaborate steps without yet having the control to do them without obstructing the dance floor.

For Followers:

It is all about the eye contact! Something that as Londoners we may not be very good at!

Like me, you may find that your first instinct is to look down as soon as someone looks your way. But although eyelashes fluttering downwards never stopped a Disney heroine getting her prince, they don’t cut it in the milonga!

It’s hard at first, but try to get used to holding someone’s gaze and not looking away. I personally must have missed so many lovely dances before the importance of this dawned on me! If you do this, it means one thing and one thing only: “I would like to dance with you. If you ask me to dance, I will accept.”

No leader enjoys being turned down for a dance and so this tiny little look could be all the encouragement he needs to ask you to dance.

For Both:

Don’t put yourself under any pressure to dance. Be happy to sit and observe. No one will know or care if you don’t get up and dance.

It can actually be a pretty fascinating (as well as instructional) experience watching others dance. It’s one of my favourite hobbies (when I’m not dancing myself of course!)

Our Nights Out

Keep an eye out on our website for our next Student Night Out, which we organise every few months. They are very sociable evenings when the whole of Tango Movement gets together, but they are also invaluable for the brave Beginners that join us. It is much easier to enjoy yourself at your first milonga if you are accompanied - and supported by - people you’ve already met (and probably already danced with) in class.

So let’s raise a glass and toast to your happy - and very untraumatic - first milonga experience!

1) You never leave the house without your tango shoes … just in case you get an unexpected chance to dance.

2) Hugging a complete stranger and nonchalantly walking off after 12 minutes is now a normal part of your daily existence.

3) You find yourself unconsciously doing little tango movements - under your desk, on the tube, in the lift. You half wonder whether it looks strange but you don't stop (you need to practice!)

4) When out with non-tango friends, you have to keep reminding yourself not to talk about tango the whole time.

5) You can no longer watch Hollywood or TV versions of tango without being filled with indignation.

6) Normal (non-tango) clubs now seem alien (and loud!) to you and you feel the absence of tango sharply.

7) You don't bother buying clothes that you can't dance tango in.

8) Most of the music on your playlist was composed before 1950.

9) You have considered getting rid of furniture to create space in your living room for practice.

10) When visiting a tango friend's house for a first time, you'll comment on the space they have to practice in

11) Small talk on a night out will usually include how sticky/slippery the floor is.

12) You know your friend won't think you're rude if you break off your conversation midway to accept an invitation to dance.

13) No one bats an eyelid if you comment on how pretty someone’s feet are.

14) Wherever you go in the world, you'll check out the local tango scene. And you're always planning your next trip to Buenos Aires.

15) The world is now divided into two: those who dance tango and those who don’t.

16) You secretly feel a bit sorry for those who don't.

17) The prospect of not dancing for more than a few days has become unthinkable.

18) You've briefly considered ignoring doctor's advice recommending that you don't dance for a while.

19) Your Facebook Newsfeed is gradually being taken over by tango-related posts, videos and events. Yes, even Facebook knows you’re an addict!

From the outset, I knew this was going to be a wedding dance like none other I had choreographed before.

Philippa and Daniel. Neither of them had danced tango before. Philippa had taken some salsa lessons, but Daniel had barely danced a step in his life. Philippa was incredibly excited about the dance classes …. Daniel, well let’s just say he had his reservations!

So nothing new there. And I would even go as far as saying that it was a pretty typical scenario. But there was something different this time.

Philippa and I had been close friends since we were 11 years old.

I still remember Philippa when we met on our first day at secondary school: thick rimmed glasses, knee high white socks and a navy blue skirt way below the regulation length. Unrecognisable from the beautiful woman with the hour-glass figure who walked down the aisle at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge, in November 2014.

Choreographing her wedding dance was going to be an exciting and emotional experience for me. Not only because of what it meant to me to see one of my oldest friends find her soulmate but because also for the first time I would actually watch one of my first dances LIVE!

Gulp! Would they forget what I had taught them? Would she get tangled up in her dress (she had warned me that her dress was VERY voluminous)? Would they be all the more nervous knowing their teacher was watching?

We had agreed that I would choreograph their wedding dance months beforehand but as so often happens when a wedding is being planned, things got left a little to the last minute. With four weeks to go to the wedding, Philippa and Daniel realised the only day they could both do was a Sunday. Four classes? I reassured them they would be fine!

I always love to be involved in someone’s wedding dance. Maybe it’s because I remember how important it was to me on my wedding day. But I also see it as a privilege to be able to contribute to something that I know the couple will cherish forever. I get excited about the prospect of them amazing their friends and family and always feel slightly disappointed that I won’t actually be there to watch the dance!

My challenge is to find movements that will make my couple - who usually have no dance experience - look wonderful, but without overwhelming them. Most couples already have enough on their plate in the run-up to a wedding without losing sleep over a complicated choreography! The trick is to choose movements that have the wow factor but which are actually deceptively easy. And to adapt and listen to the individual couple: what kind of dance do they want? Are they going for tender romance? Or do they want something dramatic and sexy? No one couple is the same and that is both the challenge and fascination of the job!

This time, I wouldn’t have to get to know my bride-to-be. I knew Philippa well and knew that she would want something with timeless elegance. But I didn’t know Daniel so well and I certainly didn’t know how he would respond to the classes.

I started off cautiously. It was the first class and Daniel, it seemed, had the jitters. A few times, he stopped and said he wasn’t sure he wanted to go ahead. He wasn’t sure he would remember the steps in such a short time. Crisis! I knew how important this was to Philippa!

So I gave him the simplest of steps: side step to the left, side step to the right. Philippa, I reassured him, will be doing the fancy steps. Philippa will be wearing the beautiful white dress! Don’t worry, all eyes will be on her!

And then something happened that surprised all of us (including Daniel). Daniel was actually GREAT at remembering steps! Before too long he was even reminding Philippa what she had to do! And he wanted a little bit more than a side-step to the left and a few steps forward. So we tweaked the choreography to give Daniel a few of his own moments to shine.

We had four amazing Sundays together that I’m sure we’ll all remember for many years to come. Lots of laughs, some nerves and most of all so much anticipation for the big day.

So when the day finally came, how did it go? Well, let’s say I had a few butterflies when the band struck the first few notes. I grabbed onto David’s hand and squeezed it. Philippa looked in my direction and smiled nervously.

Did it all go according to plan? Almost! They did forget a few of the details we had worked on. Did it matter? Not at all! Afterwards Philippa and Daniel told me that it had been like they were alone on the dance floor and that the moment had surpassed all their expectations. In their words, it was magical.

And really, there is not much more you can ask for than that!

Congratulations Philippa and Daniel. You were brilliant!

I've been a perfectionist all my life. And its probably fair to say that it has been both a blessing and a curse.

As a child, I would drive myself (and my mother) crazy trying to get my school book drawings just right. I would rub out my sketches again and again, until the page would rip, making me cry in distress.

Perfectionism has given me an eye for detail, driven me to work hard, demand high standards of myself and probably achieve more than I would have done otherwise.

With tango, I am no different. I feel the need to know exactly how to do something down to the smallest detail and I get frustrated if I don't have complete dominion over it. And I sense that among my fellow tango dancers and students, I'm in good company. Although tango attracts all different types of people, I believe that it's subtleties and complexities often attract people who like to delve into the detail and get things just right.

And surely this is a good thing? The detail makes up the whole after all. And it has certainly helped me to understand tango on a deeper level and, as a teacher, helped me convey messages to my students.

However, perfectionism can be an affliction for a dancer and needs to be kept in check. Here's why.

Nobody's Perfect

We've heard it many times and we all know it is true: there is no such thing as perfect. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to us that the pursuit for perfection is likely to end in disappointment.

And this is so much more the case in dance (or indeed in any other performance art).

Let's say you're writing a novel. You know there is no such thing as perfect - there are many, many ways you could approach each paragraph - but at least you can go back and modify, tweak, even delete large swathes of your work. In dance, every moment counts and once that moment passes, there is no way to go back and recuperate it.

In tango, perfection is even more elusive. Tango is an improvised dance and as such is destined to be full of many little imperfections. The follower has no idea what the the leader will lead from one moment to the next. The leader himself usually does not know what he will lead until just the moment before.

As beginners, we can get quite anxious about making mistakes. However the more experienced we become, the more at ease we begin to feel with them. It is not uncommon - and it is actually quite charming - to see a couple make a mistake on the dance floor and giggle about it. And it is certainly better than seeing them look distraught!

I always remember Osvaldo Zotto - my partner's maestro and mentor and with whom I also took classes - once told us: the most important thing in tango is not to avoid mistakes but to resolve them.

And as Al Pacino famously said in that classic scene from Scent of A Woman:

"No mistakes in tango, not like life ... It's simple. That's what makes the tango so great ... if you make a mistake, get all tangled up, just tango on"

Perfectly Imperfect

Rather than get frustrated with our imperfections, we need to embrace them. Tango can in fact be more beautiful because of them. In nature, there is no such thing as perfect. A perfectly straight tree for example would lose its beauty.

And I’ve fallen in love with many tango performances that I’ve watched despite the fact that I notice their technical imperfections. This is because they convey an emotion, express musical nuances or have a beauty or uniqueness of their own which transcends the need for absolute perfection.

Although interestingly, I’ve never been quite so forgiving of my own imperfections!

Creative Flow

Another problem with the desire for perfection in tango is that it can block our creative flow. If you are practicing a movement on your own, you can work on it to the minutest detail until you feel that you have completely mastered it. But when you are dancing, you need to balance the desire for perfection with the importance of feeling and expression. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding that the more I allow things to flow and let go of control, the more I allow moments of inspiration to arise.

Self-Belief

Perfectionism can also make you feel negative about yourself and self-belief is a vital element of dance. It’s not about arrogance or vanity, but simply enjoying the movement that you are creating.

You only need to look at the world of sport, to see the importance of self-belief to performance. Sports commentators are always talking of the impact of psychology on the outcome of a match: the battle of wills between tennis players, the blow to a team’s morale if a goal is scored just before half-time. A negative thought can make a footballer miss a penalty kick; positive thoughts can help a runner win a marathon.

If you have a constant negative narrative in your mind - continuously correcting your technique, telling yourself that it wasn’t good enough - this will have a negative impact on your dance. And it will certainly have a negative impact on your enjoyment of tango.

Perfection Is Subjective

Something I’ve learnt over the years is that your perception of how you dance is entirely subjective. There have been times when David & I have given a performance that on a personal level we were not happy with, but then have been surprised by the positive response we’ve received.

The converse has also proved to be true: we have done performances where we have felt things flow, the connection, the magic happen. And yet, we didn’t feel afterwards (either from the applause or the comments we received) that anyone had noticed anything different.

One dance which is commonly thought to achieve perfection is classical ballet. After a lifetime of gruelling dedication to your art, and being at the top of your game, surely perfection is possible?

I’m lucky to have as a friend a principal dancer of the Royal Ballet. World famous, she is considered to be one of the best dancers of her time. Off-stage she is a lovely, modest person who speaks openly about her professional experiences. A few days ago, I watched a televised performance of her pas de deux. And I felt the sudden need to delete this entire blog post!

Perfection Exists! There it is! In front of my eyes!

And then I remembered something. We had been to see her perform that very evening. The video cameras had been there. And afterwards, over dinner, she had told us that she had felt a little “shaky”, that she wasn’t used to cameras filming her for such a serious ballet and it had disorientated them all a little.

No evidence of this can be seen in the breathtaking footage, but it seems that to her at least her performance felt very different.

So when you inner voice starts to judge how you are dancing, try to remember that your perception will most probably be very different to the perception of others.

Finding A Balance

I can usually identify fellow perfectionists in my classes. They often are pretty down on themselves as dancers (despite the fact everyone loves to dance with them!). They usually make exceptional progress, but don’t recognise it because of their perfectionistic nature. They easily get dispirited.

It’s a delicate balance to tread. As perfectionists we are our own worst critics. We should aim to harness our perfectionism to help us fulfil our potential but also be aware of its pitfalls. We need to know when to draw the line and enjoy. Remember that to be imperfect is to be human and:

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

— Marilyn Monroe

Tango has had a tumultuous journey.

It was born in the slums of Buenos Aires in the late 19th Century. It enjoyed a Golden Age in the 1930ʼs and 1940ʻs only to go into decline in the 1950s. It somehow survived a military dictatorship when it was outlawed and it may well have died completely if it had not been for a group of dedicated “milongueros” who kept the culture alive.

Towards the end of the 20th Century and now in the 21st Century it is enjoying something of a revival. Tango has once again become the worldʼs darling. Blinking it has stepped out of the darkness and into the light. And it has discovered that since its heyday, the world has changed.

The Age of Chivalry is seemingly over. Women have won the Battle of the Sexes. Can tango - a dance which is essentially all about a man being a man, a woman being a woman - survive in this new world?

Every Friday and Saturday, I welcome Beginners to tango for the first time. Most work in the West End and the City and are still wearing their suits from the office. Many are looking for something to distract themselves from their demanding professional lives.

I explain to my female students their role as a follower in tango: there can only be one leader and one follower! Try not to anticipate, try not to think! Focus only on the guyʼs chest and allow your movements to tune into his.

And every week, they respond with words to this effect:

“Iʼm not sure I can do this following thing!”

“Iʼm used to telling him what to do!” [smiling playfully at their partner]

“Itʼs not in my personality to follow. I keep leading.”

And I always think, thatʼs a relief! I would be pretty worried if they chirped: “EASY! Iʼm so used to being told what to do, this should come naturally to me!”

However, after a few weeks, these strong-minded professional women are all following. Why? Because tango is completely improvised and if you have no idea what your partner is going to do next, you quickly learn the futility of trying to lead.

Beaten into submission? Not at all! It is an amazingly beautiful and therapeutic experience to tap into your feelings, not your thoughts. To let yourself go and allow yourself to be carried through the music.To give up control. A tango lasts three minutes and when the music stops, the leader and follower stand apart as equals.

And it strikes me that perhaps tango has a very important role to play in modern life

A very dear student of mine is a consultant doctor in intensive care. Despite having enormous stresses in her every day life, she always makes time for her tango class. Her profession demands such an overwhelming degree of responsibility from her, that to her it is a blessing (indeed a need) to be able to give up responsibility for just a few minutes ... or a few hours if she dances all night!

Another (male) student of mine, said something very interesting the other day after class. He said how he felt that tango allowed him to be entirely masculine for a few moments and he was surprised how much he enjoyed this. And I know that there are many women who also enjoy that tango gives them an open invitation to be completely feminine.

And it occurs to be me that perhaps in this day and age of gender equality, we at times feel the need to explore our masculinity/femininity without fear of this being frowned on or impinging on the equal rights that we have fought so hard for.

I am aware that this blog could be misconstrued as anti-feminist. So I just want to make it clear: as a woman there is no other age that I would prefer to have been born in. In my motherʼs class at school, most of the girls were expected to become housewives, teachers, nurses or secretaries. Despite this my mother became one of five women to attend law school. However, after qualifying as a solicitor, she was unable to get a mortgage or buy even a radio on credit, because she didnʼt have a male guarantor. And this was as recent as the 1960s! I was brought up to be incredibly grateful that women - at least in the Western World - are treated as menʼs equals.

But I love the romance of tango and have found that I love being unashamedly feminine. And there is nothing that makes me feel more feminine than tango.

In any event, Tango in the 21st century is not as politically incorrect as it may at first seem.

Tango is much more about chivalry than machismo. As I mentioned in my last blog post, the leaderʼs objective in tango is to make the follower feel WONDERFUL. It is about guiding the follower, not demanding of her. A good leader doesnʼt just lead, he also listens. He is sensitive to what the follower needs and the more experienced you become in tango, the more dance begins to resemble a two-way conversation.

A leader who insists on leading movements that the follower is struggling to understand is frowned upon. So just as much as the follower tunes her movements into the leaderʼs, a leader must adjust his movements to the follower. And the result is a perfect harmony between two people.

And to really silence any critics, in recent years, it has become acceptable to explore the other role in tango. Are you a woman who would prefer to lead? No problem! Same sex tango or tango with inverted roles (the man following, the woman leading) can be found in most tango communities around the world. It is not uncommon to have ladies in our classes who, having learnt the followerʼs role, would now like to explore the leaderʼs role. Or a leader to try his hand at following, either as a means of improving his leading or simply because he enjoys it. In fact, in our classes we often replace the words “men” and “women, with “leaders” and “followers”.

Tango a dance for the 21st Century? Absolutely!

It is one of the curses of dancing tango that you will find yourself misunderstood by all but a small collection of fellow tango fanatics. It is something that we tango dancers learn live with. Family members, colleagues, even very close friends, will ask well-meaning but totally misconceived questions.

And we canʼt blame them. We know that not everyone in the world will fall head over the heels with tango (although secretly we wonder why). And we know that tango - contrary to popular belief - is not a mainstream dance. Sure, youʼll find it in Hollywood and on Strictly but thatʼs not the real tango. Thatʼs a pantomime, a caricature of the real dance.

Then there is that rather unfortunate coincidence that it shares a name with ballroom tango, leading people to believe that the two dances must in some way resemble each other. Most tango dancers I know internally cringe to think that anyone they know think that this is what they dance every weekend!

Most people have no idea of what tango is really about. And although a lot of us want to shout out to the world how amazing tango is, in some ways we like it that way. We like tango - real tango that is - to be a little underground, like being part of a secret club.

So what is the truth about tango?

EXTERNAL APPEARANCES

Tango is utterly beautiful to watch. You knew that. But did you also know that it is how tango feels (for you and your partner) that is just as - if not more - important?

Tango is not just about external appearances, but about an amazing connection between two people. A connection that simmers beneath the surface so that it is barely visible to anyone outside of the couple.

It is often said that tango has a lot in common with martial arts and tai chi in particular. There have been studies drawing parallels between tango and transcendental meditation.

MACHISMO

Tango has a reputation for being a macho dance. And surely it is so: the man leads, the woman follows. Thereʼs no way round it. But did you know the lead is more about guidance, listening and communication, than giving orders? “Push” and “pull” are words you will not often hear in a tango class. “Invite”, “breathe”, “lift” are more commonplace.

And did you know the lead is all about making the follower feel AMAZING. That is the leaderʼs prime objective. What could be better than that?

SERIOUS AND SAD

Tango is always so serious. But is it really? There is another side to tango that is playful, upbeat and flirtatious. It is multi-faceted. Like a person, it doesnʼt have just one mood.

And even when itʼs mood becomes more brooding, it doesnʼt necessarily make you feel sad. There may be times tango makes you feel nostalgic or melancholic, but I find that this is in a cathartic kind of way, like watching a sad film.Most of the time, however, it does nothing of the sort. In fact, tango can take you away to another place, giving you an unparalleled feeling of escape, bliss and even at times euphoria. It is not uncommon to see a couple on the dance floor, gripped a close embrace, cheek to cheek, and each with a dreamy smile on their face.

Tango is like an onion: the more layers you peel off, the more you discover to enjoy. And one thingʼs for sure, youʼre never going to discover the truth about tango by reading a blog. Youʼre going to have to find out for yourself!

As a a Beginner told me just the other day, after his third or fourth class:

“Tangoʼs nothing like what I expected it to be. But itʼs so much better.”

As a tango teacher surrounded by students, I often think how wonderful it is to have just found tango with all those amazing discoveries ahead of you. For many people, the first few years of studying tango is a little like falling in love. You wake up in the morning and you immediately start planning how youʼre going to dance that day. You never leave the house without your dance shoes “just in case”. And your non-tango friends start to get a glazed expression whenever the subject turns to tango ... which is often!

But the path is not always smooth. Learning a new skill can be tough. You will have your setbacks - days when things donʼt seem to work, days when you have to deal with a not-so-tactful partner. And one common complaint is that of conflicting information.

You may already have already gone through it: youʼre told one thing by one teacher, only to be told something else by another. You accept that tango will take a while to master and youʼre happy - more than happy - to spend your free time learning it. But if you hear one thing, spend hours working on it, only to be told what appears to be the complete opposite, it can be quite dispiriting.

So I thought it would be useful to talk about the issue of conflicting information, why it arises and how best to deal with it.

The Tango Rule Book

If youʼre thinking “the The Tango Rule Book? Iʼve never heard of it, I must get hold of it”, Iʼm afraid Iʼm going to disappoint you. Unlike some other dance forms, there is no tango rule book. Yes, you can buy tango books, instructional DVDs, but, just like when you take a class, they will just tell you how they do it, how they have been taught. There are no official rules in tango and most of us “tangueros” like it that way.

Tango is a little bit like folklore ... it is passed down from generation to generation for those who love tango and are committed enough to study it. Yes, this can mean that it is a little less structured than some other dances and yes it can sometimes mean that there will be some differences in opinion as between teachers, but it creates a much more free, more creative dance. No one is worried about be penalised for having a little finger out of place, and in my opinion, this has allowed tango to breathe and grow into the wonderful dance that it is today.

But it is not total chaos. As I said, tango is passed down from generation to generation.`It has a core, an essence and once youʼve dedicated time to tango youʼll be able to recognise when something just is or isnʼt tango, what is correct (and there can be different versions of correct) and what is definitely not correct.

Other Dance Forms

But we canʼt pin everything on the fact that tango doesnʼt have a rule book. Even in the most structured of dances, youʼll find different schools, styles and methodology. In ballet for example, there are different schools: English, Russian, French and so on. And even within one school, one teacher may differ in the detail from another.

So itʼs good to know that weʼre not alone in tango!

Different Approaches

Sometimes it can appear that you are receiving conflicting information but in fact it is just a different way of explaining the same thing. It sounds like this would be very obvious, but you would be surprise how long it can take for students to realise this.

Here is a simple example to illustrate this. It is a real one - students, even those who have been dancing for several years, have come to me with this.

Letʼs imagine you have three teachers A, B & C and they are all trying to explain how to turn the torso in order to pivot:

-Teacher A tells you to move your shoulder backwards.

-Teacher B says you should use your back muscles.

-Teacher C says that he initiates the movement in his abdominal muscles.

The students in question were left feeling confused. However, if all three teachers got together and compared their techniques, they would probably agree that they are doing the same - or very similar - movement, but just thinking of it in a different way. Their point of departure may come down to which way works best for them as dancers or how to best to convey the movement to a student.

The Studentʼs Language

A teacher may adapt their teaching to speak the “language of the student” - i.e. what they think that individual student will understand. This will differ according to the experience level of the student or the type of learner they are.

For example some students might find it easier to be given anatomical information - e.g. to lift their abdominal muscles. Another might better grasp what to do through an analogy - e.g. to imagine they are zipping up a pair of jeans. It is one of the challenges of a teacher to find the explanation that will work for you - the explanation which will be your “light bulb” moment.

So if suddenly youʼre given an anatomical explanation after previously visualising an analogy, it might seem like youʼre learning a brand new concept, but it is simply a different way to describe the same thing.

Simplification or White Lies

A teacher may choose to simplify information in order to give it to you in more bite-sized pieces - so as not to confuse you at the stage of development they perceive you to be. In fact it is not uncommon for a teacher to subsequently say “Remember I once told you that you always have to do such and such ... well, actually, there may well be times ...”.

This is less confusing when you have continuity with this teacher over a period of time. They will then have the chance to give you the full story or develop the concepts when they feel itʼs the right time for you. Unfortunately, however, it can give rise to considerable confusion where you donʼt have that continuity.

Context

Sometimes it can appear that you have received a conflicting piece of information but what it really comes down to context. It is important for every student to be aware that what they are learning is often context-specific.

In one class for example, a teacher might be focusing on working with a strong dynamic. If in a subsequent class youʼre then told to tone down the energy, you might feel a little perplexed. But in fact, the first teacher may have just been suggesting you use strong energy in certain contexts - as an option for varying the feel of the dance.

Different Styles

It is important bear in mind that with any teacher you will inevitably be learning their style, their way of doing things. It would be a very boring world if we all danced the same! If you are confused that two teachers have told you to do something differently, simply watching them dance (in the milonga or performance) can be very revealing!

Of course, there will be some stylistic differences that are not visible from the outside. For example the amount of energy to put into the embrace or into the outstretched arm. Just as every person is unique, so is the feel of their embrace. And the fact that every partner feels different only enrichens our tango experience.

In certain matters it may come down to deciding which style you prefer or perhaps which style feels more “You”. Or why not be a magpie, collecting different tips and stylistic points from different dancers to help make your dance unique?

Ask Why

Sometimes students tell us that they have learnt something from another teacher - say a visiting teacher from Buenos Aires - but that they canʼt understand it or that it conflicts with their prior understanding. Our first question in these cases is whether they asked the teacher “why”.

If the conflicting information automatically makes sense and works for you, then this is not issue. You probably wonʼt feel the need to ask “why”. The problem arises when a student canʼt make head nor tail of it or when it seems to be just as valid, yet different, to what they had previously understood. This is when “why” becomes important.

You may not like to be seen to be questioning a teacherʼs authority. This is understandable. However a good teacher will not be rattled by questions and will actually be pleased you are asking them. In my experience most questions that start: “this is probably a stupid question ...” are the complete opposite! And even if it is basic, anyone who is passionate about teaching will be empathetic and appreciate the importance of your question even if the answer does seem obvious to them

The “why” will enable you to really understand what you are being asked to do and give you a proper chance to compare it to your original understanding. It will help you decide if any of the reasons above (different approaches, style, context etc) apply and make a choice as to whether youʼd like to incorporate it into your dance.

Find Your Own Path

As dancers, we are all unique. Movements, techniques and styles will all suit our temperaments and bodies differently. It is difficult when you are a beginner, but as time goes on youʼll increasingly be able to find your own path. To become a discerning student.

Over the years, you may even find your tastes change - that you prefer different styles - or that as your understanding of tango deepens, youʼre able to adopt new ideas that previously you werenʼt ready for. Adapting the way you dance as time goes on is not necessarily a backward step - it is part of the learning process and can be fascinating.

And the more we see things as options, ideas - not gospel - the more we can get down to the very serious business of enjoying tango.

Find a Mentor

In all of this, it is good to have a mentor, someone you can always ask when you get confused. We encourage our students to come and tell us what they have learnt from other teachers. As they often get the chance to take just a few classes with another teacher, confusions are common. Tango is a rich and complex dance and you will never learn all a teacher has to offer from just a few classes. But having someone you can bounce ideas off, can really help to piece together the little pieces of information you have received to make a fuller picture.

So there it is. I hope this post will help you deal with any confusions you have on your tango path, paving the way for an easier, smoother and more enjoyable journey!

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