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Better Tango is Possible Through Intensive Study

Posted by [email protected] on July 11, 2014 at 11:25 AM

Vast Majority

For the vast majority of dancers that come to Argentine Tango, they acquire their tango information in one of the following ways:

a.) Going to a class when they can. b.) Pick up information here and there from different people. c.) ‘Study' via YouTube videos. d.) Go to a practica and ‘practice’ on a ‘regular’ basis to pick up a few things here and there. e.) Go out social dancing at least once a month. f.) Take a class series because some amazing teacher is in town, g.) Go to a weekend where that teacher is teaching and make the attempt at ‘upgrading’ their skills. h.) Private Lessons!

Most people fall into one, if not multiple categories, above when acquiring tango knowledge. Any one of these methods is very unstructured, haphazard, unfocused, and subjective at best (especially b). There is no clear path of study, nor a goal in mind other than to have ‘fun’, just random bits and pieces of ‘dark’ or unclear information without any relation to a foundation of where that ‘bit’ of information comes from, or more importantly WHY it’s important. In short without a qualified information source, you’re essentially taking in bits of information that may or (more than likely) may not be helpful to your experience. 80% of dancers fall into the undesirable to dance with category for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is ignorance. The trouble is that they don’t know that they’re ‘undesirable’ nor will they unless there is an intervention on some level. To be clear, we’re not talking about stage performance, or social dancing at the highest levels, we’re talking about week-in/week-out every day social dancing.

Some Clarity About The Methods

a.) Going to a class now and again is lot like picking up a book in between other important things in your life. It’s a passing entertainment from the real show that is your life. You may glean a point here and there but there are other things to do. Right ? b.) Feedback from people is a good thing to a point. The downside of using this process of gleaning the finer points is that the people that you get that information from aren’t critical in their assessment, and they have no wish to hurt your feelings. Nor are they likely to be detailed, clear, or concise. Then there’s the possibility that their understanding of the underlying technique is flawed, but you’ll never know that (and neither will they)! And on top of all of that they aren’t adept at creating multiple pathways to clarity in their points (side note: most teachers aren’t able to do this either, so be aware!). Most people learn in radically different ways, one way of explaining does not fit all people. c.) You can learn quite a few things from YouTube videos...cutting out paper animals, why the country that we think of Holland is actually called “The Netherlands”, the history of English in 10 minutes (which is actually quite amusing), and the like. The one thing you can’t learn from a YouTube video is Argentine Tango. You can learn a few steps and figures, absolutely. The one thing you can’t learn is how it’s supposed to feel. For that, you need a qualified instructor and a room full of people all doing the same thing. You can combine both (I know several people that have done exactly that), and the results will vary widely. Not to mention the quality of the instruction is … questionable. Ahem. Let’s just say it’s not exactly the best method and leave it at that. You can however use video as reminder information once you’ve been through a series with a teacher. Videos can be very helpful in that respect, however as the sole source of information, not so much. NEXT!!! d.) A complete waste of time for 95% of dancers because most people treat the practica as a Social Milonga, and not the fertile ground of individual solo practice and feedback on technique. There is no discussion of what happens or what you’re doing at a practica, women don’t ask men for a dance, men don’t dance with other men, women don’t lead at practicas (mostly)….etc. In short, the practica’s only function is that it is a social playground to see your friends and that’s about it. Furthermore for those that do go to the practica to actually ‘practice’, it’s ‘dancing’, instead of working on the one thing that you need to…your foundation. Dancing is all fine and good but there’s no analysis to go with it. You’re not getting clear, critical, structured feedback from your partners and on top of that you’re not asking for it. And then there’s the part where ‘regular’ isn’t all that regular…it’s more like once a month if that! You don’t make a daily routine of your study or practice and you don’t actually take that out to a practica and ask others for their feedback…nor is there any personal investigation in what your teachers have told you…no self discovery, you just accept blindly what your teachers have told you is tango truth! e.) Social dancing once a month is not enough….more is required on a regular basis! At the very least, twice a week….at minimum. f & g.) The complete time suck and waste of your hard earned cash….the visiting instructor comes to town and you spend 100 - 150 (dollars/euros) for a weekend of…what did you learn exactly ? Have you looked at the video you shot ? Have you even practiced once what that teacher told you ? Nope. You are being indoctrinated into a way of dancing WITHOUT understanding the underpinnings of that teacher’s foundation (which will take some time understand, not just an hour!)….true you’ll learn a very nice combination that only applies in 10% of the dance, and that you will never use on a social dance floor...but at least you’ll feel good about it! Lastly, h.) Private Lessons are….expensive, and not always effective, and the reason is really simple...because you go to lessons expecting to magically fixed, without doing the underlying work or the compulsory study that is required. A one off private lesson here and there will give you a few reminders but the simple fact is that this is not going to change your dance in any meaningful way over time for the reasons already stated.

In short, the way that you’ve been going about your tango education is about as useful as a small kitchen appliance, unplugged!

Is there a better method ? Yes. Intensive Study. Some of the better dancers that I have had the pleasure to dance with have bucked the trend above and instead went a little tango ‘crazy’. They set themselves on a path of personal intensive tango study and discovery, and in the end this made all the difference on multiple levels.

What is “Intensive Study" ?

This term can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And frequently it's a very misused title to describe a few 'longer' private lessons (still an hour in length) where said teacher will blow smoke up your ass about how good you're doing, all the while taking your money and smiling about it. It’s a marketing ploy to part your money from your wallet or credit card. Especially if it’s taught by a visiting YouTube star. I won’t name names here but I’m certain you can think of a few.

There are 5 things that it should mean:

1.) Repeated stress of the fundamentals, a complete review of your foundation and continually working on improving the foundation of how you move, how you walk, how you extend your legs, where you land on your feet, how you land your feet, where and how to hold your arms and hands. The importance of Body Position and Body Placement (two different concepts that almost no one talks about) for both Lead and Follow. Understanding the differences in the styles or ideas of tango and why they work and why the fail (exceedingly important) to understand what you’re looking at, and what’s going to cause you lots and lots of pain later on down the line. This part is about retraining you to listen to how your body is moving and to make it do something far more stable and clean. How ? Not thru dancing, dancing teaches to you respond to another person (which is a requirement), but through solo drills and individual study of walking foundation, movement foundatioon to increase 3 things -> a.) your balance, b.) your agility, and c.) your kinesthetic awareness.

2.) Learning about the Music. Is it any wonder that some social dance floors look like a traffic jam in Mumbai ? As much as this is due to Navigation, it’s also about how people are taught (or as is the case NOT taught) to actually hear the music. To be clear this is not interpretation, it’s a matter of not being able to hear the beat, the pauses, and later on the musical phrases (which can be open to interpretation - later on). Tango music is insanely, and deceptively, complex. Because of that fact most people end up hearing or identifying the wrong things and then more than likely end up moving to the melody and not the beat, confusing up with downbeat, not engaging pauses which are insanely important for a variety of reasons for both lead and follow, etc. Failure to actually hear what’s happening in the music (in tango, vals, or MILONGA) and you’re just asking for trouble, which is exactly what happens! The primary issue is that most western music contains a drum, tango music does not! Without the percussion instrument telling you what and WHERE the beat is, and where the pauses are (if there are any in modern music I haven’t heard it), it’s just racing around the floor, which is typically what happens. There is no relationship to what you’re actually dancing to and more importantly WHY you are dancing to it. Furthermore, very few teachers spend time on the orchestras, their history, their discography, and more importantly, their STYLE of music and what the difference is between Francisco Canaro’s version of “Soñar Y Nada Mas” and Alfredo De Angelis’s version and why this distinction is important on multiple levels. Understanding WHO you are dancing to informs your choice of dance partner for a variety of reasons!

3.) Going out social dancing twice a week at least, plus going to practicas and setting up practice sessions either daily with others OR working by yourself (yes you can practice by yourself each and every day).

4.) Codigos, the codes of the dance, or how to operate at a milonga. Frequently you’re given tango lessons, and you show up at a milonga and are just expected to understand the way to ask for a dance, the way to decline a dance,....and so on. Very few teachers talk about about how to operate at a milonga because it’s not sexy, it doesn’t sell lessons, but is an absolute requirement to learning the dance.

Lastly 5.) Teaching you to Lead *AND* Follow at the same time, with 2 sessions a week to do each (1 lead, 1 following).

An intensive study should be a series of sessions (about 20 to 30 of them, over a short period of time, about 3 months) that encompass these 5 things over a series of topics. Each session should be about 1.5 hrs in length with video examples, video tutorials, and video review of your progress.

Most people can see the purpose in the first 4 items….fundamentals, music, codigos, social dancing, and so on…but what’s this business of learning both roles ? The purpose of teaching you to Lead AND Follow at the same time is so that you have a complete picture of the whole process not just your side of the embrace. It’s the underpinnings of how something is done, what to expect, and how things should work vs. the haphazard, vague understanding and EXPECTATION of the way things SHOULD BE done and have been done. You are a Lead and you may never dance the Follower’s role socially or vice versa, but this practice gives you a greater understanding and empathy for what you are asking of your dancing partner! In short my father always used to say to me, “never ask a man to do a job that you haven’t done yourself”, this axiom holds true in the process of learning the other role!

What are the benefits ?

Two words: BETTER DANCING! On a level you can’t begin to imagine, and the reason you can’t begin to imagine it is because you’ve never had an experience of the kind of dancing that these feeble words attempt to convey. Yes you’ve probably had a ‘magical’ tango experience here and there. No denying that. However, are you able to reproduce those experiences at will ? Furthermore, can you do that with each and every partner ? (or nearly) Can you pick any piece of music and dance to it, with each and every partner, without error ? Are you able to pick out the orchestra name, and the title of the song ? Do you know why this is important ? Are you dancing with all the best dancers in the room, continually ? Is your facebook page strewn with smilies and happy faces from all the people that you have danced with, is there a legend about your skills ? And lastly is there a long line of people for you to dance with at every milonga, no matter what city you’re in ? If the answer to any of those questions is NO (and more than likely they’re all ‘NO’;) then you my friend are ripe for Intensive Study so that you turn all of those “NO’s” into “YES’s”. The benefits far outweigh your ego being bruised a little bit, or your time to other things missing for a little while.

Truth be told, if your teacher is worth what you’re paying them, you should start to see results in about 4 to 6 weeks, a complete overhaul of your abilities, a transformation. This assumes that you have hit the fundamentals and foundation hard, and that you are doing drills and practicing those drills daily, and assuming you are following the regime that’s laid out above.

Side Note: Concerted study with a singular teacher is a great idea. It gives you unfettered access to their process and shows you how they create a dancer from the ground up. However this method usually teaches you to dance like a parrot of that teacher’s ideas which is NOT what you want. You ideally want to study with a teacher that will teach you HOW TO MOVE and not to parrot them! The best teachers teach you how they move then ask you to explore other options and ideas or the present a range of ideas and movement styles!

The private lesson route, which really is the only way to fly, is going to be insanely costly! There is no doubt about that. However because you’re buying a load of sessons (not lessons) in BULK you have some leeway in terms of pricing. Remember, you’re buying in bulk so it’s no longer and hourly lesson plan, and you’re doing about 30 (or 45 hrs) of these things, the content doesn’t’s the time that matters the most. So you should see a drop in the rate by almost 30% or take one of my intensive study courses (shameless plug … see links below).

While I specialize in this form of study and have become exceptionally successful at creating dancers that literally change in the span of 3 months on their way to better, you can set up something similar for yourself with your local teachers.

The whole point of this process is so that at the end of your tango educational experience you can go anywhere in the world, dance with anyone, and answer “YES” to all of the questions above. And trust me when I say this, you want to answer “YES” to all of those questions above.

Miles Tangos is an international teacher that leads “Tango Intensives” worldwide. He has several upcoming Intensives, in Boston, MA (, Hamburg, and in Buenos Aires in January 2015 ( He also writes a daily Tango tidbits facebook page called Tango Truisms which he strongly suggests you read religiously, ( or buy the book of Truisms for $9.99 US -> You can find out more at his website, 

Categories: Tango