Today, we are doing something a little bit different. We want to help you identify precisely how you can improve your tango in the coming months.
Here are 8 common tango mistakes that we regularly help our students correct No dancer does all of them, but they are mistakes that are easy to develop. If unchecked, they can become bad habits that stay in your dancing for long.
So, we thought we would share them here, so you can see – or ask partners – if you tend to do any of them.
Correcting just one or two will really step up your tango game. Identify what you want to work on, and make it your tango goal to adjust them.
1. COMMON MISTAKE #1: Tension in the upper body => CORRECT BY: Understanding and feeling what Abrazo means
In tango, the power comes from the floor and from the lower part of the body.
Why not from the upper part of the body? Because in order to be connected with our partner, we need to be absolutely relaxed in the upper body.
Yet a lot of dancers put tension in the arms and shoulders. When you lose your balance, or want to do big movements, you often end up tensing up the upper body… which is uncomfortable for your partner.
You need to understand that the abrazo is a hug (Abrazar means to hug). It is not a dance movement, or a posture: just a hug. When we hug, we don’t hug with tension, but with warmth and presence. That’s the feeling we want in the embrace, throughout the dance. In our classes, we make our students dance in a hug before they go into the embrace. Try it with your partner, to get a true abrazo feel.
2. COMMON MISTAKE #2: Using your partner for balance => CORRECT BY: Using your own core muscles
In tango, we dance chest to chest. This is unique to tango and is the reason why our dance feels so good.
But when a dancer – followers or leader – starts losing their balance, they tend to use their partner for support and “put weight on them”.
Tango is so intimate that if you go off-balance, even just a bit, you will throw your partner off-balance too. This is true for both men and women.
That’s why technique classes and individual practice are so important: leader or follower, we need to make sure that our balance comes from our own strength and alignement, not from our partner.
The first step for balance is strong core muscles. They “lace up” your spine and keep you straight. Make sure that when you are dancing your pelvic floor and abs are tightened.
3. COMMON MISTAKE #3: No clear lanes => CORRECT BY: Walking on two parallel tracks
In tango, in parallel or cross system, we walk on two parallel tracks.
What do we mean by that?
Think of the track you follow when you go cross-country skiing. You know, those tracks that are deep in the snow, and tell you and every other skier the way?
In tango, it is the same (but with the feet together): we walk on two parallel tracks – the same track for the leader and for the follower. In parallel system, we walk on the same two tracks. In cross-system, we share the two tracks.
Leader who are scared of stepping on the follower’s feet tend to have a “cowboy walk” and do not walk on parallel tracks. And followers who are not precise enough walk either on one track only or on more than 2
When you focus on walking on the same parallel two tracks, you and your partner become much more precise in your dancing. It becomes much easier to connect and communicate. Film yourself dancing, or practice in front of a mirror, and make sure your walk is truly parallel.
4. COMMON MISTAKE #4: Misunderstanding dissociation => CORRECT BY: Controlling the direction of your hips
Dissociation is a shape that is unique to tango. If done well, it gives power and fluidity to the dance. If not, it can result in lost balance and knee pain.
When dissociating – for example during ochos or giros – most dancers think about turning their chest towards their partner’s. But it often mean that their hips follows and turn in the same direction. They end up dissociating “from the knee up”, instead of “from the hips up”.
When you dissociate, you need to control the direction of your hips: it must stay in the direction of your dancing.
Dissociation is a very active movement, with two opposite forces at play: your shoulder blade moves back while your hips ‘resist’, so they stay in the direction of the dance
You should feel an internal rotation in your belly, indicating the two opposite forces at play.
That way, your balance is secure, and your knee joints are protected. You can dance with more power and fluidity.
Check Pablo and Naomi on dissociation in our online technique course TANGO CORE™.
5. COMMON MISTAKE #5: Landing flat => CORRECT BY: Using the intrinsic muscles of the feet
Once you discover the power in your feet, there is no going back! The muscles of our feet are very small but underused in our modern world. So, they are much weaker than they are designed to be.
Nothing will give you a more graceful tango walk that knowing how to thoroughly unroll the feet when dancing. You should use every one of the 20 muscles in your feet to give you power and balance.
Yet, it is so uncommon to use the muscles of the feet these days (these muscles were developed to make us walk bare-feet through kilometers of land, and adapt to different types of ground – which we don’t do anymore) that were we start using them in tango…. they hurt!
So often dancers revert back to old habits of landing too quickly on the heel, and with too-flat-a-foot.
Use the muscles of your feet, and your dancing will change.
6. COMMON MISTAKE #6: Thinking about the steps => CORRECT BY: Focusing on the journey in-between the steps
“Dancers come to tango for the movements, they stay for the connection”
Often, when we start dancing tango, all we care about is fun, big, sweeping movements. That’s usually what brings people to our dance. Then at some point, you realise that what it is truly about is the moment that you are sharing with your partner.
When we speak about connection to our students, we want to take the pressure off: no need to do much, no need to do big, no need to show off. He/she won’t be bored if you slow down and focus on what they feel. What matters is that in the journey that you are taking together, the two of you are always present.
The more experienced a dancer is, the more he/she will focus on the journey in-between the steps, instead of on the steps.
7. COMMON MISTAKE #7: Misunderstanding musicality => CORRECT BY: Using linear vs. circular movements
Even though all movements are a combination of walking and pivots, Tango music invites us to do two different types of sequences: linear movements – such as the walk – and circular movements – such as the ochos, the giros, etc…
This linearity vs. circularity depends on which instrument is playing – for example, bandoneon, with is strong beat, demands linear movements whereas violins, voices suggest softer, circular movements – and how the orchestra is adapting the music.
Tango music is rich, sophisticated but also demanding. Taking the time to soak into the music with musicality workshops, or a lot of listening, will help make your dancing more sophisticated: leader or follower, you need to know the structure of tango music to know how to architecture your dancing.
8. COMMON MISTAKE #8: Stepping into the dancefloor without looking => CORRECT BY: Using the cabecceo between men
You wouldn’t drive onto the highway without looking first, and signalling that you are about to enter, would you?
It’s the same in tango. Before we step into the dance floor, we need to check that there is space, feel the flow of the dancers, and ask for permission to the couple in front of which we’re about to dance.
Leaders do this by making eye contact with the leader of the couple arriving towards us. Once their eye have met yours (mirada), you can do a head-sign (cabeceo) towards the dance floor, so that he/she understands you are about to start dancing.
This is a way to show respect to the people dancing around us and is safer (no more bumping!). Also, it brings a sense of comraderie to the dance floor.
Tango is a precise dance, which, if done well can be incredibly musical, sophisticated, powerful, and intimate. Learning how to dance tango means learning a dance technique, but also exploring relationships, and entering into a new world, with its own codes for harmonious dancing… That’s why it is so fascinating!
Now we would love to hear from you!
Is there anything you have corrected in your dancing and thought “Wow! I don’t know how I danced before this!” If yes, share your experience in the comments section below: what did you correct, and how did you do it?
Pablo and Anne