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.

you can connect with anyone

Think of the embrace as a hug

 

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.

Use your core muscles to ‘lace-up your spine’ and stay straight

 

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.

 

Pablo and Naomi, walking in parallel system, on two clear 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™.

In dissociation, the hips stay in the line of dance

 

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.

Enters dancing.

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.

Intrinsic muscles of the feet – for balance and power

 

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.

Focus on the journey in-between the steps, not 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.

The different instruments of a tango orchestra suggest different types of movements

 

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.

Using cabecceo between men to enter the dance floor

 

Conclusion

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?

Much love,

Pablo and Anne

28 thoughts on “8 common tango mistakes (and how to avoid them)

    • Tango Space says:

      Hi Lionel, you can decide to focus on one point and make it your center of attention for the next class (for example: ‘I will do the whole dance with a warm, relaxed abroad’)… that’s how I work 🙂 In terms of individual exercises, you can check out our online technique course (level: intermediate): it has individual exercises to do at home for balance, dissociation, strength, etc (http://www.tango-space.com/tango-core-videos/)

  1. Samuel says:

    Great advice. One comment on #8, using cabeceo between leaders to get on the dance floor. I always do this, however I find in many communities/milongas, leaders often ignore the cabeceo attempt of the person trying to get on the dance floor. I find it hard to imagine that the person dancing is so oblivious of his surroundings that he doesn’t notice the couple wanting to get into the ronda. Any suggestions/comments?

    • Tango Space says:

      Hi Samuel, great point. When our students ask us this, we often tell them that if a leader is oblivious of his surroundings then you probably don’t want to dance in front of him… so we recommend to try and find the leaders who are aware of the world around them before stepping into the dance-floor. We trust that there is a least one 🙂 hope it helps!

  2. Ellen Gomez says:

    This is the first time that I have read about a relaxed and warm embrace. At the same time, one has to have a strong abdominal core. I need to balance that.

    • Tango Space says:

      Hi Ellen, yes, tango posture is all about balance between ‘oppositions’: between being powerful yet relaxed, between the upper body going up and the lower body reaching down, between going towards your partner but staying on your axis, etc… that’s why it’s so fascinating!

  3. Janis says:

    I agree that tango starts with a hug and no tension. The woman’s splayed hand on the man’s in the photo has tension. I don’t know where this bad habit started, but it’s ruining the embrace for the sake of displaying hands with rings like decoration on a partner’s back.

    I disagree that tango is a precise dance. It started in the streets of Buenos Aires. Boys learned by watching their older friends. If tango was precise, everyone would be dancing the same. That isn’t the case, and women are happy that each milonguero has his own personal style.

    • Tango Space says:

      Hi Janis, thank you for your comment. The first argentine dancers danced with feelings, not with technique. But tango has developed. Like everything, it is in a constant state of evolution, and the technique became more and more precise. We’re happy that you are dancing with feelings – it’s what matters. But when our students take a partner in their arms, we want to make sure that they do so with the upmost care and communicate via their bodies with subtlety and precision. 🙂

      • Wolfgang says:

        For me precision and individuality are no contradictions.

        If somebody dances with precision that doesn´t mean at all that he or she dances the same way everybody else does. Each of us has a different body, a different energy.

        Thus it will never happen that all dancers dance the same. Everybody dances a little different from all others.

        If you dance with a man who doesn´t dance with a minimum of precision, you don´t know what he expects from you, what he invites you to. Almost certainly the dance will be no fun, because you cannot relax and feel safe if you always have to guess what he wants.

        Maybe we can substitute/ complement the word precision with fine-tuning, cause that´s what we require if we want to dance smoothly and agreeably with our dance partner : -)

  4. Bogdan says:

    Amazingly well expressed points!!! Can’t like this enough!

    Another thing I would add is practicing “dancing small”, in confined spaces. This applies to leaders AND followers. For leaders – important to be able to use nearly their full vocabulary in a busy milonga; and for followers – to get used to constantly changing movement size.

      • Trinity says:

        Very inaftmorive and trustworthy blog. Please keep updating with great posts like this one. I have booked marked your site and am about to email it to a few friends of mine that I know would enjoy reading

      • Wolfgang says:

        Maybe a question of definition. I´d rather say in cross system we walk in three tracks. One track we share and each dancer of the couple has a track of their own. On the other hand if you dissociate strongly you might have two tracks again.

        • Tango Space says:

          Hi Wolfgang, thank you for your comment! When we prepare dancers for competition, we strongly recommend that they walk on two tracks because it’s more elegant and more connected. For social dancing, if they know how to walk on two tracks and choose to go for three, then it’s a different connection, but why not 🙂

  5. Olga says:

    Hello ! First of all sorry for my english ( I am french education) but I Will try to improve a little bit I hope you Will understand me I am a bigginer tangera and so happy and excited to learn it good. I like to read everything about tango. Thank you for all you are teatching about this beautiful dance.
    Ciao and see you soon

  6. Pingback: All the mistakes - Cork Argentinian Tango

  7. Li says:

    so helpful! thank you very much. I am a beginner in tango (3 months), based in Beijing. My teacher commented that i need to use more of my thigh muscles when i step back, not only just point with big toes. I would like to know that, for female dancers, when we do a back step, are the thigh muscles very tightened? thank you very much!

    • Tango Space says:

      Hi Li, welcome to the tango world, and thank you for your question. Here are three things to keep in mind that can help:

      1. It is not about tightening, it is about pushing:
      Your teacher is probably telling you that you are doing steps that are too small and not powerful enouh (a common mistake for beginners): what she wants is that you use the muscles of your thigh, leg, ankle and foot to push the floor and transfer your axis.

      2. Your muscles are engaged but you do not need to over tighten them.
      How much you use your muscles depends on the size and the dynamics of your step. She is pushing you to take bigger steps with more power. After, you will find it easy to do small but powerful steps. So don’t overtighten your muscles, instead adapt the strength you use to your steps.

      3.You need to control how you transfer your axis:
      when you do a tango step, your leg muscles serve to push but also control your weight and keep you in balance. So you need to think of them as your ‘engine’ (push) and also as your ‘roots’ (stabilise).

      Last year we shot a video about the Tango Walk that can help: you can see it here: http://www.tango-space.com/technique/power-and-elegance-in-tango-walk/

      Let us know how it goes!

      Anne

      • Li says:

        that clarifies it! Many many thanks! i will try to incorporate your advice into practica immediately! Un abrazo y muchas gracias!

  8. borvestinkral says:

    I really like your writing style, wonderful information, appreciate it for posting :D. “Silence is more musical than any song.” by Christina G. Rossetti.

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