Greetings for the New Year! A new year is a great time to renew or begin your passion for Argentine Tango.
This post was first published in July of 2015, yet still provides great advice for Tango dancers of all levels.
Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.
Last night I had the opportunity to dance with a beginner dancer. I say “opportunity”, because if you are like me and have been dancing for numerous years, you probably are a bit picky about your dance partners. And here in the Bay Area, one can get really spoiled as there are just so many really good Tango dancers. At a regular milonga I can easily have one great dance after another and be kept in Tango heaven all night, or at least until my feet scream at me to stop. So, with so many great dancers to choose from, dancing with a newbie can be low on the priority list. And quite frankly, after reaching a certain level of competence, it’s only natural to seek out dance partners that are good complement to your skill level.
This brings me back to dancing with a beginner. The opportunity arose as it was still early in the night and I was antsy to dance. I also like to keep an open mind as to my dance partners, as sometimes someone new can be a pleasant surprise. But in this case, it was obvious that my partner was a new dancer from the first embrace. Although the tanda was decent, especially considering my partner had only been dancing for a few months, it could have been a lot smoother and safer for both myself and the people around us. Not wanting to deter this new dancer, I refrained from any criticism or advice. But afterwards, I kept thinking about what could have made the experience better, not only for my partner and I, but for everyone around us.
The problem with learning anything new is that it sucks not to be good.
It takes time, patience and dedication, and in this world of instant satisfaction, its easy to become frustrated. We watch advanced dancers execute difficult moves flawlessly not realizing they practiced for years in order for it to look so effortless. So how does a newer dancer deal with the sucking until finally reaching competence? Focusing on the basic elements of tango instead of just learning fancy steps is a good start.
I started out this post thinking about what a beginner dancer should focus on when first starting tango, but as I began to write, I realized these tips are relevant for all Tango dancers, no matter what level. So these are tips for not only the beginner dancer but for the dancer with Shoshin, the beginner’s mind.
- Practice your Tango walk, by yourself and with a partner. The Tango walk is the foundation of Tango.
- Practice staying in the line of dance. At a practica or class, stay behind the couple in front of you and always do your best to maintain an equal distance between you and the couple in front. Plus, always look around and notice where others dancers are in relation to you.
- Practice connection with your partner. Connection happens not only at the points of contact, but also with your spirit.
- Practice new patterns by yourself and also with a partner. Practicing the movement over and over again helps to get it out of your head and into your body.
- Practice awareness of your partner’s weight changes. Know which foot they are on before leading a new step.
- Practice your Tango walk, front and back ochos and adornos by yourself and wearing your dance shoes.
- Practice collecting your feet after every step. Collecting your feet makes it so much easier for your partner to tell which foot your weight is placed so that they can lead you into the next step.
- Practice being grounded (really feel the floor with your feet, and slightly bending knees helps) and also relaxed on the upper half of your body.
- Practice being sensitive and patient to your partners lead. From a collected state, there are many options. Let your leader decide. If you anticipate, most likely you will be wrong.
- Listen to a lot of Tango music. Get to know the top orchestras and what makes each one unique. Knowing the music helps your body to become an instrument with the music.
- Watch good dancers. A lot can be learned from watching.
- Pay attention to your breath, posture and quality of movement, as all three of these are interconnected.
- Be content but not complacent. Know and understand the level you are at yet always strive to improve.
As a side note, many people, when first beginning their tango journey, flit from one instructor to the next. This is fine when first starting out, but once you find someone you like, stick with them. All Tango knowledge cannot and will not be shared in just one workshop or class series, but over time your instructor will share jewels that will resonate with you forever. The beauty of teaching Tango is that those who do it, do it because they truly love the dance and want to share this joy with you. So for all of you dancers, advanced, beginner or somewhere in between… keep on learning and exploring possibilities.