Updated: Jun 9
Do you sometimes feel like you are the slowest learner when it comes to improving your tango? Others seem to pick it up so much faster, or maybe you feel like your teacher, or all the teachers, keep telling you the same thing, over and over again. For some reason your body just does not want to integrate that new technique or sequence you’ve been working on.
My first experience of this “slow learner syndrome” was actually before I started learning tango, when I was taking African dance classes. Everyone in the class seemed to have rhythm except me. They were all so coordinated and picking up the choreography right away, it seemed. And here I was just flopping my arms and legs around, completely out of sync with the drums and with the other dancers. It took months and months of practice just to feel like I could keep up with others. Then something new would be introduced and it was back to square one.
When it came to tango, I still had a hard time with the rhythm. Melodic music was okay. It felt more like interpretative dance and this I could manage, but stepping to a beat? With a partner? Are you kidding me? For the record, the arms and legs flailing about with no purpose… yeah... that wasn’t just a consequence of African dance. I made a pretty good weapon on the tango dance floor too.
It can certainly feel discouraging when try as you might, progress is still slow-going. We all want to be able to change our dance with the snap of a finger and have all of the best dancers lining up to dance with us, or at the very least feel competent and confident when we go out dancing.
In my struggle to improve my dance I always felt like I was on a hunt for the one thing that would change my dance drastically. I was so convinced that somehow, somewhere, there existed a secret that someone wasn’t sharing with me. I took so many classes from so many different teachers trying to sift through all the different approaches for that answer. One of my friends even called me a tango detective. I remember her catching me saying “I have to get to the bottom of this!”
Well, I guess it is a good thing that my perseverance was stronger than the torture I felt about not being where I wanted to be fast enough, because, I have to tell you guys…. I think I’ve finally gotten to the bottom of this!
Several years ago there came a moment in my desperation to dance better when I had a conversation with one of my teachers and I asked her, “what am I not doing that I should be doing? I mean, what am I missing? What do you do to get to your level?” I did not realize how spot-on her answer was then, but now years later I can say it was probably the best advice I have gotten in my entire 16 years of studying tango. And honestly, it was really quite simple.
She said you need to be doing some other kind of mind/body practice. Anything that will improve your body awareness. And if you are doing one already, you need to do more of it.
photo by Rilind Modigliani
Now looking back at her answer from this other side, several years later, and with my yoga practice even more essential to my daily existence than my tango fix, I can see how right she was. It should have been obvious when the guy who’s been doing martial arts all his life showed up at the milonga, way too good to dance with me, and then I find out he’s only been dancing for a year (and me for 3!). At that moment my thoughts screamed, “Should I just quit now!!???”
Tango is such a complex dance with so many layers. You can certainly choose to stay on a superficial layer and still get a lot of enjoyment out of the dance. But if you are craving more (or tortured by the idea of being mediocre like I was), and really desire to peel away those layers, to incorporate that subtle technique, express more complex parts of the music, dance more dynamically, and connect deeper with your partners, then the key is improving your body awareness. Plain and simple.
But, I am not just talking about the physical body. The subtle body (as it is referred to in the yoga tradition) that has to do with your energy and emotions is all part of the body. It’s all part of one system.
And what a truly incredible system it is. Everything works together and the only way to get insight into those inner workings is through committing yourself to self-study or svadhyaya as it is called in Sanskrit, one of the 5 Niyamas or “observances” that make up the eight limbs of yoga. When you become aware of yourself, real change can happen in your dance on all of those levels, and certainly in your life overall. One of my favorite yoga quotes that seems very fitting is
“YOGA DOES NOT JUST CHANGE THE WAY WE SEE THINGS, IT TRANSFORMS THE PERSON WHO SEES.”
I have to say that even when I have a break from tango but continue with my yoga practice, I somehow always find something that has improved when I get back on the dance floor. I have some new “Ah-ha” moment that brings me so much deeper into the dance, showing me over and over again what a giant black hole this tango thing is!
On the flip side, perhaps it is also that through the yoga practice I have learned to let go of limiting beliefs and no longer feed that beast of desperation that caused me so much internal anguish. I suppose it is possible that through this very letting go I have sped up the process of improving my dance.
So the answer to how you can dance better, faster is to start working on your self-awareness. It is as essential (if not more) as those tango classes you are taking, or those practicas you go to, or dancing with those better dancers or having that “in” into the “cool crowd” that you might think is the reason why you’re not dancing better.
If you really want to get to that next level and get there faster, you can’t skip this step. The sooner you start working on this, the sooner you will see the change you’re looking for.
In the meantime you may also want to read my blog article “Patience: The Non-Tango Skill That Will Transform Your Dance.”
Don’t suffer any longer like I did! If you want to get on that road towards transforming your dance, check out this free 60-minute yoga for tango dancers class. This class is for all levels, and targets the tango dancer’s biggest struggles such as posture, balance, torsion, fluid movement and more.