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Q: What's the most frustrating thing about learning Argentine Tango?

posted Dec 27, 2015, 3:51 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Jun 5, 2017, 3:48 PM ]

A: Contradictory tango techniques.

Contradictory tango techniques can be both frustrating and fascinating to tango dancers! They can certainly keep tango interesting for more experienced dancers, who through trial and error have come to understand that there are many ways to dance tango and enjoy playing and experimenting with new ways to move in tango. But these contradictions can drive other dancers crazy - especially those less experienced.  

I'd be surprised if there is any partner dance with less uniformity and agreement on style than tango. Some tango dancers (usually those relatively new to the dance) argue that there should be a uniform standard and agreement on how tango is danced, accredited teachers and the like. But that in my mind would throw the baby out with the bath water. A large part of the charm (and yes frustration at times - nothing is perfect!) is the stylistic diversity and individuality of expression within tango. That is one of the factors that makes tango unique as a partner dance. 

Terpsichoral Tango Addict's post below reminded me of how differently I now approach contradictory technique as opposed to when I first started learning tango. I remember back about fifteen years ago whilst in Buenos Aires how devastated I was to learn that Gustavo Naveira had a completely different walking technique to Cacho Dante!

Terpsi here puts it all into perspective. I hope that anyone frustrated by tango's contradictions reads this. I also hope this post encourages readers not to discard a teacher just because they differ on some technical points from their previous teachers. 

My suggestion is to try out new ways of embracing, walking, turning and see if they work for you. But also be mindful that even a small change to your technique may have consequences to other parts of your movement.  

Terpsi's post is essentially a cry out against tango dogmatism / fundamentalism. I write more about this here: Beware of tango dogmatism.

"It's surprising just how many tango concepts I have abandoned during my learning process, carelessly discarding them as misguided, misleading or old-fashioned. And now I find them cropping up again, demanding to be taken seriously, at least sometimes and in certain contexts or with certain partners or teachers. These shibboleths include resistance; leg extensions (those first two are closely related concepts); collection; moving from the hips (rather than the upper body); pressure; use of the front of the body, its surfaces, to find a physical fit with your partner in close embrace (rather than thinking of encircling them). And each time these terms and concepts reappear, rather than feeling, oh, how interesting, I think no, no, no, I'm not the kind of dancer who does that, that's not my language, that's not my world, I disagree, don't make me think that way!

I feel much the way I do when reading an articulate and intelligent essay from the other side of the political spectrum. When someone argues in favour of more guns or lower taxes for the 1% or dismantling the welfare state, I feel comfortable and happy if their arguments are fatuous or self-interested or obviously weak. It's not just that I disagree, it's that I actually do not want to be convinced, I don't *want* to read something that will change my mind. That's why I grit my teeth and read right-wing press, because I don't want to always and only stay in the comfort zone of hearing other people speak my own mind, tell me what I already believe. I know it's intellectually lazy to always listen to the sermon from my cozy choir stall. So coming across this same attitude in myself when learning tango is a bit disturbing.

I'm still holding out against certain things, such as keeping weight always over the balls of the feet or arching the back and sticking out your bottom. If I'm not (or not yet) convinced that a particular practice is useful and it causes me actual physical discomfort, I'm not going to adopt it readily. But I am having to reconsider my approach(es) plural all the time. And that is valuable in itself. Choose an approach to tango, of course. But always be aware that the opposite approach also exists and that many great dancers find it valid." 

- Terpsichoral Tango Addict, 29.12.15


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