There are many skills that are required for a man to become a good tango dancer. Depending on their approach, teachers will always have different views about priorities, but I believe that there are some core values and skills that any man should learn if he wants to have a good time in milongas.
Unfortunately, many of these core skills are almost completely absent from the program of tango schools. People would rather learn how to do volcadas and sacadas than basic floor craft; they would rather spend time practicing ganchos than making their embrace more comfortable. But that backfires when they go to a milonga – many of these steps are completely unusable on a crowded dance floor, so they have to return to their practicas and re-invent the way they dance. The other option is to remain bad dancers or endanger others who dance nearby.
When I wrote the article about how to get more male dancers in tango I was surprised how much difference in opinions people expressed on this topic. From the idea that non-dancers perceive tango as “gay” and this is big obstacle for men to join; to the belief that the solution to this problem is for the ladies to learn to dance the male role. I might agree or disagree with many of those ideas, but everyone agrees that men should be taught the right skills.
So, I decided to make this 10 point list of the skills which are necessary when a male dancer joins the tango world. They are essential, but, in my view, almost completely missing from the curriculum of tango schools.
This list is not a recipe. Here I just share my own experience as a dancer and a teacher. Don’t take them as law, but as suggestions that will help you improve your teaching or learning process.
1. Dancing in crowded milongas – It’s safe to say that only one of every 1,000 tango dancers will ever perform – the vast majority of us tangueros are social dancers. Our tango lives in milongas. Despite this fact, you can rarely find instructors who spend much time on teaching how to dance in crowded milongas.
I know many of their students are fascinated by acrobatic moves of the show dancers they watch on Youtube, but teachers should know better than this. A good teacher does not always gives his/her students what they want, but what they need to know.
2. Inviting in a discrete way – Yes, cabeceo. There are many reasons men should use cabeceo, but the most important are 1) they save themselves from public humiliation and 2) they make the process of invitation more pleasing for the ladies.
3. Communicating with other dancers on the dance floor – No matter how big the dance floor is, if the male dancers don’t know how to communicate with each other, it will soon become a battlefield. Ladies often close their eyes and focus deeply on the communication with their partner, so they are not even noticing the subtle communication that is (should) happening between the guys on the dance floor. Without this communication other dancers often becomes opponents and not fellows co-dancers with whom we share the dance floor.
4. Dancing for their partner – Many believe that the tango teacher’s job is to teach his/her students just the moves and techniques, but that is not enough. Most of us live in cultures where dance is most of the time connected to shows and performance – and not nearly enough with socializing. Because of this, many of the students come to tango with the idea that the goal of what they learn is to show their talents and skills. I strongly believe that the job of a good tango teacher is to explain this difference to their students. They should teach them that in social tango showing off is actually a bad thing and that the goal of all the techniques and steps we learn is to make our partner enjoy.
I developed this 3-STEPS PLAN to help you IMPROVE YOUR ABILITY TO READ HER! Step by step guide for male tango dancers.
5. Making their embrace comfortable – I know, not all of the people that come to learn tango are huggers, but have in mind that tango without the embrace is missing a huge part of what makes it such a magical experience.
And when people learn how to dance in close embrace, they are rarely given special instructions about the difference between dancing in open and close embrace. One of the biggest problem with the tango worldwide is the belief that you dance in close embrace using the same techniques as you do in open; the belief that the difference between the two is only the distance and can be measured in centimeters. In order to have a comfortable embrace one must first learn the techniques for dancing in close embrace.
6. Walking – I believe that most of the teachers will agree on the importance of good walking, but I am not sure that most of them actually understand what it means. I’ve seen teachers making their students walk for hours to improve their dancing, but this is actually pointless if they don’t give proper instructions on how to walk. The way you walk is like the way you pronounce words in the spoken language: you recognize a good speaker by his pronunciation – you recognize a good dancer by the way he walks.
7. Apilado – I teach apilado and I know that, despite the fact that it is harder for a woman to give up her axis than it is for the man, most of the women learn apilado even without being instructed to do so. Sharing the axis is what can actually make your dancing better. You don’t dance tango in your own axis, tango is a game of axis.
“Is it?” you might ask. Just analyze some videos of the best dancers (even show dancers) and you will notice that many of them play with their axis. On the other hand, they teach that one should struggle to keep the axis. I believe that the best dancers are the ones who learn how to leave the saving the axis concepts behind and who embrace the idea of sharing the axis.
8. Basic musicality – I am amazed on the ability of some dancers to dance in complicated melodic patterns, but at the same time notice that they can’t dance simple rhythmical sequences. This is a result of a big hole in the teaching process. You see, no one can become a dancer if he can’t recognize the basic rhythmical patterns in the music. This applies to any dance, not only tango. Without rhythm, you have no dance and you have no tango as well. Or as D’Arienzo said:
In my point of view, tango is, above all, rhythm, nerve, strength and character. Early tango, that of the Old Guard, had all that, and we must try not to ever lose it.
9. Codigos – The rules of milonga were invented to smoothen up the dancing experience in the Golden Age of tango. There is no universal book of rules, but there are some core values people should learn. Even in the Golden Age, different barrios had some different rules, but there were some commonly accepted practices.
The same is today. The rules vary from community to community, but this does not mean that there are no rules: even those rules should be taught in classes, so the milongas can become a more predictable and more pleasant place.
10. Teaching – This point is about sharing. Not all dancers can and will become teachers, but most of them can and should share some of their knowledge and experience. Teachers should encourage male dancers to spend more time teaching and practicing with their less experienced dance buddies. That was the way of the milongueros in the Golden age: it worked for them, it should work for us as well.
There is another reason for this. Tango is not a standardized dance and it gives space for development of personality in the dance. The teacher should not have complete authority over what is the right way of doing things – other more experienced dancers should also have influence on the development of beginners. This way we will save tango from becoming an academic discipline which relies more on authorities than on authentic fun, enjoyment and creativity.
And yes, don’t forget to share this post with your tango community via Facebook or any other way you communicate. Thank you for that! That support is really helping me spread the word: the more dancers we touch, the better tango world we create.