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The Golden Principles of Confidence in Tango

For all tango dancers - and especially beginners - the dance floor can be a somewhat terrifying experience. We all long to be perceived as the ultimate in elegance and style, and fear being discovered otherwise.

There are some golden principles around tango confidence that should be mandatory for all beginners to understand. Some are obvious, and some less less so - but the fact that they apply to even advanced dancers should make us all take note and enter the floor with a little less trepidation.

It takes a few dances to click with a partner

This one is perhaps the least acknowledged principle, but is the most important. The expectation is that when we start the tanda with a new partner that we have never danced with before, everything fits perfectly, immediately. In fact the opposite is true; only rarely will two people click beautifully the first time. As a general rule, it takes a number of songs before two dancers will understand each other's subtle body vocabulary, and be able to dance smoothly. The bitter irony of course is that you will only be able to dance well with someone new at the very end of the tanda - and sometimes it may take a number of separate nights to get that happening. The important thing to know is that if dancing with someone new feels awkward, it is perfectly normal.

Your experience will vary with different people

You watch the dancers on the floor, and notice that a particular leader or follower is quite obviously experienced. Finally, you dance with them, and it just does not work. Mistakes, misinterpretations, apologies, a mess. Clearly, you think, they look beautiful out there so it MUST be me. Again, not so. What is very important to understand is that tango - like every interaction between a man and woman - does not always work. This author has danced with a beginner of 2 weeks and it was wonderful, and conversely a dance with a tango teacher proved awkward. The reason is simply that some people click better and some do not, and others click hardly at all.

Mistakes are ok

Everyone - everyone! - makes mistakes, even the most advanced dancers (though they hide them better by dancing out of them quicker). Whilst experienced dancers may make less errors, the true difference experience gives is that they know that mistakes are ok, they are normal, and the best course of action is not to feel embarrassment or humiliation, but simply move on. Literally. Change direction, path, step and reconnect. Knowing that everyone makes mistakes (and advanced dancers make more mistakes than can be perceived by the eye) is vital for confidence.

The mistake is not your fault

One of the most debilitating and humiliating things that tango dancers take on - wrongly! - is assuming that mistakes are entirely their fault. This is entirely false, for as they say, it takes two to tango... This is particularly true of beginners (dancing with more advanced partners) who will automatically take on responsibility for errors. But let's think about it for one minute. A perfect leader would be able to lead an inexperienced dancer no matter how badly she danced; and conversely a perfect follower would be able to understand and react to an experienced lead irrespective of his skills. in fact one could argue that it is the responsibility of the more experienced partner to ensure that errors are avoided. The fact is that both leader and follower are responsible for mistakes, and when one happens, you should have the confidence to understand it is not your fault.

We were all beginners

Beginning tango is a vicious cycle of fear. You don't want to make a fool of yourself by showing how inexperienced you are, but you know that to get experienced you need to dance for many months. You dance to get the experience, and while you do, you make a fool yourself by showing how inexperienced you are. Damn!

But in fact there is a flaw in that argument. You are not making a fool of yourself whatsoever. You are going through what every dancer has ever gone through, and the fact that you might dance awkwardly is perfectly normal. Any negative judgment from more experienced dancers (which is actually very rare) is a reflection on them. They have a responsibility to nurture and assist those that went through precisely the same phase as they did, to make it as enjoyable and pain-free as they possibly can. Beginners should remember that the responsibility around errors is not theirs to contain, but is on the experienced dancer to smooth out.

Don't apologize - it is counterproductive

This goes back to beginners believing that mistakes are humiliating, and it is entirely their fault - neither of which are true. The result is that when an error occurs, the more inexperienced dancer will profusely apologize, which can affect confidence even further. Don't apologize - ever! A mistake is ok, it is the responsibility of both dancers, it is a natural (if not entirely pleasant) facet of learning to tango, and the best reaction to it is to do what experienced dancers do: never apologize, but recover from the error and move on. Apologizing will only increase the embarrassment, whereas recovery will lead you back to the point of wonderful connection in the quickest possible time, which is what you desire.

Some nights will be bad

No matter who you are, how well you dance, some nights will simply be unfulfilling. You feel great, look forward to tango all night, start to dance... and the magic simply does not happen for reasons that are beyond our intellect to understand. Happens to everybody. Don't let it get to you.

Music counts for more than we think

It is important to understand that the quality of your dance, and your ability to connect, is not independent of the music itself. Some songs lend themselves to beautiful dancing where everything works, and some - perhaps because the beat is subtle, or perhaps because the melody simply does not appeal to you - do not. This is especially so if the entire tanda is by a composer that does not especially touch you. Be aware of that and do not let it affect your confidence.