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Tango Questions & Answers

A beginner's guide to tango

The following are tango questions and answers, tips and advice.

I have two left feet so I shouldn't even try tango, right?
Do I need to have a partner to dance?
How long does it take to learn tango?
What do I need to do to start learning tango?
As I lead what is the minimum number of steps I need to know?
How do I choose women's tango shoes?
What is the etiquette at a milonga?
What's all this 'connection' stuff in tango?
Should the lead press his head against the woman in close embrace?
How does a leader get into the close embrace?
I'm learning to lead but can't seem to remember my steps, what can I do?
Should I take private lessons?
I'm a follower - how do I get more dances?
I'm a lead and have been declined - how long does the 'No' last?
I'm a follower - is it ok to decline someone I don't want to dance with?
What is the cabeceo?
Why would you dance in the ronda?
In what position should the man hold his left hand?
In what position should the woman hold her left arm?
What defines the leader's and follower's roles in tango?
What are embellishments?

Q: I have two left feet so I shouldn't even try tango, right?
A: Wrong. The vast majority of those who learn dancing start out that way, and remain so, for a very long time. Don’t worry, one of your feet will change sides after about 2-3 months.

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Q: Do I need to have a partner to dance?
A: Absolutely not. You come, you ask/get asked, you dance. In fact the majority of tango dancers do not come with a partner - and though it is not a “singles scene”, of course like any sub-culture, relationships occur.

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Q: How long does it take to learn tango?
A: Ah, the old zen question: what is the sound of one hand dancing in the forest? How long it takes depends on your natural ability, how often you go (some go once a week, others – the ones that also go to Tango Anonymous - five times), whether you take private tuition, etc etc. But as a very rough guide a man will take about 3 months to be able to dance, and a year to start dancing semi-competently; a woman will take about half the time.

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Q: What do I need to do to start learning tango?
A: A very good start would be to look for a tango class near where you live, and go once a week. You'll soon see if tango is for you - but give it some time. Once you know you are long term (aka addicted) you'll want to buy some tango shoes, but that can wait for a few weeks.

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Q: As I lead what is the minimum number of steps I need to know?
A: This question is discussed at length in various forums on the web; a good example is Arlene’s London Tango Pages. So what do the people that really matter to this topic - the followers - say? Lets have a look...
irincicon says:
I love to dance with men who simply walk to the music. Although it is fun to play with steps sometimes with a regular partner, the beauty of the tango encounter is in the feeling not the steps.
Sophie says:
What I want is not bad painful pyrotechnics, it’s a clear and bodily sound lead. Whether it’s on 200 or 2 patterns.
jantango says:
It’s unfortunate that men feel they have to perform an intricate routine on the social floor in order to please their partners. Not so. If they put it in the context of making love to a woman, they might realize it’s not about the quantity but about the quality and feeling they have in the moment that matters.
Johanna talks about followers needing above all
balance, upper/lower body isolation, musicality and rhythm, and safety.
In summary: quality not quantity!

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Q: How do I choose tango shoes?
A: For lots of advice, see the Tango Dance Shoes page.

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Q: what is the etiquette at a milonga?
A: see the Etiquette page.

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Q: what's all this 'connection' stuff in tango?
A: The connection in tango is that ultimate tanda experience; no one else matters other than you and your partner. Everything flows perfectly, without effort... the movement, the music, the physical contact, the steps. It is both intoxicating and addictive. Two bodies, one being. It’s rare, unique for everyone, but you know it when you’ve experienced it: when the song ends, and you want that embrace to continue...

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Q: should the lead press his head against the woman in close embrace?
A: I asked a few gurus about that one (as I certainly am not one), including a teacher. The answer was a resounding no. The man should dance stress free, without physical tension - requiring a tall, high stature. Moreover pressing the head against the woman forces her to have to tense back in an equal and opposite direction. Might look good, but perhaps should be avoided.

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Q: how does a leader get into the close embrace?
A: this is not verbal request but happens naturally in a dance.

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Q: I'm learning to lead but can't seem to remember my steps, what can I do?
A: take it easy and enjoy yourself - it's well known that leads take about three times longer than followers to become 'semi-competent'. Eventually - probably after about a year - it will click, and then the learning, and 'muscle memory', will be easier. Also, remember it is not just about the steps but about the music, the melody, the dance, and making your follower have a wonderful time.

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Q: should I take private lessons?
A: the age-old question with no clear cut answer. Personally I found that even though I was taking weekly group classes and going to practicas/milongas, I did not really start to improve until I took private classes. There are a number of things private classes can give you: focusing on what you want at the rate you need; refining a move to the nth degree; and unlearning the many (many!) bad habits you picked up without even realizing it. If you can afford it, do it.

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Q: I'm a follower - how do I get more dances?
A: talking to some leads for advice here, and thinking about why some women get asked a lot, the answer is multi-faceted and common-sense: impart to the man a sense that you REALLY ENJOY dancing with him; be comfortable with how he leads and allow for errors (even a tiny sense of being 'judged', particularly for beginner leads, is acutely felt); be obvious that you are seeking a dance (a man may not want to interrupt your conversation); o, and wearing something sexy doesn't hurt either...

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Q: I'm a lead and have been declined - how long does the 'No' last?
A: personally I think for the rest of the night, but other sources on the web say that that the 'No' is in place for at least a few tandas. Either way, if you are brave enough to ask again - and get rejected again - that's it for the night.

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Q: I'm a follower - is it ok to decline someone I don't want to dance with?
A: the short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes... but at a cost - definitely for the lead, and possibly for the follower too. To illustrate: very recently I had an interesting chat to a lead with many years of experience under his belt. To my surprise, he told me that being declined in Buenos Aires so unnerved him that on one occasion he left a milonga after 15 minutes. Ladies, the experience ain 't pleasant! Had I been rejected when I was a complete beginner, I might not have returned to milongas for a long time, if ever. The converse of course, is that if a follower rejects an invitation - even if she WAS feeling tired, etc - the man may remember that unpleasant event as one to be avoided at all costs (ie with you). That's the chance you take.

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Q: what is the cabeceo?
A: see the Cabeceo page.

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Q: why would you dance in the ronda?
A: the ronda is the outer-most lane where dancers move counter-clockwise around the perimeter of the floor - in most milongas this is right up against the tables. The pros of the ronda is that you have more space and security; you have right of way. The cons include being bumped against the tables, and being forced along with the rate of dance, which is generally quite fast on the ronda. The reason dancers like it is the challenge: it takes more control and skill to dance well in the ronda. In addition it is a show, for you are in the direct view of the crowd.

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Q: in what position should the man hold his left hand?
A: There is an excellent article on The Man Left Hand - no more can be added here.

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Q: In what position should the woman hold her left arm?
A: There is an excellent article on The Woman's Left Arm - no more can be added here.

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Q: What defines the leader's and follower's roles in tango?
- the following is an extract from Tango, Tangoing: Poems and Art by Mong-Lan, with permission (see www.monglan.com)
A: if you dancing the man's role, you must be confident, deliberate, precisely knowing what you want to do and what you ask your partner to do. You must hold her securely, as if this will be the last dance in which you are intimate with her. And most importantly, you must play with her, listen to her, watch her. What is she suggesting, what is she asking?
If dancing the woman's role, you must interpret the leader's signals. You must quiet yourself and listen to what the leader is asking, hinting; and thus, flowing as a part of the other's body. If you are knowledgeable, at certain points in the dance, you may initiate as well. You may tease, your legs running up the length of his thighs. You can be in earnest, the gallant lady, the seductress.

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Q: What are embellishments?
A: See the Embellishments page.

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