I am trying to find my way in tango

For a few days now I have felt like I am walking very slowly forwards into some dark place – reaching blindly into the gloom  in front of me. My feet are slowly exploring, unsure of the floor ahead of me.

At times I am turning and lost, going away from whatever it is that I am trying to find. Shadows gesture vaguely as I slowly pass them by – in this dark place they may be encouraging me, protecting me, or pointing the way –  they may be a distraction – I can never be sure and so I hesitate and falter. I misread them.

child dark

My hands are held out in a gesture of some kind of protection, but also to try to find something. Or someone. They are soft and inquisitive – they offer no protection, simply  trying to warn me if something is there before I clumsily collide with it.

It seems that what I am looking for might be very fragile, and that in the act of finding it I might be clumsy, and break it.

I feel a definite sense of something missing. This has been with me for a while. That it should no longer be like this, this journey. It was and I understood that – but not any longer, now this is simply wrong. I wonder what this means. At times it feels that this is the longing of Tango and this is just how it is, in other moments I am sure that Tango itself is trying to resolve that longing, and to do that I need some new experience, that I need to unlock some key to a higher level.

It feels like I have reached some kind of crossroads. That I need more, but I know that as always what I need must come from within me, that others can only guide me – they cannot take my place. They cannot dance for me.

When that is what I sense I feel both calm and panic at the same time. Calm that I understand I need something and I can accept that, fear that I might not find it.

Panic that I might not be able to breathe any more, that I will be left alone in this darkness. That everything will become too much for any one person to bear.

That I might break her in the act of finding her.

Destroying and Rebuilding my Tango Embrace

I am excited. I am worn out. My back hurts, my arms ache. My hips  feel weird. I am trying to breathe with my back. This is challenging stuff that requires hours of patient practise and analysis. For months and months – if not years.

It is a lovely sunny day out there in Hove and while the world is on the beach or outside busy bars, I am sweating away by myself in my front room.


Because some wise words that have been repeated over the years have finally, finally sunk in. As a leader the embrace is pretty damn important – and I have put mine under the microscope and found it sadly lacking.

I recently started using videos of myself dancing – which has been wonderful – and now I have taken that concept one more dangerous idea further forwards and started to freeze the frames.

Oh dear – so that is what I actually am doing, that noisy, constricting rubbish is what I am giving to the follower to express herself within. She absolutely should fire me.

And so here is one such frame, from a social dance with a talented  follower – I am just so ashamed. The video as a whole looks fine , but break it down, freeze it, and this is the rubbish I am actually giving her to work with :

Hunched embrace


She is looking beautiful in that dance not because of me, not supported by me – but because she is talented. There is simply nothing to say about my posture in this frozen frame that is anything other than a complete condemnation :

  • Head forwards
  • Hunched shoulders
  • Waving hand
  • Open Hand
  • Weight all over the place
  • Elbows not in front giving her no space
  • Shoulders Tilted… I could go on….

So I have been ignoring the rare sunny day out there, I have been sweating, everything is screaming – but I have been trying to create something like this:


new embrace

Two inches taller, hips slightly back into a true neutral, frame solid and quiet, chest up and expansive and forwards – head brought forwards only by the inflation of the embrace and still out of the way. Everything offered to the follower as her complete prerogative to how she would like to use it.

Maybe its easier when its raining outside?

Don’t be silly – this stuff is never going to be easy. But I am quietly optimistic – I have great teachers and maybe with their help I can destroy and rebuild so that I can go forwards on the kind of solid foundation that followers might enjoy – it is all about them, and the music – maybe a few more months and I can at least stop holding them back and allow them to express their beauty and individually in this wonderful dance.





What really happens when Tango inspires you?

When Tango works it’s magic it produces a very special sensation.

Not for the first time I am trying to work out why it is actually so special – and exactly what that sensation is. I am very aware that people with a whole lot more experience than me have already written extensively about this. But I am still thoughtful about what is happening to me, and why. I will probably look back on this blog in another two years and realise I just had absolutely no understanding at all – but that learning and step changes of understanding is one of the things that makes everything so exciting.

So what actually happens?

To me something takes place, if it is going to happen at all – in the very first seconds of embracing someone. I think we always enter the embrace – if we don’t know someone of course – with the hope that this might be special. Within those first few moments that hope is either completely denied or carried forwards as a possibility.

When the first embrace feels positive – that we hold each other in an appreciative, meaningful and respectful way – I think the most important thing is that as a leader I wait for a few moments. I am unclear exactly what happens – but I get the sense that quietness invites both of us to concentrate on complex feelings – on the emotions between us and the possibility that we can express the musical landscape in our dance. That this dance together need not be another mindless rush through a meaningless series of patterns.

I also think that with that initial delay the embrace adjusts yet again – to something that a teacher of mine recently described as a high resolution embrace. There is a tangible awareness that something is possible – that we both have enough structure in our Tango. Now there is a presence of a physical tension and of excitement.

But for anything to build from this that initial expectation it still needs a validation – which for me happens in the first few steps – simple and timely movements that follow the most basic and familiar structures of Tango. As a leader I must be so aware that the follower is still anxious – that she perhaps feels the promise – but is worried that I am going to blow it with poor musicality, or arrogance, or that we just won’t get on, that I will hold her too tightly or not give her enough time – or any other basic fault that cause her to lapse back into that mindset of worrying what comes next – or even worse what comes now – rather than losing herself to the structure of an embrace and expressing her femininity within a code that she can fully trust.

But why is this happening to me recently?

The answer I have is that because after over two years of trying so hard to learn – I can at last dance Tango as a dance. Of course only at a very basic level – but I am convinced I am now dancing – starting to be creative – listening to the music, understanding more – and above all listening to the follower and being responsive to her.

Tango is a huge journey – and one of the milestones we pass at some stage is that we can actually dance – and not have to plan, panic and analyse, we  can instead offer ourselves to a complete stranger confident in the structure of Tango itself, the music and what we have learned. We can dance together.

Before that moment in our journey nothing truly special is likely to happen – what we feel instead is a great and justifiable sense of achievement at having got through 10 minutes without making a complete idiot of ourselves. This in itself is a huge ask – Tango for the first couple of years is a scary place – in my opinion especially for leaders who tend to be less natural dancers – and it is not surprising that we focus so hard on assembling enough steps and confidence to get us through.

So the embrace feels positive. The first few steps work. What then builds on this opportunity to make the kind of Tanda where you don’t even want to break the embrace between songs? Where at the end you each acknowledge that was something special. I can of course only speak as a leader still at the very beginning of my own journey.

One thing is pauses – I really care that within the first song the follower realises that I am going to give her time to express herself. Because it is a wonderful feeling to give her time, and also because I want to know how she will use it.

I often feel the follower – within the first song – change her embrace. This I think is an expression of her trust – that I have earned her respect – that she feels safe and now wants give herself to our dance and to the music more than she was prepared to do a few moments ago. I find that change of embrace incredibly exciting – it is a direct physical sensation of someone ultimately taking a risk and giving herself to me – for us to dance as one person she more than me has to take risks — in essence to depend on me –  what a privilege when she looks for this and expresses it so directly. She changes her weight distribution that creates a single axis which needs both of us to work – and that decision is a risk for her. When she makes that change she needs me to dance with her.

So this is the the way it seems to happen…

  • First of all our initial embrace told us both that a connection exists.
  • An initial stillness focusses ourselves on each other and the possibilities of our Tango
  • Then the first steps reassure us of our mutual structures, learning and experience. There are going to be no tricks.
  • Our musicality is validated – we are comfortable in the movements we make and the way they fit to the music.
  • Pauses – she can relax knowing that she is going to be given time to express herself.
  • The follower feels that she can truly relax into this Tanda and changes her embrace to commit to us as a couple

The result of all of this is that for me the partner disappears as an individual. This is perhaps a strange thing to say, but after all in close embrace Tango we are practically invisible to each other in terms of sight.

I think this is so important, and yet another area where I have been so slow on the uptake. It seems to me that this is nothing about us as individuals instead for both of us the other exists as an archetype – an idealisation of the perfect woman or man, or emotion, or perhaps more simply they become the perfect shared experience for this moment, and this music. We have committed to each other and really do move as if we were one living thing, one shared emotional experience within which we can be completely lost as individuals.

It is precisely when this special feeling is not present – when we just socially dance together, and talk between songs about where we are from or how long we have been dancing or anything else to fill a silence – that we do still exist as individuals, we have failed to become whatever it is that two people dancing close embrace Tango beautifully together do become.

So now I want to improve – I want to get this Tango feeling more often. What should I focus on?