3 years of learning Tango – what a joy and what a passion

So this is my 3 year anniversary.

Three years since my very first class. That first moment – the very  last time I had absolutely no idea what tango could offer me – when I slowly began to realise what my life might be missing.

In that time I have met, studied and danced with so many people who have given me so much.  Thank you for either crossing paths with me or for hanging on in there – I hope that given more time together I can give you back so much more.

I don’t feel like a complete beginner any more – I think it would be fair to say I am now intermediate – thanks to some great teachers, wonderful partners and a reasonable amount of consistent focus and energy from me.

Anniversaries like this are such a great time to think about our experiences, to summarise and of course to look forward with foolish optimism how we can do better in the coming years.

It is part of our roles as human beings to use our unique awareness of the scarcity of our time to asses and reflect – and to plan to make changes.

So it seems to me that my first 3 years have basically been like this

  • Year one – I learnt some steps
  • Year two – I heard the music – learnt more steps and forgot some. Tried to dance at Milongas.
  • Year three – I felt the follower- learnt even more steps forgot a lot of steps. Actually danced at Milongas.

Deep breath – I am hoping that in year four I can begin to discover myself.

Does that sound pretentious?  Probably it does. But I am childishly optimistic. I feel that within the magic of Tango, if I have enough awareness, sensitivity, structure and a lot of help the dance itself can start to shine a light for me on my own life. On what it actually means to be me.

Perhaps this is linked to something I posted about before – I was so hopeful back in  December 2014 that in 2015 I could stop being terrified by amazing women, by beautiful dancers. It seems that was ambitious.

I have made some progress last year – but with hindsight I just did not have the miles on a dance floor to make this goal. Amazing, experienced tango dancers are just that – amazing. Of course whenever I embrace one I am going to feel intimidated. They often have a decade more at this than I do.

But just maybe these goals – of discovering myself in Tango and being comfortable dancing with such experienced people when I am lucky enough to do so are in fact linked.

Perhaps if I can develop enough understanding of the music and the structure of tango so that I can find and express myself they will actually in turn be interested in me as an individual – and not as yet another poorly focussed, noisy and intermediate dancer.

I look forward so much to finding out.






Tango – the how is so much more interesting than the what..

This week I read a very simple description about the roles of tango dancers that was buried in amongst a sea of technicalities and very long words.

The description was:

…that it is the leader’s responsibility to say what we do – but it is the followers responsibility to say how we do it.

I thought that this was quite brilliant on so many levels. And to me the very much more interesting part is the followers role – the how.

“What” in comparison seems two dimensional and dull.

As we learn tango of course the early times are focussed on what we do. This makes sense. We cannot decide how we will do something until we know what it is we are doing.

This I think creates a potentially significant problem for both the follows and leaders.

For the follows their first experience of learning is – and has to be – about all the wrong things – things that are not actually the intended  focus for their role in the partnership. They too have to learn the what.

They therefore concentrate on being competent and matching what is lead by reciprocal movements that keep the couple together, that make sense for the leader and allow the flow of the dance to continue. And for a long time this is how they judge themselves during and after a dance – “was I able to virtually instantly reciprocate what was asked?”

For leaders it can lead to a mindset that what is important is in fact what I lead – even though they are told again and again in more intermediate classes that this is far from the case.

In fact I begin to think that perhaps this is a framework within which to understand the change in focus that happens as we begin to become slightly more competent at dancing Tango.

To me the nature of the learning needs to move much more into howfor both leader and follows.  And in case I am causing confusion I do not mean in anyway “how” as in how we do a figure. That was the early lessons – the first couple of years.It is part of the beguiling world of Tango that it has a seemingly endless range of possible figures that can keep the student learning the what long after it was of the slightest importance.

Instead I mean how in terms of the expression of the emotional content -the musicality, phrasing and styling.

It is the near instant response from the alert and listening leader to the follows decision on

how she wishes to move right now

that creates such an amazing conversation between two people.

The landscape within which these decisions are made is of course set by the music.  But the ultimate referee on the choices we make is surely how much we enjoyed the dance together. This comes from how we interpret each other, how relevant to each other our conversations were, and how appropriate they felt in the context of the music.

And the joint decisions that make up these conversations are always, always about “how” – because ultimately the “what” was indeed largely determined by the leader, and a monologue is absolutely not a conversation.

And if the follower does not learn to leave the what response behind and instead to give so much more back on active decisions about how – then we are once again back in the world of monologues even in the arms of the best and most caring of leaders.

3 great steps from 2 wonderful milongueros

Inspired by a lesson on Pugliese with Kirsty here are 3 great steps that I have set myself the challenge to try to practise and get into my dancing  – for those moments in Pugliese where you need something wonderful.

El Pibe Avellaneda & Luna Palacios salon Canning

The first I am describing as a sacada with a lunged back cross – for want of a better name…


The second a side step then a shared axis turn, wraps and planeo

El Chino Perico

Paola Tacchetti yEl Chino Perico bailando el tango Tres Esquinas en la Milonga Del Moran ..

Wonderful control in a giro

It looks so simple – but look again, standard left foot behind in the centre of that giro but he exits so close to her – with his right!

So – it’s January – if any willing follower wants to practise with me over the next few months – beware! I shall be attempting the impossible!


4 products to help you use videos in your learning Tango experience

Nothing can beat lessons with quality teachers, practicas and those hard miles on the dance floor as we continue to try to progress at Tango.

But videos also have their place. For me increasingly so.

My old handwritten notes are useless – I can barely read them and if I do succeed it take a year to work out whose foot is going where – “to the left” – her’s or mine? “Forwards”? For who…?

Personally I combine clips with text notes in Evernote so they are always available from any device. I find small, atomic, tagged clips very useful indeed. So for example in one search I can find everything I have documented on my learning of the Giro.

I can watch teachers and professionals executing that one step over and over – I can compare that with videos of myself trying to execute the same figure. When combined with succinct text these can really help me to recall, absorb, improve and progress.

The videos can be grabbed from youtube or taken of yourself – a very useful learning tool indeed. But whatever the subject and from whatever device to make them effective as learning aids we need to work on them – and personally I have finally standardised on 4 great applications which I find really,really fit for purpose.

This took a while so I thought I would share them.

Normally we are working with videos to achieve these 4 main objectives:


There is little point in accumulating videos unless you index them and can see them whenever you want to. This means cloud based and mobile accessible.

For me I have chosen Evernote. Like many I used to think it’s support for embedding videos was terrible – but that actually is because if you try this on a phone it only shows you images from your camera roll – not the videos. You would have to email it to your Evernote email which is clunky.

But on a desktop you can drag a video into the note – and then it will appear on whatever device you use.

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Make each note about a small aspect of Tango, have appropriate text from the lesson or your practice, embed a video illustration ( or more than one ), use tagging and that note is always going to be accessible to you.

Simple editing

We of course need to edit the initial video. Mainly I have learned to make a copy and then cut away at everything except the one part of that video that makes the point you want to learn. Long rambling videos about many things are not optimised learning  – they are just fun.

For editing I use Wondershare Video Editor.

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This does far more than most of us need – separation of the sound from visuals, clipping, and easy exporting to any device compatible formats,.


This for me was the final piece of the puzzle that makes videos now so productive for me. If you record a 2 minute (ok thats long but still) video on a decent camera the video can be 30Mb – in terms of reviewing anywhere that is way too big.  Fine if you are at home  – Evernote would sync up over the wifi – but often we are in a bar, at a practica or on a train – desperate to share or remember – and it is just not workable.

This is where the geeks that created an open source product called  Handbrake ( https://handbrake.fr/ ) deserve two big thumbs up!

It is just amazing what this package does. Any video can go down to a third of its original size – and yet look even clearer than the original.

Like most things invented by technical enthusiasts it has a load of buttons and settings – but you can ignore all of them except checking the box “web optimised”and pressing “start”. A few minutes later it is all done and you can drag that output movie into Evernote knowing that you can truly watch it over 3G.

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Playing them back while practising

For some of these videos – especially that latest figure – the trick is to be able to keep playing them back while you are practising so you can get it wrong, review it, try again and rinse and repeat.

For me an iPad is great here – just leave it on the sofa / bean bag and just wander over to look at it. But the trick is to find an app that really allows you to see what you need without dying of frustration.

This is where an app called Swift comes in.

What it does is to allow me to endlessly repeat between any two bookmarks, and with a slide of a finger slow down the speed. It is so incredibly useful – I can never be Chicho at real speed but maybe I can kid myself at 1/10th ??


So that’s what I use and it took me a while to get to this point. Now videos are always with me and always helping – they really do make a difference!




The moments that test you as a leader

I am beginning to find the moments that ask deep questions of me as a relatively inexperienced tango leader to be very special indeed – to the extent that I now seek them out – I hover on the edge of failure as this precisely where the air is thin, the learning is deep and both the excitement and the improvement await.

To me there are 3 completely separate and very different questions  that hold up these mirrors for me to learn more about myself – moments where I can try to freeze time and linger longer.

1. The Big Ask

I am sure we all have these moments. A talented, charming, musical  and confident dancer, perhaps someone significantly more experienced than yourself, is unusually sitting waiting at a table.

You have watched her dance from afar – you know she is better than you – now is the moment when you need to ask.

But this is Europe not Argentina, she is talking to friends or in any event not sitting there staring ahead waiting to gracefully refuse or accept your cabaceo with no-one else even noticing.

So you have to move. At least into range where you can catch her eye – perhaps you even have to walk around the room. You have to take a risk.

If you don’t move now the moment will be lost. Memories of the last woman who rejected you at a Milonga – childhood nightmares at school discos, the attraction of the kitchen at parties – whatever the ghosts they will rise up precisely because this is important if you are to progress.

You feel tense. You are not as good as her.

Enjoy discovering yourself, think about how you feel, what holds you back. What feelings and choices like this mean to you as a person. Decide how you want to live your life.

Then move.

Ask her.

2. The Ronda

A very different kind of challenge to The Big Ask. This is something that is in the background for the whole tanda, more appropriately  for the evening – and is so tough for me precisely because it is in the background, and for me much of my effort to improve is to bring her and the music into the foreground.

I am better now – I think – at focussing on only her and the music. But I remain poor at contributing to the Ronda, so that the milonga itself might be more coherent and alive because of my presence within it.

I need to finish the same distance from the more experienced leader that I started behind. I need not to drift towards the centre. I should be aware of every couple around me – what musicality they are feeling – to try to watch them with my peripheral senses – and if I can then in some way resonate with their musicality as well as our own.

This is a huge challenge for me – it seems to correlate with being very aware of your place in life – to not be too self-centred but to seek joy in the intelligent and musical participation of us all. This is a multi-layered story, as we zoom out from ourselves we become aware and appreciative of new patterns, spirals and turns. Couples move around the milonga in the same way that we move around each other.

Paradoxically the more I become lost in the music and the musicality of the follower the harder it is to contribute to the Ronda, to always be aware of my correct place within it. Reconciling these two is a big challenge for me.

3. When she chooses to walk through the other door.

This – I think – is currently the most important challenge for me if I am to progress as a leader.

It is a necessary part of tango that very often I will ask the follower to consider a particular response to an invitation – and she will for whatever reason choose quite another,

This moment – the split second that I realise she has chosen another way – is just amazing. I so wish I could get more time in this moment – that time would freeze and I could practise my response to her unexpected lead.

For now her follow of a different path is in effect the lead for us both. It is up to me to follow her – and in such a way that she never even guessed that I was asking her to consider some other response entirely. She should never know that we changed roles. Or if she does, she should smile.


I know I fail when she tenses. When she charmingly whispers “sorry”, or when our dance together stumbles – for a moment the magic is suspended – worse of all we just stop and then politely start again.

What I am striving for is the ability to completely welcome that act of creation, and the skill to use it so that we can both move forwards.


The Big Ask, The Ronda and the Other Door .. for me these test me as a leader.

I am sure that as I continue to stumble along my Tango journey more challenges will demand a different approach, a different skill set – another layer of this deeply fascinating and demanding experience.

I look forward to learning what they will be, and how they are going to help me to improve.