Tag Archives: learning

Reinventing our relationship with tango in these difficult times

My own Tango life has always been focussed on small creative regular group classes, private lessons, practise and studying the music.

For a time now all of us are of course losing two important aspects of our Tango world:

  • Dancing at Milongas – including the social aspect this provides
  • Attending classes

For me personally I will miss so much the input of professionals who have been consistently guiding me for 8 years.

I have also really enjoyed travelling to Spain to learn tango – another aspect that of course is lost in these times.

My reaction has been to concentrate on practise even more than before – with my current schedule totalling 10 hours a week.

I have found a way of combining weekly themes and a different orchestras in order to sustain interest over the coming year – or however long it takes before Tango can return to normality.

It is still early but so far this is working well.

We have found that focussing on how the theme might be used in the focus tanda for that week provides a lot of material and creates good learning experiences and discussions.

In addition I have personally always used Trello to store focussed notes and video clips from lessons – this is now proving even more valuable as we are also revisiting material from recent years – exploring it with new experiences and fresh eyes.

Here for reference is an extract from just one part of one board :

Using Trello all of us can review the cards and videos in our own time, and suggest items for the following week.

I completely understand that for many dancers my approach will seem hopelessly extreme – but as I lose the input of the wonderful teachers in my life for a while I am going to take the opportunity to work even harder to build on the foundation they helped me to create.

I am extremely fortunate to have 3 talented friends to work with – all of us are enthusiastic to progress and to keep Tango in our hearts and minds as these depressing events unfold around us.

Continuing to enjoy Tango is very important to us all – it provides a sense of energy, purpose and friendship – we all need to find ways to adapt in these changing times – and this is my personal solution.

What matters as an Intermediate Tango Leader?

I think it is fair to say that I am now an intermediate Tango dancer and not a beginner. Although these things are of course extremely subjective.

I have been thinking carefully about the 10 most important things that I have learned, processed, distilled and now want to focus my learning on – what really, really matters if I am to progress.

And I so want to move forwards.

1 Humility.

I put this as number one because I think it is essential that I personally continue to be crystal clear about the enormous amount that remains unknown, and how terribly messy I am about so many things.

There is literally not one single element of Tango that I can yet perform to an acceptable standard.

This is a source of inspiration not negativity, and I need always to be mindful of this.

2 It’s all about her.

Everything we do as leaders is for her. If I loose this focus then I am indeed never going to move forwards.

To give every woman the chance to be her best to every piece of music is such a big ask for a leader – but when we dance tango every single decision we make, every invitation, every moment – is for her.

Nothing matters as much as her comfort, trust, and creating opportunities for her to show how she wants to dance to this music – with me – right now.

I hope to learn so much more about this – and how to make her smile. It is such a wonderful feeling when she does.

3 The Music.

For the last year I  have been gradually  understanding what musicality is when we dance tango – this has been an inspiring journey.

As a beginner I thought I was in fact musical because I naturally had a sense of rhythm.

I now understand the enormous depth to understanding Tango music.

I have briefly experienced what it is like to dance with a woman who can loose herself in the dance but yet still be so clearly aware of – and able to respond to – every nuance in the music.

This for me is an enormous field of study that must be a foundation for further progress.

4 Moving from moment to moment.

We talk a lot about figures. They are such useful constructs and the best of them have been danced by wonderful milongueros for so many decades.

As I aspire to build on my abilities as an intermediate dancer being able to think rather on the level of connected moments of balance and imbalance, of invitation and response – is very important.

We need together to explore how we might – to this music – join these particular moments of beauty through space and time. Sometimes what we draw might correspond to a classic pattern – at other moments we might change, build upon and together even create entirely new figures.

5 Not being a big fish in a small pond.

It seems to me to be an unfortunate truth that if you are a leader in the UK and you have some modest level of ability you can indeed have the chance to dance with more experienced followers.

Although exciting this in itself creates a trap – I need to travel and to push myself.

6 Less is more

Another concept that as an intermediate we might interpret simply as pauses – but if I need to push on it becomes a whole new word of muscular control, technique and musical stillness.

7 Technique and Solo Practise

I amaze myself in that I have been shown the importance of solo practise, totally believe in it and yet do so little of it on a consistent basis. This simply must change if I am to become significantly better at controlling my own axis, balance, presence and listening skills.

8 Never, never teach.

I have been at times tempted to try to explain things to beginners, and I have seen other leaders do this. It is something I must completely avoid – as non-professionals we should simply offer sensitivity and a positive experience to followers with less experience.

Our well intentioned but amateur words can rarely help and have the power to cause a lot of unintended damage.

9 Great teachers

Stay the course with the great teachers that I have found.

10 Friendship

And finally – I think a lot about friendship. It is a wonderful thing to find friends, mutual support and individuals that you respect throughTango.

Enjoying their company, respecting them and helping them in their own Tango is positive in itself but also softens the challenging world of learning as an individual.

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.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 17.02.02


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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 17.09.28


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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 17.19.11


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!




2016 – the year of the Music

This time last year I wrote that since I had almost been dancing for 2 years 2015 was going to be the year I stopped being frightened of amazing women.

Well that almost worked.

Now, fairly obviously, I have been learning Tango for almost 3 years. So what should I aspire to accomplish in 2016? On the one hand I can keep on trying not to be scared of amazing women – and that is totally appropriate. The more I try the more chance I will have of finally being able to relax and enjoy their skill.

Or at least breathe occasionally.

But recently I have been studying Tango music pretty hard, and working on musicality at every opportunity. This has become the focus of my lessons with Kirsty here in Brighton.

I am, to be honest, completely loving this. We only started a few weeks ago and the idea of dancing with an amazing woman for two hours does indeed terrify me. It is hard. So much more familiar to learn steps.

So much safer to be lost in that pupil role, and not have to make your own decisions, not to have to take any risks.

But I am now sure  that musicality has got to be the focus of my efforts in Tango for 2016. To study hundreds of songs across all the commonly danced orchestras. To work hard on Tango, Vals and Milonga, never ignoring any style.

We have a playlist of 6 sides for every weekly lesson. If I just continue that will be 300 songs I will have studied and danced to with a professional teacher and a beautiful, super scary dancer. That is 282 more than my experience so far.

When you attend classes to some extent the material is of course what the teacher wants to share with the group and you take what you can, absorbing it or rejecting it according to your current experience, where you are in your journey and the value you see in it.

But whatever material you are learning, whatever techniques, you can always think about them in the context of the music.

Increasing refinement and understanding of tango music will I hope add a huge level of enjoyment and pleasure to my learning experience.

And who knows – if I focus on the music maybe I won’t be so terrified of that amazing woman. I am a man after all – I can only think of one thing at once.

Tango – I have been learning ‘how’ before I knew ‘what’ ..

I tried to learn.

I listened.

We listen

I asked how to do things, and I was told – this is how that is done. And this one, and now that one. Figure after figure.

I watched.

We watch

We all do this with complex subjects – we have to start somewhere.

Over time the structure builds and the vocabulary expands – but as students we get to a time when we need to be clear. We need a vision – we need to ask ourselves difficult questions – “What am I trying to achieve? What kind of a dancer do I actually want to be?”

I know now that this is where I am. Finally having enough understanding to be able to ask the right question – “How do I do exactly this – in this particular way?”

Perhaps as social dancers attending our regular classes this is in fact a moment of choice that a lot of students – especially leaders – never actually get to. It’s hard enough to learn Tango at all – let alone in a particular and individual way. Selecting and developing a style requires authenticity, confidence and skill and these things take so much time.

With other more literal art forms than dance it is clearer – in photography the difference between a street photograph and a landscape one is fairly obvious – as soon as you look at any image you can identify them. There are clear names, clear categories. We know where we are. We don’t even need to think to get to the next level questions – “is this what I like?”, “is this the kind of image that I want to make?” – our response is naturally along these lines.

As learners of social tango it all seems so different. As we learn we are of course imprecise – so our style is ill defined. There are broad labels – ‘nuevo’ ‘milonguero’ ‘show tango’ but within these are thousands of individual interpretations and even disputes about what they actually mean – for example that ‘nuevo’ is not actually a style at all.

For me this is a very important moment – maybe some kind of crisis. Now I have to be creative. I have to decide. Only once we really know what we are trying to achieve can we pause, then rebuild our learning with a new energy and focus.

I am hoping for a new experience from this moment on – because I am thinking on a different level.

We absorb material within the context of our own personal journey. We can reject some, and absorb others. But now I can begin the process of being the kind of dancer that I actually want to be – I can try to be precise. Because, finally, I am starting to know where I actually want to be.

I want to create an image to express exactly this, to allow the follower to dance like that.

We embrace and try again
We embrace and try again

We breathe, we embrace and as always we try again.