Foot and ankle exercises to help your tango

Strong feet and ankles are a must for good balance in both tango and life in general. Many of us sit all day at work and have not built up our standing/walking muscles as much as we think. In my Tango, Toning and Technique class, we spend a lot of time working on improving how we use our feet and ankles—and the improvement always accompanies a boost in tango level. Plus, working on your feet and ankles helps you dance longer when you are out dancing, and cuts down on foot discomfort during and after dancing.

My Pilates teacher, Heidi Weiss, also dances tango. She graduated from Reed College, and has moved back to the area to open her business. If you haven’t introduced yourself to her on the dance floor, you should!

Heidi is the owner of Portland Pilates Collective and is a Pilates teacher as well as a nutritionist. I work with her privately to improve my full body strength and muscle efficiency. I appreciate her eye for detail and her calm teaching approach. My own goals for 2019 are to do a pushup and a pull-up (yes, one of each, don’t laugh).

I asked Heidi to talk about what exercises and stretches she needed to add to her regime when she started tango. Here are some suggestions from her about exercising and stretching that will improve your tango and your foot health.

Pilates foot exercises and stretching tips for Argentine Tango

Adornos, Part I

“Pretty feet!”

That’s the second-best compliment I ever received while dancing. A woman I didn’t know tapped me on the arm as I left the dance floor at La Nacional when I passed her table. She smiled at me, nodded in approval and told me, “Lindos pies.” I almost fell over! I was not used to compliments from Argentine women on my dancing.

“You adorn with your soul”

A few years after that other compliment, I was dancing at Los Consagrados with someone I didn’t know, and even the first dance was amazing. I forget what orchestra was playing, but I was really enjoying the music as well as the leader, and my feet just did their thing as part of my dance. When we finished the first song, he accused me, “Hey, you are a teacher!” And I replied, “And so are you!”

After the second dance, he told me, “You don’t just adorn with your feet, you adorn with your soul!” That is the best compliment I have ever received on the dance floor in Buenos Aires, and I treasure it. I don’t think of adornos as a separate part of my dance: they are integral to my body and to my tango. I loved it that someone noticed.

I didn’t think adornos were important

I didn’t work on adding adornos to my tango for a long time. I started tango in 1995. There were very few tango teachers around, and if I wanted people to dance with in Eugene, I was going to have to teach them. I already had an M.A. in Dance and was teaching ballroom and folk dancing at University of Oregon. I jumped into tango, and most of my time was spent ensuring that I understood the lead and follow parts of each step I learned, so that I could teach it correctly.

Eventually, I realized that my feet were the part of my tango that needed the most work. I focused on my adornos, foot strength and elastic use of my legs for the next few years, and it paid off with those compliments about my feet.

Adornos are functional

I have come to understand that adornos are a functional part of my dance. They allow me to keep my body relaxed and ready for any movement the leader might suggest. They help me keep a dynamic balance, rather than trying to lock into a complete stop. They use the natural margin of error that we have for balance (the amount our feet and ankles can adjust to help us maintain balance) as an inspiration for small, but full-body, movement.

These days, I teach beginners adornos from their first day in tango. I find that people who learn this way feel more empowered to express themselves in the dance. They are more relaxed because their body is moving, which makes them breathe more fully. They understand that balance is dynamic, and that they don’t have to have a perfect dance.

I encourage people to use “too many” adornos in class to explore what a good level of movement would be. If someone is worried about movement being “wrong” they will dance more stiffly. If dancers are afraid to adorn, they struggle to find a comfortable balance between doing what the leader asks and what they hear in the music themselves. Finding a good balance and understanding that each dance and each partner will differ, is a huge relief to most learners: it’s ok to experiment! Plus, it’s fun to play with your feet and the music, and learning should be fun!

What adorno should I do?

This is the question most learners ask me. There is no should in adornos. I tell my beginners to write their name in the sand. Put energy into the big toes, but don’t spend a lot of time thinking of what to “write” or your time in the pause will be over.

Adornos are filigree to fill in and beautify the dance, commenting on the music/mood/partnership that is happening at that moment. We learn specific adornos in order to train our legs so that we can improvise in the moment.

What is in the video?

This video reviews the adornos we have been doing in my Tango: Toning and Technique class. So far, we have done linea (line), lapiz (pencil), front and back crosses (which I was taught as “amagues” but I just argued about this with a friend, so we will just call them whatever and move on; and an adorno I call “the elevator” because no one ever told me a name for it. When I say elevator, everybody gets the right idea :-)

Improving your axis awareness by working with dowels

Shameless stealing of ideas

My chiropractor (who is also a personal trainer) was demonstrating how to correctly lift kettlebells while I watched and took notes. I had a moment of brilliance and noticed that the exercise could help my tango students use their gluts better to maintain balance and alignment. I showed him my idea, and he agreed that the alignment was solid. Here is the tango version of the exercise!

Core and leg exercises for more elegant tango

I use a lot of different approaches to improve my tango technique and that of my students. For a lot of people, the wish to move quickly overrides paying attention to how the body actually wants to move. I think it’s important to take time to train your body to feel how the muscles, bones and connective tissue are constructed. If you use your body in an organic manner, the movement will look more elegant and smooth.

The video version

Chair drill: connect the core and upper leg

The chair version of this drill allows you to focus on using the deep core to work your legs, rather than the quadriceps. Yes, the quads are still working, but we want to see the long line of the entire leg for tango. That means the core needs to work a bit harder than we are used to in our sedentary lives :-)

Note: Assume that you are cheating on the drill, and reset each time you complete a leg movement. Eventually, you will start to be able to maintain your alignment for the entire drill. At that point, add the standing version to your tango workout.

Standing chair drill: adding balance to core strength

If you can do the chair drill, move up to the standing drill. It takes more focus and balance, but the concept is the same: trace the connections from the deep core out and down to the foot. Allow time for each movement signal to travel down the body!

Note: Be careful with your back. Make sure your core, not your lower back, is doing the main lifting work for this drill. If you can’t do it correctly yet, do the chair drill until you have more core strength.

Bird dog and dead bug

Core strength exercises to boost your tango

Here are two exercises that I showed in my Tango Technique and Toning class last Wednesday in Beaverton. Try them at home in between classes to keep working on your core strength!

Idea clouds, drop-down menus and leading tango

So many moves, so little memory

One of my students asked me, “Why can you remember to do so many more moves than my husband can when we dance?”

The question made me pause, as I had just been reading about how people retain information. I knew that my short-term memory did not have more storage space than another person, so why DID I remember more moves while dancing?

Short-term memory

Most of the research I have read suggests we have five to seven slots for short-term memory. A good leader uses several of those for more than just moves:

  1. Make your follower feel secure: NAVIGATION is most important.

  2. Where is YOUR body? Make sure you are on balance, ready to move.

  3. Where is your follower? Make sure they are on balance, ready to move!

  4. Musicality (some people put this higher on the list, but as a follower, I would rather that both of us are on balance than off-balance but on the music).

  5. Room for a move

  6. Room for a move

  7. Room for a move

Chunks, not items

I remember more information because I chunk vocabulary into categories, and each short-term memory slot holds a category, not just one move. As I learn new moves, I figure out where they fit in my move storage, and then it’s easier to find and use those moves.

Idea clouds

idea chunks 2.jpg

Some people think better in idea clouds, where the information is chunked, but perhaps not in a completely systematic way. For a relatively new tango dancer, we might start with the categories of: traveling, turning, other things; or something like that. Here is an example from yesterday for one student:

For him, that is the sum of the moves he knows. He knows the concepts of volcadas, ganchos, etc., but doesn’t know how to lead them yet. I introduced the idea of categories so that, as he learns moves, he can figure out how HE thinks of the moves, and use his own categories to store and retrieve information.

Drop-down menus

idea chunks 3.jpg

Other students prefer a drop-down menu approach to storing information. That way, as more and more variations are learned, they are simply plugged into the existing system further down the menu. That way, the leader can think “ocho cortado” and choose “linear” and THEN choose “multiple traspies/rebound” and then pick “lateral cross” as the exit move. Each part of the process is ONE decision at a time, working down the menu, choosing each part of the move.

Here is an example of one category (traveling) from a student who is just figuring out how his categories work (rather than mine).

The advantage of the drop-down menu is that our brains use these every day on our computers, and we are already trained to look for information this way.

Make your categories/method work for you!

Everyone has a different approach to how they classify tango moves. There is not one right way: grab a piece of paper, or a thought-cloud app, or a white board and markers, and see how YOU chunk the information. I have found that some of my students categorize the way I do, and some of my students have very different thoughts about what fits together; give yourself time to develop your own system.

Remember: Try to limit yourself to 4-5 categories, as you will always need to prioritize navigation/safety and musicality over moves. Once you know where your body is, and where your partner is, you don’t have to spend so much energy and time on that, and you can expand your movement list a bit.

Does this work for everyone?

In the course of 23 years of teaching tango, I have only met two students who did not categorize information easily. For both of them, each separate move was a separate thing. An example: for most people, Phillips screwdrivers are in the same family as a regular screwdriver. For these people, there is no “screwdriver” category, and each tool goes into a separate box or drawer, unrelated to the other tools.

If this describes how you approach category-making, be comforted that these guys did manage to learn tango and did manage to dance more than five moves; but it was a struggle. Be kind to yourself! Be patient with yourself! Sigue luchando! (Keep fighting!)

Inspired to stay active

I am feeling motivated to get into better shape and be more active. It’s not the fear of aging, but rather, seeing different alternatives a few decades down the road. Who inspires me to stay active? Older athletes in stellar shape—and my older students!

Use it or lose it

Several of my students read a lot more than I do, and funnel interesting articles to me. One sent me a Wall Street Journal article about Gail Roper, an 89-year-old former Olympian and Master’s medallist who still swims and keeps very active. She had seven children, worked as a marine biologist until 82, and attaches herself to the pool ladder with a bungee cord so she can work on resistance training!!!

I have older students who have won medals for their dancing in the 80-and-over category at the Washington Senior Olympics; who still fly planes; who hike, bike, swim, dance—I want to be like them when I grow up!

I know that I am not on track to do that. Yet. However, I look at my active students in their 80s and non-dancing 80-year-olds, and it is clear that I MUST keep up my level of exercise if I want to be like them in thirty years. Use it, or lose it!

My current “recipe” for staying in shape

Barre 3

At 50, I added Barre 3 to my workout schedule. A combination of yoga, Pilates, weights and ballet barre, Barre 3 has definitely helped me keep in shape. It was hard at first, but now I can run to work out, as well as run home; so I am getting stronger. Barre 3 started here in Portland, Oregon, but has expanded. I was able to take my sister to a class in Doylestown, PA last summer.

Chiropractic work and physical training

At 51, I suffered a broken toe from a “helper” in one of my classes. That set me back a bit, but the person who is my chiropractor and physical trainer, Seth Watterson, helped me gain a new understanding of the structure of the foot, ankle and lower body that I have been able to apply in my workout AND to my teaching. I have used my injury to help other people avoid injury and rehab after injuries, so that year out of shape was still well spent.


I had done a lot of yoga before I had my son: three to four times a week doing Ashtanga and Anusara styles of yoga in Eugene, Oregon. I did prenatal yoga, and then stopped for a long time. Why? I don’t know.

Two years ago, I added yoga back into my schedule. I have to credit my husband with this: I am too lazy to get the mat out and do yoga by myself; I need a class. My husband and I do yoga at home with Do Yoga With Me on YouTube. I would not recommend this if you have not done yoga classes: it’s too easy to hurt yourself when you don’t have a teacher helping you, but it’s a great way to get back into yoga, or add in a session at home if you can’t make it to class.


Last year, I added Pilates into my schedule. Heidi Weiss at Portland Pilates Collective, is a great teacher and an avid tango dancer. We are working on strengthening my body so that I get fewer injuries from the repetitive stress of teaching beginners, as well as keeping me in my best alignment and shape. I can tell I am a lot stronger than before.

I avoided PIlates for many years because I took some workshops in dance graduate school and didn’t like them, but I have more understanding about the body now, as well as more drive to stay healthy and in shape. I wouldn’t say I find Pilates “fun” but that is not my aim. Heidi is patient and a good teacher, and I enjoy my sessions a lot.


This year, I have added nutritional coaching with Heidi Weiss to my regime. I am gluten intolerant, and probably some other digestive issues. In my mid-50s, I can no longer eat whatever I want. We are adjusting my diet to eat more protein, more vegetables, and to take some supplements that help my body absorb nutrients better. This is a new work in progress, so hopefully I will continue eating better!

It is never too soon—or too late—to improve your fitness and health! Happy Spring!

Trial by audio

A reader with poor eyesight asked me to do an audio file version of my blog. I am not terribly comfortable with talking to myself, so this is a work in progress! Feedback is appreciated :-)

Improvisation and performance

For me, when Jose Garofalo comes to town, I get a chance to perform. Usually, he plays a song, asks me if I like it, and I listen to it that day. Then, in the evening, we dance to it. One hour of getting used to dancing together after a year NOT dancing together, plus a song I have never heard before—it’s a challenge!

On the other hand, improvisation demands your full attention. You can’t think about whether you are doing the “right” thing with your foot or your body or the audience. Everything is focused on dancing WITH your partner, creating something ephemeral that will never be repeated.

Here are our performances for 2019. They are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination: that’s not what improvisation is about. However, we were not just going through the motions, sleep-walking through a choreography. For better or worse, each is a new creation; and some are beautiful :-)

Note: I just noticed that the titles on the two last videos are on the wrong videos—must get that fixed!

Jose Garofalo is back in PDX 12-20 March 2019!

I am very pleased to announce that Jose will be back in Portland NEXT MONTH! He is one of my favorite teachers because he has a huge vocabulary from the Old Masters with whom he studied; and as one of the people exploring tango in the 1990s, he was part of the creation of tango nuevo as well. 30+ years of tango in one person—let’s take advantage of his presence in our community!

The other thing about Jose is that he is FUN! Performing with him is a joy: I never know what is coming next, but he always takes care of me as his follower, and makes me feel secure. After 30 years, he is still exploring, looking for new information and open to new ideas.

Workshop Topics

Investigation of Roles for Tango Dancers (Friday & Saturday)

We will work on the idea of tango role (leader/follower) as a dialogue of movements between people. These classes are not about learning the “other” role, but rather to generate a more playful communication. Register for classes!

3 Sequences, 3 styles (Thursday & Sunday)

We will explore several different styles of Argentine Tango, using sequences from the Old Masters, as well as elements from non-traditional and stage tango, that have been incorporated into current-day tango. We experiment with different types of: embrace; axes; music, etc. Register for classes!

The details

Jose Garofalo Mar2019.jpg

Private lessons

Jose is available for private lessons from the evening of March 12th, to March 20th (I don’t have his plane times for his departure, but I will know soon). The cost is $120/hr or $550/5 lessons. If you take the weekend workshops, there will be a discount on the lesson price and the 5-lesson block price. Private lessons will be at 4315 NE Garfield Ave. in Portland. Contact me to schedule!


Buenos Aires tour Fall 2019!

10 days in Buenos Aires in early December 2019

outside of house 2.JPG

Here in Portland, Oregon, the days are shortening towards Winter Solstice, and I am DONE with the lack of light. That’s why I love to head south to the LONGEST days of the year in early December! Come join me me next year for ten days in Buenos Aires!

This tour is designed for a maximum of 5 couples/10 individuals. I want to introduce you to my favorite places to dance, eat, explore and just hang out. I am working on assembling a group that enjoy each other’s company and want to do things together; people you would want to stay friends with when you return! There is room for 2 more people: will you be one of them?

Get in on the planning stage

bike tour reserva ecologica 2.jpg

I am just starting to plan the trip, and it will be tailored to what the participants want to do. I plan to do an all-day tour of Buenos Aires on bike; or the half that I didn’t get to last time. A trip out to the Parana Delta overnight to my friend’s B & B that can only be reached by boat is a possibility, as is a one-day trip out to an estancia for horseback riding, BBQ and getting out of town.

Where will we stay?

botanical garden 6.jpg

We will stay in Palermo Soho. Tour participants will stay either in a hotel or a B&B apartment with kitchen, depending on what they want. Everyone will be within a few blocks of each other. There are tons of restaurants nearby, as well as food stores. Transportation is easy from this area, but lots of places are walkable as well.

How do you want to spend your time?

Do you want to take tango lessons? I know great teachers and can set up lessons for you. What about Spanish classes? Yup, got that covered, too. Do you just want to go do tango 24-7? I will help you pick out milongas that match your level, and accompany you dancing. Shoe shopping? You bet!!

Do you want to stay longer?

Are you planning on a longer trip? I can get you situated for a longer stay; help you plan for Iguazu Falls or a side trip to Patagonia or Mendoza: part of your tour cost is my planning time, dedicated just to you!

Please join us!

I love Buenos Aires, and I want you to love Buenos Aires. Let me help you fall in love with this city! If you are interested, contact me for more information, cost, etc.

2019 rates

I have not changed my prices for two years, but living costs have increased. Here is the list of rates for 2019; they have increased slightly in some cases, and will remain mostly the same in others. The new rates start January 1, 2019.

Group classes

Om Studio

  • $15 drop in, or

  • $50/month (cash only), or

  • $120/10-class punchcard.

  • New: If you are in the 8 PM class on Thursdays, you are welcome to come to the 7 PM class for free.


  • $15 drop in or $120/10-class punchcard. Same as 2018.

Private lessons

  • $75/hr or $300/5 hours.

  • New: Cash or check discount for block of five: $285/5.

December classes in Beaverton and Portland

Tango Beaverton: Tango Toning & Technique

We are changing up the format of the Beaverton class. As everyone who has come to class so far is advanced beginner to advanced intermediate so far, this class will be a Tango, Toning and Technique class. Although the class is weighted towards follower technique, those of you who want to become advanced leaders will find that the same work applies to you! Everyone is welcome, even total beginners. Everyone is working at their level, and I can adapt what we are doing to make it more basic—or more advanced—for each dancer.

The class has a brief warmup. After that, we do drills focusing on balance, alignment and building strength for your dance. Depending on who comes to class, we might work on: walking, adornos, pivoting, free leg work (boleos, ganchos, etc.). Most of class is dedicated to improving YOUR dance, so that when you dance with someone, you bring the most that you can to your half of the couple.

If you have 1 lb. leg weights, please bring them along. Wear layers, as we are the first people in the room for the day, and it’s not always warm at first. Bring your dancing shoes: practice shoes are also ok.

  • Noon on Wednesdays

  • Global Art of Dance

  • 12570 SW Farmington Rd, Beaverton, OR 97005

  • $15 drop in, or 10-class punchcard for $120

Portland FUNdamentals: Holiday goodies

FUNdamentals class is designed to work on tango basics for beginners and anyone else who wants to polish their dance. As people have difficult schedules over the holidays, each class will be a stand-alone class. I will design one basic combination for each week so that we can practice all the things, but also walk out with usable content.

This is a great time to get a head start on tango for the New Year, or for coming to polish up your basics in a small group setting.

  • 7 PM Thursdays

  • Om Studio

  • 14 NE 10th Ave. Portland

  • $14 drop in, 10-class punchcard for $120

Continuing Tango: Sacadas & other combinations

Like FUNdamentals, December will be a month of working on one combination (and variations, you know me) per week. By popular demand, we will keep working on sacadas, but integrate them into the dance musically, combining them with other elements to make a fun addition to your dance each week. Don’t worry if you haven’t been in class before: this is a friendly group!

Continuing Tango class is aimed at intermediate and advanced intermediate dancers. You may bring a partner, or switch partners. I encourage you to work both roles of the dance to understand the moves more holistically.

  • 8 PM Thursdays

  • Om Studio

  • 14 NE 10th Ave. Portland

  • $14 drop in, 10-class punchcard for $120

November Argentine Tango classes in PDX and Beaverton

I have added a new Beaverton location. Hopefully, 2019 will see an expanded schedule out in Beaverton. I will continue my Om Studio classes, but there may be a readjustment in terms of what levels are offered when/where in Spring 2019.

FUNdamentals: Tango vals basics

  • 7 PM Thursdays

  • at Om Movement Studio, 14 NE 10th

The FUNdamentals class (beginner and up) will focus on tango vals for November. We will work on musicality, moves and technique that work well for tango as well, but that really shine in vals! Don’t be afraid to jump in here: many people find vals an easy way to slide into tango, especially if you have had any ballroom dance experience.

Continuing: Tango vals 201

  • 8 PM Thursdays

  • at Om Movement Studio, 14 NE 10th

If you already have tango/tango vals experience, intermediate and up students will have a fun and challenging time improving timing, moves and turning technique during November! All of this will also pay off in your tango. Check out my YT videos on turns and pivot techniques to get ready, followers! Leaders, it’s very important to understand turns from the point of view of the follower, so maybe you want to watch too!

Beginning Argentine Tango

  • noon on Wednesdays, starting November 7th

  • at Global Art of Dance, 12570 SW Farmington Rd, Beaverton, OR 97005

This class will combine exercises and technique drills, clear instruction in basic tango moves, and work on partnering, balance, musicality, navigation—all the parts of tango that you willl need to dance successfully.

I look forward to seeing you in class!

Workshops in Bend October 27-28, 2018

If you are going to be in Bend, OR at the end of this month, I will be teaching a weekend workshop!

Group classes

Location: Sons of Norway Hall, 549 NW Harmon Blvd. Bend, OR 97701.

Price: Classes are $15/ea or 4/$50; and $10 for Friday night practica and class.


  • Practica 7-10 PM with intro lesson 8-9 PM


  • 2:30 PM Footplay: drags, paradas & more!

  • 4:00 PM Legplay: leg wraps & other goodies


  • 2:30 PM Body English Part 1: on- & off- axis moments to play, including volcadas

  • 4:00 PM Body English Part II: on- & off- axis moments to play, focus on colgadas

Private lessons

Available Saturday and Sunday mornings: Please contact Emma James: 907-299-4199

Hope to see some of you there!

If you are not willing to look stupid

If you are not willing to look stupid, nothing great is ever going to happen to you.”
— Gregory House, in House

I have been thinking a lot about learning (and looking/feeling stupid) this week. I took a workshop on preparing wool to spin and started to learn new-to-me movements that I will need to practice. Washing wool and doing something to it make it spinnable? That looks easy! Hmm, apparently watching YouTube videos on how to do it only gave me some of the information! And I am already wondering about the magical twist the teacher gave to her wool cards in the middle to get all the wool on one: how can I forget that quickly what it was?

I also have been reading books about Aspergers for teens that stress how important it is to learn neurotypical rules and expectations in order to thrive in the adult world; and how much practice is needed to be successful at that. As the parent of a gifted kiddo who struggles daily in the neurotypical world, I see how hard it feels to translate your smarts from what you excel in, to what baffles you.

Tango can seem like a different world with unspoken rules and movements that mystify the beginning dancer. The moves also seem very easy, but then cannot be easily mastered. Where is that self-help guide to tango that will explain everything? Aaahhhh!

Use what you know

Remember that you have learned other things in your life, and you know HOW you learn. Maybe it was not dance. Have you learned a sport? Do you have training in how the body is put together? Perhaps you are very good at seeing patterns, or analyzing situations, or flying a plane. Are you a visual learner? A kinesthetic learner? An analyzer? Pretty much every time you have learned something new, you have improved your learning skills. You may not know tango, but you know YOU: apply that knowledge.

Restrain your perfectionist tendencies

Lock your perfectionism in a closet. Give yourself a workable timeline. Remember: You are doing tango for FUN! I know, I know, it’s hard to see that sometimes in the midst of a difficult class; or when you run into someone on the dance floor; or when you cannot make your body do the same move to the left that you can do just fine to the right. The focus is FUN, improving your strength and balance, socializing with nice people, expressing yourself. The focus is NOT doing it perfectly.

Risk looking stupid

Just get out there and do it. YOU are the only person worrying about if you look stupid. The others are worrying about THEMSELVES looking stupid and they don’t care :-)

Babies learn by falling down and messing up. Guess what? Humans learn this way. My computer programmer husband tells me that his job means he messes up daily (or more) and then has to fix it. Making mistakes is the way our brains work: we learn from our past behaviors. Oops, you are normal!

Remember: Sometimes messing up creates colossal, fabulous new creations! You can get mediocre at something without messing up a lot, but to be brilliant, you will need to really fail from time to time. Apparently, Thomas Edison is quoted as saying that he had found 1000 ways NOT to build a light bulb. So get out there and look stupid! It may take 1000 tries—but it may only take a few.

See you on the dance floor!

Argentine Tango crash course

I have new students getting ready to a. go to Buenos Aires in a month; b. start tango. Now, all of us know that a month is not enough time to learn tango in any deep way. However, I appreciate that they want to get on the dance floor in Buenos Aires and give tango a try. For a crash course in Argentine Tango, we have to cut to the essentials of tango.

What are the essentials of a dance?

I had the amazing opportunity to teach for DanceAbility many years ago. I knew Alito Alessi from when I did contact improvisation in grad school, and he invited me to teach swing dancing at a Danceability event in Eugene, Oregon. The prospective teachers received DanceAbility training on how to teach effectively for dancers of all abilities. Alito encouraged us to look at what made a dance that all people could do; not simplifying it or cutting it down, but going to the heart of what mattered in a dance.

For teaching swing, the essential was creating tension and releasing it in a way that the dancers passed each other or could make a turn happen, more like a slingshot. It didn't matter what foot pattern was done (people were in motor wheel chairs, regular wheelchairs, on their feet, with walkers, you name it): the couple used energy and played with how that created swing moves depending on how they passed one another. We didn't even need to hold hands, but eye contact was really important. The music gave us an outline to play with, but it didn't really matter if we kept to a specific beat: it's really about improvisation!

What are the essentials for tango?

Let's apply that idea to a tango crash course: what are the essentials that REALLY make tango, tango?


Just be there. Breath, stand on your own balance, and tune in to yourself, your partner, the group of people and your environment. Be present. This is the most important part of tango.



Tango gives you a chance to work on non-verbal communication. You need to be able to read your partner and the people around you in order to successfully navigate on the dance floor and to have a good dance.

Think of tango as the cheapest relationship therapy, trust building coaching and body acceptance work you can get! You are here to communicate with other people, through beautiful music and being connected. Really, what's better than that?

Focus on making yourself clear to others. "I am here!" your balance proclaims, like a bird call. "Now I'm here!" "I feel [fill in the feeling]!" Let yourself be readable, and communicate back to the other person. This is the next most important part of tango: no communication, and you are just standing there, attached to someone else's body!

In-body experience

Tango is a sensuous experience. You can enjoy how your body moves, how you experience music, how your partner feels. It is supposed to feel enjoyable. Be happy to be alive and to have a body!

As one guy told me on the dance floor in Buenos Aires, "I feel sorry for you Puritans/Americans! We just do what we want, and then we go to confession!" Perhaps we just need to get out there and ENJOY life a bit! Enjoy your in-body experience, and your partner gets a better dance (you were already having fun!).

Sharing music

Tango is an improvisation. There is not one "correct" way to move to the music or one "correct" speed to dance. You and your partner need to negotiate the dance and the music, but this also gives you a chance to really hear how the other person hears the music.

The person following has just as much say in the music as the leader. The follower can always veto a suggestion, or inspire the leader to adjust to the music a different way, without leading. It's the shared experience that is so satisfying!

Open yourself up to hearing other versions of the song. I always feel pleased when my partner shows me some new part of a tango that I hadn't really heard before. Moving to music makes it much more of a dance.


You can hear the music any way you want. You can dance with any "flavor" of movement you want. There is SO much room in tango for self-expression! That said, it's a team sport, like marriage, so both people need to feel heard and appreciated in the partnership. Make sure you leave room in the dance for both of you, but don't cut out your own half of the dance so that the other person can do a monologue :-)


The community of tango dancers around you are very interesting people! Take time to meet other folks, talk to them and make friends. It will be lonely out there if you are devoting yourself to competing with people for partners above and beyond anything else. Those other men and women are your community: without them, you would not have dances to attend. Spend some time building your community, dancing with beginners and new people, greeting strangers who sit with you, and spreading the tango love!

Last thoughts

I didn't see "Steps" in that list :-) I think we teach steps because the heart of tango asks for a lot of dedication, openness and presence from the dancer. People often feel safer just learning steps, but you miss the whole point of tango if that's your focus. Steps are just part of the shared conversation, and not the most important part. Don't be afraid to just jump in there and put yourself IN tango. The steps will come. The mastery will come.



Colgadas: more tips for off-axis tango moves

A colgada puts the follower off-axis AWAY from the leader. Like the volcada, it is a move that works like a pendulum or a wave. The leader sends the follower away, counterbalances, and then allows the move to resolve to the best exit point available.

The big picture: get the follower feeling safe and on balance, and then tip the follower over, adjusting for free leg motion and rotation; and get the follower safely back on balance.

Upcoming classes

We will be working on volcadas in my 8 PM Thursday classes at Om Studio August 9, 16, 23 & 30, 2018 if you happen to be in Portland.

Tips on colgadas

Following a colgada can be a scary experience: the leader asks you to trust them, and there is nothing behind you to hold you up if the move does not work, except your own behind :-)  I find that leaders scoff at this being scary, but are very nervous about being LED in colgadas. Trust has to be built for two people to do colgadas well.

Leading colgadas

The main important focus of leading a colgada should be making sure the follower feels safe so that s/he will LET you go off-balance with his/her axis.

Regular (with or without a free leg moving):

  1. Put the follower ON-axis, with the supporting foot grounded, first!
  2. Add tilt away from you.
  3. Counter-balance from the same shared axis point.
  4. Feel the pendulum of the follower's movement, and exit with it.
  5. Don't hold the position! It's a pendulum.
  6. Exit the direction that feels the easiest for the follower, barring obstacles.

Colgadas with pivoting:

  1. Not all colgadas have rotation/pivot, so make sure you read the follower's movement.
  2. Do steps 1 & 2 from the previous list (put follower on-axis and then add tilt).
  3. Add the rotation.
  4. Again, there is a pendulum motion to colgadas, so don't hold it; let it keep moving.
  5. Figure out the exit pattern based on tilt AND rotation. You can S-T-R-E-C-H it out.

Following colgadas

Although you can't control the leader, you can make your half of a colgada work better.

Regular colgadas:

  1. Get on/off-axis from the floor up. If the leader can't feel your connection to the floor, they will push/pull harder, which will knock you over. 
  2. Keep yourself ON your foot. If you are rolling off your little toe or the inside of your foot, you are too far off-axis to do a good colgada.
  3. Feet, knees, hips, spine and embrace all work together as a spring to make the colgada work. Tone (but not locking) throughout the system makes colgadas feel easier for you and the leader. Think like a "water spider" that spreads its weight out to all limbs.
  4. Feel the pendulum of the motion through your body, and follow it. The leader can better resolve a colgada by reading where your body wants to go.
  5. Practice, practice, practice to feel safe enough not to clench your body. See the drills below on the video.
  6. If it's not working, step out of the move: Your free leg should be available to put down under you.

Pivoting colgadas:

  1. Focus on how your axis/spring of your body can stay springy first.
  2. If you can let your free leg go free without collapsing your center, do so.
  3. Keep your foot balanced over your metatarsal arch. I find it helps to put a little extra energy into my big toe so that I don't tip onto my little toe.
  4. Pivoting off-axis is much harder than on-axis, so practice (see below) with a door jamb before working up to a human :-)

Solo drills and tips to prepare for colgadas

Follower-friendly volcadas

There are many ways to signal to the follower to do a volcada, but to really lead them and follow them well takes preparation.

What is a volcada?

A volcada is a "dumping" or "tipping" over of the follower, usually with a free leg that can be manipulated by the leader to cross (or uncross) before setting the follower back on axis.

Types of volcadas

I classify volcadas by what happens to the follower's legs. The leader "draws" a shape with the follower's free leg. If you think about what the follower's free leg needs to do (it's a pendulum motion), it's easier to figure out what to do with the follower's axis to make the move work.

  1. V-volcada: The shape of the movement the follower's leg makes is a V, or a skinny U. Often led after a salida, the follower's leg is moved forward, curved around the front of the standing foot, and put into the position of the regular cruzada, albeit off-axis. Then, the leader shifts the follower's weight to the foot that is crossing (the left), and exits the move IN CONTROL OF THE STEP. Both people get to on-axis within two steps, preferably one :-)
  2. C-volcada: The leader leads a boleo, and then tips the follower over while the free leg is rebounding from the boleo. The free legs falls in a circular motion (thus the C-shape), ending in the same cross and exit as the V-shaped volcada.
  3. Wind and unwind: The leader leads a V- (or C-) shaped volcada to the cross, but does NOT lead a weight shift. Instead, the leader unwinds the follower's leg back to where it started, and exits in a walk, putting the follower back on axis.
  4. Multiple volcadas: The leader does a V- or C-shaped volcada, complete with weight shift for the follower, but instead of exiting, suspends the follower a second (and third?) time, leading the same move with the other foot, including the weight shift. This is the trickiest version.
  5. Reverse volcada: This volcada starts in the cross and unwinds to exit in a back walk for the follower. I usually lead it from the "famoso ocho de Tete" and let it pivot slightly to keep the follower feeling safe.

Drills to practice going better volcadas

You MUST practice volcadas on your own if you expect them to work with a partner. I cannot stress enough how important it is for the leader to understand how the volcada feels on the part of the follower. I have been led in many volcadas that leaders felt were clear (they were), but which were too scary for me to be willing to let any foot come off the ground! Here are some tips and drills that I feel make the move work better for the follower, and thus better for the leader.

Any questions? Ask!

I am happy to answer questions about volcadas! Just put them in the comments box here or on YouTube. Or ask me in class, if you are in Portland!

Jose is here!

SOOOOOO excited!  Come to Norse Hall tomorrow night for the 7:30 lesson and a performance later in the evening! Jose is a tango treasure: he has taught tango for 30 years, studied with many of the old masters who are no longer with us, and was part of the nuevo tango movement in the early 1990s as well. He is an amazing follower as well as leader. Check out the schedule, and register for classes! There are also a few private lesson slots available as well. Contact me for availability, or grab me at Norse Hall to sign up!