I've noticed that many beginning tango dancers avoid Tangofest. Dancing at events like Tangofest can feel as scary as Boston at rush hour. Some dancers plow around the dance floor, running poor beginners over. There's almost no room, and when you find it, someone else takes it. And some crazy person is leading their partner into leg-flying, death-defying stunts, right in the line of dance.
In reality, leading at Tangofest is what prepared me for normal dancing in Buenos Aires. I learned to dance many steps almost in place. I learned to use turns as a line of defense when people cut me off. I learned to give the follower room to play in the pauses between traveling forward. I learned to keep an eye out for the space I occupied, and stay moving behind the leader in front of me. You will not learn those skills when you only dance in practicas with tons of space!
Dancing at Tangofest taught me to enjoy subtle, small, musical moments in the dance, both as a leader and a follower. As a leader, I felt no need to try to think up difficult sequences to wow my follower: I was too busy trying to stay alive! As a follower, I learned to close my eyes and trust the leader. After all, if I tightened up when someone got close, the leader couldn't guide me out of harm's way. I relinquished my backseat driver behavior and had more fun. I have some of my best tandas in crowded spaces because it forces me to tune in and focus on the important parts of tango: connection, breath, music, my partner.
Take classes at Tangofest!
One approach to Tangofest is the linear path. Just take classes with one teacher and get one viewpoint and one set of rules for tango. Follow one set of teachers around and take any classes they teach, no matter what level (don't tell ANYONE I said that! The advanced dancers will kill me.). I'm going to do that with Oscar and Georgina this year because I am preparing to teach their style. I want to hear EVERYTHING they say about tango this weekend, including in beginner classes (see you there?).
Another way to approach Tangofest is to embrace chaos. Take all the classes in your level. Accept that, in every class, the teachers may tell you the opposite of the teachers in the last class (stand up straight! Lock ze knees! Never lock ze knees! etc.). In each class, I try to follow the teacher's advice. I ask for clarification and reasons, but I try not to argue. When the class is over, I have almost always learned something new or useful. "Take the best and chuck the rest."
By the end of the weekend, my brain is stuffed full of information that is conflicting and quickly dissipating. I try to take notes and then practice with someone else who was in the class. If I do the sequences or exercises I learned, I will remember them longer. I assume that only about 10% of what I learned will stick. I also assume that my dancing will get WORSE for a few weeks or months as I incorporate new ideas into my tango.
A few months after Tangofest, I have integrated the new information that I like and have improved my dance. Instead of a linear progression to perfection, I find tango to be little clouds of chaos that clear and leave me in the middle of a gorgeous, sunny day for a while, blinded with the beauty of tango.
GO TO TANGOFEST!