Beginning tango: is there a "right" answer?

Tango has been around for over one hundred years at this point (working on 120-130 years). Over that span of time, there have been hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people who have danced tango, all over the world. Each of those persons has been unique, and has experienced tango through their own viewpoint of dance, their partner, and the world. How can anyone say what the "right" way to dance tango should be?

I approach tango as a body- and energy-based dance, not as a series of steps to be memorized. For each person, tango is built on that specific body, how the dancer sees dance, musicality, approach to learning, and level of comfort with dance structure. For each person, then, there is a "right" answer within the practice of tango.

As a teacher, I have spent many hours both dancing tango and teaching it to other people. I have experimented with many styles of the dance, many embraces, many different partners, different venues on three continents and many different teachers. What I seek to bring to my students is a distillation of that huge body of information, so that I can provide a clear, concise set of movements and tango rules that will work with most other tango dancers.

The most important part of tango to me is body awareness. In order to dance with another person, I need to know where my axis is, find and maintain my balance, breathe, stay tuned into myself. and open my energy to my partner. Once that is achieved, I have much more energy and focus available to dance and play with my partner.

The next step in the dance is to connect with my partner. There is a circle of breath that connects my axis with my partner's axis in a big, tall oval. There is a circle of breath that creates the embrace, using the arms and torsos to physically join the dancers together. In the center, there is also an open, vibrant energy between the solar plexus of the leader and of the follower. All of these continually adjust, breathe, and move while the dance happens. To me, this IS the dance.

Once the partners have connected together and become a unit, I expand that awareness of self and partner to encompass the entire room and all the people dancing. There is a focus on the group that allows each dancer to donate and to borrow energy from the room, in order to maintain a strong flow of energy. This focus on the entire group creates a flow of movement in the room, to the music, that is beautiful to watch (on a practical note, it also helps avoid crashes :-) ).

Only after that do I think about steps. The steps of tango are what distinguish this dance experience from any other couple dance experience. Combined with the music of tango and the energy of the dancers, they make an exquisite dance form, the Argentine tango.

Tango steps--the basic ones--are based on normal, walking patterns. If you know how to walk, you can learn to tango. This means, of course, that if you have postural habits that create difficulties for your body in everyday movement, the same issues will arise in your tango. Do you tighten your knees as you walk? Do you slouch? Do you tilt your hips forward? If you are in my class, I often end up giving people exercises to strengthen their bodies and align the axis, as well as teaching steps.

I advocate walking heel-toe in tango when stepping forward. This is the natural pattern of the walk, and helps keep the dancer on balance and more elegant. I advocate maintaining a slight turnout (heels together, toes out a bit) because most people stand and walk that way. I advocate allowing the hips to move gently in the dance, as in normal walking. Generally, the more you can make your normal walk more efficient, the easier tango will become.

I advocate basically straight-up-and-down axis. Yes, some styles of tango ask for the partners to lean against one another. However, I feel that the connection between the couple is mostly energy. I should be able to balance on my own two feet, rather than hang on my partner. After you have found your own axis and how to use it, then THAT is the time to choose whether you want to be a leaner or not.

Follow your body's cues. If something hurts (apart from the feeling that your muscles are being well-used), talk to me about it. Tango should not hurt. This is not pain for art/beauty/dance's sake. People dance tango until they die, not until it puts them in a wheelchair. Take care, listen to your body, and it will reward you with many more years of dancing.