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gancho | September 18, 2019

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Tango. Priorities. (Gran valores del Tango)

Tango. Priorities. (Gran valores del Tango)

Tango is a social dance so everybody dance with everybody.  “Intermediate” dancers dance with “intermediate”, “advanced” – with “advanced”.

Recently a friend of mine has written a big post about who is supposed dance with whom but doesn’t  and in general – about (higher) expectations in tango and some not-so-positive moments, related to these expectations.
Sometimes similar thoughts come to my mind also, so I decided to try to share them.

I do like the idea (since it’s mine :)), that the distinctions between different teachers depend on what they respect in tango, what is more important for them, what aspects they give priority to (and, therefore, what are they supposed to emphasize during classes).

There are a number of teachers in the world. Some teach one style (or how he/she understands it), others prefer another style, some just teach “the true argentinian tango”, some just don’t care so much about styles.
Some people like Chicho, some prefer Javier and Geraldine and some are funs of Nito and Elba (and “guardia vieja”).

As a result (my observations are about tango in Europe and  former USSR) nowadays we have several “parallel” tango-worlds with quite a weak connection between them. I leave the amazing world of “tango on the stage” out of brackets and write only about “social” tango, danced at milongas).

There’s an opinion (which I do share) that we all “came from Naveira” and the way how we dance (teach, study) now is a “guilt” of Gustavo, Fabian and Chicho – people, who first introduced the  basics of academic approach  to studying tango.

However, everything is not so easy with tango-evolution, as one could wish..

Besides of stylistic preferences, there is such an important thing as “what exactly to study” and in which order.

We all are so different, but we all love to dance Tango.

(And then we may come to milongas and say: “here is nobody to dance with”)

“To Dance Tango”. As for the second word – Tango – it is easier to get to consensus, but the first one – “to Dance” – is open to interpretations.


Ahora una corrida, una vuelta, una sentada…

¡Así se baila el tango, un tango de mi flor!

(words from “Asi se baila el tango” sung by Alberto Castillo.


Now I do a ’corrida’ (several quick steps),

a ’vuelta’ (turn), a sentada (she sits on his lap),

This is how the tango is danced..  (translation – Michigan Argentine Tango Club))


Some years ago I took a workshop with a maestro whom I appreciate a lot. He asked the  audience, consisted mainly of teachers: “what do we teach at the first class?”

– “The basic step!” – was the unanimous assured answer.
– “And what’s about the second class?” – “Ocho!”

About 8 years ago I had a conversation with a colleague in Moscow. He asked me: “Slava, so we’ve  already taught them (to students) the basic step, turns, giro, then boleos, sacadas, and what’s next?”

Another school had a detailed plan of the 6-months course. The plan had it’s own logic and contained everything from the  basic step  till volcadas and colgadas. Every topic was covered within 1-2 classes.

Probably, one class is enough to show how to do ocho. But how many classes does one need before  he/she can start using these ocho in his/her dance? And enjoy it?

For me “to do a figure” and “to use this figure in a dance” are completely different things.

It’s like the difference between “to do steps” and “to dance”.

Yet, we still see this trend to teach tango through figures almost everywhere.

Many times I discussed this topic with friends and many of them argued:

“Slava, nobody will come to the classes if we don’t show nice sequences!”.

Once before a class devoted to floor-craft, I was asked whether I was going to show some figures and sequences there?

It’s a vicious circle: students expect to learn some fancy steps and figures in class, and teachers convince  them that there are no other way.

Of course, not everyone and not everywhere.

Some teach medio-giro and ocho-cortado from the very beginning while some avoid using words “leading” and “following” at all.

But different approaches allow us to expect quite different results.

And “sociality” of tango does not make things easier.

One “simple” question: “What is ‘level’ in tango?”

For example, you start dancing tango as a “beginner”. Then you become an “intermediate”, then – “advanced”. ̶̶T̶h̶e̶n̶ ̶-̶ ̶a̶ ̶t̶e̶a̶c̶h̶e̶r̶

But how many months/years does it take to get to the next level?

Of course, it’s obvious that many things depend on a person, how much time/energy he/she is ready to invest etc…

(For example, in Moscow people usually attend to classes twice a week. I was surprised to learn  that in Europe most people used to take classes only once per week (at least as for regular classes in dance schools).)
The idea of “Levels” contain one “psychological” trick connected to “sociality” of tango.

The concepts of “beginner”/”advanced” aren’t just about some technical “achievements”, but also about self-evaluation of a person.

Let’s imagine a picture: a man starts learning tango. Time goes by, some people leave, new people come. He made new friends, got accustomed to the environment, grew roots – and does not feel like  a newbie anymore.

Well, most likely he realizes that he isn’t Chicho, but he has some experience and a sort of opinion about his level of dancing. He actively goes to milongas, travels to marathons, takes workshops with guest maestros. He has many friends in Tango and favorite dance partners and a few years later he rightfully considers himself a real successful tanguero. And one day he comes to a marathon, but women refuse to dance with him.  And again. And the next day too. His frustration is understandable. He returns to his hotel and writes a negative review on Facebook – I do not recommend this marathon, there are a lot of snobs, who dance only with their friends.

(Such story could happen to “her” just as well as to “him”)

And, perhaps, he is right in a way. Unfortunately, a situation when people only dance with people from the same tribe is quite common. This is difficult for me to understand what’s the point to travel to another country and spend all the evenings sitting at the table together without paying attention to others?

But sometimes everything is not so simple…

Let’s imagine another situation.

Someone (let’s call her “A”) dances for 10 years. “A” enjoys the respect in the community. She comes to the milonga, where everyone knows her very well and notices a stranger “B”, who seems to be a good dancer . And this “B” absolutely does not react to her cabeceo. Conclusion: is “B” snob? Maybe. Perhaps A’s skirt is not short enough for him.

But “everybody sees everything” at milongas. It’s a rule :))

Perhaps, “B” saw “A” on the dancefloor and didn’t find her advanced enough.  Maybe it didn’t seem to him that she is ready to share his ideals of tango, his “priorities”.
(And there was no “C” to convince him to try. It’s always worth it – to try.. :))

Such story could happen to “him” just as well as to “her”)

But the moral to this story is that everything depends on the coordinate system. It’s possible to have just a two-year experience in tango, but to dance with the best dancers. Or to have danced for ten years but to look like a “beginner”  in someone’s eyes.

The number of years means nothing by itself. (As much as we’d like to..)

Once I had a conversation with one guy from Argentina, who had been teaching tango for 15 years.

He said that – in his opinion – it’s very easy to lead a back boleo. Just use your hand on her back – and here comes the boleo. As for front boleo, – it’s a bit more difficult. A hand isn’t enough – you should help yourself with a leg.
He wasn’t joking at all.

Actually he’s a great dude, he was just taught like this.

Once one of my first teachers (whom I still greatly respect) said that a tango mentality forms during the first six lessons. And it’s very difficult to change it after then.

Let’s add two factors  which don’t make things easier: “sense of belonging to the club” ( “I go to a certain school and for me it is the best in the world”) and “enthusiasm to learn”. It’s rare, that a person has energy and desire to take regular classes after two or three years in tango. Even if he/she  doesn’t give up tango, he/she simply goes to milongas, only from time to time taking workshops with guest maestros.

But in education “to stop” means “to die”. If you just go to milongas, you regress. Yes, you’re getting a sort of experience, but sometimes it just strengthens mistakes.

Tango is a living organism, it is not static, it is constantly evolving.

For example, 10 years ago nobody talked about musicality.

But even now there are lots of places where nobody talks about it, while for some people it is impossible to imagine a dance without musicality.

Inertia – in the ways of teaching, in understanding what does it mean – “to dance” (especially “to dance well”) – is a very hard thing. As a result, we have those “parallel worlds”.

Some people use a computer just as a calculator, some play “solitaire”, others use it to play the stock exchange or to code. But all of them like to say “i work on the computer”.

The most interesting thing is that the “values” of tango are universal to all. It is difficult to find anyone who would say that one does not care if the embrace is comfortable and convenient,  if movements are connected to the music and the dance itself is interesting and looks nice.

The matter is that achieving all of these requires a particular approach.

So we are back to the question – what to learn, how to learn and in what order.

We’re back to “values”. And priorities.

For example, for me the indicator of the “level” of a woman is the way she works with her feet while making a step, and not how many decorations she knows. However, quite often you can meet women who are very well experienced in decorations, but have difficulties with their own balance or maintaining the connection with the partner.

To be able to do some complex figures, one needs to understand its mechanics, how the bodies act and how the interaction of a couple works. This understanding is a “must have” for both, leaders and followers. The old scheme of “why should I know the steps,  I’ll go as he leads” does not work here. If I can’t learn the structure of the movement, it means I can’t understand it, therefore I can’t do it properly, I can’t control what i’m doing.

According to the concept of “dance should be easy and pleasant” the only thing a leader should move is his own upper body. What again creates certain responsibilities for followers – to understand the lead, to interpret it and to respond in a nice (nicest! :)) way.

Easy and enjoyable dance – this is so cool! Soft sensual embrace. Merging with your partner and the music.

And it’s so great – to discover something new!

In general, “I know that I know nothing” ((c) – Socrates)

I wish you all new pleasant discoveries!

And if Tango is about a ‘process’, not a ‘result’, then the same can be said about the studying of Tango!


Viacheslav Ivanov (guest author)











  1. Anna

    Very well said. Always happy to “meet” people with this kind of view, rare enough. I’m one of the “dance instead of doing steps”. Hard to convince the importance of How instead of What.. So I feel a bit less “lonely” if I read such good stuff ;))

  2. Daniel

    Great article Slava!

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