What makes a “real artistic tango dancer?”

A tango dancer from Istanbul writes,

Dear Camille,
If you were to list the things to do to become a real artistic tango dancer, what would your list look lile?
Where would you start? What would don’ts as well as dos will be?

Dear Tango Aficionado,

Your question really got me thinking—how to answer this succinctly, when really, it took my whole book to write about tango, the art and wonder of it!

I pondered your phrase “a real artistic tango dancer”—whether you meant dancing for exhibition or for your own pleasure. In the end, I think the answer would be about the same because in essence all tango dancers have received a venerable art form. And as artists they are sort of avatars.

I think the number one thing that makes a good tango dancer is to recognize the dance as greater than the sum of its parts. The two dancers, a leader and follower, the music, the wood floor, the prescribed shoes, the costume — all these can be measured, assessed, and judged by our finite minds. But the dance is beyond these elements. Call tango the Holy Grail, a sanctuary, a place of no words, a divine state, but recognize it as something you can experience and direct or conduct artistically, like solar energy, but cannot bottle, package, or hold onto for longer than the moments when the dance is happening.

So here then, I list ten things I hope will help guide you. Each one could be expanded into a long chapter.

1. Consider first and foremost that tango is your dance. Know and respect yourself. (You are the “goddess, or god, of the tango galaxy.”)

2. Respect all teachers of tango. It’s a major challenge to put the dance into words. Many teachers fall short in areas, but they are doing their best. Listen, absorb what you need from each one, and leave what doesn’t work for you.

3. I recommend sampling many teachers because all have some strength.

4. Give the dancers less skilled than you respect. If you know where your own center, or axis is—the one thing you can control—you can be generous and patient toward others, whom you might even help in this way, which in returns helps you. (I call this phenomenon “tango grace”).

5. Similarly, don’t take it personally if a seemingly “better” dancer turns his/her nose up at you. In a milonga, or any dance setting, you can never know why someone is not inviting you to dance. To attribute negative reasons to his indifference is to shackle your own energy and creative force (to cloud your solar energy). (See also #10 – “be content with what’s offered.”)

6. I recommend yoga as the best complementary discipline for deepening your understanding of tango. Tango is like yoga, a skillful “yoking” up of energies. It also gets you intimately acquainted with every square centimeter of your own body and its bio mechanics, hence strengthening the literal core or axis, and the mental one, too. Yoga bolsters our ability to be totally present, surrender ego (or the idea of a separate leader/follower. Real artistic tango is about the dance, not the individual units.) And, yoga teaches you about breath and breathing from and through your axis, something almost no tango teachers ever touch on.

7. Some accomplished tangueros prefer to have the same practice partners. I like to have several and on a rotating basis (kind of the way I eat, too—rotating diet is recommended by ortho-molecular nutritionists as the best one for longevity). I consider every dance a chance to practice something, to improve myself. So, I love going to milongas where I know there will likely be what I call “wild cards”—guys I’ve never danced with before, complete unknowns, but who take me out of my routine, out of my complacency, and thus sharpen my ability to be totally present. They tune up my body mechanics, which can get dull thru the same patterns. They keep me agile in mind and body.

8. Dive into to the milonga with an open heart. Everyone is there with the same desire and needs, so there is nothing to fear. We’re all kids in the candy shop. Allow that the dance, whose steps you now have in your muscle memory, is being reborn anew each time you step into the dance circle with another partner.

9. A corollary is to take care of yourself if the brooding state takes over (it happens to the best of us). Realize this is your own body/mind state—it’s not part of the dance, which is always pure and perfect. Keep the dance sacred. It arose when the most intimate, soft, ripe center of humans cried out for “connection” and completion with others in an artful way. Take time off from milongas, pick and choose the ones that suit you, but keep tango as a sanctified state.

10. With regard to the milonga, also, develop 3 or 4 precepts to guide a wholesome attitude. My Tango Precepts are 1. Just show up 2. remain present 3. Accept [or be content with] what’s offered 4. Be kind to self and other.

Finally, my favoritie saying is, “You Learn tango from feet up, but you dance it from heart down.” I think when you feel deep down inside that you know what this means, you have the real art of tango.



  1. I can’t wait to get started !!!!!!!!!

  2. Perfect Advice. There might be a lot less angst if we could all take these wise words to heart!

  3. Hardest dance to learn at first.
    Best dance ever! You can disappear in it.
    Don’t give up, it is so worth learning.