Beginner’s Mind Tango

“In the mind of beginners there are many possibilities, in the mind of experts, few.” —Suzuki Roshi, Zen rascal

Step list

All of our classes at La Pista follow a similar format: warming up with exercises facing the mirror without partners, explanation of the technique we are focusing on, introduction of the step—with partners, then separately with lead and follow parts shown slowly, then dancing and practicing with Tom and Camille coming around to help all participants with correct form, technique, and, when helpful, attitude.

Here is what you should expect to learn in your first 8 weeks (1–2 hours of class time) of beginning Argentine tango:

Walking (caminada)

Walking in the line of dance (always counter-clockwise) with weight changes in place

Rock step – cadencia

Check steps – rock steps with a quick-quick weight change and a little (45-degree) turn to the left

Ochos (figure eights), forward and backwards

—8-count basic or basico to the cross or cruzada

Molinetes (or giros or grapevines) – the follower turns to the left or to the right as led by the leader

—Walking to the cruzada in normal (parallel) system (lead and follow step on opposite feet, LR or RL)

—Walking to the cruzada in cross system (lead and follow step on the same foot, LL or RR)

—Walking inside & outside (left) & on the follower’s dark (right) side without leading the follower to the cruzada – in normal system

Extra, but not necessary yet:

Ocho cortado (cut ocho)

About our classes: We focus on beginners  and aspiring tangueros who have never danced. All our classes start with exercises to help you keep all-important technique in mind as you execute steps. Tango technique can be summed up in three important body mechanics: spirals, weight change (or transference of weight around your axis), and pivots (almost always on one leg). We “triage” in our classes, that is, everyone does the beginning exercises together, then we take newcomers aside to bring them up to speed with one-on-one instruction.

You will hear us talk frequently about connecting with the floor (like those famous tires that “grrrip the road”) and also about keeping your posture (head up, not looking down at your feet).

—Weight changes – transferring weight from one foot to the other, we talk of shifting the axis left or right.

—the axis is always the center of our body around which all weight is evenly distributed.

Pivots – used frequently in tango by both leader and follower, pivots can be thought of as a rotation of the axis in place before stepping and they rely a lot on the fact that you most often are always on one leg or the other, or the free-leg principle.

Free-leg principle – see above

Maintaining your axis – you’ll hear this a lot in tango because, given the intimate (close) embrace of the dance, one can lean too much into his/her partner. But the beauty of the dance is this paradox of shared axis but still “maintaining your own axis.” This paradox is what (Camille thinks) leads to the feeling of a Third Presence in tango.

Third Presence (also referred to as Tango Moment)– see above or pick Camille’s (or Tom’s) brain(s).

Contra-Body Movement (also called CBM or disassociation) – the upper body, from about waist up turns slightly on a diagonal to the lower body (waist down), a movement used to lead the follower to the cruzada/cross. I have decided to use the simpler, more lyrical term, “spiral,” but keep in mind that it can mean the spiral begins at your shoulders or at your feet.

Connecting with the floor is important – Tom has said this many times. So we work on this each class with the music. Stepping cleanly, precisely, meaningfully into the floor with the music is like enunciating in good speech, or like writing good poetic meter. We say that tango music doesn’t have a precise rhythm or tempo but it does have a beat or cadence—and it does have rhythm and melody. You have a certain of amount of freedom in how you follow that beat or cadence.

—Along with connecting with the earth or digging our feet in, we might think of reaching, from say the waist (third chakra area) up toward the sky or heaven. This will help us to keep good posture.

Connection with partner – close/closed embrace we meet torso to torso but allowing space between our lower torso or abdominal area (this embrace is also called a carpa, from Spanish for tent.) Connection is highly personal and individual

Embrace – soft, sliding, pressure is equally distributed along all points of contact. Palms meet palms softly, pulses may touch, elbows are pointed down. The arms go around each other and connect gently. There is a lot to say about embrace, which, like connection, can vary from couple to couple, depending on several factors.

—the Lead comes from the leader’s torso/chest (the heart-light), not his arms.

—The Follower waits for the lead, is always in the “hover” zone (Camille’s term), one leg suspended, not anticipating, but waiting for the lead. (Waiting is the only virtue, in tango and in life.)

Fully engaged – Tango may well be soft, gentle, smooth, but the whole body is engaged. It’s as if your whole body is one elastic muscle—the degree of elasticity varies with the style of tango danced, but it should always be there in some capacity. Both leader and follower are 100 percent engaged (elastic), moment to moment. This engagement might be the vehicle that transports each dancer to that place in tango of “no clock time” (no past or future), where you feel that music is dancing you. You will decide for yourself. Meanwhile, to help you cultivate being fully present and engaged, I like to say, as we say in yoga, pull your every muscle to the bone.

Tango is a dance of improvisation – you learn the basic structure (or vocabulary) and the all-important technique and then you invent the way to connect it all within the framework of the music and the dialog between two partners. No two dances or dancers are ever the same. We will help you understand this concept.

When you have some idea of the above, you are ready for your first milonga, La Milonguita, every last Friday of the month. It’s a “milonga with training wheels.”