Tango dancing with beginners

Tango without stunts

a beautiful dance by Natacha Poberaj and Jesus Velasquez in 'Una noche de Tango' of compania TangoX2, in Buenos Aires. Remarkable is, that the dance isn't 'showy'.

Video 'Tango'
Video at YouTube

The dancers 'just' walk. She does ochos forwards and backwards, a few 'voleos' (lots of low ones, a few high ones) and she participates in one 'barrida'. The gentleman ads a few forward and backward 'sacadas', but nowhere does he force the lady to do anything. Her dance is relaxed, and she has all the opportunity to express sensuality and engagement with her partner.

This dance especially drew my attention, since it's part of a show. It's done by highly skilled professional dancers, who're able to do many tricks and stunts. They are however also able to just dance and they do a much better job there, than many of the showy amature dancers, who cover their lack of dancing skill under a layer of stunts.

Why is it so difficult for the intermediate and advanced levels to dance like this? Because their teachers somehow see an urge to show them a repertoir of steps. Because the students themselves have the idea that they must learn all the figures in 'the book', and all the tricks and stunts they see in the shows.

Nothing is easier than teaching steps! Steps sell! Much more difficult it is, to teach people to really lead and follow, though it is the essence of tangodancing. A lesson may seem 'empty', when there're no steps learned. Students may even complain, because somewhere on the internet they've found pages with lists of steps! It happens, really, that beginner students ask: why don't you teach me those? So, if you can't make a tango student experience the joy of connection, communication, real leading and following, you won't keep their attention and you'll have to adapt to their idea of tango or they'll run off to the 'school of steps'.

Maybe this is also why an insecure intermediate or advanced male dancer may want to show a lady beginner his steps and starts to teach the gancho, the barrida or the sandwich, on the dance floor of the saturday milonga. It's sometimes the only thing they've learned.

Rob Nuijten, the editor

Beginners Tango, waar gebeurd.

Hee, een nieuw gezicht! Hoe lang dans je? Twee maanden? Ik dans al jaren, maar zullen we het even proberen? Ja, ja, oeps, hola, oh, nou, weet je, die basispas gaat best aardig, maar hier had je dus de gancho moeten doen. Niet gehad? De gancho. Een achterwaartse schop onder mijn been door. Kijk, hier, zo, ik duw jou naar achteren en dan moet jij zo, dat doen, en dan hop en weer terug. Ja, zoiets. Nee, ja, nou, zo ongeveer. Doe ik 'm straks weer, en dan schop je nog eens, ja? Wat ik net deed? Dat is een barrida, maar hij lukte niet zo goed omdat jij m'n voet niet vasthield. Nee, bij wijze van spreken. Je moet als het ware aan mijn voet blijven plakken als ik de jouwe wegschuif. Nee, een barrida. Ga eens zo staan, met die voet naar voren. Dan doe ik zo en dan ga jij met je voet mee die kant uit. Da's een barrida. Gaaf, he? Jij kan 'm ook bij mij doen. Heb je niet gehad? Gancho ook niet, dus alleen de basispas nog maar, jemig, twee maanden les... De ochos, oh ja, de ochos vooruit heb je wel gedaan. Maar kan je ze ook achteruit? Zal ik je even laten zien. Hier moet je draaien en daarna moet je achteruit stappen. Ja, zo ongeveer. Nee, hier moet je op je andere voet gaan staan anders komt het niet uit, ziejewel? En als je dat kan, kunnen we ook de sandwich doen, want die begint met twee ochos achteruit. Ja, zo en als jij dan daar blijft, en met je voet naar voren blijft staan, kan ik met mijn voeten jouw voet beetnemen. Leuk he? Daarna moet jij overstappen met voorwaartse ochos en dan kunnen we weer door. Ach, hier had je een sprong moeten maken. Voelde je dat niet? Ik gaf een sprong aan. Nog eens doen? Kijk zo, en dan springen. Nee, zo niet. Auw! Aaaah, je kwam met je hak bovenop mijn grote teen! Nee, sorry hoor, maar we moesten maar even stoppen. Je bent natuurlijk toch nog maar een beginner...

Tango with complete beginners

Al Pacino takes a lady to Tango in the movie 'Scent of a woman'.
In a restaurant in New York an orchestra plays Tangomusic. Al Pacino plays a blind but adventurous man who approaches a young lady who claims to have no experience in Tangodancing at all. That's why she's not that eager to reward the mans' invitation for a Tango at the yet empty dance floor.

"Why not?" he asks.
"I'm afraid to make a mistake", she says.
He: "No mistakes in the tango, darling, not like in life! Simple, that's what makes the Tango so great. If you make a mistake, get all tangled up, you just Tango on".

This whole scene and the whole dance:
Video 6.37 minutes

Video of their dance only:
Video, dance only

Of course, it's only a movie and we don't know if Pacino would have been able to lead a total beginner into this Tango. The lady is easily lead into a few ochos forward. Some ladies however have that talent. I wonder if any lady would feel comfortable with the backwards bends he forces upon her, but all together, it looks believable enough that the two are having fun.
Most important: this man doesn't tell her anything. He does what he can, and he doesn't tell her what steps she should make or what she could have done better. He's a gentleman and a leader.

Beginners lessons on video mostly teach steps and patterns

Even one of the greatest dancers on this globe, Osvaldo Zotto (the brother of Miguel Angel Zotto) demonstrates the base of Tango are the basic 8 steps.
It's an old production where he still dances with his formar partner Mora Godoy, so let's hope there's new material available somewhere. But there's many videos like these sold over the world, from wich people may learn that tango is a serie of steps one has to know and reproduce together. Another teaching couple is 'caught' on-line, teaching a lady to step forward and a man to step backwards at the count of one.
Basics 8 steps

All over the world, there must be thousands of teachers following this method. And their pupils will dance and dance, and one day they will figure out how to get connected and be able to improvise a real tango. They'll learn it from other teachers, or from their own teachers, in a later stage.

Does anyone know of an on-line video where a man, in his first dancelesson, simply learns to put the lady on one of her feet, so she'll have the other leg free for a step?

Because, in my opinion, that's a much more important basic principle than any of 'the 8 basic steps'. A man who doesn't know how to put a lady on one of her legs, so, that the other leg is free to go, is unable to lead any step. He's doomed to dance the prescribed patterns with ladies who've taken the same (kind of) classes.