What to do when you can’t go dancing tango

So, here we are.

Either our authorities already mandated social distancing, or we realised on our own that the best way to protect our friends and families from COVID-19 is to stay home from tango for a while.

We understand that ‘flattening the curve’ (as explained here) is essential for slowing down the spread of the corona virus. So what can we do, instead of attending marathons, milongas and group classes?

Below are a few suggestions for how to keep the tango flame burning.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus may stop milongas for a while, but the tango crowd will keep the tango flame burning

Practice tango

  • Practice tango at home. Perhaps you’ve never really practiced much outside of classes? This is your chance to get going. Invite someone you like dancing with who lives close by, and practice together. Some people like a very structured practice with clear goals, such as creating a choreography or fine-tuning the walk, while others simply dance and then find out together what to work on. In the beginning, it might be good that you each bring one specific topic to explore, so that you have some place to start.
  • Practice solo tango at home. If you have taken technique classes, now is the time to try to recall some of the exercises. Some say that “practice makes perfect”, while others prefer the more prudent formulation “practice makes permanent”. Whatever you do many times over will become your pattern. So brush up your basics, like working on your balance in slow ochos and giros. Spend some time on each exercise so that you get a sense of quality and control.
  • Take a private lesson. Private instruction is a lot safer than group classes at the moment, and your teacher might need some income right now.

Take care of your body

  • Cross-train and condition your body. Tango is nicer when your body is in shape, and this is your chance to give it what tango dancing cannot. Do squats. Do yoga. Do chin-ups.
  • Take long walks. If you are used to dancing a few times a week, that’s a lot of steps that Netflix won’t replace. We might not always realise that we do get some physical exercise from tango. Spend an equal amount of time walking instead, and you’ll keep your condition.
  • Study anatomy and explore your body. Your body awareness may develop faster if you learn about the body and try different exploration techniques. Look up Eric Franklin and try some of his exercises. Or just explore the range of movement in your different joints. Put a hand on some of your muscles and feel what happens in different movements. Stand on one leg and try to perceive how the weight keeps redistributing itself under your foot.
  • Show your feet some love. Taking a short break from tango could give your feet some well needed recovery. With some additional massage, baths and care, your feet will be restored and ready for tango once the corona spread is under control.
Explore new ways of moving your body. It could change your tango for the better as well.

Interact socially

  • Send a message to a tango friend. Let your tango friends know that they exist even when you cannot meet in the milonga. Perhaps you’ll even reconnect with some of the tango friends you haven’t seen months or years? Remember to check in on tango friends who are in risk groups as well.
  • Write about tango, share and discuss. Now could be the time to reflect on any aspect of your tango experience. Putting contemplations down on paper can help to clarify your trains of thought. Even better: share them with friends and ask for feedback. What can we learn from each other?

Learn music

  • Learn about tango music. When was the last time you tried to guess the orchestra of a tango recording? What do you know about the golden age of tango? What unusual instruments can we hear in some tango recordings? What is so special about Biagi’s piano solos? How is Alberto Podestá’s singing different from Armando Moreno’s?
  • Learn about music in general. Listen to some classical music and pretend to be the conductor of the orchestra. Name the different instruments in a recording. Do music exercises, like clapping different rhythms or singing intervals. Dust off that old guitar you never learned how to play, and try to sing and play a simple song, like “Yellow submarine”.
Everyone can learn to be more musical, and there are many ways of studying music both theoretically and practically.

Clean and clean out

  • Repair and condition your tango gear. Have you lost a button or ripped up a seam? Repair your tango clothes. Shine your shoes. Iron all of your tango shirts now, rather than waiting until just before they are to be used again.
  • Clean out your tango closet. Go through all of your tango outfits, tango shoes and folklore pañuelos, and clean out what you will no longer use. Sell or give away whatever doesn’t spark joy anymore.
  • Get your tango music collection in order. Do you still own CDs but no CD player? Time to let them go, or possibly to find a way of transferring them to your laptop before that. Give them away, or throw them away. If you have mp3s on your computer, delete any duplicates by going through one orchestra at the time, ordering songs alphabetically and then only keeping the version you like best of each recording. Organise your playlists.
  • Get your tango photos in order. Go through photos you have taken at tango events or photos you have saved from Facebook. Keep only the ones you really like, maybe just 2-3 photos per event and delete all the rest.


Stay safe,  and see you on the dance floor later on!

Un abrazo,

Tango Dancer in the Mirror

You might have heard of the study where 93% of US car drivers estimated that they had above-average car driving skills (Svenson, 1981). Naturally, we would expect that only 50% of the drivers actually had above-average skills. So there must be a huge gap between how people evaluate their own skill, and how their skills would be evaluated by others. This happens in many domains, not just car driving. Might it also happen in tango?

It is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after the researchers at Cornell University who published a famous paper on the topic (Kruger & Dunning, 1999). The name is almost harder to remember than the description of the effect:

“Incompetent people tend to over-estimate their own ability, while highly competent people tend to under-estimate their own ability.”

So in tango, unskilled dancers might often believe that they are much better dancers than they really are. But don’t we all believe that we are better than everybody else? No, according to what Dunning & Kruger found, we all just believe we are better than the average guy.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is often misunderstood: it does not state that everybody believes they are better than they actually are, or better than everybody else, for that matter. Look at the graph below from the original paper.



See how the left-most group got a really low test score (the round dot), but somehow still believed that they were slightly above average (the square marker)? Now look at the right-most group: they got fantastic scores on the test, but rated themselves lower than that. They still knew they were more skilled than the other groups, but they under-estimated how much better they actually were.

So, provided that these results are also valid in tango, we would expect that highly skilled dancers know that they are more skilled than most, but they do not understand just how good they really are.

ECTM2012 49

The Dunning-Kruger effect makes you over-estimate your own ability only when you are unskilled at something, which means that as you improve your skills, you will also gain a more accurate notion about what skill means and how good you are yourself. Then, as you approach real mastery, the effect will actually be the opposite – since tango is easy for you, you will assume that it is easy for the rest of the crowd as well.

Now, that brings us to an interesting challenge for tango teachers. Many of them are naturally in the top quartile, so what if they do not really understand just how difficult tango is for their students?

For the not-as-skilled social dancers, the challenge will be a different one: the effect might cause frustration, e.g. if they go to a high-level dancing event, say El Yeite in Buenos Aires, since they will tend to think that they are at par with the general level of the place, but people are perhaps still reluctant to dance with them – which is then easily taken more personally.

On a deeper level, we can speculate about why our minds are twisted in this way. My guess is that the Dunning-Kruger effect is there to help us keep up the spirit when learning new things, rather than just giving up after the first attempt.

If tango beginners truly understood how little they learned after one class, would they at all feel like making the necessary investment for getting up to the general level of the community?

ECTM2012 26

Of course, after just a few classes, they are usually already much better tango dancers than most of the people who never took a class, and they will quickly achieve a level where many experienced dancers will enjoy dancing with them at milongas. It is just that most dimensions of the dance, beyond “taking a few steps without crushing someone’s foot”, will remain hidden from them for a while.

When you look at yourself in the mirror, are you blissfully boosting your tango skills above your actual level? No? Well, I didn’t think so: this is all based on statistics, so you may very well be the odd exception, but still, isn’t it a fun fact to know that most of your dancing friends are hopelessly unable to accurately assess their own tango skills? 😉


The ABCD of Tango

The ABCD of Tango is a proposed model for teaching all essential parts of tango. The idea is that in each and every tango class, students should practice and develop all of the following 4 dimensions:

  • Tango Attitude
  • Tango Body
  • Tango Creativity
  • Tango Dance

These tango dancer dimensions result from gathering a large number of qualities for good dancers, organizing the qualities into clusters and finally selecting the most essential ones. Consequently, the starting point for this model is what skills students need, as opposed to e.g. what is easier to teach or what is easier to evaluate.

The advantage of using a model such as this is that it reminds you to spend teaching time on several important aspects of tango, that could sometimes be left out in a less structured approach.

Tango Attitude
Attitude is the first dimension, because it will affect everything else. This includes how to take and give advice in classes. Trying to improve oneself before one’s partner. Ability to relax and enjoy. Level of commitment. How you invite people to dance and who you accept to dance with. Making an effort to become more attractive as a dance partner. Ability to see the good in yourself and in others. An important part of Attitude is that it includes the self-image of the student. In my view, the teacher should make sure that when students leave a class they feel better about themselves as dancers and as persons.

Tango Body

Managing your own Body well is an excellent way to make it more pleasant to dance with a partner. Body awareness and balance are essential. Posture and quality of movement. A smooth walk. Toning the right muscles and relax others. Breathing. Dancing in a way that is healthy for the body. All of this is often addressed specifically in technique classes.

Tango Creativity
The Creativity dimension is what makes tango an art form and not just bodies moving around randomly. It includes musicality, with components such as rhythmic play, phrasing and understanding the structure of tango music. It also includes having a variety of steps and figures to choose from, as well as other ways to create variation in the dance, such as using different aesthetics in movement or different emotional expressions.

Tango Dance
The Dance dimension is basically what most people expect to learn in a tango class, and includes much of what distinguishes tango from other dances. Walking together in an embrace. Typical tango figures such as the giro and the cross. A firm and comfortable physical contact. Flexibility of the embrace. Sensitivity and presence. The fine tuned communication of leading and following. Also, how to move on a crowded dance floor.

The proposal is to make sure that each class includes all 4 dimensions. Even if there’s a specific theme in the class, such as “common rhythms in tango”, the teacher would still include how this relates to the Dance, e.g. through practicing these rhythms in some of the common tango figures.

I suppose that if any of the 4 dimensions seems surprising it would be Attitude. But think about how much attitude can affect both the ability to learn and the whole tango experience! Also remember that attitude is always transmitted from teacher to student, through words and behaviour – but by doing it consciously your students will get more out of their tango.