Something we see and hear a lot in tango classes is frustration with the rate of progress that people feel they are making. People come along for a few weeks and enjoy the lessons, but the more they learn the more they realise how much they don't know and they start to wonder what's going wrong. Simple things like walking become a challenge, and we start to hear things like "I don't think tango is my dance", and "I'm never going to get this" by the end of the evening. A lot of this comes from their experiences with learning LeRoc and the rapid progress most people seem to make when they begin to learn it, but is the comparison justified? Or is it only natural that we find learning tango harder than learning LeRoc?
LeRoc is a dance made up of large confident moves, and the size and frequency of the steps tends to remain fairly consistent when dancing to any given piece of music. The "step back, step in" of the basic step sequence is like a switch - it's either one way or the other - and assuming you can tap your foot to the beat of the music it's relatively easy to pick up at least the basics. The lead in LeRoc again is big and confident; you can teach leading beginners to "use big bold arm movements", and following beginners to "follow their arms" early on, and it will soon feel like dancing. The detail in LeRoc, like weight changes, hesitation, and frame, can be added later on once people have already learned how to dance, so progression feels rapid, at least in the early stages.
But tango is different. Tango is a dance of detail. If your weight is too far back or your frame is too loose or open then tango simply doesn't work, so you need to get at least the basics of these things right very early on, and that can be frustrating. You keep treading on your partner's toes so you start concentrating too much on the feet and don't realise the problem is in your frame or your body position. You can't lead an ocho or turn without almost bending double, but try to fix it by moving your arms instead of by twisting your torso more and keeping upright. Everything seems counter-intuitive and the frustration begins to kick in as you try to apply the things you learned in LeRoc to the world of tango, with all the wrong results.
So how do you avoid the frustration? How do you enjoy learning something when your teacher keeps reminding you that "In Buenos Aires you spend a year just learning how to walk", and just when you think that you've worked out where your feet are supposed to go he then adds "Stop thinking about your feet; there are no 'steps' in tango, only movement!"?
Start by concentrating on the basics. Try the bigger stuff from time to time in the classes because it's always worth having a go and stretching yourself a bit, but spend the majority of your time looking at the fundamentals. When you see tango danced on the stage or on Strictly at Christmas it's a big, bold, dramatic dance with all the flicks and tricks throughout, but that's not the tango you will generally see danced in local social dances. There you will see a lot of walking, maybe a few ochos, some rock steps, and then more walking. So get those things right and everything else will begin to fall into place.
But mostly... enjoy yourself. It's dance, and dance is there to enjoy and have fun with, so don't let that get away from you. Find a class or venue that plays music you like, whether that's traditional Argentinian music from the Golden Age of Tango or something much more modern and Nuevo. Find a teacher you like, as everyone will have their own teaching style and ways of explaining things. Go with friends, or make new ones when you get there. And laugh about it when you get it wrong.
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