Skip to main content

So you’ve figured out what categories you want to compete in, but now you have to get the most out of your tango lessons…also known as…”how to make that $100 an hour lesson really count”.

We’ve all been there before, spending thousands of dollars hoping to catch that tiny little secret that’ll transform our dance. And we’re still looking! 

Here are the secrets to learning the secrets…

1. Know your teacher

Discover their tango principles

What dogmas or tango religions does your teach follow? This sounds easy but it isn’t…as everyone uses the same words but defines them differently. It’s not enough to hear that “connection is the most important thing.” You need to ask them what connection actually means to them.

You’ll be surprised to hear all the different answers.

  • “When 2 hearts beat as one.” – seriously?! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?! You’ll need to dig deeper than this.
  • “When the dance is relaxed and free.” – ok, better but still not very good.
  • “When their standing legs and free legs move together.” – ok, NOW we’re getting somewhere.
  • “When their hips and legs move at the same time without stressing the embrace, and their musicality looks daring and at the same effortless, and they know what each are going to do before they even do it.” – thank you, thank you, we can all go home now.

See how long this took? Now do it for every single belief. Here’s a tip…try not to waste too much of your class time on this, take them out to dinner instead and ask them there. 😀

See how they like to dance

There are few ways to figure this out. One is to watch them dance. Look up their Youtube videos, watch them at milongas. This can be a great way to compare how they dance socially vs during performance. Another way is to actually dance with them.

By knowing how they dance, you get a better of where their STRENGTHS are (or we can say, “things they like”) as well as their WEAKNESSES (or we can say “things they aren’t as interested in”). Dance is art and subjective. But within that subjectivity there is still a lot of science, and PATTERNS! Watch all their performance videos and you’ll start to see their common moves and embellishments. Also common songs that they like. Might also be nice to know if they prefer vals or milonga.

Knowing these details about your teacher helps you better understand how they can improve your dance and where their explanations are coming from.

2. Maximize your class-time

Have questions ready

How does one even prepare for a topic they might not know about? Easy, try the moves beforehand. If you the class or workshop topic is back ochos, you should be researching all the different back ocho techniques out there and trying them a hundred different ways before coming to class. Or if this is a private lesson and you’re planning to ask about sacadas, you should have already tried a hundred different sacadas yourself (within your skill level, of course).

This method is so much more effective for learning because your question will no longer be blank generic questions like “how do I do a sacada?” but more like “how do I time the pivot during sacadas?” or “how should followers move their shoulders during sacadas?”. Not only will these deeper and more specific questions get you better answers, they also cut down your teacher’s work for you since they don’t have to spell everything out. You’ll soon find the questions you ask can be more insightful than the answers themselves.

This might seem like it goes against the rule of “come to class with an open mind” but it will actually help you get so much more out of the lesson. Come with an open mind but not an empty mind. There’s also a saying that a teacher can only mold you, not create you. So give them something to work with and let them adjust you to perfection.

Show respect for the teacher’s class

This is true not only in group classes and workshops but also in private lessons. Teachers are more engaging when they respect your learning path. This basically means don’t ask teachers to show you things that are beyond your level. While many teachers love to see students exploring the possibilities in tango, they can’t give adjustments outside of a student’s sensitivity level.

The moment you’ve tried a move for 20 minutes straight and still can’t do it, it’s time to move onto something a little easier. Either you’re not ready for that right now or maybe this particular teacher is not able to click with you in the move. There are plenty more topics you can work on. Keep the class moving!

3. Try everything

Try everything your teacher said to do

Try everything your teacher said. Easy as that. Do it exactly as they said it, no adjustments, or adaptations. Follow their every word. Still can’t do it? Does it feel silly? Ok…put your ego down…and try it again. Better? No?

Fine, try adapting it now a little bit. See if there’s any truth to what they saying. There’s a good chance new techniques don’t harmonize with your old techniques but that’s the beauty of it. You’re forced to either keep your old habits and reject the new ones, or keep the new ones and reject the old ones. Even if you don’t like it, you can appreciate that you have the ability to do more things and that makes you all the better for it. (Later down the line, these newly rejected techniques may be the missing link for future ill-fitting techniques.)

Try everything your teacher said NOT to do

Do it all backwards. This sounds silly but you would be surprised at how many little gems are found this way. Sometimes, the thing we were trying to do can only be accomplished by doing the opposite. Tango is just so paradoxical that way. Any way to look at it is that by discovering both extremes of a particular advice, we are more likely to find the “perfect middle”.

Try everything your teachers haven’t addressed

Did you just blow the whole day wondering whether your elbow should be up or down? Screw it and try the shoulder or the hand instead. Did your teacher tell you to work on your hips? Try the knees instead. Teachers can only tell you what they THINK is your problem. But it isn’t until you do the work yourself that you’ll know whether they’re right or not. More often than not, the problem is combination of ‘what your teacher thinks it is’ PLUS something else you’re doing.

Now that you’ve got this topic fully digested, it’s time to…

4. Throw it all away

Let your body absorb naturally

Stop thinking about it. Let it become natural. Let the technique permeate with time and without you having to think about it. Whatever is essential will stay. Whatever is unnecessary will go. And in case you’re afraid of forgetting important tips, you can be assured that future tango teachers will remind you again and in their own special way.

Money does not give techniques value

Some people have an ego about the money spent on lessons. They think because they paid $5,000 for lessons from one teacher, they should keep it forever. This is a cursed and very backwards way of thinking. The lesson holds value not because of how much you paid, but because of it’s usefulness to you. If you’ve grown beyond the lesson but continue to hang onto it in rejection of newer techniques, you are only blocking yourself from further growth. Essentially, this lesson is now costing you even more money by preventing you from learning anything else. The money you spend is most effective when you take only what you need and discard the rest.

5. Make it your own

Adjust the technique for your body, for your dance

THIS is the moment of true tango! It’s when the technique is no longer your teacher’s, but your own. It’s no longer foreign but natural. It fits you, it feels good. Try styling it and using it with different musicality. You know you’ve learned something when other dancers start to recognize it as YOUR MOVE. Job well done!

….oh yeah, go back and thank your teacher.

The lesson is complete. Finally over. They gave you just the seed you needed to grow into your very own dance. You have no idea how much joy it is for teachers to see their lessons reinterpreted through different students. There is a rewarding sense of achievement and pride like no other. And when you win the local tango competition…make sure you thank them 5 times more.

Don’t know who to train with?

SOOOOOO, what competition techniques will you be working on next? 

Other blogs from this season:

Want last year’s competition blogs?