For many, practicing can actually be the most exciting part of tango competition. Because, this is the part with the real rewards. Everyone improves so much faster when there’s pressure. All the little techniques you’ve been working on magically come together when there’s a performance looming over your head.
Whether or not you win the FREE TRIP TO BUENOS AIRES (yes, that’s actually one of the prizes), you get to be a better dancer for the rest of your life. You’ve got nothing to lose.
Tango Training Routine
Believe it or not, this is one of the most important aspects of tango training…and not exactly for the reason you think. Warming up is not only about preparing the body to move, but allowing an acclimation time for you and your partner. Or to put it bluntly, it’s the 30 minutes where you’re both allowed to “dance like crap”.
No one gets off work in perfect tango rhythm. Your mind probably wasn’t in tango mode until you pulled your dance shoes out of the trunk. So give this time to yourself and each other to get comfortable. Play some music, move around, do your own drills, or dance with no expectations. The more talking, eating, texting on your phone, and doing whatever it is that you like to do outside of tango, the better. This may go against the mantra of “always being focused” but it might work surprisingly well.
Or you can do what some people do…which is try to dance seriously from the very first song. (WARNING: it may feel awkward as hell and leave you wondering how well you know your own partner.)
2. Try some moves
Talk about what you want to improve or work on. Maybe some new tango techniques you learned in class, or perhaps something you saw on Youtube. Now would be a good time to share and watch some videos together.
The mutual agreement is that BOTH of you bring a request to the table. The leader says, “I would like to work on “A”, “B”, and “C”. And the follower says, “I would like to work on “X”, “Y”, and “Z”. Without both parties contributing, it’s easy to fall into a scenario where one partner dominates the practice and gets to do everything he or she wants while the other person feels dragged around like a stage prop.
In case you needed ideas for what things to work on:
3. Record video
This part is absolutely crucial. Watch a video of yourself and pay close attention. There is so much self-learning that can accomplished with this method alone. You’d save a lot of time and money simply by knowing what you look like before taking a private lesson. Record a video of yourself dancing different songs, doing different moves, different angles, close embrace, open embrace.
Until you know what you look like, you don’t really know what you’re actually doing. Maybe your posture is more bent than you thought. Or you were doing the “claw hand”. Or your feet were turned in at certain moments. Or your knees were bent all the time. At the very least, you can become aware of your habits and notice patterns in your dance. You might even gain some compassion for your partner when you realize you were the one pushing your partner off balance.
4. Feedback & Adjustment
This is probably the hardest part of any dance partnership—the feedback part. It’s never fun to hear your flaws. As an artist, it’s heartbreaking to be criticized for your personal art.
For couples that haven’t spent much time together yet, try only giving yourself feedback but never to each other. Make it the individual’s responsibility to notice his or her flaws. The video is there, remember? The camera tells no lies. Ideally, being more proactive in picking out your own flaws should encourage your partner to pick out his or her own flaws as well. And as long as we are all working on ourselves, we will both improve quickly enough. It’s much better than to get into the blame game of “I can’t do this right, because YOU do this wrong.”
No partner is perfect, and neither are you. SO WORK ON YOURSELF.
Once you get comfortable with each other, give feedback with compassion. Remember: your partner always intends to dance his or her very best while giving you the best joy possible. Whatever critique you must share, be gentle.
What good is practicing if you can’t dance anymore. After spending all that time over-analyzing your movements and dancing inside your head, it’s time to wash that clouded mind away by free-styling. Let go of the rules and everything you learned and dance freely. Hopefully, you’re warmed up enough by now that you can connect effortlessly without the million “rules” and technical adjustments to remember. Trust that your practice will organically permeate into muscle memory.
Dance for yourselves. And lose yourself in your imaginary audience.
Tango Competition Drills
Aside from the usual tango practice, it’s important to implement some tango competition-specific drills.
- Move around randomly for 10 minutes. Do embellishments, pivots, flashy boleos, ganchos, enrosques, balance drills, whatever it is that you like to do. It helps to see your movements in the mirror.
- Walk in close embrace to the music for 15 minutes. Different songs, different rhythms, different cadences. Walking and pausing every now and then. Small steps, big steps. Fast steps, slow steps. Nothing more.
Side-steps and cross system
- Start taking side-steps, walking in cross-system, and also doing crosses. Go backwards every now and then.
Close embrace only
- Staying in close embrace, do some turns, pasadas, paradas, or anything else that you can imagine. It’s not only about being close but also being intimate. Pay attention to your embrace and upper body.
Open only for turns
- Now open up for turns like sacadas, giros/mollinetes, and enrosques. There are two main points here aside from the turn itself. One is to open up only as much as you need (avoid looking too open). The second is to transition in-and-out of open embrace smoothly so it’s not obvious that you’re letting go and re-grabbing each other. If anything, you should never look open, you only look like you’re “flowing”.
SECRET tips for competition practice
Musicality and style
- Practice styling your dance differently for different songs and orquestras. The 3 typical tango music styles found in tango competition are SLOW/MELODIC, FAST/RHYTHMIC, and POWER/DRAMATIC. Bonus tip: prepare yourself for dancing unknown boring songs. Find a way to make these awful songs seem interesting.
Practice looking confident
- Even when you feel like crap in practice, use that opportunity to “fake” like you’re enjoying it. Cover each other’s mistakes and dance your way out of mis-steps. Do NOT get annoyed with each other; learn to dance through it. You’d be surprised by how good you can look even on your worst day.
Practice in your competition outfits
- Don’t wait until competition to put on your outfits. Many competitors are afraid to ruin their competition attire but that’s exactly the kind of mindset that limits your dance. You should dance in that thousand-dollar suit just as comfortably as you would in a t-shirt and jeans. Instead of being worried it’ll get dirty, treat it like your old pajamas.
Practice your entrance and exit
- There’s a wise old man in the back of some milonga claiming that the dance begins before you even touch. This is especially true in competition. Practice walking out with confidence as you enter the room. Then embrace as if you know what you’re doing. Don’t fidget around like you’re getting into your friend’s car for the first time. When the song is over, release your partner slowly.
What to do when you get into a fight
Tango fights do happen. Put vulnerable egos in close proximity under a lot of pressure, and you have the perfect recipe for disagreement. Here’s a good piece of advice that can fit any ego or temperament:
Apologize even when your partner is wrong.
Say sorry and move on. A disagreement can be over in 3 seconds if you do that. Maybe you feel like you shouldn’t be the one to apologize when the other person is wrong. But for now, life will be better for both of you if you don’t linger in disagreement. Whatever thing you’re arguing about probably won’t be in an issue in a month from now. So let’s get back to having fun.
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SCTC is still looking for more brave competitors
for Tango, Vals, Milonga, and STAGE!
(have fun, improve your dance, and win great prizes)