What to Do When you Practice On Your Own, And a Pep-Talk

Second Article in It Takes One To Tango Series

Now that you have carved out the time and space for your solo Tango practice, what will you do with it? Here is an article with five things I like to do when I practice. 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Katie_Walking_Labyrinth_2.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Katie_Walking_Labyrinth_2.jpg

First of all, the number one excuse for being lame at Tango that people use to hide from the intensity of this dance is “I don’t have a partner.” This is so boring to hear that I don’t want to hear it anymore, and that’s partly why I’m writing this blog.

I’m here to tell you that nobody “HAS” a partner. You CREATE a partner, by BEING a partner. By IMAGINING situations that require partnering. By DOING things on your own that are interesting to other people, who maybe become now-and-again partners and share a part of the journey with you. And the first step in doing that is learning how to engage the dance on your own.

In the previous article, I suggested that tackling first and foremost the question of when you practice, even before worrying about other wh- questions related to your Tango practice (like what or who).

So assuming you have figured out a logical and comfortable way to trick yourself into regularly practicing at a certain particular practice-time each day, now it might be helpful to have a plan of what you will do with that time!

This recipe of practice is something you can do on your own in 15-30 minutes in a day, at your house. All you need is music and internet, and for most of it you don’t even need wood floors or a mirror.

Now, there is a lot of interesting research being done by talent researchers and other science types on skillful practice. Definitely worth looking into. For me the upshot of it all is less about mindless repetition and more about setting up and solving a variety of interesting problems.

Here is what I do when I practice:

  1. DANCE. First, I dance !! Totally free-form, happy, crazy, whatever - dancing to feel my body and feel the music and feel great. Sometimes Tangoey movements randomly come in, but it’s not like I’m trying to do a perfect ocho or anything. I’m just dancing.
  2. DRILL. Next, I usually do do some drills, IF I am dancing on a pivotable surface. Walking forward and back. Ochos forward and back. Ochos with different amounts of pivot. Walking and ochos are the bread and butter of your dancing.
  3. DECONSTRUCT. Next, I look at a Tango movement sequence that I’ve learned recently. Dance the leader’s part while imagining what the follower does, then vice versa. If you’re good there, then try it to the other side ! 
  4. LISTEN. After that, I choose a Tango song for study, randomly, using my library of Tango music and iTunes shuffle. Depending on the song and my mood, I’ll either focus analyzing the song, or feeling the song. 
  5. WATCH. Finally, I work with a Tango video I like. Usually, using YouTube, I try to find a video of a couple dancing to the song I was just working on, because at that point it’s really interesting to see a specific interpretation. 

Every time you practice like this, you are becoming a stronger Tango person. In the next few articles, I will give lots more detailed ideas about how you could approach each single part of your practice agenda specifically.

P.S. I know, sometimes the Tango scene can feel a bit demotivating. Like, for instance after a particularly rough milonga, you might find yourself dwelling on how badly you suck at it. You might say to yourself something that goes along like this, “Tango is a very difficult dance. I’m not a dancer. I’m not Argentine. I don’t have a partner. I can never do it right. I’m just a shy person who never took ballet! There is no point to all this practicing and work.”

No one out tells you that “you can be the best tango dancer in the world.” That was my experience anyway. I mostly got the impression that people thought I was not that good. (And I'm pretty sure I gave lots of people the impression that I thought they were not that good, too.)

For me, receiving such an unpredictable, ambivalent response from this community I desperately wanted to participate in was tremendously frustrating. Up til Tango I had been accustomed to measuring my goodness based on other peoples’ measuring sticks. And because Tango is a social dance, you have this sense that other people need to accept, love, and approve of you in order to be able to function and activate the dance.

That is actually kind of an illusion, and as soon as you start focusing on it your Tango falls apart. I will tell you, I think Tango is a very very dubious approach if your goal is being validated by others, and a very very rock-solid approach if your goal is to create more and more capacious stores of inner strength and self-belief. “The Tango world,” or rather the small set of people whose beliefs about you matter to you, will not tell you that you’re great with any consistency at all. And trust me, although it’s painful sometimes you are way better off this way.

And, for what it’s worth, I want you to know, I think you can be the best Tango dancer in the world. Anyone can. You don't have to be Argentine, and you don't need a partner, you don't even need ballet. You just have to believe in yourself. And you have to practice. On your own.

Which is actually very doable and fun. Be persistent with a modest practice like the one I've described here and see where it takes you!

Labyrinth Photo Courtesy JamesJen from Wikimedia Commons used here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Unported 3.0 Licence

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Mitra Martin

Mitra Martin is Program Director at the Oxygen Tango where her focus is developing an interconnected community learning experience, and facilitating conversation around excellence in Tango as a portal to personal and social transformation.