How To Create Your Own Tango Practice

First Article in It Takes One To Tango Series

A lot of people worry so much about what to practice. Which exercises? How many ochos, how many enrosques? Or they are worried about time. How long should I practice, how often? And of course there is the eternal number one excuse for not practicing: How can I practice? I don’t have a partner. I don’t have anyone to practice with.

For me the idea of practicing solo was for a long time really so distasteful, mostly because I hadn’t really sat down and thought about it. I had this vague image of waking up a 5am and doing ochos for a solid hour in front of the mirror. And that idea seemed so inacesssible, so impossible, so not fun and so not me. I don’t consider myself disciplined like that.

Do we all have this idea in our head that discipline is about pushing ourselves to do things that are not fun? Things that are boring, repetitive, and feel like hard work? Definitely I did.

And yet, don’t we all have the sense that this is really where it’s at? That if we could only force ourselves to just DO it, we would be better, stronger, more graceful, more accomplished, more confident, and bring more riches to every single Tango experience?

Trying to retool my approach to practicing I read a lot of wonderful books. Felipe and Ayano suggested “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle, which every Tango dancer should read, along with its companion “The Little Book of Talent" given to me by a dear friend and student, Michael. I also read a great book by Twyla Tharp called “The Creative Habit.” Together these books helped me come up with a new practice approach that covered two areas: How to Start and What to Do. In this article, I’m just talking about How to Start, the next one will cover What to Do.

Dancer Twyla Tharp's book, The Creative Habit, and her description of rituals, helped me create a practice ritual that actually works. Can practicing on your own make you confident like this?

1. What will make you start to practice?

If you want to improve, and are curious about what effect practicing solo might have on your Tango growth, I suggest you think very carefully and craftily about how you are going to trick yourself into doing it. You know yourself. How can you lay the cleverest, most seductive, most difficult-to-overcome trap that will get you into practice mood?

You want to design a cunning device that will make it easier and more fun for you to actually go ahead and practice, far easier than doing any other thing that might possibly tempt your attention.

The Time and Day

After a lot of trial and error, I found I could tweak off a tiny window on weekday mornings, between my personal time (workout, coffee, writing) and my work time. Finding a little time to practice on my own in the morning, even if it is pretty short, builds up my confidence and self-esteem and gives me interesting Tango ideas to mull over and share during the day.

I think that even a very short practice can make a big difference if you do it consistently. You want something that fits so easily and comfortably into your life-patterns that you get to the point where you don’t even question whether or not you’re going to do it.

What are some transitional points in your day when you are between different kinds of activities? Could you wrap one activity up a little earlier, and start the next one a little later? The key is figuring out which of your normal life-activities becomes your prelude to practice, that you get used to doing right before practicing.

Tricking Yourself Into Actually Doing It

Okay, so at the risk of sounding super childlike, I’ll tell you what I do to trick myself into practicing.

Here is what I do.

  1. I plug my laptop into speakers and open up iTunes.
  2. I turn on Lady Gaga, “The Edge of Glory.” 
  3. I put on one of my favorite Tango dresses, my high heels, and lipstick.

See, once I’ve moved my laptop next to the speakers (which happens right after I’m done with coffee and my three pages of reflective writing), there’s no escaping practice any more. Because I know that once Lady Gaga comes on, there’s no choice but to put on my Tango clothes. And once my Tango clothes are on, and Lady Gaga is playing, I mean, what am I going to do other than practice Tango? This may sound pretty silly, and it definitely is. But does it work to get someone who considers herself supremely and chaotically undisciplined to spend a little focused time working independently on Tango content regularly? It does. Maybe you can find your own three-part formula that makes practice seem like the only possible thing that you could possibly do next.

2. What will you do when you practice?

Practice is more likely to seem attracting and fun if you know what you’ll do. When you’re all revved up to practice, the last thing you want to do is try to figure out what to do now! The world of Tango is vast...are you going to watch a video, or practice overturned ochos, or review your class notes, or organize your music, or try to comprehend the soul of Pugliese, or what? Having a million choices and not knowing how to spend your time might make you feel ineffectual or stuck.

For me what works is having an agenda of things I ALWAYS do, in order, when I start to practice. That takes away the uncertainty and doubt and makes me feel immediately productive. You can always improvise later, once you’re in a groove and the juices are flowing. In the next article I will share a bit about my own practice agenda and what I do.

Photo of Twyla Tharp Public Domain Courtesy Wikimedia Commons