How To Practice a Tango Movement Sequence With Just Two Legs

Third Article in It Takes One To Tango Series

by Mitra Martin

So! Here we are! It is our pre-appointed Personal Practice Time, we are wearing our Tango clothes and we have just rocked out to our favorite dance music! Now, as one person with just two legs, two arms and one heart, how on earth are you going to practice actual Tango dance?

Well, actually you are now in a perfect position to practice vocabulary and technique with an extremely good-natured, infinitely patient partner whose dancing is technically perfect and who is also 100% invisible.

I usually start with a Tango movement combination that I have learned recently, that I liked or was intrigued by but couldn’t fully grasp, that I have some notes on. It could be something from a class or workshop, or something someone showed me informally at a practica, or even something that I latched onto after seeing Tango deities do it on video (more challenging).

(Of course, to do this, you will want to establish a habit of taking notes on what you learn in class. That is a different (but big) (and important) topic! For that you will definitely need a notebook where you can store all that knowledge.)

Here is how I would approach it whichever role I primarily dance:

The Follower’s Part

  • First, I switch to low-heeled shoes and, dance the follower’s part of the movement combination. “Hm, ok, so, she starts by walking to the cross. Then she does a forward ocho...then a open step which, ah, that’s what was weird about this, she pivots on her left back in the direction she just came from, with an open step that is angled forward.” Etc. 
  • Now dance the follower’s part slowly while imagining what the leader is doing as you do each thing. Here is where you will think through which system the couple is in from moment to moment. “Right, so he’s walking me to the cross and we’re in parallel system as I do this forward ocho here, he sacadas me with his left side…”
  • Now, try and dance the follower’s part smoothly, as if it is a dance solo. If you are a woman, and you are working in a space with wood floors, this is a good time to put back on your high heels because this is a usually great chance to practice controlled weight transfers, as well balanced and complete pivots. (Technique classes are a great place for more tips on that.) 

The Leader’s Part

  • Next, again in flat shoes, dance the leader’s part of the movement combination. “Oh, so, I see now, as she crosses I need to change weight with a little tuck behind. Then I can sacada her in parallel system with my left foot as she does her forward ocho…”
  • Picture the follower dancing her part as you walk through the leaders’ side of the combination, at first slowly one step at a time, and then connecting one step to the next in a smoothed-out flow.

Smoothing It Out to Music

  • Now, choose a good slow song that you like. (I suggest you have a short playlist of good easy songs for this already set up, but I’ll say more about setting up your music later.) If you don’t know, hey, start with beautiful Di Sarli.  
  • Now dance the step over and over, alternating between the leader’s part and the follower’s part, ensuring that each weight transfer lands solidly on a downbeat. Keep imagining what your partner is doing as you dance. 
  • Going well? Great job! You did something very concrete for your Tango already! 
  • If you still have time and attention-span left, turn off the music and work out how the combination will go to the other side! Go back to step one, and start with the follower’s dance. 

How does this help your Tango? It builds a skill that allows you to think about Tango critically, even when you’re not at the studio. Basically, through exercises like this, you are training your mind to become a miniature Tango-video-editing-suite with a video library full of Tango footage; with the ability to play this footage for you, anytime, at will; to play it in slow motion or to speed it up; and to manipulate it in a variety of ways as you develop Tango fluency and curiosity. It forces you to get clear about what your partner is doing while you are doing other things.

Through building this neural Tango editing machine, I expect you will grasp new material more quickly; you will integrate it into your dance faster and more fully; you will ask smart questions about Tango; you will become more aware of your partners when you dance with them; and you may start discovering that you mind is creating and solving creative Tango problems at unexpected times of the day.

Now that you have worked on your Tango movement, the next step of our Personal Practice Time is to dive into Tango music.


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.