Category Archives: Argentine tango

Tango: Press Play!

In our last post we worked on the cliche phrase “Tango Chooses You” and we came up with as an alternative “Tango Made Fun!
And we did that under the premise that the element of “play” is very important to growth and learning.
So how do we introduce more play in our classes and practices?

What is play? 

First, let’s see, when we say “play” what do we mean? 

Play does not mean mindlessly, randomly moving around without any care or thought.
Also, play does not automatically mean something silly, or something of no importance. 

So play actually happens under a theme and it requires us to feel safe in order to engage with the unknown and explore.

Let me give you an example, remember when you were kids and you would go on the slide. The first couple of times, maybe you were scared, maybe you needed to see your mom waiting for you at the bottom of the slide. Once you got the hang of it though, you could slide down on your own. And after that you started really engaging with it, and you would climb up slide, or slide laying down or head first. (haha).
That was you feeling safe enough to start playing; exploring speed, gravity, climbing, taking a risk and of course sliding. 

There is a lot of fun in all this but there is also a lot of learning, even when we get hurt!

Play in dance, can have the same effect on adults. If it is done right for us to engage in play, then it can really boost our learning but most importantly it can teach us a lot more than just dance.

How do we incorporate play in our classes/ practices?

If you have taken my online classes you will have noticed that there is a theme, and there are exercises or better said explorations that a lot of times do not have any strict rules to them. 
So if we look at our video exploring the embrace around min. 31, we start with low tone gentle movement of the hands and then expand that to the whole body. The task was to keep the movement low tone, the rest was up to you to determine; how you want to move, what part of the body, to what extent etc.

Another way to create this safe environment for people to explore, is to speak to our collective memory. Like our reach for an apple exercise (min 47), that we used to explore the connection between the posture of extension and taking a step. Reaching for food, an apple in this case, is a primitive memory. We, humans all share that. Even if it is inhibited due to other habits, it is available to us and after a few reps it will come effortlessly. Allowing us in this way to establish a comfortable/ safe base from which we can explore further. From there, we can slow it down or make it faster. Or maybe we exaggerate it, make it big or exactly the opposite, make it slow. You can play with it after a certain point, and observe and capture what each option you play reveals to you.

Notice how this is all very attainable. Though we are dealing with complex matters, we are starting from concepts and movements that are very attainable. That is key! Being able to establish a base that you feel comfortable and safe with, before you start playing, adding, twisting, adjusting.

Knowing the end!

Last little piece, but with great significance, is to know when it is the right time to stop the activity.
Think again back to your childhood, when you had had enough of the slide, you would just go to the swings and then after a while come back to the slide.
Nobody, would tell you “Oh no! You sliding is not perfect, you have to keep practicing!” That would have been ridiculous.
Well the same applies here. 

It is a very subtle feeling. I will try to describe it based on how I have experienced it, so please don’t try to follow this as a recipe.
When you feel that you are at the peak of enjoyment. There is no more excitement but there is tremendous sweetness in the activity. That for me is the perfect time to start making an exit. Gradually of course; maybe I will have another dance or two but I am mentally preparing to end the exploration.

You are balancing with overwhelm and frustration here. So on one hand you don’t want to leave when you are still excited for more and on the other hand you don’t want to push yourself too much.
Find this moment for yourselves and you will know when it is time to leave any situation actually. You have gotten all that you needed, you have shared all that you could; so it is time to call it a day..!
And remember, there is always tomorrow.

Keep on dancing 

Tango Chooses You!

“Tango chooses you”
WoW! Now we are getting really corny! haha
But this is the fun part of the debunking cliches. You get to chat about the really corny ones in hopes to discover little gems in the process.

You don’t choose Tango, Tango chooses you.

This is the full phrase. And I think we all have heard some version of it from someone. And if not, we have definitely heard a story that implies it.

The first thing to notice is, that it does make this whole endeavour sound very serious. And it brings some extra drama in. Tango is not a dance. It is a calling!
Also, it does make people feel special. Tangueros and Tangueras are not like other dancers; oh no! 
They have found their calling and they will commit to it. They are the chosen ones!

Now, I can also see that makes groups of people somehow bond. It might have some benefits, in potentially encouraging people to more patient through their learning. Maybe someone can interpret it as, Tango will find you if you keep at it.

I think though that the latter is a bit of a long shot; based on experience.

What is really happening in our communities?

I think such phrases and attitudes, make Tango sound very exclusionary. And I know a lot of people who have left Tango because they didn’t feel welcomed; I am sure you know a lot of people like that too.

Most Tango communities, even the biggest ones suffer from that. There are all sorts of tricks and strategies to help new members get dances, and make connections, find a group, make friends.
Some are within the realm of expected; you are new ergo you need to work on your social skills to become part of the group.
But in many cases this goes far beyond the realm of expected. And people get disappointed and simply give up.

Secondly, it feeds people’s ego

We have all been through that and those who haven’t will. When we get really good, it feels great and sometimes our egos get the best of us. We don’t need to feed on that little monster now, do we? haha

Lastly, it takes all the fun out of Tango, the element of play and the enjoyment of creativity

Totally related to the above.
This is a totally improvisational dance, so basically the two people need to engage in this game of lead and follow; and see what they come up with.
Notice though that this phrase, actually has the opposite effect. If you feel you have found your calling, you have been chosen, then how would you react to someone not meeting your expectations or challenging you?
Exclude in this scenario, disrespectful people, that may be hurtful to you or others and those not following social etiquette.

Based on experience, most likely you will feel embraced, that they are making you look bad. Most of us wouldn’t engage to make this fun and enjoyable. Most of us, would mentally “push back” and physically try to hold on to our habits/ routines/ preferences.

This is not a game anymore. There is no play here. And it can actually feel boring and discouraging.
If Tango depended only on couples with the same level of movement vocabulary and the same Tango style preferences, it would have become stagnant. Which some, for example Chicho, argue that it already has.   

It is when we play that we feel safe enough to try new things, to take on new adventures and make new discoveries. How many times have you heard from great maestros, that they were just “fooling around” with some friends (other great maestros) when they discovered a famous move. And we see the same happening in all art forms.

Through play we grow. Through play art grows.

From a scientific perspective, play is essential for human brain development. Much more important than cognitive functioning. Much more important than learning of facts. This is a scientific fact.

Tango is a social dance

I know now we have competitions etc. but to its root Tango is a social dance. And as such I don’t think that we would want it to be boring, discouraging, unwelcoming. Don’t get me wrong people might not like it, but they shouldn’t feel disappointed or discouraged or annoyed.

So what do we replace, “Tango chooses you” with?
Honestly, I don’t know. But if you are using the phrase to encourage people to stick with it, I would suggest something like “For each of us is different, some people get it right away and some people need a bit more time. The most important thing though is that you enjoy learning and dancing”
And then actually make your classes fun. As a teacher I would encourage you to bring in more play in your delivery and content. As a participant, allow yourself to play; this is not work or some chore you have to do. You chose Tango as your hobby, so enjoy it!

Keep on dancing 

Posture in Motion: Rethinking the Way We Walk and Dance

For some time now we have been trying to understand the cliche “If you know how to walk, you know how to Tango” and as you will see in my post, I am opposed to teaching people how to walk. This is one of the reasons why this Tango Movement Lab is by title about posture. But posture not as a static position, but as a weight -play that is elastic, full of bounce and flow. 
A class that looks at posture as we move, through different weight shifting exercises. So in a sense you will get exercises about your walk… haha… but you won’t be working on how you walk.

The Importance of Fascia

Why go through fascia?
Firstly, it is network that runs through our whole body and we can access it through touch as you can see in the video.
Also, healthy fascia, is elastic and well-hydrated. So, it gives you the support you need, while allowing you to maintain some level of relaxation.
That offers us an opportunity to look at our movement from a very different lens compared to the powerful quality that movement generated through muscles has.
By the way one is not better from the other. Just different.

Why the Superficial Back Line

The Superficial Back Line, is the fascia line that starts at our toes, covers the sole of our feet, runs up the back of our body, goes over our head and hooks up under our eyebrows. So our toes are connected to our forehead. And you can actually feel that through movement. How cool is that!!!

Maybe not cool at all for you…hahaha.
But think that connection for a moment and how it can reflect to a simple back or forward step.
The free leg swinging through, reaching for the step and your whole body is participating in that movement, without additional muscle tone! Now that must be at least a little bit cool! haha

Eat the apple!

What? haha
This is one of my favourite exercises!
One of my Axis Syllabus teachers first introduced me to it and I have been using it in my classes ever since. It is an easy way to find and explore the Superficial Back Line and it relates to a primitive memory that all humans share, aka reaching for an apple.
Even if you tried you wouldn’t be able to forget that… picking your food is what actually made you human..!
So it has a strong reference, it is relatable, easy to remember and most importantly you KNOW when you are doing wrong..! 
Plus, guess what, it leads to a step. See the apple, reach, grab, eat, move to the next one..!

Yeah, I guess we kinda worked on your walking as well..! 😉

Happy dances everyone,

Do You Trust Me?

I was debating whether we needed another post or if we could go straight to our Tango Movement Lab. I decided to throw this post in because I think trust is important to learning process. If you don’t trust your teacher you are not going to learn from them or your learning will be restricted to common knowledge aka something anyone can teach you, even simply Google.


Maybe you are thinking how is that related to decoding the cliche “If you know how to walk, you know how to Tango”?
Well, it will help us decode every cliche actually.
When we get in a class, we are trusting that the person we have as our teacher at the very least knows what they are talking about and from there, our trust hopefully will grow.

That is actually why trials and offers exist; to remove some risk; 50% off on your first month; one class for free; Groupon coupons etc.

When they throw in a phrase that is confusing or a cue that is frustrating, a bit of this trust starts shake. 
“Do they really know what they are talking about? Do they really teach the one and only true Argentine Tango?” hahaha

Of course we don’t walk out the moment we hear a cliche but I think cliches and how they are handled are key to building trust.

Building trust

  1. When your teacher uses a cliche and you ask them for clarification like we had talked about when starting this series; how do they respond?
  2. Do they walk the talk? For example, if you ask them “What do you mean by “if you know how to walk, you know how to Tango!”. And they say: “Oh! I mean that you already know a bit of Tango, because Tango is based on walking” but then they turn around and start teaching you how to walk. That is a bit of problem!
  3. There is actually a system in their teaching. There is a structure that gets you somewhere by the end of the class. Maybe you don’t know exactly what the structure is or maybe you can’t even articulate what you got from the class, but you felt the difference.
  4. If they progress in their dancing, their teaching and their social skills.
  5. Do they diversify their learning?
  6. And last but not least, do they support the community by being honest and open. For example, when someone comes to me for private classes. I tell them what I am good at and clarify that if they want sequences I am not the right person for them. Then I recommend a colleague in my community. I don’t do it because I don’t like teaching people. I do it because I know what my strengths and what my colleagues strengths are.

So as you can see pointers 1-4 have to do with how teachers conduct the class and how they deal with cliches.

Trust is earned!

For teachers, even for your steady groups, trust should never be taken for granted.
I constantly think how we as teachers should respond to the above; and I have come up with a list. Hopefully some of the pointers will be helpful to you though some might not apply.

  1. Try to get more and more specific and clear in how you express yourself through words. I hope that you have noticed some progress in my writing through the years of following Bautanz. If not please let me know! 
  2. Give your students a high-level picture of what you will work on, at the beginning of the class. Then in intervals offer detailed information on the subject. I have found that this gives people the opportunity to see the underlying structure without tiring them out.
  3. Distinguish between personal preference/ habit/ structural inheritance and facts. For example, I have quite lax joints, and my knees hyperextend. I try not to let them but sometimes they will. I usually say Do not copy the teacher. This is my structural condition and most likely wouldn’t apply to you”.
    Compared to making it into a fact. For example: “To hold our balance when we step, we push away from the floor, engage the leg, pull the knee cap up”. This implies that this is how we walk generally. Well, we don’t, not in general.
  4. Diversify your learning journey. I take all sorts of classes, trying not isolate myself in Tango and fitness. Stay curious even though it can be tough to put it in your schedule.
  5. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to share. Sharing will allow you to also receive from other professionals, may that be in students or in knowledge.

All of this to say that next week we will have another Tango Movement Lab and I hope that you will show some trust in me and join me!

I will send out the details soon but until then keep on dancing!


P.S: If you need some practice routines to play around with. Or maybe you are struggling with a mental iceberg, check out “It Takes You Tango” our ultimate practice guide for leaders and followers.

You know how to walk! Now it is time to play!

Lastly week, I think we established that we all know how to walk; which is great..! haha
So I am going to go ahead and say it, for the teachers or aspiring teachers in the Bautanz family, I think that we should not try to teach people how to walk.

There! I said it! ha!
It feels so good!  
Now I will tell you why.

We are all the same but different

Now after last week’s post, I got a couple of messages mainly from teachers saying that they are facing two key challenges;

  1. It is very difficult to teach how to walk and they spend a great amount of time on technique for that.
  2. Everyone in the group walks differently and so it is not easy to change their habits and to get them in sync in order to dance.

And this is the first reason why you shouldn’t teach someone how to walk.

Most of us are of the same “blueprint”; we have the same general “manual”. But for each of us is the manual is applied differently.
These difference can be structural, for example most of us have two legs but my femur bone might be longer than yours, or the arch of my foot might smaller than yours etc. 
The differences can be kinetic, for example, I might have greater range of motion; of course these difference might be related to the above.
But they can also be difference of perception, for example I might be afraid of getting hurt, ergo I am afraid of falling, and so my movement vocabulary is restricted to avoid anything that may result in me falling.

And these differences you might be born with or you may acquire through life.
For example, a ballet dancer like myself has a different structure and movement options compared to a professional horseback rider. Horseback riders develop a very strong interior thigh fascia which then makes them stand and walk in a slightly wider stance. Ballet dancers, have been taught to collect everything in and direct their intention upward.

So as you can gather dance groups are very diverse even when they don’t seem so!

Walking is a complex and complicated movement

On top of that walking is a complex and complicated movement.  
It involves the whole body, in triaxial multiplanar movement and it is based on multiple developmental patterns.
If for any reason, and they are many, any of these developmental patterns is inefficient our walk will be inefficient.

It might be because of the way we were handled at birth, or maybe as toddlers we were forced to stand before we were ready, or as adults we had an injury from which scar tissue has been created and it is inhibiting our movement.

What I am getting at is, that you can’t really teach people how to walk. Even if the issue at hand is glaring at you. You are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

This is therefore the second reason why you shouldn’t teach people how to walk.

Are you really teaching people how to walk?

But lets pause here for a moment and ask ourselves as teachers, do you think we are actually teaching people how to walk?

What we are teaching, is a version of walking with someone that works best for us as teachers and matches our preferred Tango style. And with all the habits, preconceptions, preferences, struggles etc that we have.

Can you see now how frustrating this can be? 
I am hoping that you can relate at a better level with your students here, beyond than “yeah we all go through that”.

If we don’t teach “The Walk”, what do we do?

My suggestion is as follows;

  1. You identify as a Tango teacher not as a kinesiologist or movement professional, unless you have the training to do so. 
  2. Secondly,  instead of trying to teach some form of walk to your students, follow the cliche above and accept their walk is good enough.
  3. Thirdly, give them the opportunity to play. Start with anyone can Tango. Or you can walk and you can pivot ergo you can dance Tango, you can create the comfort zone your students need to be creative, to explore, to play. You can give them options to coordinate that play between them and have potentially a goal, but not in a restrictive way. This way you can actually inform the body through a Tango class and potentially achieve some repatterining of some old habits. Tango, has elements that can stimulate the lower level brain cells, that we talked about last week, responsible for automatic movements such as walking; for example, touch, vibration, the music, spatial coordination, moments of being off balance, sharing an axis, etc. This way it can be a fun but powerful tool for people to expand their movement diet and movement vocabulary.
  4. Lastly, technique classes, if you do any, should not be Tango technique, but movement technique applied to Tango. Again with a series of exercises that allow people to explore key movement concepts, such as balance, posture, alignment, yielding and more. Ending potentially with connecting thread back to Tango.
    Here you might need to educate yourselves prior to teaching someone else. This journey starts with us identifying what we need to work on first. Me for example, due to my ballet training and potentially genetics I am quite flexible, I had to work therefore in not letting my knees hyperextend.   

What should students do?

I know we talked a lot about teachers here. But here are my suggestions for those of us here who are students of Tango.

  1. Don’t think your teacher knows it all. We are all learning all the time. We are all teaching all the time. Similar to leaders follow and followers lead. Teachers learn and students teach.
  2. As we had said when starting this discussion over decoding cliches when things don’t make sense… ask! Politely of course..!
  3. As a by product of the above, do NOT copy the teacher. Teachers are or should be in their own processes, managing their movement options and choices based on their past and current bodily/ mental state. And the same goes for you. So explore the concept/ the movement/ the principle but don’t copy the teacher.
  4. Allow yourself to play! Playing is part of learning. A lot of the routines we have today were discovered by people playing, exploring, messing up and trying again. It can open up great channels of creativity and it is a lot more fun.

And that is it!
OMG! If this isn’t the longest email!

Ok! Get up from your seat and move around.
And stay tuned for our Tango Movement Lab get together coming up. I just need to fix the date for that.

See you soon,

P.S: If you want to get warmed up for our Tango Movement Lab, you can take a look at “It Takes You to Tango”.

If you know how to walk, You know how to Tango!

How do you feel about that?
Because I can feel some eyes rolling..!

I guess that is why some teachers decided to come up with a different cliche phrase, that goes somewhat like “Walk like you normally do“. Which doesn’t solve the problem because it is equally annoying! haha

This cliche is a bit of a challenge..!

I had a lot of trouble putting my thoughts in line for this one.
For a lot of students, hearing this phrase, is very frustrating and unhelpful. And I get it, you went to a Tango class, and first thing you hear is “if you know how to walk, you know how to Tango“, and by the end of the class you end up thinking, “I don’t even know how to walk!” haha

On the other hand though, there is actually some truth in this cliche. Remember cliches are cliches for a reason; they hold some truth.
All folk dances, are based on walking. From salsa and bachata to greek folk dances, all of them are some variation of our everyday walk. Tango is no exception, if you walk and pivot, you Tango.

Why is it then so frustrating?

I think mainly because all teachers try to teach people how to walk. And to make matters worse, they are teaching a stylized walk that fits to the specific Tango style they follow. 

So one moment they tell you “Walk like you normally do
And the very next, they go into styling; heels together, toes apart, squeeze this, pull that, and of course don’t forget to breathe..!

Needless to say this is not how you normally walk!

But this is not all…!

So you went to a dance school looking to learn to dance Tango and you ended up learning how to stand and walk in style..! 
What usually happens while this all takes place, is a little voice inside your head saying: “I know how to walk!”

And actually this is very true! And not because someone taught you but because it is what humans do.
Walking is an automatic movement; it is part of what we call “human”, we are built to walk.

As such, as Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen explains, “If we are consciously (high brain cells) having to deal with HOW do I fall, HOW do I walk, HOW do I talk, or keep attentive or chew or swallow or sleep, we are constantly thinking about survival and are not free to be really creative“. 

We don’t think about how we walk. It is a complex almost chaotic movement that involves the whole body. So we are dealing with a lot of information and movement patterns over movement patterns.
Again referencing Bonnie “In the brain we have a hindbrain, midbrain and forebrain. The lower the brain cell, the more information that cell and receives and processes. (…) When you try to control an automatic movement with high brain cells, the choice of which cell is going to fire off in which sequence is too great and the resulting action will appear awkward. If you simply find the lowest control centre, the response will happen automatically“.

This explains why this whole process feels very awkward and leaves no room for you to be creative and have fun.

How can translate “If you know how to walk, you know how to Tango” to something helpful?

Well, I think we have to look at the humble beginnings of Tango and also think of our future in it.
Meaning, as we said in the beginning, Tango is based on the common/ everyday walk and that is mainly why it can be danced by all generations.

To me that is what that phrase really means. No styles, no fanciness but only two people moving together. 

And I am going to tell you a story to prove my point. 
In a milonga that I was organizing, here in Toronto, some time ago, and different people are there dancing, at we are having a great time.
It was the only milonga my father ever attended. He is not a dancing kind of guy.
At the end, as we are walking out, my dad goes to me: “From all of you, the couple I liked the most, was this elderly couple. They had such grace, and comfort and pleasure in their movement. They were really just walking around, not like the rest of you doing all these moves, but they were deeply sharing the moment. It was beautiful!”

So if you are going to use the cliche “If you know how to walk, you know how to Tango” you have to really do it!
Forget about styling and start working with what you have..!
Put it to the test, see what happens and we will soon be back for more!


P.S: If you need some practice routines to play around with. Or maybe you are struggling with a mental iceberg, check out “It Takes You Tango” our ultimate practice guide for leaders and followers.