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Year I (The Beginning & Tango Elitism)

It’s been one year since I’ve seriously began dancing tango, and it’s been an interesting journey. First off, it’s definitely the dancer’s dance, the amount of freedom and flexibility the dance offers while also having it’s own “rules” (such as the followers giro pattern or the follower’s cross) is so appealing since you can make tango your own dance if you like (i.e you can essentially pause/cancel any step and turn it into a different movement), and dancers may dance the same song entirely with different styles and not even use the same movements. However this freedom comes with the downside of the complexity and depth of being able to learn the dance, at least initially as a leader.

I’ve been taking 3-5 classes a week (including practicas) and I’ve yet to feel like I’ve scratched the surface of tango. I understand this dance is a long journey, everyone I’ve met in this community are either new (<5 years), intermediate (5-10ish years), or advanced and somewhat leaders of the community (>15-20 years). Hence me being upset that I’m awful 1 year in is pretty silly when compared relatively to everyone else in this scene. Still, I’m diverting a large portion of my free time, and and my money (which I guess used to go towards drinking and partying) into tango classes, and I still feel like I’m not really “dancing” yet. My definition of “dancing” however is that I can turn my brain off and completely react to the music with a broad enough vocab to express what I want to do, and not just simply be repeating patterns from classes.

I’ve gradually felt more comfortable and confident leading certain movements throughout the year, but I’m still not dancing the way I want to dance. It’s like if I was a painter and had an amazing painting in my head, and simply didn’t have the skills to put what’s in my mind onto the canvass, it’s a bit maddening, but I feel like maybe each time I practice and dance I acquire .01% of the skill to get to that level, so there is tiny progress at least.

It’s been an experience going through all these different instructors and classes in the city, since most of them don’t really have curriculums you’re left on your own on how to learn tango in what order you want (unless you only go to 1 instructor and you’re at the mercy of whatever they think is best, or whatever subject is on their mind at the time). I’ve been going to various instructors for different reasons, such as one for social reasons to meet different students, another for their clear explanation of movements and fundamentals, another for the variety of topics they teach, and so on.

I’ve only recently began going to milongas two months ago. And the two biggest things I’ve noticed are:

  1. The amount of space available to you on the dance floor. I feel like I have to throw out 90% of the movements I’ve learned in class since I have no room to use any of them, and my mind is completely occupied with navigating the dance floor and not bumping into people. My fellow dancers and instructors have told me this is a common hurdle in my dance progression, hopefully I’ll be able to get over it soon.
  2. The elitism in this dance. I mean I even first experienced this in practicas, followers would rather sit around for 2-4 tandas not doing anything (25-50ish minutes) and wait for an advanced dancer than want to dance with a beginner like me. That can be disheartening. In milongas I somewhat feel this is a bit more “okay” but I still think this is what gives the tango scene such as a bad reputation compared to something such as swing or salsa, where it’s much more friendly. Although I sorta understand the mindset – people invest so much time in this dance that they want to dance with people their level or even better, and it’s human nature across the board too with other things in life. People want to date up. People want to interact with masters rather than their peers. People worship celebrities. There’s also the fact that a dance in tango is a much bigger commitment than other dances, you’re essentially hugging someone for 12 minutes, so you obviously want to optimize your time. Still…I’m going to try to change that once I get good, I’m just going to try to dance with most everyone – I feel like if you’re a good enough lead you should be able to find the joy of the dance in most people even if they’re not at your skill level. Be the change I want to see in the tango scene.

At the time of this writing, the coronavirus is immensely effecting New York, especially the tango scene. All classes and milongs are canceled, and instructors/organizers must potentially find another source of income since that is their livelihood. Hopefully this coronabreak won’t be too long, I’ve still got a lot of tango to learn.

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