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  • Tom Nickson

Argentine Tango - Just Another Ballroom Dance!........

So you think that Argentine Tango is just another Ballroom Dance?


Why would you not, if all of your experience is associated with other popular partner dances - Ballroom swing dances, Salsa, Ceroc or even Ballroom Tango. After all, that’s where I was seventeen years ago! I was an experienced,successful Ballroom and Latin teacher... and then I found Tango or, as some people prefer, Tango found me! (Argentine Tango dancers – Tangueros/Tangueras - don’t feel the need to differentiate Tango unless they are referring to Ballroom Tango!)


I went to a Tango show and was smitten! I didn’t know what with or how but I knew I had just seen something that I couldn’t ignore. It called to me! I knew that I couldn’t forget about it and yet, there was nowhere to learn at that time – the proliferation of Tango Clubs is a relatively recent thing. I then made my biggest mistake. I thought “How hard can it be? – it’s just another dance and I am a competent professional”. I was just as bad as a Ballroom teacher whom I overheard a little while ago saying “Argentine Tango dancers – they know nothing! They don’t even know how to hold properly!” And there you have it! Judgement based on personal experience and no knowledge.


I am not intending to be critical of that perception because, until you seek the reality of Tango, it is impossible to understand how Tango and Ballroom Tango can be so far apart conceptually.

Learning how to Ballroom dance is based on choreography – the Man is taught his steps (and timing) and the Lady is taught hers and you put the two together and provided that they do it accurately and with a modicum of skill, they will be able to dance together. Some technique can later be added to make the dancing flow better and be easier to execute but, in essence, it should work reasonably well. It is true that the more advanced you get, the more complex the choreography becomes and the more important technique becomes.

Tango could not be more different. Tango is based on improvisation – there is no defined rhythm and no choreography! It is based on interpretation of the music both in terms of the steps and the rhythm, and leading and following (principally by the Man but the Lady can embellish and feed back to the man her own interpretation). In fact, the roles are not designated by gender but as Leader and Follower.


So, what other differences are there?

Instead of a frame creating a “Big Top”, we have an embrace – close and intimate.

Instead of a connection around the floating ribs area, we have a high connection creating an “apilado” - an A-frame with an inclination towards your partner.

Instead of being off-set to your partner’s right hand side, we have position directly in front of our partner – “Corazon a Corazon” or “Heart to Heart”!

For Ballroom Dancers - instead of having Contra Body Movement (CBM) and Contra Body Movement Position (CBMP), we have Disassociation – where the “embrace” is maintained.

Instead of defined footwork (use a Heel or Ball of Foot) the use of a Flat Foot or a Heel is totally optional and interchangeable.

I need to add that Tango is based on walking, and that there are no rules in Tango just a few principles on which the dance is based. There is no correct foot (i.e. natural opposite - Man’s R - Lady’s L). The Leader can choose both for himself and his follower, on a whim.

A subtle difference is that Argentineans do not talk about dancing to the beat or the rhythm they talk about dancing “in the music”. This may not sound very different but, in practice, the dancers can choose an instrument to follow or switch between instruments or, indeed, become and additional “instrument” to the band!


As you can imagine, with the complexity of improvisation to an undefined rhythm and a total dependency on Lead and Follow, the possibility of things going “wrong” in Tango is relatively high. To overcome this, the Leader needs to be sensitive to the movement of the Follower. For example, if the follower moves further than the Leader had wanted or not quite the intended direction, the Leader continues to improvise from this new position. The Leader “follows the Follower” so any misunderstanding is covered! This potential “wrong” just creates another possibility for the Leader!

It is said that the best Tangueros (Leaders) are those who leave the Follower at the end of their dance believing that they have not put a foot wrong!


As you can imagine, this is incredibly difficult to achieve but, when you do, the resultant feeling for both is simply amazing!

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