Tango FAQ

Have questions? We try to answer them here!

Tango is a fascinating dance. We try to clear up some misconceptions here and provide clarity.

Artist: Lucy Llera, San Antonio

Tango is that dance with people marching around with roses in their teeth, and heads whipping back and forth. Right? Or is it that passionate dance with flying legs and women being whirled in the air?

Tango as we practice it is neither of these. In the first case, you're thinking of Ballroom / American Tango, which has only a faint resemblance to what we dance: the South American style of Tango (often called Argentine Tango). We lean toward our partners, while in Ballroom Tango partners lean away from each other. The dances are so different that each one must be learned from the ground up.

Below are videos of a social "Argentine" style Tango and American/Ballroom Tango. You can see how different the two dances are.

The showy version of Tango that you may have seen with the flying legs is show Tango, or Tango Fantasia. This is a highly choreographed dance that is meant only for two dancers on a stage.

We Tanguer@s dance social Tango, an improvised dance that happens on a dance floor with many other couples. Although not as showy as Tango Fantasia, the improvisation aspect requires a connection between dance partners that is unique to Tango. This connection isn't visible to the onlooker, but it is the part of the dance that gets so many people addicted to Tango.

But I don't like Tango music!

Not everyone loves traditional Tango music. That is, not at first. We have two things to say about that!

First, Social Tango can be danced to almost any song that has a 4/4 beat (that means almost all the popular music that you currently know and love).

Want to stand out at your next country-western dance? Or want to impress your co-workers at the company holiday party? Or look sensational at a wedding (maybe your own)? Dance Tango to rock, country, soul, blues, pop, rap...and then enjoy your standing ovation. Onlookers will be astonished, and they will ask you what the heck is the dance you were doing. Tell them "Tango" and take your bows.

In fact, there is an entire genre of music called "Tango Nuevo" that always has a distinct drumbreat, but which otherwise spans dozens of musical genres. See our examples below.

Tango Nuevo is a great way for beginners to learn Tango because the beat is distinct, and the music is modern and catchy. There are always one or two tandas of Tango Nuevo at any milonga or practica that you might attend.

Here's the second thing. If you spend some time learning social Tango, traditional Tango music will grow on you before you even realize it's happened. This is simply how our brains are wired. Any activity that you find very pleasurable will mean you enjoy everything that goes along with it.

Your brain will quickly make the association: "traditional Tango music" = "I'm feeling really happy right now." Sooner than you'd think, when you hear a traditional Tango song, you'll find that your heart quickens and you begin to smile.

Congratulations, you've just caught the Tango bug, along with the rest of us.

Here's a beautiful Tango danced to Gotya's 2011 song with Kimbra: "Somebody That I Used to Know." This dance is a little showier than anything that would be danced at social milonga, but the video makes it clear that Tango is a lot more versatile than you thought it was!

What, too sedate for you? Try this amazing performance of THREE amazing dancers to the equally amazing Otros Aires group, performing live their song "Essa" in Buenos Aires. And you thought Tango was for slow, old people.

Here's a beautiful Tango danced to Gotya's 2011 song with Kimbra: "Somebody That I Used to Know." This dance is a little showier than anything that would be danced at social milonga, but the video makes it clear that Tango is a lot more versatile than you thought it was!

What, too sedate for you? Try this amazing performance of three dancers to the equally amazing Otros Aires group, performing live their Tango Nuevo song "Essa" in Buenos Aires. And you thought Tango was for slow, old people.

You talk like Tango is some kind of mystical thing. Isn't it just a dance?

Yes, Tango is just a dance. And yet it's much more than a dance because of the unique connection it requires between partners.

Here's the thing--social Tango is an improvised dance. There are some conventions and some common step patterns, but the patterns can be combined endlessly. The leader is always listening to the music and devising the next steps on the fly. The follower must be completely tuned in to the leader's intention to know what the next step should be and to decide how to express it. This subtle flow of information is all communicated through connected arms and torsos, via the so-called Tango embrace. The partners never see each other's feet, and in fact are often doing very different footwork from each other.

Because this improvisation requires such careful body communication, there is no room to think about anything other than the moment, the music, and your partner. You must make and keep a good connection. Many people talk about the "Tango Trance" when dancers are connected and dancing in sync. The feeling can be joyous, or sensuous, tender, freeing, playful, etc...Tango is all about the connection.

And human connection is vital to health. Don't believe us? The US Surgeon General said in spring of 2023 that we are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, and that lack of social connection can increase risk of death by 60%.

Guess how many times he used the word "connection" in his press release? Twenty-two times.

In Tango, you will connect to many people whom you would otherwise probably never even meet. That's because it's common to change partners many times during the course of a class, practice, or dance party (a milonga). You may know little more than your partner's first name, yet you will forge a non-verbal connection with each of partner through this unique form of dance.

Tango connects people in a way that very few other activities can. We wrote a detailed blog post that digs in deeper.

I'm psyched. Where can I take some tango lessons?

Please see our page dedicated to ways and places to learn Tango.

You need a foundation of knowing the Tango walk and maybe one or two simple figures, then you're ready to go to a practica. Try several practicas to get the feel of things, watch others, and ask questions. When you're ready, it's time for a milonga.

Do I have to dance torso to torso?

No. You can dance with any amount of distance between you and your partner that you each find comfortable. The "open" or "salon" embrace is more formal and is what most beginners use. It gives more freedom to the kinds of steps that can be danced, and the steps can be longer and bolder. The partners touch only the arms, hands, and backs/shoulder blades.

The "closed" or "milonguero" embrace is danced chest-to-chest or close to it. In some ways this style is easier, and in other ways harder than a salon embrace. The follower must learn to keep their feet out of the way, and some steps need a little modification.

Many dancers alternate between embrace styles depending on partner. Some even alternate within the same song. It's a matter of whatever both partners are comfortable with and enjoy. Here is a great example of how beautiful the simple act of taking the embrace can be, before the couple even begins to dance.

I've heard tango is hard to learn. Especially for the leader. True?

We're not going to kid you...to become an excellent tango dancer does take time, practice, and instruction.

However, it's really important not to get intimidated by complex "step patterns" that you might see in videos or learn in classes. You can learn complex steps when and if you're ready, after you have the basics down.

When you're a beginner at a practica or milonga, just focus on the tango walk, on your partner, and on the music. Both partners can construct a beautiful tango out of little more than walking to the music with sensitivity.

Don't believe us? In this beautiful slow social Tango, the partners mostly walk. The woman does a few ochos (figure-eight pivots), one slow turn and one fast turn, and several adornments. The man almost solely takes forward steps, a few side and back steps, and he leads the two turns.

A beginning student could do all of these elements including the slow turn quite early in their tango journey. The thing to note here is how sensitive to the music these two dancers are. They often pause or speed up depending on the music. And note their beautiful walking styles and their connection, which is often "renewed" during pauses.

Walking with this kind of musicality will take a lot of practice. Yet you can still dance tango as a beginner by keeping things simple and paying attention to the music, just as in the video.

If you're nervous or intimidated, tell your partner what your needs are or what your skill level is. Most partners are happy to adjust and help you feel comfortable. If not, you need not dance with them again.

And last, quoting from a great blog post by So-Tango.com...

"If the music is boring, or my partner loves acrobatics, I can dance tango (or try to, anyway!) with the precision, complexity, and athleticism of ballet. If the music is hypnotic, or my partner a beginner, I may dance very simply but with much feeling (because a tango beginner may yet have a PhD of the heart)."

No one has said it better than that.

Do I need special shoes?

Not at first. Tango does involve pivoting on the ball of the foot, so any shoe that is very tacky, like a basketball shoe, is going to be harmful to your knees. Leather soles are best, but if you don't have any, test some of your shoes on a tile or wood floor to make sure you can pivot easily. (That means standing on balls of your feet and and twisting back and forth.) At first you can wear whatever shoes make twisting on your foot easy and comfortable and safe. If you decide you like Tango, there are plenty of dancers who can advise you on other kinds of shoes you might like to try.

It's best start with flats or very low heels, for stability. As you progress, you will learn the Tango walk, and you can dance in what you like, what's comfortable, what makes you feel good. If you want to try dancing in taller heels, be sure you get some shoes designed for dance. This is for your own safety and stability. Fashion heels can easily twist your ankle or cause you to lose balance. The follower will be dancing with most of the weight on the ball of the foot, so some kind of heel can actually add some stability, like the "third leg of a stool."

My feet get really sore. What can I do?

We get it! The balls of the feet, especially for followers, can get tired and sore. Try to find a dance shoe that has some built-in padding if you have sensitive feet. If you don't want to buy dance shoes yet, you can try adding small stick-on pads to the inside of the shoes you use for dance. The best pads for most people are a dense white silicone-style or a Spenco (neoprene) pad that is soft yet firm with compression. Foam styles tend to flatten out quickly, so we don't recommend them. Liquid gel styles are more annoying than helpful, so we don't recommend them, either.

Note that if you like these thicker pads, you might need to go up a half-size when buying new shoes. Or you might need to get the shoes stretched at a cobbler so that your padded shoes are not too tight.

What clothing should I wear?

For classes and practice, just wear something comfortable. It's a very aerobic dance, so everyone is likely to perspire a little. Dress for that, and you'll be fine.

For a milonga, people tend to dress up a little, sometimes a lot. How much depends on the milonga and local customs. Ask others who will be attending for guidance. You still want to be comfortable, and it's rare that a milonga is ever too cold.

Do I need to have or bring a tango partner?

No. Most tango dancers don't have permanent partners, actually. It's much more typical for dancers to change partners after each dance set ("tanda") at a practice or a milonga. If you do have a permanent dance partner and prefer not to rotate, that's fine too.

But I'm a terrible dancer!

Most of us were terrible at tango when we first tried it, so it's normal. Even if you think you're "not a dancer," you're probably wrong.

Mainly, you need to be able to walk to a beat. Seriously. That's what we spend most of our time doing in Tango, walking to a beat. And pivoting. We think you can handle that.

The Tango walk is a little different than your usual stroll down the street, but it can be learned. Many people who would rather die than dance to pop music at a party have become excellent Tango dancers.

Does the man always lead, and the woman follow?

While it is traditional for men to dance as leader and women to dance as follower, we encourage everyone to try both roles. Each side is both challenging and rewarding. If you decide you prefer one role more than the other, that's fine, or maybe you like to switch-hit. Whatever works.

Couples of the same gender often dance together even when that is not their sexual orientation--this often happens in classes or milongas where numbers of leaders and followers is not matched. It's completely normal. Remember, tango is about connection with another human being, not about sexual attraction.

In fact, in the early days, men in South America would only learn and practice with other men. Never with women. The men learned both leader's and follower's parts perfectly, and when the men hit the milonga dance floor, they never looked like anything but experts. (The women, on the other hand, had to learn tango on the fly during milongas!)

All that said, if dancing with anyone in particular makes you uncomfortable, just sit out that exercise and wait for the next one.

More questions? Feel free to contact us.