I don’t know any social tango dancer who enjoys watching video recordings of her dancing. The main reason is that the camera doesn’t lie. There it is! What every tango teacher has preached:
- Collect your Feet!
- Pivot More!
- Imagine your Legs Begin at the Ribs
- Disassociate More!
- Imagine you Have Magnets in your Ankles
- Take Bigger Steps!
- Imagine Circles, Move in Circles
- And Don’t Forget to Relax!
Watching and judging your dance from the vantage point of your instructors is difficult, yes, but what makes it so painful to watch is the stark realization that what you feel inside during the dance is entirely different from how you actually look. Tango aficionados have all experienced the bliss of pure connection washing over their bodies, and it’s those close-eyed moments when you channel your Moira Castellano or Juana Sepulveda and imagine your lines longer than rays of sunshine and your boleos snapping like sails. It’s like being high or drunk while singing karaoke at a crowded bar–you truly believed that you hit those Mariah Carey high notes. Unfortunately, you have dear friends who don’t hesitate to post the video on Instagram where the most popular response is a row of laughing emojis.
In tango, we get our reality check during our tango lessons and when we video-record our dancing. But how can we reframe the experience so that we’re not disheartened by this disconnect between what we feel and what we see? In the social sciences, researchers commonly design experiments, record their findings, and revise their instruments, methodologies, and hypotheses based on those findings. Tango dancers could apply similar procedures and have fun with the process trying to assess their own dancing based on their current tango knowledge, skills, and techniques:
- Begin with a testable hypothesis or research question. For instance,
- Research Question: If I engage my core and expand my back muscles, would that relax my legs more?
- Hypothesis: Engaging my front foot onto the floor should level my hips and provide me with the space to extend my back leg further.
- Select your favorite recording app on your smartphone to record at least 30 seconds of dancing.
- If working solo or with a partner, focus on dance movements or sequences that underscore the technique under scrutiny. Keep the tango simple. The goal is to focus on one key issue at a time.
- Review the recording based on whatever criteria that you are working with in your tango. This criteria will vary significantly depending on the style, orchestra, personal goals, or context (e.g., social tango versus stage tango).
- Make a deliberate choice to change one thing in your technique, musicality, body composition, or attitude and record another 30 seconds. Keep the change simple. If you make 5 significant changes, it may be too difficult to determine which modification addressed the issue that you’re focusing on.
- Review the recording and evaluate any observable changes in your tango based on your criteria. If you are content with the change, record a full song to determine if the change is evident throughout your dance. If you are not satisfied with the outcome, and you have tried other modifications without much success, discuss with your partner or teacher other possible modifications that you could experiment with to reach your goals. However, it is important that you manage your own assessment process. It would be too easy for others to bombard you with the 100 things you need to fix to elevate your tango, or without fail, you’ll have at least one person who will preach, “You just need to let go” or even more classic, “Just connect.” Before sharing your video, let that person know that you want feedback on ONE particular problem and ask them to be specific regarding your technique, musicality, or attitude.
- Treat the video recordings like data and continue to run your mini experiments to gain greater self-awareness about your tango.