These are the benefits of Practica

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of tango dancers: those who practice and those who don’t. If you practice, you will improve faster. Practice will allow you to adjust and update your skills on a regular basis. If you don’t practice, you might be able to preserve your tango skills, but this is rare. The tactic of not practicing is unreliable. In most cases, you will end up losing some of your initial abilities and will find that your performance deteriorates over time.

Think about it in the following terms: what you don’t exercise you lose; what you don’t recall you forget; and what you don’t update becomes outdated.

 Photo by Kagan, 2015

Photo by Kagan, 2015

During class, you are taught new material, and this confronts you with new challenges. This is the initial part of learning: you hear and see something new and you try to add it to what you already know. Practice is the next step; it is what follows the initial learning stage. Practice is what transforms the information you learned in class into knowledge. It makes it your own. That is, you might have captured a piece of valuable data or had an important insight, but it is not fully yours until you have integrated it with your mind and body. This process happens organically through practice.

At a cognitive level, learning demands a lot of metabolic power. When you are acquiring new data, you are simultaneously updating your sensory-motor map. Learning takes most of your cognitive juice, and doesn’t leave you energy for much more. However, when you practice what you learned, you can, over time, reduce the cognitive effort needed. This allows you to use those resources for other crucial activities such as: tracking, memorizing, and refining your movements. In this sense, practice is what updates your skill set. It deepens and tunes your dancing. At the beginning of your learning journey, a general idea of a certain movement might feel like enough, but over time it is not sufficient. A sharper picture, a more precise execution is better. Practice adds that complementary layer.

It doesn’t feel good to hit the limit of your capacity to learn and sense that you are not making progress. This is where practice comes in. For example, you might feel a sense of cognitive overload during some tango classes. At the end of class, you might feel discouraged, anxious, or numb. This might be because you are at the limit of your capacity to learn. The more new material you collect, the more likely you are loading your system with cognitive stress. There is only a certain amount of incoming data that you can manage at a time. That is why learning new material can be so frustrating. To ease that struggle, you should integrate practice into your learning routine.

If you practice you will:

  • Improve faster
  • Retain  new material
  • Integrate what you learn
  • Refine your skill set
  • Have more fun learning

At an emotional level, practice is also  beneficial because it changes your attitude towards tango. It makes you grow. When you choose to make time for practice, you are taking charge of your own learning. Deciding to step into your own practice adds maturity to your tango journey. Practice is the time when you choose what you want from your dancing, you pick what you want to focus on, and you decide how much detail you need.

Are you ready to give practice a test run? I think you will enjoy it. Stay tuned for the following article about how to build and test your own personal practice.

How I practiced and learned tango

When I first set out to learn tango many years ago, I wanted to become very good and do so quickly. This was my plan: I would find a good teacher and practice as much as I could. In my mind, learning and practicing were not separate. Luckily, this was how tango was taught in Buenos Aires at the time, except for the quickly part.

Tomás & Silvana Grill, 1998

In Buenos Aires, tango was taught differently than it is today. Classes took place in the evenings and lasted longer. They included a lot of time for exploration and practice. There was less new content to capture, and more time to figure things out. Also, class and practice were intertwined, they were mixed together.

Today, these two aspects of learning are kept separate, and this affects how quickly and deeply people learn. Tango students are not exposed to the same model I encountered. Now, class and practice are set apart and each have their own time. During class, there is no time for practice; teachers speak more than they let students dance. You will not hear more than one song go by without a teacher intervention. Today, you can attend weekly classes, collect tons of information, and never practice. This is the current model for teaching tango.

This situation has generated the following scenario: most new and intermediate tango dancers do not practice—especially in smaller communities where opportunities to dance are scarce—and so they don’t improve fast enough.  Faced with a daunting and steep learning curve, they are tempted to quit.

Did you know that at least three out of four new dancers give up in the first year of tango? This is not surprising—who wants  to invest so much in an activity that cannot be mastered in a reasonable time frame?

Practice closes the gap between the rookie and the expert dancer. It is what creates, feeds, and grows a healthy tango community.

But if practice is what makes the crucial difference and new dancers want to learn, why is it that most dancers don’t practice what they learn? Why is it that most default to taking yet another class instead of practicing? Is it only because classes have too much new content? I don’t think so, that would be putting all the blame on the teachers.

In the next series of articles, I will offer you a framework to think about practice and l share resources to help you add more of it into your tango routine.

Practice is a core aspect of Argentine tango, one that is underappreciated and not utilized enough. Dancers of all levels of experience can get immense benefit from practice. All they need is to know what practice is about, how to do it, and how to weather the challenges.

Practice closes the gap between the rookie and expert dancer. It is what creates, feeds, and grows a healthy tango community. Practice brings a sense of fulfillment to those passionate about going deeply into tango.

Stay tuned for the next article: Why you should practice.


Article Series

Coming out on Fridays: 

  1. This is how I practiced and learned • July 6
  2. These are the benefits of practice  • July 13
  3. Test it! Use this Practica Blueprint • July 20
  4. Why practicing tango is so hard • July 27
  5. How to fit practice in your schedule • August 3