Dance and the Fear of making mistakes

Story | Opinion | Chrisa Assis | 23 Oct 2017 | 0 comments

Hi, Chrisa here,

I was teaching a beginner’s class last Thursday. At the end of the class I said to the leaders: “Practice this little routine, but don’t worry if you make a mistake… Tango is improvisational! Routines don’t matter, they are just tools”

I look at them and as I expected (after having said and heard THAT same phrase for years) they are looking at me like this:


In the past I would have gone through all these terrible and overused cliches, you find on the internet:
“There are no mistakes in Tango, only surprises”
“You must embrace the opportunity mistakes create”
“Mistakes are a way to success”

Instead I said something a lot more reassuring:
“You know what, I know I just made this even worse. I know you just want me to give a sequence, ask you to practice it a million times and send you off to the dance floors of the world reassured…. We will learn sequences, many beautiful sequences. BUT when you start making mistakes while practicing, remember IT DOESN’T MATTER!”
A mistake is NOT failure, it is a LESSON
The truth is we all hate making mistakes.
It is not really the mistake itself, but everything else around it.
The confrontation, having to start over, not knowing how to fix it and looking stupid…

The problem is, mistakes are unavoidable. They are bound to happen…
It is not a matter of if but when you are going to make a mistake.

So the best way to deal with them is to prepare for them, first, mentally.

Making a mistake DOESN’t mean you are a failure. It will only become a failure if you give up.

So with that in mind let’s see how we can prepare and bounce back from mistakes.
Action Step#1: Keep a record
When you are practicing keep a record of it.
I used to take notes. Writing down everything that was happening during my practice
Recording what exercises I did, with what intention and how I executed them.
I wrote down what worked, what didn’t and what changes I made for it to work. How the movement felt before and after the change… Everything!

This is actually how I came up with Intelligent Tango

Now I use a camera as well, but that notebook, and 2 more after that, have been my faithful friends during for many years

How that helped me?
Anytime I made a mistake and felt lost, I could go and trace my way back to where I started from and find possible mistake points which I would then revisit, and attempt to fix them.
Action Step#2: Mistakes turned into sequences
Our biggest fear, especially as leaders is that we will not be able to lead our partner, we will ruin the other person’s dance and we will end up looking like fools in front of everybody.

Be proactive!
Take any sequence. Practice it the same way you learned it in class. Then think of all the possible mistakes that can happen, and use them one by one to create a new sequences.

This is how I got the idea for these 2 videos on Improvisation:
Argentine Tango Improvisation #1
Argentine Tango Improvisation#2

And this is a great practice for followers too, as they can have a better idea of the many different paths a leader can choose from during the dance.
Action Step#5: Practice Smart–>Combining Tango drills to an activity you are very good at
Bet on diversity

Tango might still be “Under Construction” for you but there are other activities you are really good at.
Maybe you are doing other dances, or swimming or martial Arts… All these activities have ONE thing in common they are all MOVEMENT.

Find things that all of them have in common and focus on them while doing your activity.
For example say you want to practice your back steps and you are really fit because you love exercising.

Instead of just walking around the room getting frustrated because you are loosing your balance or you are breaking your posture… Make a COMBO of a Tango drill and fitness, like this:
Argentine Tango Technique– Don’t leave the gym yet

While you are doing an activity you are good at, you can notice the details of the movement that are valuable for your Tango progress. Then you take those details and you use them while doing your Tango drills.

This way you will shorten the frustration period and save yourself from going around in circles, because you will know what you are looking for!
Action Step#4: Build a good a network of teachers you can reach for advice
So first of all, talk to your teachers local or visiting. Reach out to them, ask them questions, use their suggestions in your practice AND follow up with them.

Every teacher wants to work with people who care. Show your teacher that you care and then they will share all their resources with you.

Be careful though, you don’t want to take advantage of them.
This is where your records can be of great help.

  • Make notes of your teacher’s suggestions– their actual words, not what you think they said, classic mistake
  • Compare what they are saying on a matter to your experience so far
  • Practice in the way they suggested. Make notes of the experience
  • Compare the before and after
  • Talk to your teacher, presenting specific actions and results.

The more specific and clear your questions are, the easier it will be for your teacher to guide you.

Lastly, offer something back. Now this doesn’t have to be some monetary exchange, but maybe you can find an interesting article on something you know your teacher would enjoy. Or a book or a video of another dancer you found interesting.

I have gotten book suggestions, TED talk suggestions, practice videos even movies sent to me by students and I love it!

I am sure your teacher will appreciate it too!
Action Step#5: Find a community that supports experimentation and diversity
Learning Tango is one thing. Having a community, a group of people you can rely to when you make a mistake and you feel stuck is something different.

I am sure you can find teachers who create a inclusive spirit in their classes if you look for people, who:

There is no way you can avoid mistakes… But you can at least build system that will allow you to predict them, prepare for them and swiftly bounce back from them


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Published: 23 Oct 2017 @ 16:48


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