Thursday, November 3, 2011

For Men Only - Women Need Not Read

Ok gentlemen, now that we are alone it is time to talk about "guy" things in tango.  We all know that being the man in pursuit of the Argentine tango is very difficult, especially when first learning the dance, but I have noticed something that is holding back many men and hindering their progress, and that is what I want to address today.   I believe I have an approach that will help men become the type of dancer that women in class and milongas will always want to dance with.

As I have travelled the country teaching and dancing, there is one constant that I have seen in class, practicas and even milongas; men telling women what to do.  The irony is that most of the time I have noticed that they are telling them to do things incorrectly.  I have witnessed men in my class who are  beginners, telling women who are fairly accomplished dancers how to do something, and the advice they are giving them is completely wrong, and the women sigh and try to accomodate the man.  I then step in, show that the woman is doing the move correctly and point out that the problem is the man.  Why is the man assuming the woman is the problem such a constant?  Here are my thoughts.

Men believe that when it comes to a physical endeavours, they are superior to women predicated on testosterone.  Let's face it, men are usually bigger, faster, and stronger when it comes to doing athletic activities than women.  As boys, we are always striving to run faster, jump higher, throw farther and kick harder and because of this, we believe we are superior to women when embarking on a physical venture.  Well guys, I am here to disabuse you of this misconception.  Pound for pound, my experience has taught me that women are in fact, stronger and better coordinated than most men, and there is a reason why this applies particularly to dancing.  While men are much better at kicking, hitting, throwing and lifting, dance is an area where proprioception (detection of body movement and placement) or the subtle use of force, "touch" in athletic parlance, is more important than brute force, and this is an area where women excel.  Before I go further, let me give you a bit of my background as to why I believe I am qualified to talk about this.

Having danced with ballet companies over a period of 25 years, I gained a lot of experience with many ballerinas, and partnering was my specialty.  A friend once told me that in medical school you see people gravitating toward the specialty that matches their personality and skills as they get further into their studies.  Well, the same thing happens in dance.  You can see a dancer who has the body and disposition to be a classical dancer and excels in the classical roles.  Another dancer with a more athletic body and wild personality moves into the sexy jazz styles.  There are the guys who can spin like tops and have the ability to jump high in the air while executing unbelievable moves and they excel in the tour de force of athletic solos.  Early on, I gravitated toward the art of  pas-de-deux or partnering and I excelled at that area of dance, and companies would hire me specifically to partner their ballerinas.  Often a company would have a beautiful dancer who was a bit larger than average and she was not able to dance roles that would be perfect for her because their other men were not capable of lifting and supporting her.  That is where I came in, and it kept me employed for years.  I now want to pass along some of the things I learned, to help you achieve your goals in tango.

If I asked you to shoot a basketball from the foul line, you would try, make adjustments, try again, make more adjustments and on and on.  Well, by yourself, you only have to make the adjustments with your own body.  In learning a move in tango with another body the process is far more complicated, and frequently frustrating, which starts bringing out phrases like "you have to do this"  "you have to move this way" etc.  Well, I am going to give you a few magical phrases that are far more effective in achieving your desired end.  Words like "How does it feel for you?"  "What would help you feel more comfortable?".  And then there is the most powerful of all "we will get it, let's just try it again".  This is especially important to remember when dancing with different women because every woman is different and moves differently, so repetition is a necessary part of adjusting to any woman.  Frustration always brings on tension, and tension is the biggest enemy of good dancing.  Most of the time repetition is the only way to become comfortable dancing with a new partner, so patience and practice is necessary, and making it fun and relaxing will get you what you want much faster.  Even if it is something the woman is doing wrong, it is a wiser man who keeps it to himself.  I have never told a woman after a performance that she had done something wrong.  The strongest admonition I ever would say is, "we had a couple of rough spots, but we will get it fixed for the next time".  Guys, leave the corrections to the teacher.  More often than not, it is easier for the teacher to see the problem since he or she has a better view of what you are doing, and it is always a wiser course, than telling a woman she has done something wrong, not to mention, there is a better than average chance, that you did more things wrong than she did.

There is another phrase that is so powerful men, that we have to keep it to ourselves.  So I am going to pass it along, but don't let the women know that you have learned this secret phrase here.  It is............."I'm sorry", or "that was my bad lead".  Even when it is the womans' fault, or especially when it is the womans' fault, it is the kind of phrase that will have a woman enjoying her time dancing with you more than anything else and isn't that what is the most important thing?.  I have heard women complaining that a man has stomped her foot and then berated her for getting her foot under his!  Guys, dancing is a very complex endeavour and we all make mistakes, yes men, we make mistakes, so owning up to it is the true mark of a gentleman, and will make you the tanguero that the women will be longing to dance a tanda or two with, and thereby giving you the experience you need to become a better dancer, because, let's face it guys, it is much more enjoyable to learn tango with a woman in your arms than to watch videos and practice with a blow up doll.

I realize many guys will believe that this takes the "Argentine" out of Argentine tango, but this is just one dancers' approach that I believe is effective in helping a man become a better dancer.  So let's review the power phrases;  "how does it feel for you?", " what would feel more comfortable for you?", "we will get it, let's do it again"  and the most powerful of all "I'm sorry, that was a bad lead!".

So gentlemen, go forth and have a great time dancing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tango Moments - Beyond Technique

What are tango moments and how do we experience them?  This is a subjective and very personal experience rather than something that we can quantify and label, so I am going to try to relate what the experience is for me and how I seek to achieve the ever elusive tango moments.

We are primarily left brain creatures.  The left brain is the logical, intellectual side of our brain.  Our very, written language encourages the brain shift from right to left.  We are builders and problem solvers and when it comes to tango we see it as a problem to be solved by learning steps, patterns, leads and follows. We want to understand and fix problems as we see them, and then move on to the next problem and fix that. 
Our right brain processes information much faster and is where our creativity resides and as we age we generally become more left brain dominant and disconnect from our earlier creativity.  Meditation is one of the ways that we can shift our brain activity into balance and start to operate on a different level of consciousness.  It is my contention that "Tango Moments" are a result of accidentally stumbling into a brain wave shift similar to that of meditation because of a few factors. 

Zen masters have long used various techniques to affect this brain wave shift.  Repetitive chanting, concentration on conundrums, incense, drumming and  dancing are all methods used to achieve this change.  It is my belief that the combination of music, movement, perfume, textures all shift our brain waves and we go beyond our day to day consciousness and when it all comes together we get into "The Flow".  This is not just a word, but a specific brain function as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago who defines flow as being when one is so absorbed in what they are doing that a euphoric sense of clarity and purpose takes over.  When in flow you act out of an unconscious awareness that is slightly ahead of your conscious awareness.  The lower processing centers receive the information first and during flow you take action before this information goes to the higher levels of processing.*   For me, it is a feeling that I am not actually dancing, but rather the music is going through me and making the choices for me, and my partner is synched up and responding to the music on the same level as though we are one. 

Now I am not here to tell anyone to stop using their left brain.  Far from it.  I want to encourage everyone to learn certain sound techniques of movement, as well as techniques of lead and follow. What I am suggesting, is that there is a time to turn it off, stop hiding behind steps and technique, and just start dancing. Unfortunately, too often, this is where the education stops, and once a dancer has the requisite number of steps and patterns they think they are ready to get on the floor and dazzle everyone.  In the interest of full disclosure, that was the way I started,  I am after all, a left brain creature as well. 

I will never forget one night at a milonga in Las Vegas I was dancing with an Argentine woman and after a tanda she said to me "Morgan, you are a good dancer, but you know too many steps".  Well, I am pig headed, so it took me a couple of more years before I understood what she was saying and applied it.  To this day, I probably dance fewer steps than most  in a milonga, but now I strive to connect not only with the woman, but especially with the music,  

The Music.  For me this is where it all starts.  It is the energy source, the inspiration. The current coursing through my body  passing into my partner and completing the circuit that creates beautiful movement. Sometimes I can shut my eyes, get into the flow and be aware of nothing but my partner and the music and yet be perfectly on balance and aware of  our surroundings without seeing them.  The first time I actually found myself dancing with my eyes closed I was surprised that I did not need visual cues to maintain my balance, and the with no visual input, the awareness of the woman is purely through touch, smell and hearing.  A wonderful sensation.

As a final thought I would like it to be understood that the ability to experience "Tango Moments" is something that is available to anyone who embraces tango; though it is not necessarily experienced by people who have achieved a high level after many years of dancing.  There are certainly minimum requirements and a certain level of commitment is necessary.  The thing that is important is keep it simple, feel the music and connect with your partner and you can definitely get into the zone.

*Many of the thoughts on brain wave activity and so much more were taken from Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell M.D. and her book "The ESP Enigma - The Scientific Case for  Psychic  Phenomena". 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Argentine Tango - The Bottom Up Dance

What do I mean by "bottom up" dance?  The world of dance is divided into two different camps as I see it; bottom up and top down.
The top down dances are the majority of dances, where there is a group of educated, "experts" who dictate to the masses how they should dance.  When you dance ballroom, there is a specified, codified way to do every step.  "Experts" tell you how you have to look, move and smile.  Every couple must strive to look like the standard that the experts have decreed as being correct. If you execute your steps correctly you can win a trophy, and if you are very good, you become the standard on how everyone else is supposed to look and dance.  For many people this is great thing, and gives them something to work towards, as well as the satisfaction of accomplishment.  And whatever gets people out dancing is a good thing.  It just does not work for me.
The reason I fell in love with the Argentine Tango is that of all the social dances it is the most creative and personal dance.  While there are certain elements that are necessary for the effective movement of two bodies together, the Argentine Tango is the dance that allows individual couples to develop their own unique dance that suits their personalities and bodies.  Lets' take body styles.
I have taken classes with some teachers who are young,short and powerful and they move with great speed and precision that takes my breath away.  As much as I like their dancing, it does not work for my body, training and personality.   As I am taller, I am more comfortable dancing a smooth, lyrical style of dance that is more flowing and relaxed.  Even when I do dance in a style that is counter to my preferred style, I do not feel at home with it, and therefore do not enjoy it as much.  Also along the lines of body types, there is no one tango embrace.  How can a tall slender couple with long limbs have the same embrace as a short, stocky couple?  They cannot and should not try, and that does not mean that they cannot have a fulfilling and enjoyable dance experience. Tango is a dance where the dancers find their satisfaction in connecting with another person and the music, and when it comes together they find "tango moments" which keep them coming back for more.  It is not about winning awards or defeating other competitors or applause, but about finding a connection with another person and sharing a physical, musical experience.  More of a Zen type experience. 
Many years ago I taught for some Fred Astaire studios and learned much of their syllabus.  I worked at another Fred Astaire studio for a short time a couple of years ago and noticed the syllabus had made many changes.  Apparently the experts had decided to update steps and add patterns so all the students would have new things to work on.  That is how things change in the ballroom world.  Top down.
In the world of Argentine tango, the change comes from the dancers themselves.  You think you know Argentine tango, and then you go to a show or milonga and see people doing something you have never seen before.  They are doing similar steps, but have taken them in a whole new direction.  In fact, the history of tango is pretty much one of a constantly evolving dance and music.  From the early period of rhythmic street dancing in the barrios that evolved into the salon style of dance that has evolved into "Nuevo" style tango.  The changes come from the dancers to suit changing music and fashions.  This is what makes Argentine Tango an art form; it is always changing, evolving and morphing into something new.  The traditional does not go away, it is simply added to.  Any art must allow the artist the freedom to create what they feel and let the public decide if it is good.  Unfortunately, there are always those who want to stifle creativity and become the arbiters of what is good and  "correct".  People who want to be those at the "Top" to make the decisions (and money) on how we should dance tango.  It was done once to tango, and now there are those trying to do it again.
In the early twentieth century some Argentine dancers found their way to Europe and their dance was embraced in the salons of the fashionable.  It was made even more popular when Rudolf Valentino danced it in a couple of his movies.  It was then hijacked by "experts" who codified it, turned it into a competition event and decided how everyone should dance it, and it is now the ballroom tango that we see in the competitions.
We have the same thing going on in the Argentine tango world now.  Some people have come out with videos for bronze, silver and gold syllabus' so that we now can memorize steps and compete for trophies and acclaim for being the best tango dancer, as ordained by the experts.  It seems to me that this is anathema to what Argentine tango is about.  When someone tells me how I have to dance, what I cannot do, or what music is acceptable or not, I just shake my head.  And trust me, you will have people telling these things. Beware the tango police!
My advice; learn the basics from someone who understands the fundamentals of balance, posture, axis, and not just a teacher who doles out steps and patterns.  All those steps and patterns will do you no good in a crowded milonga anyway. Take classes from a variety of people, use what you like from different teachers, find a partner, and go invent your own dance.  Who knows, you might just start the new "nuevo tango" and at the very least, you might discover your own tango moments.
Bottom up, that is the gift of the Argentine Tango.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tree Top Tango

In the previous blog, I referenced an episode where I was up in a tree with a bobcat and I want to expand on that today. 
I was back in the mountains of Big Sur and I was walking on a path that went around a fairly steep canyon.  A large tree had recently fallen across the canyon and made a bridge.  The tree still had leaves on it, and I noticed movement in the leaves, so I thought I would walk out and investigate.  It was a large tree, so I was fairly comfortable in spite of a fall of 50 or 60 feet to the bottom of the canyon if I fell.  As I approached the leaves, two little bobcat kitten heads popped up, and my first thought was, "how cute".  That lasted about one second before I heard a very aggresive snarl from behind me on the tree.  Mama bobcat was about seven or eight feet from me on the tree.  Funny how the tree did not seem so large now. 

So here is the situation; I had turned around and was facing a very pissed off mother, with her babies behind me, but the distance to the ground was way too far for comfort.  The only way out seemed to me to back her up about twenty feet until I could make a jump to the canyon wall.  So, ever so slowly I started moving toward her without making any jerky or threatening moves.  As I moved one foot slowly forward, she moved one slowly back in a dance that was as calm and charged as any in my life.  And that is what good tango is about.

As two dancers move together, they must discover a calmness that transmits no information to their partner that is not intended, and they also need that calmness, so they can read the subtle messages that are sent.
As with my bobcat mother on the tree, any tense movement could have indicated a threat to her and the outcome could have been most unpleasant.

The key to any athletic endeavour is to only use the muscles and energy necessary to accomplish the task, and have the rest in a relaxed state.  This is important for the man since his number one job is to allow the woman to feel secure and relaxed in his embrace, and if he is tense, jerky, or unsure of his balance then his partner is not likely to relax into a good dance.  The quality of the dance is determined by how the dance flows, not the number of steps.    For the woman, being relaxed is important for the quality and smoothness of her movements, but it is also essential for her ability to follow. 

A woman who lets her right arm go loose and is told to keep her arm still usually reacts by tensing up like an arm wrestler.  The problem, besides how tiring it is, is that all that tension in her arm actually stops her from feeling the subtle leads being transmitted through her hand.  For example; if there is something particularly delicate that you want to feel, silk, satin, feathers, or fur, you are likely to relax your hand completely and then gently rub it so you can feel it's softness or smoothness because it is when you are relaxed that you are most sensitive.  That is how you want to be when dancing, relaxed and sensitive.  Seems elementary, but  finding a partner that moves smoothly is a difficult task indeed.  Another metaphor I use in class is when driving a large truck you need to exert a lot of energy to shift gears or turn because they are very inefficient, and the ride is rough and uncomfortable, whereas, it takes very little energy to do the same in a high performance sports car, because they are so much more efficient, no wasted energy and the ride is smooth and comfortable.  And where does that smooth ride start?  For cars, the shock absorbers, for dancers, the feet.   But that is for another entry.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Life on the Tango Highway

These postings are not going to be a discussion of just steps and music, but also a look into the journey that the tango can be.  I did not know how I was going to get into it, but then it happened in.......where do you think?  A milonga.

A friend took me to a milonga in Miami, my first trip there, and I had a great time.  There are some very good tangueros there.  Very traditional milonga, music and structure and good dancers.  Good sized crowd as well.  I ran into a woman I had danced with a decade earlier in Las Vegas and she dropped me a line having heard a bit about me traveling around the country in a trailer and was interested in taking off in a similar fashion with her cat and seeing the country.  Rather than send her an email, I thought I would answer her here, since it will reveal a bit of the life of one man's pursuit of tango.

The short answer is, don't do it.  It is a hard, difficult life.  If you want to travel on major highways, to major RV parks and campgrounds, in season,  basically from Memorial day to Labor day, then it is pretty safe.  Stay where you can call for help from your cell phone, and have plenty of money available.  But once you vary from that, the risk factor starts going up fast, and the skills necessary get more demanding.

Once you get off the highways and start heading into the back country you realize that this is a great big beautiful country, and it is a country that is very dangerous and unforgiving.  The conditions that took the lives of so many people crossing the country in both Summer and Winter are still going on, and when you travel off the beaten path, there is always the possibility of encountering those conditions without the conveniences of modern society.  In other words, you break down, no phone, no fuel and survival becomes an issue.  Trust me, it happens.  If one wants to travel the back roads, a solid working knowledge of mechanics is bound to be necessary.  Everything that moves, breaks.  Planes, boats, RVs, all require constant attention, and everyday you discover new things you need to pay attention to.

As well as mechanical skills, one must have serious survival skills.  People die every year in situations that should be no problem, but without the essential skills, they succumb to the elements.  And once you are out of the Summer season, things can happen fast.  High in the mountains, the temperature can dip in October to the single digits for a high.  Extended periods of extreme cold, definitely play with your mind.  Not my dogs.  The colder it is the happier they are.  There is always the reality of wildlife that would be happy to eat you.  In the mountains of California there is an abundance of mountain lions, since they are not hunted, so they are always a concern.  Black bears are the main bear and are generally fairly mild, but then anything as large as they are deserves respect.  Coyotes are a everywhere and I have had some very interesting encounters with them.  One time North of Phoenix, my dog and I walked through a pack of coyotes, with some within 15 feet of us.  Another time I found myself in a tree, similar to the scene in Apoctolypto, where the hero was in a tree with the lion cubs on one side and the mother on the other.  In my case it was a bobcat mother and two cubs on the other side.  It was pretty tense for a few minutes, but mother was reunited with cubs, and I went on my way.  But then there is the real serious threat that should dissuade any sane person from venturing of track, and off season, humans.

The most dangerous law enforcement job in the country is game warden.  Back in the wilderness, law is, flexible.  The veneer of civilization is thin at the best of times, and when many miles from other humans, things change.  The mountains of the Southwest, South, oh hell, anywhere the climate is good for growing pot, there is the chance that you might run into people from South of the border.  I had a close encounter once where a couple of guys in a truck made a long detour to come over to where I was walking, and there was no question that 200 pounds of wolf dogs and a 45 made them leave after some veiled threats.  I have been set upon by multiple dogs back in the mountains of Big Sur.  Ugly situation that left my dog with a big bite out of his butt and a pit bull half drowned.  A forest ranger in the Tahoe National Forest told me that they do not pick up garbage because of the possibility of it being booby trapped.  The back woods are also used by the people who cook or whatever they do to make various drugs.  Then there is just the good old fashioned poachers.  My point in all this, is, a woman in an RV with a cat is pretty vulnerable.  Not saying it cannot be done, but don't think it is going to be fun or easy.  But then, whoever said life was, fun or easy?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An All American Argentine Tango

American, Argentine Tango?!  What am I talking about?  Before anyone comes to my class, practica or milonga, one thing that I need to reveal in the interest of full disclosure; I am an American.  I did not grow up in Argentina, and dare I say it, I have never even visited Argentina.  So how does that impact my approach to teaching tango? 
Well, for one thing, I am not teaching tango culture.  Tango is to me, a dance.  As a ballet and show dancer, adage work, or partnering, was always my passion and strength and kept me employed for years.  As I had studied and worked hard at partnering, I was immediately intrigued by the approach of tango to the movement of two bodies in space.  Technically and aesthetically, ballet and tango are a great marriage.  Why do I bring this up?
I dance because I love music.  Music plays and something happens within me.  Whether it is rock music driving me on while I run or rollerblade, or Gregorian chants that calm me down after a stressful day or   blues music when I am down.  Music speaks to me and tells me how to move to it and guess what; a wide variety of music makes me want to tango.  I go to the library and get cd's of music from around the world, and then I listen while walking my wolves.  Many are the times I have been in the mountains and forest and find myself dancing to the music I am discovering.  If it tells me tango, it gets into my rotation, wherever it comes from. I am particularly fond of American blues for Argentine tango.  I believe that they were both born out of hard times and suffering, and make for a perfect blend of music, movement and emotion.
These sentiments are not approved of by Argentine tango purists.  Tango is only danced to tango music.  Not at my events, whether class, practica or milonga.  So be forewarned.  If you only like romantic era tango, or nuevo tango or whatever era, you will probably not be happy at my events.  I do love much Argentine tango music and use quite a bit of it, along with a variety from Bach to Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Another warning;  my milongas are definitely "alternative".  Besides a wide variety of non-Argentine music,  I also do not observe the tanda structure for a few reasons.
The main reason is because I do not want to be committed to dancing 3 or 4 dances with one woman just because of convention.  Most milongas around the US have a disproportionate number of women to men, and I like to circulate around so that more women get to dance.  The second reason, I do not like the  mood break that is the cortina.  When I get into the zone, or am experiencing a "tango moment" there is nothing more disappointing and annoying than to have a cortina come along.  Definite buzz killer, tango interruptus.  As far as I am concerned, people in the tango world are generally adults and should be able to politely thank a partner for a dance and leave without depending on the cortina to save them.  That being said, I do like to group music for a common theme, dance style or feeling.
So now you know a bit about my approach to music and tango and should expect to be dancing tango to a wide variety of nontraditional music in a nontraditional form.  An American, Argentine tango experience.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Tango Ballet

What is Tango Ballet?  As I mentioned before, my training was in classical ballet and when I started learning the Argentine tango I immediately saw the similarities in techniques required to execute the tango properly.  As I studied Argentine tango, I realized that the approach of teaching the tango is obviously on how two people dance together.   As the Argentine tango is a dance that puts a great deal of responsibility on the individual dancer, there needs to be training that focuses on how the individual should move to be both technically sound and aesthetically appealing.  That is the mission of Tango Ballet.

Ballet is the vocabulary of how a body moves.  But do you really need the entire Websters dictionary?  Not really.  The class is basically a beginning class that teaches the techniques that apply to a person in the context of social dancing, and omits elements that are not necessary.  For example, port de bras, or arm movements.  In the context of social dancing it is basically taught as watch me and do the same.  In ballet there is a whole repetoire of movements and exercises to learn how to move your arms gracefully and in a way to complement the movements of the body.  And then there are the feet.

All dancing starts with the feet.  In every moment of the dance, the feet are involved.  No other part of the body is more important, and yet in the context of classes, no part of the body is more neglected.  An awareness of  your feet and what they are doing is essential to becoming a good dancer. 

So if you are interested in improving your arms, feet, posture and balance, give Tango Ballet a try.

Monday, February 21, 2011

If you can walk you can dance. Not Argentine Tango.

The Argentine Tango.  What is it to me?  What brought me to the tango and why do I travel the country living in solitude much of the time in pursuit of those moments that tangueros discover in late night milongas in the arms of a stranger? 
These and many other thoughts will be addressed in subsequent blogs, but as a teacher, my intention is to put my thoughts down, so students or potential students can get an idea of my approach to teaching and dancing the Argentine tango, and how I arrived at it.  I will also include thoughts from the road, tango communities I encounter and what makes for good communities, all in an effort to further the spread of this wonderful dance, so that others might find what I have experienced along the road.
For me, Argentine tango was another stop along the dance road.  I have spent my entire adult life involved in dance in one form or another.  For about 25 years I danced with ballet companies all over the country.  I made my way to Nevada where ballet dancers frequently head for steady paychecks working in shows, (or the nearest thing dancers get to steady work).  For those of us with a true love of ballet it is a good option since you can make a decent income in the shows and work with the local ballet companies on the side.  Along the way I also picked up some ballroom and did some performing and competing.  Then came the Argentine tango.  As a trained dancer I was soon caught up in its' beauty and loved the creativity that it encourages and knew that I would spend the rest of my life exploring it. 
I was fortunate that I was in Las Vegas when I started learning it, and I was exposed to many wonderful teachers.  Some of the top dancers make their home in Las Vegas, and many come to Vegas with shows, so we always had an influx of great dancers to suppplement the local teachers.
"If you can walk, you can dance".  That is a sales point that the ballroom studios have been touting for years, and it is true, for ballroom dancing.  Not Argentine tango.  Argentine tango is much more akin to ballet than to ballroom.  You may be dancing in anothers' arms, as in ballroom, but that is where the similarity ends.  It is not a dance of patterns where the dancers are basically moving as one doing the same step to a predetermined tempo of quicks and slows.  It is rather, a dance of lead and follow.  Consequently, it requires both dancers to take on a greater responsibility for their own balance and placement.  The walk itself is critical to the dance.  Being a dance that is defined by lead and follow, any unintended bouncing or jarring can be misinterperated as a lead.  Therefore learning to move smoothly like a panther stalking its prey is essential for good tango. 
It is for this reason that I focus from the feet up.  Having the weight placed properly on the feet with the body aligned with proper posture on the correct axis is the starting point. 
What is the correct axis?  In our everyday life we find our axis generally back on our heels.  It is comfortable and secure and works for walking and standing around the water cooler.  But try to pivot and there go the ligaments of your knees.  The weight of the body must be forward on the balls of the feet for pivoting.  In tango, the possibility of pivoting exists constantly, therefore keeping the weight forward on the balls of the feet is essential.  Yes, there are plenty of exceptions, but this is just the beginning.