Wouldn't it be amazing to live in a city that has milongas seven nights a week? Wouldn't it be great to have a job that lets you stay out till 5 AM every night dancing? Of course it would! But for most of us, dancing tango seven nights a week until sunrise is rare treat, not a way of life. So how can you keep that tango fire burning on off nights when there's no event and you've got to get up at 6 AM to go to work tomorrow?
Fortunately there are many great ways to cross-train for tango. In fact, I'll even say that it's very important to cross-train in another discipline to build a strong core, develop your flexibility, heal your muscles, or expand your musicality. Cross-training can open doors for you when you return to your tango journey. Moves or concepts that seemed out of reach beforehand will suddenly be in your grasp. So here are some great ways to cross-train for tango!
1. Massage, Chiropractic, and Physical Therapy - Sometimes your body just doesn't want to cooperate no matter how hard you try to follow your tango instructor's directions. In cases like this you may have muscular or skeletal issues that can best be addressed by a qualified PT, massage therapist, or chiropractor. It can feel like cheating, but sometimes the best way to improve your tango is not necessarily more tango classes, but some care and attention from a healthcare professional who can re-align your muscles and bones, identify weaknesses and imbalances, and prescribe exercises that re-educate and strengthen your muscles. A good PT will have extensive knowledge of anatomy and movement, and can offer a different perspective on your body that may significantly change your dancing. I had about five different tango teachers tell me I wasn't pushing off the floor correctly, but it was a physical therapist who identified an imbalance in my hips and weakness in my 'posterior chain' and gave me exercizes to improve these aspects of my walk. Now I push off the floor better than I ever did before. We can't expect tango instructors to be physical therapists and chiropractors all in one. If your body is a car, then I think tango teachers are driving instructors. But sometimes you have to take your car to a mechanic.
2. Yoga, Pilates, & Barre - Yoga is one of the most common and effective ways to cross-train for tango. There are probably dancers in your scene who already have an active yoga practice. I have found yoga to be very helpful for developing my balance in rotated postures. If you can rock a rotated half-moon pose, you're going to be well balanced doing a molinete! Even a basic yoga class will do wonders for your tango. If you're in Charlotte I recommend Okra Yoga in Plaza Midwood and The Bindu in Cornelius.
Pilates is one of the best systems of exercise I've ever seen for building core strength. Pilates focuses on the deep internal postural muscles that will give you that fantastic relaxed-but-energized tango posture. A little more expensive and a little less common than yoga, Pilates is best learned at first with the help of an experienced instructor who will teach you proper form. Pilates is also often marketed towards women more than men, but that is changing, and in any case it was developed by a man, Joseph Pilates. Today even NFL players incorporate Pilates into their training regimens.
Barre is also a workout that is definitely marketed to women more than men. But the big secret is that it's a fantastic workout for guys, too, combining elements of yoga, aerobics, ballet, and Pilates. I started going to Pure Barre Birkdale two years ago, and it's become my #1 favorite workout. It hits all the muscles you use in tango in exactly the way you use them on the dance floor. It's been a game-changer for me. Barre classes can be pricey depending on the studio, but frequently there are deals to be found, and it's worth every penny. There are many different franchises in the Charlotte region, including Pure Barre and The Hilliard Studio. So guys - look past all the glossy promotional materials featuring beautiful toned women in tights - or go ahead and look at those promotional materials! ;-) - and check out your nearest Barre or Pilates studio!
3. Playing a Musical Instrument and/or Singing - Guess what? The music is important. Tangueros who are also musicians hear the music differently and dance differently as a result. Taking voice lessons or learning piano or guitar will do wonders for your breath, your phrasing, and especially your rhythm, which is essential for dancing. In Buenos Aires I was amazed at how many Argentine tangueros also played guitar or sang. It seemed like pretty much every guy I talked to did one or both of these things! To them it was the natural thing to do. You can't dance to what you can't hear!
4. Balance-Oriented Sports & Fluid Martial Arts One of my favorite dancers is also a rock climber and another was a soccer player. My rock climber friend has only been dancing tango a couple of years, I think, but it’s absurd how good she is at tango already. Her boleos are like little lightning bolts, and she can balance on the tip of a needle. My soccer-playing friend is also extraordinarily poised and strong on the dance floor, and she attributes this to the many years she spent on the soccer field. Meanwhile, from what I can tell, if the goal of Kung Fu were to go around in circles with a beautiful woman rather than to throw some sweaty dude down on a mat, it would become tango. The principles seem to be almost identical. My own instructor has a background in Kung Fu, and he says it has informed everything he does in tango. Any sport or martial art that relies on balance and grace rather than brute strength can help your tango game.
5. Psychotherapy - For many people, tango can play an important part in a larger journey of self-discovery and maturation. However, in my opinion there are limits to this. Fundamentally the only thing being skilled at tango really guarantees is that you are skilled at tango. Unless your problem is simply getting out of the house and meeting people, tango probably will not solve the fundamental personal issues in your life; in fact, it can even become an unhealthy escape from them, prolonging the day when you may have to do some uncomfortable, even painful, self-reflection. Many people, myself included, came to tango (or came back to tango) after a break-up. Tango is a wonderful place to pour all that energy you were previously investing in your relationship, but it will not solve whatever problem caused that relationship to fail in the first place. You need to get a journal, a friend, or a shrink for that. And amazing chemistry with a partner on the dance floor is no guarantee that you will have anything in common with that person off the dance floor. I have met wonderful dancers who are also wonderful people. I have also met wonderful dancers who are psychologial basket-cases. Tango can help you grow in many ways - but sometimes it won't, and sometimes it simply helps you avoid doing what needs to be done in your life outside of the milonga.
6. Drinking Wine - Have you ever met a tango dancer who didn't? Neither have I. Actually, I don't usually drink wine while dancing, but maybe this could be a new frontier for me, the missing piece!
7. More Tango! - My friend Tito liked to playfully tease my tango instructor, Daniel. He said, "Why is he always coming up with metaphors saying that tango is like Kung Fu or pushing a shopping cart or whatever? Tango is tango. There is nothing like it." I think both my instructor and Tito are correct. While tango has many things in common with other disciplines, there is nothing like tango. Becoming a master Yogi or Kung Fu wizard will not make you good at tango. Only studying tango can do that. So don't forget to keep working on your tango whenever you can!