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  • Writer's pictureDavid Phillips

Embrace solo practice

Updated: May 5, 2023

Solo practice is key to mastery.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19)

Repetition doesn't have to be tedious; in fact, it can be quite brilliant, a comfort and a deepening pleasure. The key here is progress. Repetition without progress is the very definition of boredom.

— Horoscopes by Holiday Mathis

What and why

For some, practice is work; for others, practice is play. Either attitude can produce good results. A key to quality results is quality of practice.


With and without a partner, we do two kinds of practice:

  1. Without music, for technical mastery.

    1. Slow, to develop balance and clarity

    2. Fast, to develop speed and ability

  2. With music, for artistry.

The embrace connects us with a partner, both functionally to convey our intention-reception and emotionally to convey our feeling for the dance. By using the phantom-partner embrace position while dancing solo, we build awareness that our movements must accommodate another person.

Dr. Noa Kageyama, author of the BULLETPROOF MUSICIAN, helps musicians create good practice habits. (Isn't it great how we can learn interesting and useful things from lots of different sources!) These are notes from an article on developing and demonstrating good practice, adapted for tango.

  1. Motive What personal reasons do you have for wanting to dance the Argentine tango?

  2. Time How much of your practice time is spent on actual practice? How can you set up your practice so that you can begin with only a moment's notice? Do you log your practices? Know how much practice time you actually spend.

  3. Make notes on discoveries and things to work on at the next practice.

  4. Method How many times do you practice a movement or sequence of moves? What method do you use to make sure you do sufficiently wide and deep practice? Do you do both disciplined as well as freestyle practice?

  5. Performance outcomes How do you monitor the results of your practice? Do you stop and think about errors, then repeat with a correction? Do you mentally sing along with the music? Important: do you periodically make a video of a practice and then review it, making notes for your next practice session?


We can have the best intentions, but life gets in the way. What can we do? Here are some ideas.

  1. Park the car away from your destination, then walk to it with tango quality. (Bonus. You’re more likely to find open spaces with plenty of room to park.)

  2. Whenever reaching for or replacing an item, do it with the arm furthest from it, using dissociation to twist toward it.

  3. Around the house or office, if your shoe soles and floor surface permit, use pivots when changing direction. For example, when walking from a hall to or from a room. You can use Dance Socks (or regular socks) over the front of sticky-sole shoes to make them usable for dancing on a wide range of surfaces.

  4. When standing (at your desk, waiting for the coffeemaker, printer or copier to finish, on the elevator), do exercises on one leg: boleos, lapices, enrosques.

  5. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Build lower-body strength.

  6. Set aside a regular practice time to work while playing just one tango song.

  7. Set a trigger. “Whenever X happens, I’m going to do Y.” For example, whenever you’re in a private space and tango comes to mind, do some moving. Even without special shoes or floor, we can always do side and forward/backward steps with a variety of dynamic and expressive qualities.


It’s not enough to “Just do it!” Yes, we’ve got to figure out what to practice and times and places to practice. To make our efforts really useful, we want to think about how we are doing it. We want to periodically record and review our practice, and log the things we’ve achieved and what we want to improve

By sharing these ideas with others, we strengthen our own commitment to practice.

In the Comments below, we’d love to hear your ideas or challenges you’d like help with.

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