Sunday, October 28, 2012

What's in your "Mojo Bag"?

The day before our October Q&A call for members of Tango Improvisation Mastery (TIM) online home study program and coaching club, I received a wonderful question from one of our European members who couldn’t attend. He wrote:

“Dear Helaine,

“I am an inexperienced tanguero reliant upon the generosity / tolerance / kindness of the experienced tanguera who could dance with an experienced tanguero instead of me.  I am aware that experienced tangueras have to dance with inexperienced men in order to build the pool of potential dance partners, but even so, I appreciate that they have to exercise the discipline of support, tolerance, kindness etc.

“What can I give in my dance as a beginner so that the experienced tanguera has a dance experience which has an element of pleasure for her over and above the support which she is demonstrating by agreeing to dance with me?"

What a great question!

I responded that all he needs to make his more advanced partners’ tangos with him enjoyable is just what he’s been studying in depth in Section 1 of TIM, “Advanced Tango Fundamentals".  I advised him to keep these few elements in his “mojo bag” when he goes to a milonga.

So what’s a “mojo bag”?

As you know, my new business name is Tango Mojo, LLC.  Mojo comes from an African word for an amulet or charm that gave you your power!  Some Africans and African Americans used to keep their amulet, or several magical items, in a little cloth bag in their pocket. They called this special bag a “mojo bag”, or “mojo hand”. (For an excellent and comprehensive article about “mojo” and the “mojo bag” or “mojo hand”, including lyrics to songs about both men’s and women’s mojo, and particularly, a famous song recorded by Muddy Waters, visit
So when somebody says, “I lost my mojo!”, they may be thinking about their magical bag, ”Where did it go? I must have left it in the house . . . I can’t walk around without my mojo!” 

Here are the first 5 “magical items” I’d recommend that you always put in your mojo bag when you go to a milonga; I'd recommend that you don’t leave home without it!:
  1. Mastery of what I call "your Infinite Axis"; making sure you’re grounded with every step. Tango Improvisation Mastery members study this in great depth in the very first module of the TIM program. 

  2. Intention!  Powerful intention in your walk, which we cover in depth in TIM Module 2. 

  3. Pausing.  Listening carefully to the music and pausing at the end of a musical phrase of 8 counts.  We study pausing and musical phrasing in TIM Module 14, in Section 3, “Informed Tango Musicality”

  4. Speaking of pauses, put into your mojo bag Tango Tip #6 from my free e-course, 9 Surprising Tango Tips for Men. You can study in Tango Tip #6 my 16 suggestions to help you and your partner enjoy the greatest benefits from a pause. I call this practice “milking the pause”. :)  

  5. The “Secret Weapon” that I talk about in Module 4 and later in Module 6 of Tango Improvisation Mastery.  In a nutshell:  whenever you use a side step to begin a figure, create a pause at the end, making sure: 

    - you are fully relaxing your free leg,
    - you are very well grounded,
    - you allow your partner find her balance and feel grounded within your embrace,
    - and that she doesn’t feel rushed.  

Employing #5, the “Secret Weapon” in the first few moments of your tango will immediately gain you her trust. Take a little extra time at the end of your side step, and from there, if you walk her to the cross, use the same principle again:  when you arrive at the cross, get grounded yourself, wait till you’re sure she’s changed weight to her crossed left foot, and then don’t go, but linger in the cross, waiting till the end of the musical phrase!  “Lingering in the cross” is Part 2 of your “Secret Weapon”.  

I have just described a beautiful Regular Basic, one of the simplest things to do in tango that can give you a great “Return on Investment”. All you have to do is walk beautifully with strong intention, occasionally take your partner to the cross and wait there for the end of a musical phrase, and sprinkle in just a few other basic figures, you can do some very nice tangos that will make your partner smile.

Give your partner these simple considerations, and you’ll start to feel her snuggling up  to you.  You’ll begin to notice that she’s really enjoying herself.

Here’s an example from my own experience:

I attended a milonga in a city in Italy where I knew nobody, but this city was known for its good tango dancers. As usual when I arrive at a milonga, I sat there and watched for at least half an hour, trying to decide with whom I would like to dance, and whom I’d better avoid because they looked dangerous on the dance floor or uncomfortable to dance with. I picked out 5 men with whom I really wanted to dance that night.  And as I walked around the room later that evening to get a glass of water, I passed one of them, a young guy, and as we walked past each other I smiled a little bit and made eye contact - that’s one of my methods for breaking the ice, to let a man know that I’m approachable for a tanda.  Later on, he asked me to dance and he said, “But I’m just a beginner.”  

I told him, “You have such a beautiful walk, that you’re one of 5 men that I picked out that I want to dance with tonight!”  And while we were dancing with our faces touching, he felt me smiling, because his simple tango was such a pleasure.  If now, 5-6 years later, I had the opportunity to dance with the same tanguero, and if he still danced exactly as he had danced that night, I would still be smiling in his embrace. 

Mentioning how I felt in the young man’s embrace reminds me of another element that I forgot to mention to our tanguero who asked the question.  Here’s one more important tango essential to keep in your mojo bag:

6. A comfortable and secure embrace.  We cover this in depth in Tango  Improvisation Mastery module 19 of Section 4, the Intimate Dynamic Dialog, but here below in our “Tango Mojo Video of the Week” section, I’m adding a link to a bonus video in which I teach the man’s basics for a good tango embrace! 

Warning!:  To make sure you don’t break the magic spell you’ve conjured up in your mojo bag, remember to respect the ronda, or line of dance, and don’t cut across or wander around in the chaos of the center of the dance floor. Staying in the line of dance on the outside perimeter of the dance floor gives your partner who’s walking backwards a sense of well-being and safety, as well as a sense of harmony with the other dancers in the room. This is essential to gaining her trust so she can relax and enjoy your company on the dance floor!

So fill your mojo bag with these 6 elements to keep it in your pocket whenever you attend a milonga:  1) your axis, 2) your intention, 3) pauses - listening carefully to the music and pausing at the end of most musical phrases, 4) giving your pauses greater meaning, by applying some of my 16 suggestions in Tango Tip #6, 5) your “Secret Weapon”, including “Lingering in the cross”, and 6) a comfortable and secure tango embrace.  Focus on these simple things at every milonga, and you’ll be a pleasure to dance with, even for an advanced tanguera!

When you’re at the point where you feel confident that you’re an intermediate dancer, I’d add a 7th element to your mojo bag, “Shifting your attention off yourself and onto your partner - what separates the men from the boys”, the subject of Module 20 in Section 4, “Intimate Dynamic Dialog”.  This includes “mastering the woman’s axis”.  I don’t recommend focusing too much on this skill until you’ve mastered your own basics!  You can read more about it in my article on “Tango Adolescence and Manhood” at

Did anyone notice that I never mentioned mastering back sacadas for your mojo bag?  ;)

Let me hear from you!  I love hearing your thoughts, so please post your comments below!

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