Learning tango has been one of the most difficult learning endeavors I've undertaken. My post grad course of study was easier. It was however, not as fulfilling nor as fun. These are the experiences I've encountered during this long process. Some lessons I've applied to tango and other activities in my life.
Beginning to learn tango
Learning tango was a particularly painful learning process. When Mrs. Ampster and I first took up this beautifully intricate dance, we ended up in a lot of fights. We contested who was right, and who was wrong. We postulated on the creation and origins of tango. We practiced techniques which we weren't really sure of the proper execution.
If we weren't fighting we were struggling. My brain ached. My body was short-circuiting from muscle memory versus contravening synapse commands.
Too much training
The learning process lead to many peaks and troughs. We have learned so much, forgotten more, then re-learned again. The dance repertoire grew by leaps and bounds. Many an hour was spent perfecting and practicing balance, form, movement, placement, steps, patterns, figures, etc. etc. etc.
There is such a thing as too much training. In this case, the "Law of diminishing returns" apply. It states:
"... In a production system with fixed and variable inputs (say factory size and labor), beyond some point, each additional unit of the variable input yields smaller and smaller increases in output. Conversely, producing one more unit of output costs more and more in variable inputs."
What does this have to do with tango? In the context of social dancing in a milonga: The more stuff you learn, the less you get to use and apply on the milonga floor. How much of your learned repertoire can you (do you) actually, realistically use on the milonga floor? Master the basics.
If you watch the experienced dancers (who are worth watching), you'll find that if you observe often enough you'll find that what they do is repetitive. They've learned to do, what they do, really well. The variety happens with different partners at different tandas. The practice of switching partners makes the experience new and fresh.
Too many mind!
I heard that in a martial arts movie shot in Japan. It is a literal translation of what amounts to "Don't think too much."
The scene takes place when an apprentice is trying (in vain) to match his opponents. He fails, and gets beaten up every time. He gets up every time, then the result is the same. Failure, frustration, dejection, and shame. His master walks up and says "Too much mind..."
Heroic efforts can only go so much. Like the law of diminishing returns (above), this also happens to the mind. Too much thinking gets in the way of efficient execution... a.k.a. Analysis paralysis.
You need to be aware of the environment. Other dancers, the floor, tables, chairs, the music, musicality, line of dance, and your partner. That is enough to think about. Thinking about what you learned and how to do it will cause an overload and ruin the dance for you and your partner.
"Too many mind, upsets harmony."
Let go and let it happen
Knowing what you know, it is now time to stop thinking and analyzing! Forget it all.
Your training which concentrates on the physical aspects of tango has already been engrained into your sub-conscious—That if of course, if you've done your due diligence and learned your lessons well. It's called muscle memory. Your body will remember what you've practiced and perfected when called upon to do so. You don't have to vacillate over them.
Stop thinking about what to do. Remember? Too much mind!
Get on the floor, TRUST yourself. Let go of all your apprehensions. Let go of figuring out your steps. Let go of thinking of whose watching. Let go of your repertoire. Listen to the music, lead your partner well.
Let go and let it happen. You'd be surprised.