Learning to tango takes at least two people. It takes great instructors and proper instructional design (NO POWERPOINT DECKS). It takes learning the fundamentals, doing drills and engaging in deliberate practice. However, it also takes dancing. This may seem pretty obvious, but how many times have you been through training where it concludes before you ever actually applied what you have learned in the actual setting? I would guess your answer would be most, if not all, training.

In our trip to Buenos Aires, we signed up for lessons (training) to learn the steps. Our instructors fine tuned our technique, while masterfully hiding their laughter, to make us better (coaching). They played music in the dance studio and had us dance around the room while they two instructors also danced as a couple, so we could learn what it is like to deal with dance-floor congestion (simulation). All of this made us more confident, but it did not make us dancers.

So, want to REALLY learn how to tango? What do I mean when I say it takes a team? Take your rookie-selves to a milonga in the middle of the city at 11 pm and hop on the dance floor with locals.

Our instructors grabbed us a cab and headed to Milonga Malena Sunderland Club where the locals go. This is not a fancy affair built for tourists. It looks like if a gymnasium and a church had a child, this would be it. There were plastic tables, cheap tablecloths, liter bottles of beer and empanadas on each table. The ages ranged from 18 to 90, and all of them could dance–really well. This was to be our first experience.

It took a little while to have enough red wine, stop shaking, and stop worrying about destroying our country’s entire cultural reputation in public, but we eventually made our way to the dance floor. We loved every minute of it. We only danced for a few songs, but we were doing the tango (not well, but it counts). Each time, we got better. Well, maybe not better, but we felt better about it.

We looked up at one point and realized that we were attracting attention. People were smiling (not laughing). They were encouraging the only Americans in the room, which was pretty obvious with our tango ability, to keep doing it. That is when I realized that the TEAM was composed of the other dancers and spectators. We did not want to ruin their experience by messing up the rotation or bumping into their 90 year grandmother who is tearing up the dance floor better than we were. The team was not just us and our instructors. It was everyone around us encouraging us AND challenging us to do better.

Our instructors leaned in at 12:30 a.m. and asked, “Want to go to another one?” Obviously influenced by Malbec and not enough empanadas, we said, “YES!”

This story went on until about 2:30 a.m. We were not great dancers by the end of the night. However, we had made stunning progress. Why?

  • Setting a process goal: we will take lessons, practice, simulate, and go dancing at multiple milongas in order to learn how to tango
  • Hire great instructor/coaches who knew how to do great instructional design
  • Simulate the real thing
  • GET OUT THERE AND DO IT WITH A TEAM

What’s next for my adventurous girlfriend and I? More lessons and dancing. It is the only way to progress. However, without the four steps above, we would have never danced and would never in the future.

If your training results are substandard, perhaps the problem is not just your content. It might be how you are training, coaching, and leading. Plan, Prepare, Practice, Perform. REPEAT.