Part 4: Overcome the Challenges of Practice

Updated: Sep 1, 2019

Source: Tomas Howlin | July 10, 2018

Photo by Casey Horner

Learning the technicalities of tango is exciting. During class, you hear the teacher describe optimal movements and you find the words stimulating. You see how her movements are precise and effortless, and it is inspiring. You think about the concepts, and you are taken with the thoughts they provoke in you. You are amazed that two bodies can move together so gracefully and in sync. This is one of the joys of going to class. Everything seems possible.

But when you try to repeat what you learned in class, it suddenly feels foreign. The level of detail you are exposed to in classes can be hard to assimilate. You hear and see the teacher explain and move, but you cannot find a way to reproduce it yourself.

This is the moment when practice begins. Practice will complement and support what you learn in class. Practice helps you absorb the class material, it allows you to make sense of the moves and concepts. It gives you the time and space to fully integrate all the information.

While practice will helps you learn faster, it demands your trust and effort and comes with its own set of challenges.


Yes, practice has a slower pace than classes. Practice can feel arduous, even futile, whereas classes can feel like a fast-track to learning. When teachers share lots of new steps, it feels like you are advancing, but this is a misperception. It is an illusion of progress. People usually forget 90% of what they learn in any given class within 30 days, and most of this forgetting occurs within the first few hours. True progress begins after class, when you practice and assimilate those new steps.

“Practice helps you integrate new material by changing the speed of your learning process.”

Practice helps you integrate new material by changing the speed of your learning process. Slowing it down changes how you feel, see, and process detail. It is what allows you to integrate class material into your body.

When you practice and time slows down, the advances you make are more granular, conscious, and reliable. You also allow yourself the time to make what you learned your own, and this feels slower than learning it in the first place. However, this process is crucial for your growth. Appreciate the value of the deceleration that practice offers you.


How do you find the right practice objective? How do you know if you are practicing the right thing? These are both common questions that people who practice ask themselves.

When you don’t have a good practice objective, practice feels more confusing than clarifying. To help you with this here are two things you can do:

1. Ask your current teacher for a practice objective that fits your experience.

2. Choose a practice objective from what you have learned in class. As you go over the class material, find an exercise that your teacher emphasized. There is always a valuable practice objective hiding in each exercise teachers present in class. Use that exercise as your practice objective. Once you believe you have it, ask your teacher to make sure you got it right.

Having a clear and actionable practice objective is crucial for you to succeed at this stage. This permits you to remain clear about what you are trying to achieve during practice.

For more information on practice objectives, read my previous article.


Practice is repetitive and predictable, and that can make it feel dull. To keep your interest piqued, try to transform your boredom through curiosity.

“Conscious reiterative movement is the key to mastering skills.”

Your practice session is repetitive because conscious reiterative movement is the key to mastering skills. It also increases confidence and strengthens connections in the brain and the body. Conscious repetition reveals new and deeper levels of sensitivity. Knowing this, turn your attention to what is arising and how. By looking for these details, you engage your curiosity and learn to capture and treasure that new information.

I will dedicate the last article to one single challenge: how to fit practice into your daily schedule.

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