Don’t just practice, practice all the time
Whenever you are not sitting in a chair or lying in bed, you can be practicing tango. Take every step with awareness of moving correctly onto the new base. Whenever you are waiting for the bus or train, or standing in line, work on your balance. If you have enough space around you, you can work on projecting into forward, back, and side steps. Practice voleos/ganchos, making sure to use co-contraction, relaxing all the muscles of the free leg, and opening from the hip. Actually you can practice while you’re sitting and lying down too. Athletes and ballerinas return to peak performance faster if they visualize/practice in their minds while recovering from injuries.
Use your mirror neurons
Your brain is wired up to master movements from watching other people. Watch videos of the maestros. When you find someone you like, watch them over and over. Absorb how they move and then imagine their dance in your mind when you are dancing. I’ve done moves that I had no intention to do and had never tried or practiced, just because I had absorbed the gesture through watching. (Likewise, avert your eyes from people who don’t look good, lest you pick up their habits. I’ve picked up bad habits inadvertently just by watching people dance at milongas.)
Take notes and use them
Writing notes is an important part of the learning process. Reading, annotating, and rewriting your notes regularly will also help you learn. Your notes can be words, pictures, or made-up names for sequences, whatever works for you as long as you have some kind of circle going on between dancing and notes.
If you’re leaving class unsure of what to write down, you’re not receiving clear instruction. If you are just watching and not getting clear instruction, you can get that from world class dancers on youtube for free.
You should always be clear about the three most important things that need improvement in your dance. Insist that your teacher give you personalized and prioritized improvement instructions.
Don’t dance habitually
Repeating your habits over and over kills your power as a dancer. You need to be reaching artistically to a new place, whether it’s acquiring a new skill, or learning how to go deeper into the music.
Preparing to go to a milonga should include a plan for what you are going to work on: Check your notes and choose just one thing you are going to gain mastery over tonight. For followers, it’s usually something very small, like projecting from the psoas – and it will take weeks to make this new technique habitual. For a leader, sometimes it will be a technique correction like projecting into your back step, sometimes it will be a new move, sometimes it will be an improvement to your musicality to increase your dynamic range.
If you need some tips, check my free technique posts.
Listen to tango music while transporting
If you dance socially, you need to develop a feeling for all of the tango music, not just the stuff you like. Get a big collection of music and listen to all of it, as much as possible in your car or on headphones while walking and taking public transport. Your body will learn all the little sweetnesses in these songs, so that you will start to use them in your dance without even intending to. You may want to also learn the composers’, song names, lyrics, and styles, but the most important thing is feeling the music in your body.