Teaching and Learning Argentine Tango from a Different Perspective

We believe that everyone has to learn the same things, regardless of role.

In the last post I talked about the common expectations and perspectives that new students of tango have or are commonly exposed to, a perspective that focuses on steps and isolating “followers” and “leaders” technique, claiming that they have different learning curves.  This approach can often leave students frustrated and does not give them the opportunity in the beginning to feel the beautiful connection and expression that keeps us all coming back to the dance.

We believe, instead, that everyone has to learn the same things, regardless of role.  Steps are much less important than moving well, on axis, with a solid connection to the ground and a sensitive and communicative connection to your partner.  This approach allows the students, from a very early stage, to get glimpses of what it is all about, and gives them the tools to learn by understanding and exploring concepts, rather than compartmentalizing technique for specific steps or patterns.  The brief moments that they are able to experience, moving fluidly and in a connected way, is enough to keep everyone working hard for more.

Everyone is invested in the movement and the expression of it.

Because of our perspective, we decided that we didn’t want to teach steps in TangoLab.  We wanted leaders and followers to learn the most important skills at the same time, without differentiating between role-based techniques. We also decided to focus on connection and sensitivity in the embrace.  We wanted to teach the ideas that allow someone to find the steps on their own.

As we’ve changed our expectations of our students, they, too, have started to gain a different perspective of their learning process.  Unlike the more common perspective of teaching steps,  the leaders learn to value the ability to pivot beautifully with spiral energy and the followers understand their role in being solid, with good presence in the embrace, allowing them to have a voice from the very beginning.  Without having to overanalyze and compartmentalize a series of steps, students start to actively listen to the music and actually dance in it.  In this way, Tango isn’t like a car being driven by the leader, but instead, everyone is invested in the movement and the expression of it.

We created a revised list of skills to learn:

To illustrate this, in my previous post, I showed a table of what is commonly expected in the learning process of leaders and followers.  We would like to offer a different concept, that of initiators and responders, which are roles that are constantly interchanged through the dance.  With this in mind, we created a revised list of skills to learn:

Initiator and Responder

  1. Posture
  2. Grounding
  3. Intention
  4. Presence
  5. Sensitivity – Feeling your partner’s intention.
  6. Embrace
  7. Starting a movement
  8. Stopping a movement
  9. Changing direction
  10. Musicality

This list is a bit different than the last.  Although this list could be a check list, it is not. Rather, these things happen simultaneously.  There are no steps or navigation, either, since steps happen through exploration of movement.  Navigation is simply being polite, which isn’t something that needs special attention beyond learning how a ronda works.

You might also wonder why you don’t see common terms that refer to “followers technique”, like ochos and the molinette. We believe there is no such thing as “followers technique.” Alternately, there is just technique. A leader must be able to do everything that is considered “followers technique” and they must be able to do it very well, as a follower must learn “leaders technique”.

Movement becomes an idea, rather than a step.

A good example is pivots and turns, which, for us, is simply a part of the exploration of movement. We could specifically teach ochos or the molinette, but learning them can be done through discovery as we explore movement together within the embrace.  Ochos are a series of front or back pivots, this is a simple idea applied to a simple movement that has been given a name.  There is no technique required of ochos that is not also required of a pivot.  Instead of teaching a step because it has a name,  it is better to help the student learn to be on their axis, in the ground, using dynamic tension and their own spiral energy. When there is sensitivity and presence in the embrace, and the individual’s own body awareness, ochos happen when a pivot is immediately repeated, without too much analysis or compartmentalization of so called “ocho” technique.

As we begin thinking in this manner, movement becomes an idea, rather than a step. The concept behind the cross, for example, is much more versatile than the cross as a step.   Learning the concept allows endless exploration and discovery of a multitude of crosses–front, back, side, dark side, simultaneous, cross system, parallel system, delayed, fast, denied! These idea’s then apply to a multitude of other movements.  We find, then, that there is an endless value in learning to think about a concept, then exploring it.

These exercises in initiation and response slowly grow into actual steps and movement.

We also find that learning these movement concepts through guided discovery within the embrace is made much simpler by our TangoBreath practice. We teach individual movement in TangoBreath, which, when done well with subtlety in the embrace, are all that is required to explore walking, pivots, turns and much more.  In TangoLab, we only need to illustrate the corresponding individual movement from TangoBreath, and everyone is on the same page.

Every TangoLab starts with some very quiet and subtle initiation and response of movement.   We emphasize the key points of posture and visualizations that create grounding, presence, intention and communication and have exercises that demonstrate the extremes of these idea’s and how they feel.  All of these exercises reveal the fundamental ideas and technique needed to dance tango.

These exercises in initiation and response slowly grow into actual steps and movement, walking, turns, pivots.  But the emphasis is not on the steps. The emphasis is on posture and individual movement which initiates, or responds to, a partners movement within the music.  The dance comes, then, and we learn that it can exhilarating and simple at the same time.

The true essence of tango is much less elusive when we approach tango in this way.

Common expectations, misconceptions, and misguided persectives are causing many of us to teach and learn with the wrong emphasis, making it harder to learn than it already is. Opening our heart and mind to what tango is all about can result in a better way:  we learn to not be in such a hurry to learn moves, but to discover them, and we begin appreciating the learning experience as much as, or even more than, the outcome.

What we have seen in teaching from our perspective is that everyone learns how to be on their axis, solid in their movement, present and sensitive in their embrace.  Dancers learn the beauty of simple movement and how wonderful it can feel.  The beginning might be harder for everyone, but the true essence of tango is much less elusive when we approach tango in this way.  Because everyone is learning the same things,  everyone is thoroughly engaged in learning regardless of their ‘role’.  Development of a solid foundation of proper posture, and movement, presence and embrace, is paving the way for more complex ideas and concepts while keeping the core values of tango in the forefront.

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