How I teach
As a teacher I believe that it is very important to choose our words wisely as they can have a profound effect upon our students. My methodology relies heavily on somatic techniques along with visual and kinesthetic mental imagery to guide my students to self discovery of tango alignment and movement.
Tango alignment and movement is, at its foundation, very simple. There are only a few directions to move, the obvious are, forward, back and side, and in a linear or circular fashion. There are a set principles which underly those movements which allow for communication and exchange of movement within the embrace with our partner. These principles open pandoras box to reveal that there are many other movements available, but all of them are easily derived from the fundamental principles of movement. The key is to be attentive, in order to sense the connection through us and between us so that we may understand the initiation of movement and follow it where it goes.
It is very important for students to develop their mind and body awareness.
In my classes Breath is used to connect mind and body, induce a relaxed and attentive state where movement is done with attention. It is also a source of initiation. This then leads to sensing the environment around us, to be fully present in the moment and brings attention to our exteroceptive systems, vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Connection is the sense of our connection in the music, to the floor and our partner, but also the connection of those forces within our bodies, and our ability to resist, yield and amplify the energy moving through us. Initiation is the ability to focus on the source of a movement and how that movement progresses through the body.
All of this to say, that I teach tango with a variety of techniques to increase student awareness of themselves, how movement begins and moves through them and their partner, as well as sensing everything around them. We dance in the present moment, we must practice there also.
The goals are to understand how movement initiates and moves through our bodies through the embrace and through our partners. Sensing how movement flows through ourselves and our partners enables a point of view where we can see that tango is an exchange of energy which flows through both dancers as a flow of movement.
If done properly our energy and movement enables communication in the embrace in such a way that after some practice, we can forget about the how and simply use it to express ourselves in the dance, to the music, with our partners.
Following these ideas, I combine somatic exercises and imagery to guide my students to their personal awareness of tango alignment and movement. It is very important that students learn the principles and concepts at the foundation of tango movement by discovering how it feels and works within their perception of their bodies. I do not teach steps, I teach how to move, how to sense, and how to efficiently manage and shape the movement of the dance as it moves through their bodies.
With the development of the students awareness of their proprioception also comes an ability to distill the gross movements of tango into their energetic forms which are the initiators for movement. These distilled movements are frequently imperceptable to the eye, but bring with them a great amount of force which can be modulated to initiate tango movement in the embrace with a partner.
Over a short time I reveal the entire envelope of tango movement through a process which alternates between somatic exercises and visualisations to entice healthy and fully aware tango movement which we practice continually with breath, in a vinyasa.
The biggest challenge to learning tango is not tango. It is the unhealthy posture and movement we have practiced every day of our lives. To overcome that we must learn to practice tango every moment of every day of our lives.
There are, really 3 classes, and homework.
- The introduction - in which we learn the vinyasa and how it works with a partner over time.
- The vinyasa - where we work hard for an hour doing the vinyasa
- The partner class - where we learn to explore how it all works with each other.
The introduction: Tango from scratch series - All levels
I sometimes teach a series of classes from scratch. Some people might call this a beginners series. But even advanced dancers enjoy them and traditionally I have always let my students come for free after the second time through.
This class is usually 6-8 classes which break down each segment of the vinyasa. I sometimes give this as a 1.5 or 2 hour class, For the first 2 or 3 classes the first hour slowly fills up with the vinyasa. The rest of the time is used for exploration with a partner. This section of the class explores the partnership of the dance, giving the experience of the application of mindfulness and movement in the embrace.
By the end of 6 to 8 classes all the usual named tango movements will have been covered in various ways, including sacadas and how to find them. At this point everyone is a beginner, but capable of dancing tango.
In the beginning it is difficult to do an entire vinyasa class. In this format the first two or three vinyasa classes move more slowly in order to introduce mindfulness and the concepts which underlie the movements. After this stage, the vinyasa is more or less complete, but will continue to expand and will always fit within it’s hour.
It usually takes 2-3 hours with space in-between before comprehension of the vinyasa is good enough to just do the vinyasa from beginning to end. Realizing also, that is just the beginning, It takes many hours of practice to become proficient at being mindful, moving well, and also being empty of the how.
This is a class which uses breath and mental imagery to bring focus and awareness. It feels in many ways like a class of Tai Chi. It is not like a typical dance class. It is very much centered on awareness with slow intentional movement. If you have ever practiced yoga or a meditative martial art, this class may seem similar, and like those practices, this practice may also build a substantial amount of chi energy in the room.
The basic class covers the entire envelope of tango movement in one hour. Over time, as students improve, more concepts and their corresponding movements are incorporated. After some experience is built the classes will change in various ways to introduce variations and more difficult combinations of movement.
The goals of this class are:
- Learn how mindfulness and focusing awareness create the space we dance within.
- Understand the fundamental principles and concepts of tango movement, become aware of how they feel in your body.
- Learn how to practice the entire envelope of tango movement
- Learn the entire envelope of tango movement such that moving in these ways no longer requires thought.
This is a demanding class for advanced dancers and beginners alike, but it a class you will appreciate. Everything I teach is based on the principles and concepts you will learn and master in this class.
The Partner class
This class is a partner class which always begins simply, very much like the vinyasa, with a focus on breath and awareness within the embrace. The class begins and ends with exercises which connect and develop our sense of awareness and movement with our partners using the same imagery, and movements practiced individually in the vinyasa. These exercises build slowly into taking steps and creating more complex movement as the class progresses. The emphasis is on awareness and intentional movement, which leads to the discovery of how we interact in the dance and how the forces of movement flow between us. This class will feel very much like a tango class you might have anywhere, doing exercises with your partner to discover new combinations of movement which fit in the music.
The goals of this class are:
- Learn how mindfulness sets the stage for being in the moment, with your partner and the music.
- Learn to be aware of your partner, to sense their axis and the directions of their movement and potential movement.
- Sense how initiating potential movement flows through your body and through your partner’s.
- Learn how to create and destroy energy (potential movement) with your partner.
- See a movement as a creation and release of energy which flows through us as movement.
- Learn to receive, reshape and resend movement through the embrace with your partner.
- Learn the principles of creating tango movements which create the dance.
For those accustomed to a usual tango class description, I would say that these classes teach all of the usual named movements you would expect. They sometimes have catchy names as you would expect for a weekend of classes.
These are just a variation of the partner classes. These classes also begin slowly, usually with a stronger theme of how a movement feels. In other words musicality. While the other classes will always have some techniques of musicality, these classes generally focus on one or two songs which have a certain feeling to them. We explore the various ways of expressing that music within our movement. This is where we can grow into our personal dance through an exploration of musical ideas and expression. It’s not the step, It’s how you step. When and how you leave, and when and how you arrive.
Homework in this case, usually comes in the form of a challenge. These are small things that no-one should mind too much. Like taking a deep breath and doing a body/posture scan when you stand up from a chair. Or finding the ground and centering your mind before starting out on a walk. Taking a small break and devoting that time mindfully and lovingly to yourself. Our time is the most precious thing we possess.
What to expect
My hope is that these mindful movement practices will invade your life. That they will become a part of you. You will practice a small meditation many times a day, you will pivot beautifully and automatically while navigating the grocery store. You will play with your axis and posture while standing in line. You will give devotion and compassion to yourself and those around you. That you will experience all of this many times in everyday. That you will stand tall, and be energetically present in all that you do.
In the class.
For the vinyasa I like for my students to wear socks, ballet shoes, or something very thin which allows you to feel the floor. The vinyasa is very demanding when wearing high heels, and for men, the tango shoes can reduce the sensation of the floor significantly.
That said, I have done it in heels as have many of my students. I don’t recommend it until you are content with your ability to do the vinyasa in socks, or practice shoes.
I teach with patience. I hope you will learn with patience. Each class will awaken more self awareness and understanding. My wish is to coax you on to the path of understanding through self discovery rather than tell you to do something just like this! If you come to an understanding of the principles and concepts of how to move, and you know what they feel like for you, then there is nothing you can’t do.
All that said, It usually doesn’t take all that long to get a reasonable foundation started.
If you have a problem, I will likely ask you things which will help you explore that problem and find an answer rather than telling you what I think it might be. This will help to develop your sense of proprioception which will be a necessary tool for your future growth.
I won’t lie. This is work. But it’s just work, and you’ll probably enjoy it. With each class you will improve, and that is very satisfying. In a few months you will understand that tango is a journey, but you will be off to a good start. You will have good understanding of the principles and concepts which underly tango alignment, movement and communication and will have ability to think critically about the dance, what you see in the dance, and what you might be taught about the dance. In other words you will be well equiped to forge ahead on your journey with tango.
Experienced cross-over dancers
If you are new to tango, but not to dance, The most difficult challenge might be breaking old habits. If you come from some formal background of ballet or modern dance you will likely feel very comfortable with my teaching.
Experienced tango dancers
Depending on your posture and habits, these can be very difficult classes. Or they can be very enjoyable. They will be difficult for everyone in some way. And there will likely be a few things that will make you think. It’s best to approach these classes with a fresh open mind and intention.
For teachers there is a wealth of techniques here. The somatic exercises combined with the mental imagery are great tools to convey posture and movement to students without telling them what to do exactly with words which often do not work. As teachers we should always be looking for another point of view, another way to coax our students into tango dancers. My teaching is very personal to me, so I am likely to have some thought or idea or way of saying something that might surprise you. Ultimately, I think you will enjoy my classes, they are great practice and they can be a lot of fun. Maybe you will decide to start a TangoBreath vinyasa class for your community.