Tag Archives: Learning

Watered-Down

A recent comment on “How We Teach and Promote Argentine Tango” and a recent email seeking to organize a milonga (in the “Nuevo” style) brought us to the realization that far too many people want to water-down or dumb-down Argentine Tango. Tango is perfect the way it is! Why must it be radically changed?

We treat our students like mature and evolved beings. We trust that they will love Argentine Tango music (the Golden Era stuff). We trust that they will love the dance without all the showy moves. We trust that they will love a chest-to-chest embrace and will not be embarrassed by it. We trust that Argentine Tango is special enough without all the fluffy extras.

It is our job as teachers to educate our students. And so, we educate our students about the codes, the music, and the dance. It frustrates us when people feel the need to organize fusion events or play alternative music so the “young people” will like it and have a “fun” time. There is an assumption made that young people can’t possibly appreciate the complex music of the Golden Era Tango orchestras. We don’t make that assumption and we teach a predominantly young student base at the University of Toronto Argentine Tango Club. They don’t ask for alternative music or salsa intermissions because we have guided our students to love Tango the way it is. This is comparable to avoiding bringing your children to McDonald’s for the first time. Although they may like it, it doesn’t mean it’s good for them or that they should have it.

McDonald’s Water Tower

As an aside, we also find it quite frustrating that many dancers try to segregate among age-groups in Tango. We have been rallied numerous times to give our support to events that our youth-focused (which will end up excluding the “older” crowd). Why would we do this when the majority of our favourite dancers are among that crowd? This is another way we educate our students; we inspire them to seek the best embrace among all ages and not their BFF among their age-group.


Perfection

We wrote this a while back when there seemed to be a shared Tango consciousness regarding great teachers having or lacking the ability to be star dancers and star dancers having or lacking the ability to be great teachers…

Mark at Tango Beat wrote, “Great performers in every art discipline are not necessarily the best teachers. Is tango the exception?” He makes a valid point and we have had the experience of learning tango from dancers who seemed to dance well, but couldn’t teach to save their lives. However, we have also been fortunate enough to have as our maestro, Andres Laza Moreno, who has the “wide spectrum of talent” that Mark speaks of. Andres is both an incredible teacher and a phenomenal dancer.

Meanwhile, Bora wrote, “People’s tolerance for your mistakes goes down when you enter the ‘experts’ circle.’ After all, who will want to learn from you or see you dance if you fail to live up to the occasion, even if it’s during a social dance at a milonga?” Although we understand and partially agree with this comment, it depresses us tremendously. We’ve witnessed performers flexing almost every muscle in their body in order to avoid making a single mistake. Yet those with an eye for it, can see all the “mistakes” happening underneath this guise. They’re only fooling those very people who don’t want to learn from people who aren’t “perfect”! It is satisfying and oh-so-real to see the Tango greats make mistakes and own them! THAT is real Tango; as is understanding that there are no mistakes in Tango; there are only miscommunications.

Thankfully, there are those who understand and have said that a good dancer does not necessarily make a good teacher, and a good teacher does not necessarily make a good dancer. Nor does that need to be the case. THANK YOU. The old adage “do as I say and not as I do” fits nicely here.

The two of us do not need to dance like Sebastian Achaval or Ricardo Vidort in order to be great teachers. And at least we have the wherewithal to know that we are not even in the same realm as some of those great dancers (although that doesn’t seem to be the case with most teachers)!  We can, however, still be excellent and lovely dancers with an ability to teach the most “advanced” dancers in our community… without being perfect or being perfect technicians. In fact, we have been told and reminded that Tango should NOT be perfect and it is during those times of “imperfection” that Tango can enter your dance (Gracias, Javier). That little comment is a Tango-jewel. It’s something we treasure and pass on whenever we get the chance.

Finally, back in our ballroom days, our teacher and coach (a National champion) told us that you don’t need to be a champion or among the best dancers to be an incredible teacher. Some people need to seriously reconsider why they think they need to learn from the “best” dancer who teaches in the world when they’re unlikely to ever dance better than the “worst” dancer who teaches in their community. We’re not saying this to limit anyone’s potential, but rather to encourage students to seek out the best teachers (especially in their own hometown) instead of only those they THINK are the best dancers.


What Makes a Good (Tango) Student?

Taking Gabriel Missé’s workshops allowed us to make some observations about ourselves in the role of student.  We compared these observations to our own students, as well as to students we’ve seen in other teachers’ classes. This is what we realized:

When we take someone’s class, it means we’re there to respect the teacher. We become blank slates, we believe the teacher knows best, and we do as we’re asked. We push ourselves hard. We listen while the teacher speaks. And we ONLY work on what a teacher has asked us to work on. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons why after almost 4 hours of lessons with Gabriel Missé and Analía Centurión, we were (more or less) dancing in their style and using their technique. That’s not a pat on our backs. Rather, it’s a thought to you, the reader, to ask yourself what you do to better your dance when:

A) You struggle with body awareness

This isn’t an insult.  This is a fact for many people. You are struggling with body awareness when you are constantly being given the same corrections from every teacher you take a lesson from (or even from one single teacher). In the same way you might work on technique, body awareness is a skill that needs to be developed and (re)learned.

B) You learn from many different teachers

There is an issue when specific techniques you use come from different teachers and you are not working on only one specific set of techniques. Mixing and matching is dangerous in Tango. Every teacher you take a class from will try to correct the other teacher’s technique you have (unless their focus in on figures/sequences or they have a complete lack of desire to see your dance improve). With that said, we have observed teachers who choose to avoid “wasting” their energy on a student until they see that the student has a genuine interest in learning from them.

C) You believe you are the best judge of your Tango.

Do you argue with the teacher?  When a teacher asks you to do something, do you say, “I am doing that!” or “I can’t!”? Do you claim to prefer doing something a certain way? If you answer “yes” to any of these, then you believe you know best and we believe this will hinder your ability to improve.


Tango is found in the embrace… not in the fancy footwork

Although a strange way to begin anew… A posting of the following comment on our Facebook generated so much positive feedback that we decided to make it our “first” post.

“…like all learning, the early years of tango are crucial. And the early years of tango are often a sea of unknowing. We don’t know what tango really is, we don’t know the music, we don’t know what constitutes a good leader, we don’t know about different styles of tango, we don’t know whether a tango teacher is any good. We bounce like a demented ping-pong ball from teacher to teacher, from leader to leader, from close embrace to open hold, from milonga to milonga from country to country seeking enlightenment without knowing what it is we really need to know. And our eyes beguile us and we fall in love with followers who dazzle us with gorgeous footwork and foolishly believe that our goal is to mirror their tricks and look exquisite and be able to perform at will with anyone and dance to any music. And at the end of all our seeking, and if we’re very lucky, we begin to understand that no, that’s not it all. That there is a still, soundless, timeless, eternal centre to this dance and that the way to this centre is through the embrace. And that, above all else, our own part in the embrace is where our focus needs to be.”

Lynn’s comment on Melina’s post


Too Much Talking

The most important aspects of Tango were learned while listening, not while dancing.

A common complaint from Tango students around the world seems to be this: “There was too much talking and not enough dancing.”  During group lessons and private lessons, people just want to dance.  We get it.  However, we also think it’s safe to say that the same people who complain about too much talking are also the same people who are fixated on steps.

The most important aspects of Tango were learned while listening, not while dancing.

Graciela Gonzalez teaches an incredible workshop for LEADERS.  She is well known for her workshop for followers, but the one for leaders is quite special.  There are opportunities to practice the concepts taught, but it is the explanation of these concepts (hence a lot of talking) that are the most important.

Our most dramatic Tango-changing moments happened when teachers in Buenos Aires were TALKING and explaining the concepts, history, or culture of Tango to us.  That’s not to say changes didn’t occur while dancing and practicing, but the biggest changes… those happened while LISTENING. Unfortunately, people see classes as the only place to practice.  Instead students should learn/understand the concepts (listening), try the concepts (a bit of practicing), practice the concepts (in a practica), and finally embody those concepts (in a milonga).


STICK YOUR BUTT OUT – Part II

Now that we got your attention with the last post, we can add some clarifications.  The phrase “stick your butt out” was used only because it is the most used comment to refer to women whose butts APPEAR to be sticking out.  We never learned, nor do we teach, women to stick their butts out.  What we learned, and it was from MEN (we never learned from Andrea Misse, but we can guarantee you she does not teach women to “stick out their butts” either), was the concept of pulling your hips back.  There is a HUGE difference between the two.  If you stick out your butt out, you generally lean forward and bring your chest downward.  You are also arching your back if you have managed to keep your chest upright.  However, if you pull your hips back (and maintain your chest position), your back does not arch or collapse.  This is the way women can create space “downstairs” so that there is space for the legs and they can eliminate the incidence of chipped toenails and self-mutilation (often happening during plain old walking, crosses, ochos, and adornments).

Take a look at “everyone’s” favourite dancer and you will see that Geraldine is doing it too:

We’re not telling you blog readers what to do or believe.  But we are sharing a major gem with you – a gem that comes from women taking control of their dance and allowing Tango to evolve slightly.  Since learning this (along with a few other concepts that will be shared in future posts) and applying it, K now owns her axis, her balance, and her dance.


STICK YOUR BUTT OUT

That’s right.  You heard it here first.  Stick it out!

Often when discussing the Nuevo vs Traditional debate, we hear that Nuevo is an “evolution” of Argentine Tango.  We have already made it clear that we do not agree.  Nuevo took the concepts of Argentine Tango and CHANGED it.  CHANGE being the operative word and hence leading to the idea that Nuevo is a separate dance and not to be mistaken for A.T.

Anyway, this is not the point of this post.  What we want to talk about is the EVOLUTION of Argentine Tango; the very little of it that we’ve seen and come to understand as Tango dancers and lifelong dancers.

STICK YOUR BUTT OUT

Throughout our readings of blog posts and websites, we’ve often heard how women should NOT stick out their butts when they dance.  We’ve heard that women should stand straight with their pelvises directly under them – their backs should be so straight that they may even come into tummy contact with the man.  We do believe that this once was the expectation for women and yes, you can see it in many videos of the milongueras.  Take a look at this one and pay particular attention starting at 1minute 11 seconds where you’ll see Adela’s shoulders actually surpassing her back and butt:

We do want to clarify that we love the dancing in this video.  We are only trying to point out what we are talking about.

One of the ways Tango has evolved is the role that women play in the Tango partnership.  Although we understand that Tango has always involved the man taking care of and showcasing the woman, older videos seem to tell a different story.  It’s not that the woman wasn’t showcased or held dear, but rather that the man was the one who really knew how to dance and the woman was a by-product of the tango partnership.  Where there exceptions?  Of course.  Was it a rarity?  Absolutely.

If it is so that men practiced with men, what about the women?  The level of dance for women, it seems, was not expected to be very high.  This doesn’t mean women couldn’t dance extremely well, but there was little focus on her technique.

Oh no.  That “evil” word: TECHNIQUE.  Technique, in our books, does not entail learning how to do adornments or “performing” with your legs.  Instead, technique provides different methods to ensure your body feels comfortable, is properly aligned for the dance, and as a cherry on top, looks good.

When women decided to take control of their role in the Tango partnership, this is when we believe Tango EVOLVED.  If a woman is interested in being on her own feet, maintaining her own axis, and providing space for the dance, then a woman will “stick out her butt”.  On a purely physical level, women have pelvises that naturally tilt in a position that causes their behinds to stick out slightly.  Secondly, putting this type of pelvic-tilting body onto a pair of high heels will create an increased tilt.  Therefore, asking a woman to flatten her back/behind is in fact asking her to do something completely unnatural for her body in that situation (if her body is “naturally” aligned to begin with – and many bodies are not “naturally” aligned).

So what does it mean to “stick out one’s butt”?  It does NOT mean arching your back or tilting your pelvis more than it naturally tilts.  What it does mean is pulling your hips back over your ankles so that the line from your hips to your ankles is perpendicular with the ground.  How else can a woman expect to maintain her own axis if this line is slanted towards her partner?

This idea was a huge “AHA” moment for K in Buenos Aires and combined with two other concepts (to follow) were groundbreaking for her.  To give you a hint, there are four concepts that most tangueras are taught which were all proven to be wrong for K in Buenos Aires.  The first one: don’t stick out your butt.  The second one: put your weight forward on the balls of your feet.  The third one: collect your feet/knees/thighs.  The fourth one: don’t move your hips.  All four… WRONG.  Or in other words: not beneficial to one’s dance if what you are seeking is a comfortable and efficient Tango.

Stay tuned…