Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Me, tango and it's teachers

During the dancing years, some aspects about my relation to tango and it's teachers have become visible. When I first time entered a milonga and saw how ages were mixed on the pista I was struck by the thought: T h i s  I could keep up for a long time! Today it seems that I had the rest of my life in mind.

Limited or lifetime in tango?

You maybe feel that you will stay just a few years in tango or you have a clearly limited goal then you could pay some extra attention to the choice of a teacher and the style. You maybe want quickly become a member of the local community in that case it is wise to follow the style and teachers for that group! Ask for advice, talk with people and stick to your plan - that teacher and those people!
Your goals will define your learning, direct your development until you reach the goal!

Another possibility is just to start in a way and place most comfortable for you. That was the choice I caught! By testing the possibilities I have found out what I like and what inspires me. A vast number of techniques and sequences will be available on that path!

A long stay itself will create pressure for change. New ways to dance will develop refreshing the old steps and give a new look to the pista. That learning will create a new edge for your personal expression in tango.
In other words, the learning will reveal to you your tango and develop it!

In both cases keep in mind that you need somehow check and monitor the technique to be ok for your body and mind.

The relationship to teacher's knowledge - apilado; in axis; colgada


apilado - no own balance, towards the teacher        

In the beginning I believed and learned everything my teachers told me and so did my classmates! I wonder now if anyone has skipped this mode? Usually we got just one version of a figure and it becomes the only, the only right way to do it. In other words we were leaning heavily towards our teacher and his/her ideas, knowledge. One common consequence of this was that the alternatives we saw around us were all errors, signs of bad learning and unskilled teaching!
That period was the prime time for critics. When we watched the pista we repeated the technical details and tried to map the ochos in our mind to the variety of ochos performed in front of us. Some of them showed hardly any of the traits we had learned and kept in mind. We wondered if someone could educate those poor dancers!
The funniest story was told by a laughing follower who during her whole first year felt deep sorrow for a couple who had totally misunderstood the way how to dance tango. Could someone help them? Later on she learned the reason -  they were the absolute best canyengue dancers in our community! So different but still right.

in axis - solo, own balance                 

During the following years, I knew better what I liked and took more control over what kind of movements I wanted to include in my skills. I picked the suitable parts of the teachers' offerings and became aware of the choices others did, how different variations came alive. The deeper I came on this path the clearer it was that I will never again be able to find one teacher who totally responses to all my needs and goals. My future learning was more like finding the puzzle pieces a teacher could offer and it was my responsibility to fit them to the rest of my skills. All the different ideas about tango and the knowledge now built in my body became a platform to understand and manage my tango and tango life. I found my own balance in it all, I was in balance on my mental axis; not running around so much but staying where I belonged.

colgada - hanging out, away from the teacher

In spite of all learning this dance has it's secrets and some of them I have become aware of by coming across the opposite ideas. I call it for Colgada learning and it occurs when I disagree with the ideas and offerings a teacher or fellow dancers have.  It is not just that the stuff is not ok but it is not my thing.  This gives me the possibility to recognize the edges of my personal platform, opinions, and ideas. You test the offering but feel that it is nothing for you and develop instead a variation which will fit your milonga night. Now you also know more about where the others are, what they prefer and enjoy!

All these aspects have passed by and will be met again! It keeps me activated and maybe you also! 


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Why Achaval and Tangomeet for me?

Roxana and Sebastian have always been among my top favorite performers, but it was for a time ago when I decided to develop my enrosques - at last - I started to pay even more serious attention to them. I am dancing as a leader and Sebastian's skill and art of turning, his skill to coil his spine and body was mindblowing to me. I had found my high rising goal and it inspired me to work hard to get better, growing in that direction!


I started to save youtube clips for future homework and saved them in my online library to manage the growing collection. From these videos you get the form, the shape of a figure and if you pay attention and are working carefully you can perform them reasonably well after some time. I had earlier noticed that when I work on 20-30 figures of a specific teacher I could hit some basic principles in their style and many times that is enough, that is what I want to achieve. Though in this case I knew that there were deeper-lying details which I could not even imagine and therefore not develop on my own!


When Roxana and Sebastian visited the town giving workshops I was there for sure! They were very professional and had an unusual well build structure on the course material. They were also circulating around well but with that number of students what could they do? I was surprised that they managed to give us personal feedback so I could lead one of the figures with Roxana and my follower was lead by her too! But in these situations the whole room is filled with excitement so really deep learning is hardly possible.


My third try was an online course! During the closedown autumn I bought two sections of Sebastian and Roxana classes on Tangomeet and that has been the best thing I have done for my long-term learning. The content of the classes is put together with great care and understanding of what a student needs to know in order to reach the goal. Through the years I have become extremely sensitive to power unbalance between the teachers but here we have just a clear focus on the students and cooperation to help them forward. Both are seamlessly adding information and advice helping me to proceed! Systematic video watching is the core of my learning method and therefore I really need content that I can watch over and over again and after that repeat it once more!

Local teachers

To learn from youtube, DVD, an education channel or from visiting teachers is kind of unsynchronized learning and it is not enough for me. I need also local regular courses as well as privates to reach the dance I am looking for. I need to combine the INFORMATION on how to do things and the FEEDBACK how am I doing, how does it feel for a follower. When we are back to couple dancing and private lessons I will go to my local teachers for feedback about how comfortable my lead is and how to improve my performance so it will be comfortable for tandas in the future!

Some comments on the Tangomeet courses I work on

I have been working on enrosques earlier with other teachers but his section gave me the exact timing of the steps as well as other details. Grateful for that! The biggest surprise was though that this section gave me so much more to learn - boleos sacadas and other goodies!

The second group of courses included the baridas on a *second level*! At the first level I could stop the follower, do a barida and continue the dance. This I knew already! Here I learn to do the barida as a skillful cooperation/shared decoration during the flow of the dance. No stops anywhere and that is much more complicated than I thought!



Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The weights in a tango gym?

After getting to a certain level of dancing a private teacher told me that I should pick my partners with greater care and focus on the more skillful and highly ranked followers. The problem is that this is an advice for performing artists or teachers who need to build up a unique artistic air and iconic power to attract students to their events!
When a social dancer applies this on their cabeceo strategies s/he will easily end up on the top of the skill pyramid and cannot find partners anymore -  the number of suitable partners is growing low on this road. It is maybe ok for a performing teacher but a catastrophe for social dancers who need several enjoyable partners to fill the milonga night.
So it could be worth an effort to find an alternative mental model to better maintain a broad variety of attractive dance partners.

New image suggestion

I have heard some stories about leaders who through practicing with or teaching followers at widely varying skill levels have developed a firm but versatile lead. It is stable but still sensitive to the differences in the partners' movements and can be easily adapted to them.

A leader is challenged in different ways and in my mind there are similarities between a person practicing dance and a person training in a gym. A Personal Trainer teaches you a form, a correct way to do a move and follows up how you use the weights, how your strength develops. In the same way a tango teacher will guide you to find the right way to do a move and monitors your development. The weights in tango are the different qualities - length, weight, personal ability, skill level and so on - which come with the partner, challenging your form. Do you have the strength to keep your axis in the right position, to stay relaxed even when your partner is continuously challenging you?

How to proceed

When you are learning a new skill, a move, a sequence or technique you will most easily get it right with your teacher, or someone who knows it and is able to keep the correct form through the entire process.

Through practice you will learn to maintain the correct form  in spite of an insecure partner or a challenging partner performance - your technique will get stronger through the repetitions in situations when there is pressure on your form.

Think of how the muscles grow when you are repeating an action/form in a gym machine. You can maintain the correct position and proceed through the repetitions correctly and slowly adding more weights. I am convinced that this is a valid idea for a practica too! When your skill on a move grows you will be able to challenge the form by a variety of different partners.

If you always and only dance with top skilled partners your strength is not developing so much.  It is as challenging as if you choose 1kg weights at the gym! Compare it to what happens when you repeatedly take as heavy challenge as you can hardly manage?

But keep in mind! No pulling. No pushing. No squeezing. But soft, stable firmness and a correctly flowing pattern.

Pay attention!

You need though pay attention to your own level - start with light weights and dance with easy partners when developing a new skill. When the form has stabilized search for tougher situations, challenge your form. Can you keep it stable in spite of the pressure from a less skilled partner?

If I get pain in my back the challenge was too large, I need to revert to lower weights or a less challenging partner to maintain the correct form. Or I need to change the dance hold to lessen the stressor.


Your training with various partners will improve your existing skills and when you want to proceed you can do so more easily. At the start you need supporting and good partners but this image, this way of thinking opens up a broader group of potential dance partners and training partners later on. I have noticed that this has also had an impact on my enjoyment level and dance flows more smoothly with an earlier rough partner! When people accept partners with varying skill it will have a positive impact on the dance level and atmosphere at your  community too.

I have written this from a leader's point of view but it is well valid for the followers too! And when your skills grow you will pass the leader/follower period and reach the dancer/dancer situation when you create the shared dance as equal partners.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Focus on Students or Techniques?

A long time ago the students were assigned to different groups based on their assumed development levels. It was often a quite arduous situation for the instructors because the participants were eager to sign up on a course level above their actual skill. This forced the instructors to blend different teaching contents or take the pedagogical responsibility by advising the student to a correct course.

Later on the visiting teachers started to welcome students with different skills and experience to the same workshops and they developed pedagogy to address that situation. This praxis changed the earlier student-focused approach to a technique centered one. The course requirements were presented as moves you need to know and manage if you wanted easily follow the workshop. Some teachers open up the door some more by stating that if you are for challenges then you are always welcome!

There are still occasions where the course description focuses on the student level, especially at the entry courses where the word Beginner is used. For me it works like a barrier keeping us old-time dancers away from those courses. But we oldtimers need to rebuild and refresh our tango technique and we need to do it more fashionable, up to date too.

But hey what has the word fashionable to do with tango? It is more a word for clothing but think about this! Think about a coat for example! The function of it is the same but the style is new for every other year, decade. If you stick to your old coat it looks more and more old-fashioned when times go by. The same for the tango moves! They need an update at least every 10 years!

When you are an experienced tango dancer who needs to update the moves and techniques the idea to enter a beginner class again can be an unpleasant one! So was it anyhow for me! It would have been much easier to sign onto a course where the FUNDAMENTAL techniques are presented, trained and refreshed. I was updating my skills and integrating the new material with the existing skills of a long-time dancer.

So organizers, schools and teachers update your offerings so they attract even us who need an update after many years of dancing!