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.

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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!