Category Archives: Lessons

Lessons plans, lesson handouts, lesson reviews, lesson feedback

Tango Tribe classes begin

Tango Tribe Classes
Tuesdays, 8:30-9:30 pm
Balance Dance Studios, 4544 South Lamar Blvd, Austin TX 78745
At Studio #1 in Building 200.

FREE through the end of 2015!
A no obligation way to experience the Tango Tribe way of learning beginning Argentine tango and improvisation.

Intended for beginners new to dance, experienced dancers new to Argentine tango, experienced tango dancers wanting to learn or practice the other role, and experienced tango dancers who want to help others learn while working on their own creativity through guided exercises.

= Tango Tribe principles =

+ Music has a spiritual impact on our physical bodies, meaning something different to everyone who experiences it.
+ Connection to another person in dance has a spiritual and physical impact on our well being.
+ Anyone, regardless of mental or physical ability, deserves the opportunity and has the ability to participate in a meaningful way in dance.
+ We learn best when we share our learning with others.
+ Argentine tango is one of many dances and activities with these benefits, and a rich resource for a lifelong exploration and development of these benefits.
+ We beneficially learn Argentine tango in a natural, functional movement way.
+ We have many ways of enriching our creative experience of the dance, including response to the music, connection to our partner, connection to the couples around us, style, inventive movements, and combinations of these and more.


I feel elated, excited, and a tad nervous to be kicking off weekly Tango Tribe classes. There were a couple of false starts (the Austin Men’s Tango Practice Group, which morphed into Austin Tango Lab on Facebook; and the community education class that didn’t make), and I’m certain that just as with my Argentine tango dancing, I have a world to learn about how to do this to the best of my ability, and how to create a rich experience of connection with my dance partners and with my learning partners.

I feel that beginner classes–in any field–can be the most difficult and the most important to do well. The beginner class takes persons with potentially zero experience in the terminology and physiology, the movement, and the appreciation for the movement, the music, the connections, the codes… Takes them from there to setting a direction and tone for their future development as dancers and as valuable members of our tango tribe.

I take this responsibility seriously, and I commit to every effort to do it well.

Grounded exercises

Aside from couch potatoes and astronauts, being grounded – well rooted by gravity, stable and in balance – serves pretty much all of us throughout our daily life. Being well grounded is a vitally important skill for Argentine tango dancers, and it’s a skill that will serve a person well in all aspects of their lives, through their life. Being a skill, it is a capability that can be trained, exercised, and developed.

Here are some general purpose and dance specific exercises that I’ve used for developing the skill to have a strong, stable base when standing still or moving on the dance floor. See if any of them resonate with you, and which ones you can easily fit into your daily activities.

  1. Do a lot of standing on one foot at a time. But not like a stork! With both feet on the floor, heels close to each other, feet angled comfortably away from each other, this forms a triangle, a highly stable base. Even when we commit our weight fully to one foot, if we keep a long leg by not allowing the hip to drop, we can keep both feet fully on the floor, even though only one has the weight. The unweighted one can still serve to help with balance.
  2. A useful exercise for this is to stand on one leg and do let the hip on the unweighted side drop down, then lift it up above horizontal, then play with it up and down, above and below horizontal, to develop a sense of where horizontal is?, all the while observing what is going on elsewhere in your body.

  3. Do a lot of natural walking, outside (safely!) where you can walk with ease both forwards and backwards. Add variety: of surfaces, size of step, speed of step. Part of your safety is in fully feeling the landing of each step to know that it is secure before you move your weight over it.
  4. Some tango instruction, particularly beginner instruction that focuses on style, can unintentionally pervert the idea of natural walking, plus, walking while you have someone immediately facing you doesn’t help matters. But now think about how babies learn to walk? They hoist themselves up to standing with the aid of furniture. If they overbalance to the rear, where they have only the small foot projection of the heel, they fall on their bottom. But they discover that when they overbalance to the front, and the body automatically acts to try to catch itself, and succeeds, then they soon start smoothing out this fall-catch sequence.
  5. Stop yourself at the moment of the fall-catch, and scan your body configuration. Bent joints and toned muscles in the catching leg. A long line with only relaxed (not bent) joints in the trailing leg. A horizontal, well balanced hip. When going backwards you want that same configuration as you begin the step. That is, the long leg reaching back, with the standing leg bent to power the push off.
  6. Grounding for a step. We talked about not allowing the hip to drop to one side in the weight change. The possibility of a hip drop becomes even more pronounced in the intention phase of preparing for a step, where we load all of our weight onto the supporting, powering leg. But by keeping the hip horizontal we engage all the core, sending power down to that supporting foot-leg.
  7. Do a LOT of catching yourself all the time, any time you can think of it. Walking to or from your car, walking in the store, walking at home: every so often, frequently even, catch yourself “unawares” on one foot and hold your balance there for a moment. Play this game with yourself all the time. With each grounding, feel your entire leg rooted to the floor, with the powerful leg and hip muscles all engaged to hold you in position.
  8. Lastly, play the catching game with tango music. And now you can add all sorts of movement in the privacy of your home or practice space. Add all the possible ways of stepping: weight change, sideways, forward-backward, rock steps, check steps (catch your weight but immediately return to your supporting leg), steps plus kicks, boleos, pivots. Then as you are dancing solo to the music, catch yourself – often – at various random, unexpected steps. Play with your body (kicks, twists, pivots, reaches with foot or hand, bend over, you name it) as all the while your supporting leg feels rooted to the floor.

Debriefing of Try Tango! class, 2015-09-04

Debriefing of Try Tango! quick start to Argentine Tango class, 2015-09-04

I enjoyed teaching last night’s Try Tango! quick start to Argentine Tango (see the outline here), a 45 minute introduction to the dance at the beginning of the practilonga. The class received polite applause at the end, and then through the night I appreciated a number of attaboy comments, and particularly the substantive feedback from an experienced dancer saying, “I believe I even learned some things, like that thing you said about how we walk.” [Walking, in an Alexander Technique point of view, is a series of overbalancing forward, “falling”, and recovering. We looked at the effect that way of thinking has on walking, and we viewed how walking backwards is a “video reverse” of walking forwards.]

I particularly value the things that people–teachers and students–reveal to me, and the things that I can discover on my own. A debriefing following “performances” helps me make discoveries.

Greetings

I made an effort to greet and connect with each arrival.

Dress

I was freshly washed and wore nice clothes that would pass muster at any milonga, setting a good example.

Wireless Microphone

Although the dance space was small enough that my big voice could easily have covered it, I’m glad I set up the wireless microphone (remember to attach the antennas!) with a headset mic. In this way I could speak in a calm, easy voice and be assured that everyone could easily hear me.

Partners

Dance, at least the one we care about here, and many (most?) others, is about connecting with a partner. Making that sort of connection is probably the big draw for many people. Then it felt as if the solo work was running long. It was fifteen minutes, I think. A full third of the class. And yet, it seemed to produce good results. So often I see people paired up immediately, and the first thing they do is get weirded out over walking either with someone immediately in front of them or with walking backwards. With this solo part I wanted to emphasize two things.

  1. Walking is a natural thing we do all the time, and we want to bring that natural quality into our walking with a partner.
  2. There is opportunity and great value to practicing solo.

Ah! I remember now one approach to this I’ve considered: have couples walk side-by-side, hand in hand.

Problem Based Learning – Motivation

We make stronger learning connections, I believe, when we discover (preferably) or have revealed to us the solutions to problems we’ve actually encountered. I was hoping that during the walking people would encounter traffic jams and then wonder what to do in that situation. We had a good number of people, and the size of the dance floor turned out to be quite adequate. The students were quite good at maintaining spacing, so there were no blockages except for the ones I created.

I wanted this a motivation for learning/figuring out what to do on a spot, when you couldn’t be moving across the floor. I wanted to teach about the “rose and vine” (hat tip to Helaine Treitman for that image) nature of tango movement over the course of a song. We covered the concept and the answers, of course, but it didn’t seem to have the same impact as if they’d actually experienced the ‘real’ situation. …Aha! The reason they didn’t encounter the situation is because they were dancing solo! Partner couples, even experienced ones, don’t manage to maintain their spacing that well.

Hm, have to think about this one. I wanted them to have that experience of moving in place (which includes the important weight change) or on a spot before they got partnered up.

Dissociation – and Walking Inside/Outside Partner

We did some dissociation work, like the dressage “shoulder-in” (and “shoulder-out”) walking, as if your partner was to one side or the other of you. But we did not specifically do walking inside/outside of partner. It strikes me now that this would have been useful and desirable. Such work, walking to the outside (on either the “hand” or the “arm” side of the embrace) of a partner is a useful prelude to the motivation for the cross. (We did not cover the cross in this class.)

Designating Leader, Follower, 1st Leader

In my school of thought, everybody learns all the movements – at least at the beginner level – from the beginning–not: leader learns this, follower learns that. When it came time to create initial partners I asked them to form an outer circle and then an inner circle. (I forgot that I was going to ask that all those new to tango go to the inner circle, so that they would be paired with an experienced dancer. I think it worked out that way nonetheless. Hm, maybe I did say that and forgot.)

Then I designated the inner circle as “A” partners, and the outer circle as “B” partners. But it struck me then, as it has in the past observing other teachers designating partners by using non “lead” “follow” language, that this creates a hierarchy, even if only notional. Better would be to use two unrelated terms that are easy to say and distinct to hear, such as: A-1, 5-J, golf-soccer, samba-chacha.

He-She, Leader-Follower

I am proud that throughout the night I never referred to gender, and only once or twice I think, did I fall into leader-follower talk. My new standard for describing what dancers do is to establish the point of view, then talk about “you and your partner”. If I am talking about my demonstration–and I did precious little of that–I refer to I/me/my and my partner.

Pivots

It was gratifying to hear a student exclaim, “Huh! We actually do pivots in ordinary walking,” after my simple “real life” demonstrations [changing course when someone behind calls you; turning a corner]. It feels important to me to instill the feeling that Argentine tango need not be, indeed is not some otherworldly thing, but rather a use of natural body movements that we already know and do routinely.

The Action is Up Here

“I was watching your feet and they were going every which way!” I was demonstrating the molinete (more on that in a moment) as an application of stepping, then pivoting. (The foundational theme of this class, and my way of thinking about Argentine tango, is that fundamentally the movements are ‘merely’ some form of stepping and some form of pivoting.) I saw myself surrounded by heads tilted down, all eyes on my and my partner’s feet.

I pointed out that, yes, most everyone watching a lesson or demonstration pays close attention to the feet, because that’s where all the action seems to be, and in reality, everything happening below is motivated by what is going on up top. It is the relationship between the partner’s torsos that really tells the story, and we know that legs are under each shoulder (as leaders are told when learning sacadas). If you only think about and work with the relationship with your partner, then the legs and feet will take care of themselves.

This concept of watch the torsos and not the feet was a highlight of the class for me. Not only did that immediately divide the difficulty factor at least in half (two torsos moving slowly versus four feet moving quickly), but somehow the talk of keeping the relationship with the partners, even as they move about each other, conveyed the message of the heart to heart connection. My current partner, who had struggled with doing a back cross after the open step, was now squaring up to me on the open step, so that the back cross came easily. And, the happy results extended to all the students. It was almost magical.

Molinete

The molinete was to illustrate the utility of combining straight steps with pivots between each step. The simplest molinete has the leader stepping outside partner to the hand side of the embrace, such that the partner has done a back cross at the same time. Lead the partner to an open step across my path, then finish with a simple forward ocho. Repeat as desired.

This actually worked pretty well, even though in my experience the molinete isn’t taught until well into a beginner curriculum, and even though many of these students were never-ever dancers. I think some keys to success were: 1) assuming it would be successful, such that students had no feeling that it was a hard figure; and 2) simplifying it to the movement of one torso about the other. Indeed, as asserted, people’s legs and feet did take care of themselves.

Hm … I was going to question my choice of using the molinete, thinking that for a future class I might prefer to specifically include waking outside partner, on both sides, and then would make use of that with a cambio de frente move. But as I wrote that description, and reflected on the results, I like the way it turned out. In the practilonga that followed I observed people walking comfortably with each other, and using the molinete.

Impeccable language

I am struck (thankfully, only for a precious few moments a couple of times) by how easily a student can become confused by directions: they didn’t hear everything; they didn’t connect it with the context; they took something too literally; they don’t understand the referent (my left or your left?); etc. Of course the teacher can often be the source of the confusion by leaving out parts or making assumptions.

Right versus Wrong

It pleased me that I never found someone doing something “wrong”. I was always able to find some positive aspect in what people were doing, and then suggest ways to make it even better. Likewise, though the temptation is just as strong to do this, I never demonstrated “the wrong way” of doing something. I subscribe to the school that says if you want to show differences you can show a good way and a better way. This way, even if a student misses part of the message (“Now were they showing us what TO DO or what NOT to do?”) they will see a reasonable way of performing.

The Responsibilities of the Roles

I felt a bit chagrined that I had to refer to my outline to be sure I gave all five responsibilities the way I wanted to say them, nevertheless I was pleased at the way they were received.

Storytelling

I am remembering now that I wanted to do more of this. In the opening walk I did paint a picture of a typical milonga. And I believe I spoke throughout in terms of relationships and images and connections, without using prescriptive (“Do this!” “Don’t do that!”) language.

Timing

We started five minutes after the appointed time; we finished on time. People were mostly moving in some way with a minimum of standing and listening to me time.

Feedback

I encouraged each person to help each other person. “What can I do to make this more comfortable for you?” “I am feeling . . .” Despite all the things that can go wrong with it, I feel there is overriding value in peer learning. It builds community and sharing, and it instills the idea that we can all be teachers, beginning with teaching ourselves. Importantly, we want to instill the notion, and encourage development of the ability, for a student to assess the value of what they hear, see, feel. Whether it be from a teacher, another student, a partner, or even themselves!

Peer Review, Video Review

I am guilty of most often giving only lip service to the valuable concept that video review of oneself is a most powerful, fast acting way to internalize changes we want to make to improve our performance.

Regarding feedback (previous item), just as we use teachers and coaches to observe our performance and guide our directions for improvement in dance, we can and should do this for our teaching as well. I expect that many of our local teachers do this, at least informally, in the context of the various and many workshops with visiting masters that occur throughout the year. I wish now that I’d recorded this lesson so that I could have reviewed it with two of my advisers, Andrew Sutton of Dance Ninjas and Ted Maddry.

Encourage Followers, All to Give Ideas

Only Follower saying … “I need a pattern to go from.”
Only Leaders speaking up.

Conclusion

I enjoyed teaching this class, and I hope I have other future opportunities. Judging from what I saw on the dance floor during the practilonga that followed, and from the comments, it was a success. And by reviewing this review before my next outings, I hope to make them even greater successes.

  –David

Try Tango! class outline

Try Tango! class outline (6:30-7:15 pm)

Thursday, September 3, 2015 — 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Orange Coworking, 2110 W Slaughter Ln #160, Austin, TX 78748
On Facebook: bit.ly/try-tango-2015-09-03

With just two basic moves — stepping and pivoting — you hold the key to the richly creative improvisation of Tango Argentino de Salón – Argentine tango in the style of the social ballroom.

Walking – stepping across the floor

We walk around the edge of the dance floor in race track fashion, and we call the circulating group of dancers la rondathe round. But no passing in this “race”. We stay in our lane, not tailgating the couple ahead, and not dawdling in place too long, creating a traffic jam behind us.

See something you like in another dancer? Feel free to copy it! See something you don’t care for in another dancer? Scan yourself to see if you’re doing the same thing!

Al compásthe beat. Did you think you couldn’t move to a beat? You do it all the time. You have a heartbeat, and you walk with a regular rhythm. Dancing is moving in a way that complements the music, often by stepping on the strong beats.

Moving around the floor, and moving around a spot

What do you do when you find yourself in a traffic jam? You move with the music, on the spot. (When the music is more legato or flowing the dancer may also choose to pivot. More about this later.)

Stepping without walking

Change weight in place
Rebound – touch and return
La cunita – the cradle (or la hamaca – the hammock), rocking steps to-and-fro, possibly turning

Walking backwards

What is walking? “Falling” and recovering.
What is backward walking? Same as forward walking, with the “video” run in reverse. We project our whole moving leg backwards, making space for our partner.

Making connections

To yourself — breathing, sensing, connecting, initiating
With the music
La ronda connection
Environment connection

Partner connection

Our practice embrace: Leader’s hands clasped over own “heart”(base of sternum); Follower’s hand clasping sides of Leader’s shoulders.
Switching roles, Changing partners

Pivoting

Real life examples are mostly between two feet. In tango pivoting is mostly on one foot.

Combining stepping and pivoting

El molinetethe windmill

Leader responsibilities

  • Care for the safety and comfort of your partner and other dancers.
  • Strive for a heart to heart connection with your partner, usually.
  • Know which leg your partner has free (the one that didn’t step last!).
  • Give your partner time to respond to your movement suggestions.
  • Make your dancing comfortable, consistent, and clear.

Follower responsibilities

  • Care for the safety and comfort of your partner and other dancers.
  • Strive for a heart to heart connection with your partner, usually.
  • Keep your weight clearly over the spot where your partner asked you to move, with your other leg free to move.
  • Give your partner time to make their movement suggestions clear to you.
  • Make your dancing comfortable, consistent, and clear.

Práctilonga (7:15-9:00 pm)
A milonga (tango social dance) that is run as a práctica, where you may ask for help and ask your partner for feedback.

The benefits of solo practice

Connect with Argentine Tango in Austin!
austintango.org
facebook.com/groups/austintango
Thoughts on teaching, learning, and practicing

Credits

Co-hosted by Shelley Delayne, OrangeCoworking.com
Orange Coworking, 2110 W Slaughter Ln #160, Austin, TX 78748

Co-hosted by Paola Aguillon-Brashear
Young Living Essential Oils, ylwebsite.com/paola

Quick start Argentine Tango class by David Phillips
TangoTribe.com

DJ by Stephen Shortnacy
Argentine tango teacher, massage therapist
shortnacy.com