Never-ever beginner class script

Background: In most every dance community at one time and another there will be outcries about how wild dancing and poor floorcraft threatens the health and wellbeing of others. This was my response to a recent such outcry in our community, to tell how I address this in my classes from the very beginning. If any of this seems at all useful to you, I invite you to modify it however you like to serve your purposes. A comment here or email note is always appreciated.

Floorcraft and dance etiquette can and ought to be taught from day one onward, not as a separate skill or subject, but as an expectation, an underlying quality for dancing Argentine tango well.

This article describes how I teach a first class for never-ever danced tango beginners, and I invite you to use or adapt it to your own purposes however you wish.

For the sample script below, we precede it with a demonstration (students copy) of the first fundamental movement of tango, “Changing our weight from one foot to the other. A weight change can be in place or over some short or long distance; it is in relation to the direction the hips face: forward, backward, or sideways; it can be momentary or walking.”

[The second fundamental movement is the pivot, to face the hips in a new direction.]


SCRIPT FOR THE START OF A BEGINNING ARGENTINE TANGO CLASS

[Using your remote, begin your cued up music, one with a clear compás beat, set at a calm, comfortable volume. A wireless microphone helps dancers hear the class leader, the teacher speak in a calm, natural manner with the music.]

Everyone spread out to the edges of the floor, with equal space between you and the person on each side of you. [Give directions for couples that came together to join hands, side-by-side; and to pair up the others.]

Now turn so you both face in this direction [showing a quarter turn to the right with my partner] and let’s start walking around the floor together.

If you see anyone [me!] doing something you find interesting and you want to try it, go ahead. Argentine tango is a community and we learn from each other.

We call this circulation around the floor, la ronda, the round. Even though we move in race track fashion, this is not a race! We don’t pass here. We are dancing with the music, with our partner, and with the couples ahead of us and behind us! We don’t tailgate the couple ahead of us, and we don’t create traffic jams by staying in one place too long.

[All along, as we see things we like among the students, such as walking on the beat or creativity in trying different movements, we call it out.]

This direction we are moving, counter-clockwise around the room, we call the line of dance.

Now if this were an actual milonga — that’s what we call the social dance party for Argentine tango — the lights would be lower, and around the perimeter of the room there would be tables where seated people might be enjoying wine and conversation, or simply be enjoying the music and watching the dancers.

If this were a very crowded milonga there might be one or more tracks to the left of our track.

Before each tanda, a set of dances, the dancers will give mirada, a look around the room for the person they want to dance with. When they catch eyes with a possible partner they give cabeceo, a nod of the head, and if the other person gives the same reply, we continue looking at them as we go to meet them.

Even when dancers are entering a crowded floor, they will go to the corners where they can give mirada and cabeceo to an approaching couple, asking for and receiving permission to enter ahead of them.

[Amidst all of this, during the walking, we would give suggestions and demonstrate to:

  • Invite your partner to turn around you. (How do they know who is the leader? It doesn’t matter.)
  • Now you turn around your partner.
  • Continue walking straight while you face your partner {dissociation}.
  • Continue walking straight while you face away from your partner.
  • Both of you walk backwards.
  • etc.

]

END OF SONG

If this were the end of a tanda, a set of three or four similar songs that we dance with the same partner, we would hear the cortina, or curtain–a bit of non-tango music. At that time we thank our partner and escort them to their table. If it’s not the end of the tanda, and we are having a good time, we stay with this partner until the group of songs ends.

The person who was leading for that last song will now advance in the line of dance [demonstrating] to the next partner, and you will now be the follower. For this dance we will have the leaders walk on the side closest to the center of the room. [Foreshadowing how, in general, the leaders face diagonally out, away from the center, to keep the ronda from collapsing into the center.]

SONG 2

We feel, for several good reasons, that practicing both the leading and following movements are important to learning Argentine tango.

  • We learn more deeply when we experience the dance from both sides of the embrace, so that we can know what our partners want to feel.
  • At the higher levels of dancing, both partners will be doing all the same kinds of moves at different times.
  • It honors the historical roots of the dance, which arose out of migrations from Africa, Spain, and other parts of Europe to Argentina and Uruguay. These were men, mostly, seeking opportunities in a new land. Some reports say as many as 50 men to 1 woman. So men would learn the dance together, starting out as followers, and when they learned that well, then learn to lead, until they were finally good enough to compete for the attention of women at the milonga. Meanwhile the women learned together from their mothers and sisters.

I liken Argentine tango music to a sort of orchestral jazz. Among the migrants there were many talented musicians, some of them classically trained. The composers of lyrics, the letras de tango, would speak in poetry that puts Country & Western songs to shame of the pain of missing one’s country, community, loved ones. There is so much richness going on at so many different layers. Each dancer will feel drawn to different parts of the music at different times. You will choose how you express how the music speaks to your spirit.

[The class continues with walking in a close embrace apart, walking in a close embrace, and pivoting. Those aren’t covered here.]

END OF SCRIPT


Discussion

The Philosophy

That is a LOT of talking!! It covers lots of topics. If you were to do that as a separate speech, with people standing around listening to you, it would bore them out of their minds. But walking and talking, listening and learning has a time honored tradition from the times of Socrates and Aristotle, and undoubtedly well before that, when hunter-gatherers would share knowledge and ideas on their walks about. (See The Walking Classroom for a modern take on it.)

We don’t command, “Now you will learn about and ever after respect tango etiquette!” Instead, students subliminally internalize behavior by seeing teachers always demonstrate it and mention it (where and when appropriate) as a subtext to every subject that they specifically teach.

This also creates a safe, easy, non-demanding way for people to experience dance as a natural activity, something where they already know the rudiments — it’s walking plus music! Who knew?

Starting out walking side-by-side gets past the fear of stepping on each other. Encouraging experiments — “Have your partner walk around you.” — lets students know they can solve problems on their own. They can deal with uncertainty and make sense of it. They discover that they already know something about how to lead and follow.

With all the teacher demonstrations and student experiments, all while walking, that script will take a couple of songs to cover. We use the break as an opportunity for more information (tandas and cortinas, “Thank you”), and we create the expectation that in Tango Tribe classes we rotate partners and we rotate roles.

I also like to introduce the importance of the music, because for me, connection to the music comes before connection to our partner. Our connection, each of us, to the music, enhances our connection to each other.

The Tools

A REMOTE CONTROL for the music becomes an important tool. It allows us to keep the learning state intact, without the disruption of running over to the player to play/stop music and adjust volume.

I use a Pebble watch to control my Android phone. (Alas, FitBit acquired and killed off that wonderful product.) Android Wear will control both Android and iPhones. There’s the Apple Watch. An app on your phone can control your PC/Mac . There are also dedicated bluetooth media remotes.

A WIRELESS MICROPHONE is another essential tool. When the teacher can talk in a calm, natural tone and volume of voice, while still being heard clearly, it projects that calm to the students. As if to say, “This is just a pleasant walk about, with no special expectations, and, Oh, hey! Let’s try this thing.”

The PylePro PDWM3400 package is a wonderfully economical and effective package that provides two microphone sets. You’ll also need a mixer, such as the simple and economical BEHRINGER XENYX 502, plus cables to connect your music source.

Conclusion

I love Argentine tango (dancing and teaching) for many reasons. One reason that especially fits here is the low barrier to entry — it is walking to music — and yet we can take a lifetime pursuing mastery.

Taking a low-key, informational, walking and talking approach at the beginning (and always!) fosters expectations of success, and use of good floorcraft and etiquette.

What do you have to say?