Tag Archives: class

Tell people what you want

Tell people what you want, not what you don’t want, and keep it simple.

From TOOLS OF TITANS by Tim Ferriss, “ACROYOGA – THAI AND FLY” p. 52

“I want more space in that direction.” Not, “When you rotate your upper body, your leading shoulder pokes forward.”
“I want this space pointing in the direction you want me to go.” Not, “You’re sending me away from the line you want.” (How, specifically?)
“I want to feel contained here.” Not, “Don’t let your elbow drift behind you.”
“I want to know when I invite you to step, that you will stay above that foot until my next clear invitation to pivot or take another step.” Not, “You keep changing your weight.” Not, “Don’t take extra steps.”

The difficulty of mentally processing double negatives. Say, “Do something wanted.” Not, “Don’t do something unwanted.” In the second, undesirable format, the last thing they hear is, “… do something unwanted!”

We want to leave them with a simple, positive image of the conditions they want to create. By avoiding specific instructions for what to do, how to move, what to feel, we instead encourage them to discover for themselves how they can use their body to create the desired effect.

Anticipa-a-tion

Summary — After presenting the problem we give two exercises to help both leaders and followers discover how to wait in quiet anticipation.

“Anticipation” by Carly Simon could serve as an anthem for Argentine tango dancers. Check out the lyrics at that link. See her perform it here. We’ll wait . . .

A common refrain from leaders and followers has them complaining or wondering, “Why can’t they/I wait for the lead/follow?” Three factors figure into this failure to wait in readiness:

  1. We’re just so darn eager to please. They’ve agreed to dance with us! Now we want to show them that they made a good choice. Leaders rush on to the next great move before their partner has fully finished the last thing. Followers don’t want to keep their partner waiting, so they rush on to what they expect comes next. But, hey, like Carly says, we can never know what comes next. In a fully improvised dance even the leader experiences it moment to moment. The anticipation, wondering what will happen next, can create as much magic as the actual doing.
  2. We fall into habitual, patterned movement. This can particularly arise in classes or practice where a couple drills a movement repeatedly, then when the leader moves on to something else without warning, the follower wonders what happened. Even in our social dance both leader and follower create expectations in their partner from habitual responses. In a class or práctica an alert can come as a verbal, “Okay, how about now we try combining this with the other class material?” At the milonga we can give a non-verbal “warning” by becoming particularly intentional and grounded on the step before the transition. That is, as leader we want to be thinking about doing something different before the last step of the pattern we’ve created. That’s two moments before the actual transition!
  3. We fail to fully seize our axis. A common example arises in the back cross, such as in the molinete. Whether due to lead or follow or both, the step may move away from your partner. If no one makes an adjustment, it leaves possibly both dancers in an unbalanced position, where they will likely “fall” into an open step. Do you remember that Voguing dance from the 1980s? Think of tango like that, where every step is a pose, complete and fully realized in itself, with feet and body set just so, with any and all future possibilities available to flow from there. Note: We don’t want to limit creative possibilities by insisting that our axis must be over one foot with the other foot collected. Our weight could be split between two feet, together or apart; or over one foot with the other leg away; or even outside of our footprint. The key consideration comes from both leader and follower knowing where we intend to place the axis, and what can flow from there.

Exercises

1. Follower waits on leader.

In a randomness of fundamental movements — movement (step or pivot), not patterns — before making any movement the leader (and follower, of course) takes a moment, that can range from an instant to quite long. Then they invite each movement with varying direction, size, and dynamics. The leader can increase the intensity by moving themselves into “non-standard” orientations with their partner before marking the next movement. Leaders can see this as a challenge to shake up their habitual way of moving. Followers can see this as a challenge to become comfortable with, even coming to enjoy the not knowing; to be quietly listening with their body, and prepared to move anywhere, without feeling the least anxiety or care for where or how or when that might be.

2. Leader waits on follower.

As in exercise #1, the partners move in a randomness of fundamental movements, but this time the follower dictates the duration of the stillness and where their next step goes. The challenge for the leader is to follow their follower, to become comfortable with both giving the follower the time they need or want, and with moving to accommodate whatever happens in the dance. From this exercise the follower discovers a world of possibilities for their movement, where they can control the direction, size, and dynamics of their movement. They can know the power of a follower’s intentional movement, and how such movements can make the dance easier or harder or more interesting for their partner.

Note: Take moments of stillness, not to become inert lumps, but as times for mind and body to continue dancing in that stillness. Energy expanding or contracting, size growing or compressing, gaze intensifying or shrinking.

Two situations might suggest that you use these exercises in your practice time. One, you feel that you are dancing in a habitual or perfunctory way. Use the exercises to shake up your awareness of all the possibilities for movement. Two, you feel that you or your partner aren’t fully connected with each other. Someone’s not listening, or someone’s just going through the motions without considering the power that each pose can bring into the dance.

Final note: Can you bring these exercises to the milonga? I sure hope you realize that yes you can, as either leader or follower, without verbally expressing it, you can bring the exercise intentions into your social dancing when you recognize that you want more from yourself.

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A different way to demo

Photo: Port of San Diego, Big Bay Ballroom – Swingtime on Broadway by Dale Frost. CC

Synopsis: Instead of the tradition of teaching a pattern by having students follow along behind their respective leader/follower teacher, you can win better results by having all students first dance as followers to your visual lead facing them. After that’s going smoothly you reverse, having all students “lead” you as you back-lead them in the follower’s position. We give procedure details, and list benefits.

Leaders behind Marco; followers go with Maria.

How often have you seen this in a dance class? The instructors want to teach a dance pattern, so they have the leaders follow along behind the guy teacher and the followers follow along at the other end of the room, behind the gal teacher. Disregarding the sexist segregation of the roles, this also isolates important information that both partners need.

Some few exercise class teachers turn their back on the group and ask them to follow along, but generally they do it a better, easier way. They have the students mirror their actions.

Here’s a better way for dance teachers, and why it does more good…

Tell the class you are going to demonstrate the figure once, and that they might want to watch where the partners’ bodies move relative to each other and to the room.

Then start with the follower’s role in the figure. Why? Because this is what both follower and leader want to produce. The follower wants to produce it, and the leader wants to evoke it — regardless of their own footwork!

Put the teachers facing line of dance in front of and facing the group of all students (whether they follow or lead). Depending on the size of the class and the room dimensions, it may work best to create two groups, one beyond the other with a teacher in front of each group, instead of having all students abreast.

Announce that you teachers will visually lead the movement, and that all students are to follow along in the follower’s role. If the size of your room and size of your class allow it, position the teachers as leaders facing line of dance, with the followers in the normal position of backing line of dance. Room orientation provides valuable memory cuing for students.

The teachers dance the part of the leader and the students dance the part of the follower, visually following the teacher in front of them. The lead teacher can also use verbal cues to aid clarity.

  • All students get to feel how and where the follower wants to move.
  • All students get a preview of the leader’s movements.
  • (I contend that) It is usually easier to appreciate how you want to use your body when you observe an example from the front. That is, you can tell more about a body’s alignment and movement by observing it from the front.
  • All students gain an appreciation for where and how a follower needs extra time or cuing for a movement.
  • It encourages in followers the attitude of acting as empowered dancers versus merely reacting.

Repeat until most students follow your lead in a reasonably easy, smooth manner. (Suggestion: when you move back down the room to lead it again, have you and your students move as dancers, rather than lumbering back into place.)

Now announce that they are switching roles. The teachers exchange positions with the students, so that the teachers are now backing the line of dance, and the students are “leading”. The teachers as followers will back-lead the students. Again, verbal cues may help.

  • Either partner may be the one that better remembers what happens where and when. When both partners know the details of both roles they can better help each other with leading, following, cuing, and feedback.
  • The students are now seeing—facing them—the follower role they just learned. They can anticipate what comes next for the leader, the part they are now doing.
  • The students see the follower (the teacher in front of them) as an empowered dancer moving independently, instead of as a body they as leader must “move” into place.

In both of these segments, follower then leader, the students are observing the excellent technique of the teachers in front of them, in the same positions that their dance partners will take (albeit in embrace). They will be better prepared to give each other useful feedback.

Now put the couples as partners in la ronda, circling the room in line of dance, and let them work independently while the teachers walk among them giving assistance as needed. Please, please don’t position yourself in front of couples and tell the leaders to follow along with you. This causes problems.

  • Leaders must split attention between teacher and partner.
  • Followers give attention to teacher for the lead instead of to their partner.
  • Couples try to follow along at the pace of the teacher, instead of working at their own pace.
  • Teachers with their back to the group, even if they have a wall mirror, have a harder time observing the students.

Even when I work with individual couples, I’ll generally dance separately with each partner to help sense where the incomplete understanding or misunderstanding lies. Then I first ask the key partner to dance with me in their opposite role as I talk through their usual role and the effect that has on their partner.

Yes, this approach takes more time in the moment. But I contend that in the end it produces dancers with a deeper, richer understanding and production of the dance.

Dance, especially Argentine tango, is first and foremost about the kinesthetic, the feeling body sense. I create empathy and understanding with my partner when I first feel what they want to feel.

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