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.
I so much admire my singing teacher Gene Raymond. Were it not for his patience, creativity, and support I would never have made it (such as ‘it’ is) singing, coming from such a deficit. And so, oftentimes our sessions will diverge to topics of teaching and learning, where we share ideas and experiences from our learning and our teaching, he teaching singing, and me teaching Argentine tango.
We spoke today about the inhibited student, the one so fearful of a perceived sense of censure (by self, by others?) that rather than try they just shut down. Over the weekend I had observed a class exercise where such a student stolidly refused to move. Multiple people tried, and no amount of cajoling, no clever NLP language (“Well, if you DID know what that was like, how would that look?”), nothing worked.
A key element comes from the teacher as a person. Does your teacher/partner come across as a caring, genuine person? Someone who believes in you. Someone you can trust and feel safe with.
Gene’s grandmother encouraged him as a young boy to sing at family gatherings. Gene was shy, so she would have him stand behind a tall rocker so he wouldn’t have to see an audience. She created a safe place for him.
Gene described how as a new teacher, and an introvert, he would feel nervous anxiety at the beginning of each semester, and he found he could get himself beyond that by mentally taking on a character. Acting as if he really were that confident, smart, successful teacher. Indeed, he became his character.
He had other good ideas for me.
Your student is afraid to fail? So encourage them to fail! Make it a challenge to see how big they can fail. That is, make it a game. It is okay to fail. There is no wrong answer. We have no need to be sorry (unless we’ve actually hurt someone) for ‘mistakes’. All the different ways we can discover to be less than perfect are exactly the things that move us toward being somewhat less imperfect than we all are.
“If you make a mistake, do it like it was everyone else who made the mistake!” He gave the example of a drum major that missed a turn and walked away from the rest of the band. That person had the confidence to own the moment, stepping in time, making a smart turn, and returning in an orderly fashion. I could relate to that one. Many years ago at a summer ballroom dance camp at BYU, in a choreographed performance I missed a cue and took my partner and myself in the direction opposite to the group. Disaster? Well, it kind of seemed that way in my embarrassment at the memory of it, but in the moment I treated it as our solo, enabling us to smoothly rejoin the group without losing our place.
As a teacher (or dance partner) I can help by taking any blame on myself. The student/partner perceives a mistake. “No, not at all. If I had chosen a better exercise, movement, timing, … we (We are in this together!) could do better.”
Are there times when you have to point out a mistake so the person can make progress? Well, in the Tango Tribe teaching philosophy, saying “Don’t do x” where x is some kind of less than desired performance, is like a double negative in speaking. It takes a bit of mental effort to turn it into the positive thing you DO want us to do. So why not start, and stay, with the positive.
I can take an example from my childhood, “Don’t slouch!” The subliminal message I receive is, “You’re a sloucher. Don’t be what you are!” Maybe another, positive approach would work better, also giving a model of what we want TO BE. “Stand tall and proud, like the way you are made.”
Bottom line: see our learning-teaching partner as someone we love and care for, and in that way we create a safe place where we both grow from the experience.
Preparatory exercise: Saying “No”
Standing both legs, each leg, organized body, loose body. Moving.
Slow walking, with observable sensation-based feedback
Taking turns with follower’s eyes closed.
Slow walking with follower missteps, leader missteps
Review findings – strategies for protecting your axis and staying with your partner
NOT “changing the shape” of the axis. I.e., dropping a hip or curving in the vertical.
NOT swiveling the hips. (Turns our belly button “centerline” away from partner and line of travel, and leads to crossing our tracks.)
Keep a toned (not rigid, NOT loose) body, with an active ankle.
Reposition feet. E.g., quick shuffle steps to a better place, while leaving myself on the same original leg.
Turning the belly button to the partner. I.e., keep the pelvic “bowl” level and pointing in the direction (or 180-degrees) of travel.
Putting down the kickstand. Using free leg for support or counter-weight.
Releasing the partner. Give them their axis/Let them find their axis in a bigger space.
With all that in mind, let’s dance.
Second session, 7:30-9:00pm, Improvisation and interpretation
Tonight’s topic: Cambio de Frente variations. Exchanging places with your partner.
Here we will apply what we learned in the previous session about our axis, adding the element of major pivoting.
How many different ways can I change places with my partner, especially in a small space? Which of those are useful? What would I have to adjust to make the easy ones better and the hard ones easy? How can I easily multiply the possibilities?
We’ll start with ideas for how to work with a partner, exploring together and sharing observable sensation-based feedback.
We’ll work in groups exploring ideas, bring good ones back to everyone to share, learn new ones or perfect old ones.
Review findings – strategies for exploring with a partner the creation of new movement figures
With each of the options (indicated by “/”), know that movements may be easier/harder and require adjustment in one or another.
Two-way feedback throughout with observable sensory-based feedback.
Both contributing ideas.
Working in pieces, like snapshots of positions, can help.
Moving slowly / with momentum.
Work in open / close / flexible embrace.
Work from the end to beginning. Can be employed for creativity / at any sticking point.
I move around partner’s axis / partner moves around my axis / we move around a third axis.
Stepping to open (hand) / closed (arm) side of embrace.
Stepping in parallel-system / cross-system.
Stepping in parallel-direction / cross-direction.
Step with left / right / no foot (i.e., I remain in place while leading a step via contra body movement).
Step / lead step around / parallel / away from.
Pivoting before stepping.
Step with rebound / full step.
Move together / hold in place – myself / my partner.