Argentine Tango and the musicality challenge

This is the description of the design of a first introductory Tango class.

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Mariano Gutierrez Alarcón
25 March 2013

Title Argentine Tango and the musicality challenge

Narrator
I was the Tango teacher in a first introductory Tango class.

Situation:
It was in a social dance studio in México City, I was recently arrived to the country and this was my first official tango class. The place was ideal for teaching social dancing however participation was high and the place became slightly overcrowded. Most of the 16 students were very fit elderly people, the dancing is slightly inclined towards social interaction than technical interest, they mostly know each other from other classes and social environments related to social dance, and they want to try to learn Tango as a new challenge as it is known to be one of the most difficult social dances to master.

Having said this, introductory Tango classes have a high rate of drop out as well as different levels of technical ability from people taking classes with different teachers. Tango is also a very close contact dance which requires a high level of physical connection and contact intimacy that presents several challenges among students.
Task.

I always thought that one way to avoid the problems that relates to the personal intimacy related to Tango dance is to set the music to the centre from where technique should develop, to do so, my first step was work individually with the same Tango music that we will be dancing later on in partnerships, secondly I did show basic introductory technique to allow to achieve this task, and thirdly I make them practice together in the most basic level, walk, with the same music that we use across the same class (4 songs in total)

The success with limited amount of tools could be assessed by the ability to walk together on the beat that the leader intended to dance, the followers understand the lead and synchronise them with the music, and this should be done with the most amount of different partners as you can. Finally the other rate of success is how many students continue taking tango classes with me.
Actions

1) Brief introduction to the three dimensions of tango dancing technique and how we will address them in the class. (Individual: what do I need to do in order to dance, structural: what happens between the two people dancing the same dance. contextual: where this happen and the music that sync all the dance together, between the two people and in the dancing floor.)

2) The first activity: Individual dimension: I made them listen one tango song a couple of times without dancing asking them to reflect what did they like of that particular song. then I made them walking to the same song, walking on the beat of the music they felt more at ease, or pleasurable, trying not to focus on how other people walk, and play trying to use the beat and the walk to their own expressive needs coming from what did they like and did not like from the music.

The last section of the exercise I lead them the way they were walking towards the Tango technique for walking that it is slightly different than normal walking, introducing them to the basic individual technique for dancing, always using the music as main objective.

3) The second activity: Structural. I gather the students to explain briefly the 2 main basic concepts that we need to be aware in order to the Tango dance to happen. a) The leader always lead, the follower always follows: The leader invite to the follower to do 1 step, the follower accept the invitation and take the step, the leader follow the step and invite the next step b) Dissociation: we need to be aware that the upper body is where the steps are commanded and followed and from the waist down it is a consequence from the movement lead from the upper body, tango it is not danced with the feet it is danced from the chest and the connection that happens in the chest area.

4) The third activity: Contextual. The music, the use of the space, Tango etiquette. As a social dance Tango is very complex and it need certain rules to be follow in order to all dancers be able to dance in the same space. The role of music in understanding the space, the social etiquette of dancing Tango. To explore this, the activity was to dance freely with the concepts viewed on earlier activities. This activity was  informative/inspirational/goal orientated as it takes practice and the ability to dance skilfully in order to fully appreciate this dimension of the social dance something that it is not possible to achieve in one lesson, on the other hand I designed this

Results
expected outcomes:
Activity 1:
Link in a physical activity music and emotions
Find their own musicality
Not to copy/follow others steps or ideas

Activity 2:
Connection between to dancers
Awareness of the leader/follower relationship
Sensibility of the opposite role situation
Engage and connect everything with the music

Activity 3:
Spatial awareness.
Other dancing couples awareness.
Control and  space management through the music.

Overall objectives:
Inspire dancers to do Tango from the music to the bodies
Guide dancers go through the process of learning a physical activity from the mind to the body as quickly as possible.
Achieve, at least briefly, the feel good factor that happens in a dance when we feel good dancing.
Enrol the most amount of students as possible into the classes

unexpected outcomes:

Human interaction based in close physical connection between different people could accelerate or decelerate learning processes.

To what degree did you meet your objectives?
One way to assess the success of the class is the confidence in which they dance to each other, at a difficult stage of incorporating in many labels new skills. Failure on a class is usually shown by "switching off" making the incorporation of new skills very difficult.

The students were engaged most of the class, and frustration was shown occasionally from time to time.

Five people signed in for Tango classes

One additional outcomes I engender was more social participation during the class, when explained and moderated by the teacher (I dance with every single student in the class as a mean of incentive for change partners every 6 minutes.) students tend to ease on the physical barrier of dancing close contact with a stranger.
Reflections
As Tango is a performing art where physical, sound and vision coordination is key, there is a skills level disparity which is not directly related with age. It also affect the timings and individual approach on how this new skills gets into their "bodies".

Although I was focusing on the musical as main tool to introduce Tango skills faster, a more encompassing approach should be considered, and research on literature about  the way humans develop spatially/acoustically and visually.

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