efforts to improve the standard of Argentine Tango dancing in our
community are based on a lifetime of learning and eight years of
teaching, as well as a passion for tango that we want to share.
At the early age of eight, probably before I understood the meaning of
the word, I had
to learn to 'humble' myself to a learning process. In order to improve as I learned to play piano, I had to give myself up to the process of practicing the boring stuff in order to enjoy moments of achievement in performance.
Musicians and sports enthusiasts normally make good students of body
movement for this reason, but we encounter a lot of tango students who
have forgotten or perhaps never learnt 'how to learn'.
In our classes we try and provide novice dancers with a balance of
fundamental technique, a sense of fun and a measure of achievement. We
allow beginners and improvers a lot of lattitude in order to maintain
their enthusiasm and encourage them to find their dancer's bodies. But
there comes a time when they need to get serious about learning this amazing dance.
Over the years, we have observed a number of social dynamics that
impact on the role of both men and women as they learn tango.
It is possible to have fun dancing social tango without being good at
it. For some people, learning just enough skills to dance tango socially provides a simple, enjoyable social activity.
In some cases, this caps their learning process. Why do they need to work harder or learn any more?
Likewise, some male dancers realise that it is very easy to get a dance with a
woman after just a few lessons, and so lose interest in
developing their dance any further. They literally stop learning.
The average ratio of female to male tango dancers is 3 to 2, so ladies
are normally too quick to accept an offer of a dance, even if it is
with a 'male tango dancer who has stopped learning'. For a lot of
women, any dance
is better than sitting out. Or is it? What if this practice simply
perpetuates a lack of learning in the men, and creates bad habits and
poor techniques for the women who encourage it?
At the opposite end of the scale, there has always been and always
will be a category of tango dancer that measures ability by the
perceived challenge of the tango classes they attend. I include myself
as having been in this category during the first few years of my dancing. If
could attend an 'advanced' class, I must therefore have achieved the
status of an 'advanced' dancer. I grimace when I think of the things I
used to do.
In the classroom a good teacher will adjust the speed of delivery of a
subject to the slowest learner. The inclusion of other students
working outside their skill level and comfort zone will impact on the
|Pushed beyond his or her true skill level, a novice dancer will learn to cheat technique,
posture and style in order to keep up with the higher curriculum. These bad habits are VERY hard to get rid of.
If a dance community allows this self-deception to prevail, it creates
an artificial standard by which all its members measure themselves. It
is a delusion that
has no basis in technical merit or achievement and limits the
dance in the community.
Over the years, we have reviewed and restructured the level of dance in our community
and implemented a standardisation of classes using a progressive
curriculum and designating 'levels'. But the maintaining of levels
slowly deteriorates as other teachers/dance communities move the goal posts and avoid
confrontation with impatient, over-enthusiastic, or delusional dancers
who want to move up too early.
As soon as the structure of a 'learning environment' is compromised
like this we create huge problems for ourselves. When, inevitably,
classes degrade into confusion and frustration due to the extremes of
ability attempting to share the same class, we lose the better
dancers who become frustrated at lack of development. This is not good
for any community.
In order to organise a
tango workshop specifically for higher levels, an organiser needs to
(a) have a clear definition of the higher level of dance ability and
(b) personally know the ability of every dancer who books
the event. Dancers do not
intentionally lie about their abilities, but the process can involve a
lot of self-deception.
Reclassifying dancers has the potential of becoming confrontational. A
less capable dancer who has previously attended a top level class will
not take kindly to being told he or she is lacking the technique and
ability necessary to attend in future until their dancing improves.
This is the heart of the problem, and one that can only be resolved by
managing people's expectations. If effective learning requires a
student to humble themselves to the
learning process, humility is a process best acquired and implemented
through personal acceptance and NOT imposed though curricular necessity.
Debbie and I are by nature humble teachers who want to create an
inclusive rather than exclusive learning environment. We hope that by
taking the difficult step to define and maintain the Super Tangks as a
protected learning zone we can help dancers to evolve faster and more
It is also our hope that when other dancers start to see the results we
believe this change will bring, they too will agree that our ethos of
'adopting a humble approach to learning' is one that they wish to share
and benefit from.