Engaging Tango Newbies Part 2 Interview

In part 1 of New Ways to Engage Tango Newbies I discussed how I thought Peer to Peer Learning really added an extra dimension to ASU Tango students’ learning. In this blog I interviewed colleague Mitra Martin, Co-Founder of Oxygen Tango, in Los Angeles for her ideas and explorations into peer to peer learning at Oxygen.Mitra Martin

What is peer to peer learning exactly?

Broadly speaking, peer-to-peer learning is when people learn from friends and peers instead of from formal teachers. It is a lot of fun and can lead to great friendships and a strong community, and create interesting new roles for those who are experts.

At Oxygen Tango, it started off  as a super simple buddy system where we paired up beginners with more experienced dancers while they were in the Tango Challenge (read about the Tango Challenge here). The buddies practiced with the beginners once a week, that was it.

 How do you see it working for a tango community?

I think learning from your peers has been part of tango forever! As I understand it, in the old times of tango, nobody went to “classes” and “workshops” — they learned tango informally, at home or at social clubs, from friends and family.
And today, everyone’s still kind of involved in “peer-to-peer learning” even though we don’t talk about it as such. Most of us have had the experience of learning a lot from someone who’s not “officially” a teacher. And, most teachers do all they can to ensure there are lots of more experienced dancers at classes and practicas to help out. What we’re trying to do is give those peer helpers just a tad bit more structure, so they know how best to help.

Tango’s a kinesthetic, interpersonal form and so the best way to learn it is directly from another body. That’s why beginners love learning directly from more experienced dancers – it’s so natural. And, intermediate dancers get a lot more confident and skillful when see that they can actually help others learn.

Your model really means changing students’ mind sets about how they are going to learn a dance. Most people looking for a dance class find a studio and expect a class with a teacher telling students what to do! Can you talk a little about this?

It’s definitely a paradigm shift! I’d say you have to see it to believe it, to really feel and experience it from the inside to understand the kind of value it creates.

I think lots of us have a love-hate relationship with group classes. On the one hand, it’s exciting to see and be close to an inspiring person, the expert teacher. There can be something fun about just being in their aura. On the other hand, practically speaking, they probably won’t be able to spend more than a minute or so working directly with you. Most of your learning is completely dependent on who you’re working with and how productive that is. I think by pairing people up intentionally, and giving them the right things to work on everyone wins.

What are the pluses and minuses as you see them?

Well, right now it’s still very new, very messy, very experimental. Students want to be confident that they’re learning the right things in the right way, and they might doubt what’s coming from a peer-helper vs a teacher. But what is gained in the form of stronger bonds between people who help one another and receive help, makes me inspired to keep forging ahead and working out the kinks.

What are the implications for those of use who are teachers or who teach tango as our professions?

I think we’re slowly going to see tango experts shift their focus from being rockstar teachers, to creating the rockstar curriculum that powers their community forward. I think they’ll also spend more time, bandwidth and creativity on training for peer-mentors. Training those up and coming dancers who really contribute a lot to building and growing the dancers in their community. I think it would be very rewarding for everyone and have amazing effects on a community if tango master teachers and experts shifted more focus to training these gems more regularly, in slightly more systematic and structured ways.

And, I think we’ll see more experts going deeper into crafting motivating milestones where community members can show and share their newfound skills and accomplishments and celebrate each other’s growth. Maybe there will be new kinds of talent shows, improv game competitions, creativity showcases, demo/feedback opportunities, fringe festivals, grad balls. I call these “Rigorous Scenarios” – a chance for a learner to and see/feel/experience how far they have come, with loving and supporting feedback/input from friends and experts. That would cultivate a whole new generation of energized and well-informed practica and learning lab hosts with a great foundation.

You can read more about Mitra’s Peer to Peer learning project and how to become involved at
http://www.mitramartin.com/peer-to-peer-learning-project/

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