Reflections on Tango

Semester Finishes and Volcadas on Saturday

legs by lindaI’m at the tail end of another semester of tango classes at ASU. Even though enrollment is down from previous years, the enthusiasm and interest in tango still manages to be there. It surprises me each semester what brings the students to try something like Argentine Tango. Some are curious, some come for their friends, or because of their friends, and some just need something different from their usual; a stress-reliever too.

As I am almost done with grades I am excited that this Saturday’s workshop is on volcadas. The verb volcar translates to overturn, like when a car overturns. I looked up the definition in Spanish as I was trying to tie a blog in with reminders of the weekend workshop. The Spanish dictionary suggest that you are turning something so it is no longer in its normal position but on a side. From these definitions it would sound like we would be practicing handstands or rolling around on the floor! It’s a funny idea that this word defines such a much wanted move in tango! The leader does take the follower off of her normal position but does not put her on her side, thankfully.

I remember when I was first exposed to the infamous volcada by an Argentine and an American teacher. As I watched as they dissected and explained how to execute it I found that it completely made sense to my visual learning sensibilities. The trick is in the axes! (not the chopping ones but the ones that we need to be centered on – our axis!) I told a student recently that I still think sacadas are so much harder than volcadas to learn and to execute. Well, you can be the judge. Saturday’s workshop starts at 12 – 1:30pm at the Solana Tango Room. $15 and RSVP’ing would be great.

See you soon.

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Happiest of Thanksgivings to you!

I am in the airport waiting for my flight to La Paz, Mexico, where Rommel Oramas and I are teaching and performing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

This time of year is always busy between the end of the semester grading and planning for the new year but the change of pace for the weekend will be nice.

As a time of gratitude I do want to thank all my students who have supported me this year and throughout the years.  And all of those of you who follow my blog and share comments with me. As you know I love what I do and it has been a pleasure to share what I know with you.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

In gratitude,

Daniela

 

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Teaching in Anchorage, Alaska was Wonderful!

Rommel and I just returned from 5 days in Anchorage, Alaska teaching and enjoying their first snow, or more honestly enjoying it from the window of our lovelyDancing in Anchorage host’s house! We had a sunny day, a rainy day and a couple of snowy days!

We taught 5 classes ranging from technique to milonga and simple dancing patterns enhancing the concepts we were focused on.

It was amazing to teach to such an open and receptive community and to receive the support of their more “senior” members.

Sometimes you teach a class and well, frankly, I can feel the resistance to try something new or to embrace a different concept. And I think this is natural on some level but you have to gain students’ trust as an essential part of learning.

Rommel (as always) made his way around the room during the 2 milongas, dancing with all the ladies who attended the classes. His endless enthusiasm and energy are admirable. And clearly the results were mentionable. Community members noted his active participation in the milongas, not as an observer but as a dancer. I find that it is easier for him as a male to ask the ladies to dance. I find that being a woman teacher that often the leaders in a community are shy and tentative to ask the visiting teacher to dance at a milonga. I think this is ok. I think the leader mentality is that he needs to feel confident and not intimidated to ask someone to dance and to this measure I have found that if I pursue this as the guest that it often feels like pressure for the leader. (I know that I feel stressed sometimes as a leader in a new community!) I did make my rounds on Friday night dancing with all the ladies who attended the class at this lovely community-centered-house milonga.House Milonga in Anchorage

The highlights of the weekend were many – our hosts’ fabulous cooking and always having food for us, the openness of the dancers in the classes, the moose that crossed our path, the home studios and Café that were generously offered as teaching spaces and milonga venues. We had 22 people dancing at the same time at the  Saturday night milonga – very fun!

Some things that we hope the dancers will remember are: the tango attitude; all the things you can do with a dowel rod; the importance of their standing legs and their axis positions 1, 2, 3 (3, 2, 1); 50% “up” and embracing the partner and 50% “grounding” or reaching constantly into the earth, and to keep having fun dancing!
Rommel adds: Precision, Practice and Patience; and when all else fails “cross-training”!

Until we see you again Anchorage – maybe via skype for a practica or in Phoenix – keep dancing!

Teaching for us is about building relationships and we so enjoyed embracing tango with you.Sunday's Class

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Chicho y Juana Workshop at ASU

Chicho at ASUWho would have ever thought that ASU Argentine Tango club would have such world renown tango dancers come to visit with them?
I have been teaching Argentine Tango at ASU for 8 years and have watched the club grow and thrive. I have watched dreams come true through tango club. Maybe not gynormous dreams but dreams like, can we have a festival? can we have x teachers come here? I am always amazed and inspired by my students’ creativity and motivation. Yes, they are young and sometimes disorganized but I watch them learn so much through the process of creation. Maybe from the chaos rises the beauty! We are in a Phoenix burb after all.

Chicho y Juana offered a class to the Tango Club Practica on Thursday night and more than 40 students came. This class lasted for more than a generous hour and I think it blew some of the students’ minds. The Tango Club is open to ASU students who are not only in my class but to any ASU student currently enrolled at ASU.

Ironically, I took my first class with Chicho when I first started dancing tango and on his first and only trip to the Phoenix area prior to this visit with Juana. I have had the pleasure of taking classes with him throughout my tango journey. I am always impressed with his creativity. Possibly through my exposure to other kinds of artists I am not put off by his shy nature, which has often been referred to as unfriendly. He is a creative genius at work! It was really fun to watch him open up to the young students during this weekend: he listened to them. I know he and Juana had opportunity to share with tango club president, Ganesh. A time that I know will remain a lasting memory for Ganesh!

Juana at ASUThe way Chicho teaches reminds me of my modern dance days when I would take a class with a master teacher in a crowded room full of other eager to be seen dancers and they would throw choreography at us and then say, “now perform it backwards, invert it, retrograde it, mirror it, put it on the other side”. Chicho is not so extreme but he likes to offer ideas of creativity and possibilities in the movement form.

AND let us not forget – CONNECTION. He spoke of this wholeheartedly and importantly. Which of course makes me smile. The true magic between the partnership. And it’s not about the steps but about understanding the concept. Chicho said this repeatedly.
It goes back to “technique” – the technique of the dance is not that different along the spectrum of body types and labels, etc. One of my stellar students came to me last week and said, “what Chicho is saying is not that different from Graciela Gonzalez. Isn’t that interesting?” YES!

And this blog would not be complete without mentioning their spectacular 5 performances during the Saturday evening Grand Milonga in ASU’s Ballroom. Someone in the community commented to me that their performance energy was palpable and it filled the room. I experienced the same feelings, which I do when I see them perform. I think performing Argentine Tango as an improvised dance is an art form in addition to just learning to improvise. I think it’s a hard thing to do well. (and that’s a blog for another day!) Chicho and Juana won the hearts of many with their spectacular performances. They smiled and shared their dance generously with us. The highlight (if there’s a way to rank 1 song above another!) was Chicho’s dedication to Ganesh prior to their 3rd song performance to the slow challenging melody of Astor Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel. A rare thing, Chicho told the audience, to dedicate a performance to anyone.

I know this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Chicho y Juana and ASU Tango Club.
Daniela with Chicho y JuanaJuana and Ganesh

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Sensory Overload

daniela teaching 2

Daniela giving aural cues!

I hear from many of my students that sometimes they feel overloaded after a weekend festival. I know this feeling too and I was reminded recently of this fact.

As you all know I have recently moved into a new home and studio space, which is fantastic! And in the process of this move came the need to purge stuff. Stuff that I have held onto for many many years including a small article I had saved specifically about the topic of sensory overloading.

The article written by dance and science author, Margaret Skrinar was part of a Science and Dance series that she contributed to the Boston Dance Alliance newsletter during my modern dancer days. She says, “No other physical endeavor places greater demand on the sensory nervous system than dance.” Aren’t you feeling better already knowing this? She goes on to say that the nervous system can only effectively attend to one sensory item at a time and in a sensory overloaded situation like a class or workshop, each sensory mode becomes interference for the others.

As we are learning to Argentine Tango we are picking up information from our hearing – both cues from the instructor and the music; our sight is used to watch the demonstration of 2 bodies and their orientation to each other and the orientation in space; kinesthetically we are receiving information through pressure changes on the skin from our partner, the instructor, and the floor; and there’s proprioception, which is the ability for one part of the body to know where it is relative to the other parts, like where your left leg is relative to your arms in your embrace.

There are dancers who are accustomed to specific teachers and are able to handle multiple stimuli through what Skrinar calls “chunking and anticipation”. So if you have already taken class with me you filter some sensory information for another, you might tune out what I am saying to work on the visual, what I am doing and what you are seeing. Chunking has to do with putting information into big chunks as opposed to single units. I see this with my intermediate dancers who are able to identify a cruzada, for example, in a series of movements. They are able to chunk movements by identifying parts of it as la cruzada, this similar movement becomes one unit rather than six or seven or eight distinct steps.

So what can you do to reduce your sensory load and still improve?
Chunking and anticipating seem like good plans to me. Maybe begin by looking for elements that seem familiar. Crossed feet system or parallel system for example or that cruzada that you know so well. Do you know what kind of learner you are? Rely on that information to help you learn. Maybe listen more or listen less, or what about humming demonstration patterns or ideas. I know some visual learners who doodle as they see the movement, which helps their bodies understand what they are seeing. My students know that I have language that I use to express the timing of certain phrases ie: “taca taca tum” or “bum and bum and bum”. And then they imitate me to remember those phrases.

Some ideas for teachers:
1) Skrinar suggests lessening the visual stimulation, which would work for dancers who use the mirror to imitate their teacher. Which could be useful to turn away from a mirror to do drills, for example, requiring the body to rely on its own proprioception and kinesthesia to learn.
2) Show and don’t talk – decreasing the auditory stimulus. Or showing movement without music. (And I am sure this could be argued as I find movement so intrinsically tied to music that I need the music to learn but maybe you don’t.)
3) Ask dancers to just watch and not try to imitate to reduce interference.
4) After dancers try a phrase give them a moment for proprioceptive and kinesthetic information to be processed by the brain.
5) Give dancers time to try movements without visuals and aural interference.
6) Teach in chunks, which I think is a very popular strategy in tango!

What other strategies do you use to learn or to teach by that work for you? Share on the accesstango Facebook page @https://www.facebook.com/LearnArgentineTangowithDaniela

Skrinar, Margaret. “Sensory Overload: is it slowing your technique development?” Newsletter Vol.9 Number 4 of Boston Dance Alliance Newsletter. Boston, MA: July/August 1997. Print.

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