Reflections on Tango

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/

Let us know your thoughts!

Read more

New Ways to Engage Newbies in Tango Part I

Are there New(er) Ways to Engage Newbies in Tango? (This is a 2 part blog.)

As most of you know, who have been reading my blogs over the years, I had the privilege of teaching Argentine Tango at ASU for ASU Tango Club10 years. My students were beginners, first time dancers, first time tangueras/as. The setup was (a course for credit) twice per week for about 3 hours (after a few years the department made some changes and I lost 15 minutes!), and the class was a semester long course about 16 weeks.

In addition, I had experiences teaching beginners in community classes – bootcamps, weekend immersions, 4 week courses, 6 week courses etc. And I always found these experiences quite varied. Always, with the intention of building and growing the community searching for a perfect working formula.

I often thought the variable was time, that the length of time that I was able to spend with the ASU students made the difference in the learning of tango among these different setups but probably there was more to it.

The students also had a Club where they would enthusiastically host classes and events. There were no “adults” supervising, they were on their own and free to do what they wanted (as long as they were safe and didn’t deplete their budget!)

As time went on, and people would ask me about the success of the Club and the students at ASU I really wondered how it was so different. It was clear that not all students fell in love with tango but there was a core group of students who kept it alive year after year.

I began to conclude that tango had to be social first and foremost. (Obviously, right?) The students would hang out or do group activities and whether it included tango or not didn’t make any difference. They liked to hang out with each other. As a group they brightened any room, any milonga. This is why they became popular go-to kids for local festivals.

I know that communities have blamed the unfriendliness of the core dancers or the cliquish nature of tangueros for the diminishing size of certain communities. But if you think about it, that’s the point isn’t it? If you don’t like socializing why would you keep doing it? Some are more masochistic than others, some dancers have moved to other cities just for a nicer welcome.

BA tour Eating outIf we look at the roots of tango, I think it has always been social first. When you go to dance tango in Buenos Aires you go to a Social Club normally, not to a dance studio or a restaurant. People gather their friends together and sit together at a table with snacks and wine and laugh and share life stories for their typical Friday night out.

So maybe it is true that if dancers didn’t like the socializing that is what stopped them from sticking with tango. (click here to read Clay’s Tango Survey results or to take the survey Why I Quit Tango)

Reminds me of urban sociologist, Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place, where he discusses the importance of informal gathering places, not your home but that space where you meet up with friends, cafes, pubs, for example. Maybe dance halls qualifies.

EMPOWERING OTHERS BY SHARING

I think one of the reasons why the ASU tango program was successful in terms of students learning to dance tango and becoming the dancers that others sought after at festivals and local milongas was the mixture of the social aspect and the fact that they were empowered to help other dancers grow.

Is Tango experiencing a lull in its masses? is it more difficult to get waves of newbies interested? Possibly and I think part of the reason is the loss of its “sociability” but also because no one is empowered to bring along the “babies”. Traveling teachers come and go, local teachers either focus on those already who know how to dance and sometimes rarely focus on beginners, let alone on how to keep them. ASU About music class

I remember one summer I was invited to teach a Tango 101 course in DC (with Tango Mercurio) and at the end of the cycle of classes I invited them all to my home to eat, socialize and dance if they wanted. THEY LOVED THIS! Now whether they stayed dancing I am not sure but it was definitely spoken about as a great idea after I left.

Another underemphasized aspect of the ASU kids’ learning experience is not just the social aspect but their sharing of tango material. Tango 1 class was for the introduction – context, a bit of culture, they would learn about embrace, pivots, ochos, giros. They were also asked to attend Tango Club and 3 community milongas and write about their observations. In the Tango 2 course it was more like a laboratory – each semester with a different focus depending on what the students were interested in. I would create questions, projects, discussions for them to explore during class, also combining newer students with students who were more experienced. I strongly believe that a peer to peer learning environment encouraged in the classroom and in their Tango Club helped them to grow and to become curious and eager learners which they would eagerly explore and share in their Tango Club experiences.

Tango Club was an important factor in their growth and exploration as dancers. They were allowed to share whatever they wanted during that time. (For example; the more experienced dancers shared more complicated steps or patterns that they had seen on Youtube that they were enthusiastic about, or something they learned by attending a festival.) WITH ENTHUSIASM and EXCITEMENT!!!!

So is there a place for peer to peer learning outside of the academic setting?

How would it be designed? Shaped, marketed?

I reached out to Mitra Martin, Founder of Oxygen Tango LA for her ideas and explorations with peer to peer learning.
READ ABOUT IT in Part 2, next week.

In the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts! Please share them below.

Read more

A Letter

A few years ago I started blogging and dedicated that first blog to my father, Carlos Borgialli. Recently we were in discussion about tango and my travels, isolation, loneliness, why do people want to learn tango, etc. Shortly after he crafted a letter to a doctor friend and he cc’d me on it. I am sharing the letter with you today. (I edited it for grammar and spelling and I took out the parts that weren’t relevant.)

Welcome 2017!

January 5, 2017

Dear Dr. M,

Happy New Year to you!
As you well know, I am not a psychologist or a sociologist but I do have over 40 years of experience managing technical teams and the most challenging experience of being a father.

During the last few weeks I was attracted and intrigued by the US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, in his 2016 commencement at the University of Arizona in which, among other things he stated:

 … We have stronger internet connections but weaker personal connections… I learned early on in medicine that isolation was the most common challenge my patients faced. It has real consequences. Isolation and weakening social connections are associated with increased risk of heart disease, declining brain function and shorter life spans.

Dad and I in Mar del Plata

Dad and I in Mar del Plata

I thought that these were issues facing retirees or old people but at the same time my daughter forwarded me a video interview of Simon Sinek regarding the millennials. Among the key points of his presentation there is one passage that caught my attention:

Friendships are superficial they will admit to their friends that they don’t count on their friends, they don’t rely on their friends. They have fun with their friends but they also know that their friends will cancel on them if something better comes along. Deep meaningful relationships are not there because they never practice the skill.

Every generation has its challenges and each generation has found ways to overcome them. However, in all of them, it required interacting with a human being. So social skills were paramount to find a job, a wife, partner, friends, etc. etc. in short, to live in a society.

I drive by a school bus stop every morning and I see the kids waiting and no one is talking, all of them are hooked to their phone. Is this the new norm? They are becoming handicapped because by the time they enter the “workforce” they will need to interact with other humans. However, I am finding that his problem is also affecting the older generations. Watch the mall, lonely people walking alone. Maybe it is an epidemic and we, me, are in denial.

As Mother Teresa said, “loneliness (and the feeling of being unwanted) is the most terrible of poverty”. Are we becoming the richest, most technologically advanced but individually “poor” society?

Technology should be a resource to assist humans and not a vice or addiction just as Simon Sinek stated.

The reality is that technology will continue to evolve and perhaps will make isolation more prevalent. Social media and the likes of Facebook do not create friends, nor do dating sites.

My daughter has a masters in dance and teaches tango, travels all over and she confirmed that loneliness and isolation is one of the reasons why she has so many participants in her classes. Some of them have stated time and again that “tango” has changed their lives. I do not think that tango changed their lives, I think that the mere act of socializing, interacting with others is what Dad and I as toddlermade the difference, a new world for many, perhaps.

And by the way, learning tango is not an easy task but it does promote nonverbal communication and interactions that are not technically assisted. You have to leave your phones, connect with people!!!!

It could be the cheapest medicine for isolation, although insurance does not cover it, but the results could be a longer life.

All the best,

Carlos G. Borgialli

 

 

Read more

Au Revoir Montreal Hello Private Lessons in Phoenix

Au Revoir Montreal! Hello Phoenix!
It is snowing on my last full day in Montreal. It appears that snow opened and closed my trip here. I met some wonderfully Longueil Class Canadawarm and enthusiastic people during my stay. It was such a pleasure to be here and to reconnect with some “old” bodies (!) and new ones!
During my travels, it is always fun to experience running into some of my mentors and teachers who have impacted my life in some way. Here in Montreal I ran into Tomas Howlin and Graciela Gonzalez.  I had an insightful conversation with Tomas and seeing Graciela always brings me great joy.
I so appreciate Tomas’ clarity of the bigger picture and how articulate he is in this expression. In discussing tango and realizing that there are fewer dancers now who were ever in touch with the old milonguer(os) (as); the idea that going to Buenos Aires and being able to get a glimpse of those “greats” dancing is basically gone. A lineage of people to be able to look up to or to emulate or to say, “aha, that’s where that came from”. And now, we ask, what is truth in tango? Is there really permanence at all? You can find all things on the internet, all truths, all ideas, opinions. Youtube shows us how it can all be done without really understanding or knowing or grasping a context for it all. How great on one hand that if you look up how to walk in tango or how to execute a certain move, you can probably find it, done and explained a variety of ways. No real experts, just a sea of voices, bodies. And what gets left behind? Well, probably the next person who outranks you in Google views and “thumbs”!Anca and Jean Sebastien
And Graciela continues to inspire me with her body intelligence in conveying tango in a most natural way, free of tension – THIS IS THE WAY TO BE! just sayin’!!!

I am off to Phoenix, Arizona, arriving on Thursday. Happy to be teaching in familiar places with some familiar faces! I have a week of activity and technique and dancing to share with you! Hope to see you first off at Mijana for the open class at Nostalgias Milonga.

I have set aside some time on Monday, December 12th for private lessons. If you are interested please contact me directly.
I have three 1 hour slots from 4pm – 7pm available. There is some other times available as well just send me a message. If it is to go over material from the weekend or to work on body alignment topics, I am here for you!!! As we all know one on one time can really make a difference in your dancing!

Read more

Successful Women’s Weekend Berlin

It was a successful Women’s Weekend in Berlin filled with leading, Daniela FW Saturdayfollowing, dancing, laughter and great enthusiasm.

When Daniela (Feilcke -Wolff) and I spoke about doing A Women’s Weekend there was no hesitation for either one of us. She has been doing Tangueras workshops as I had done the leading ladies evenings in Phoenix. The bigger questions were about how to make it different or special. One thing we did was to add our Women’s Only milonga to it. I’m not completely sure, but it does seem like it was the first one in Berlin (hard to believe, so the fact finding on that is still open).

Daniela and I have similar and yet, very different Tango background stories and therefore our pedagogical approaches are also differently flavored. Our goals were to give these varied insights into learning how to lead as women. With mixed experience levels the women in attendance took 12 hours of tango class which included laying a foundational structure that included in general walking, turning, embrace, and ideas for being creative and musical in your social dancing.

On the heels of a wonderful women’s weekend of Tangueras – leading, following, dancing – Sharna Fabiano and Mitra Martin of Oxygen Tango both posted great blogs around the theme of women only events in Tango. How timely and how supportive! In Sharna’s Blog she addresses one of the biggest questions that I get from men (and some women), WHY? She mentions 3 reasons as to WHY: the Happiness Quotient, Practical Skills, and Stress Busting. Which I totally agree with. And probably falling under all 3 of these categories, came a message from a young man who shared that young women are sometimes bothered by men who come to events and milongas to meet women or to take them home. An all woman’s event takes this pressure and worry off of the women; busting the stress factors!

Women are natural nurturers and empathic givers. It is vital for them to receive and be nourished as continual giving out ends in depletion, an increasingly common health problem. Women instinctually know how to nourish each other, and just being with each other is restorative.
– Tanja Taljaard and Azriel Re’Shel in Why Women Need a Tribe

Weiber Milonga

The All Women’s milonga had 35 women in attendance. We were so happy to have this many women at the first one of these events. We had a lovely young up and coming DJ Deborah Maus, who did a fantastic job of keeping us dancing tanda after tanda the whole night! And the feedback was immensely positive: “Can’t wait for the next one”, “Fantastic!”, “Nice relaxed atmosphere”.

All the ladies danced and of course chatted as when you get women in a room, we must chatter! I was overwhelmed by ALL the smiling faces!!!! Honestly, there was so much presence and joy in the room!

The women came from all different groups of the Berlin Tango scene and really, everyone danced with practically everyone!!!!

What are your thoughts on Women’s Events and Milongas? Would love to hear your feedback.
When’s the next one you ask? Stay tuned!!!!

(In respecting the privacy of the dancers in attendance, I posted pictures with the permission of the dancers.)

 

Read more
« Previous PageNext Page »