Learning Tango

About the Practilonga!

The Popular Practilonga!

Practice + Milonga = Practilonga!
Since my interview and time spent chatting with Mitra, I have found that the topic of growing tango and teaching beginners to really be a hot topic (again or still). I spoke recently to my colleague Karen Jaffe of Tangogypsies in Asheville, North Carolina and she spoke adamantly about the joy of practicing. The practica seems most logical, like with anything you need time to practice, to let something new sink into your body and your mind. And it should be a fun place to do that!

I remember in my early years of tango going to Buenos Aires and attending several practicas that were hosted by well-known maestros. It really was a practice space. It was a great way to meet people and to connect with them to go to milongas together usually after the practica. The atmosphere was casual, music playing in the background, people talking, drinking mate, asking the Maestro questions, usually with one partner, using the time to problem solve, to discover, to explore, to PRACTICE! There was no ronda (line of dance), it had the air of something about to happen! Like a classroom where everyone was told to take a partner and go to a corner and solve a problem, and at the end there would be a correct answer!

Over the years the Practilonga came to be, I think mostly in the US and Europe. This is a combination of the practica Karen Jaffe - TangoGypsiesand the milonga. Funny to think that these 2 could meet but it was / is an answer for communities where the traditional etiquette and structures of the milonga could be put aside. This might be due to community size or competing events.

I offer you Karen’s Practilonga user’s guide

What is a practilonga?

A practilonga is a social dancing event that combines the relaxed etiquette of a practica with many of the same elements you will find at a more formal milonga.

Designed for all level dancers, there is more light in the space and a designated area for people who want to stop to work on a movement or talk, where they would normally impede the line of dance at a milonga. That practice area can be delineated by chairs or tables, however you want to make it clear that that space is for practice.

How does it work?

The music is played in tandas, as is found at most formal milongas. Dancers may chose to continue social dancing, moving counter clockwise around the floor, working on refining navigation skills. They may also choose to work on elements of the dance, in the designated practice area. The rules of etiquette can be relaxed making it ok to dialog with your partner while dancing. If it becomes necessary to stop to dialog, or to work on something, then that couple can move to the practice area. Line of dance will be expected to continue moving.

Suggestions for a productive practice
1. Find an element, concept or movement; something specific to focus working on.
2. Ask a partner if they would like to work on that specific topic with you. You could ask them prior to coming to the practica or at the practica, but they might already have practicing plans with another. It also might depend on the community size.
3. Establish a warm-up practice period where each dancer is making “mental notes”, but otherwise remaining silent, perhaps 5 minutes or 2 songs.
4. After the warm-up period have a dialogue time, where each dancer has a chance to say something. Choose something that felt “good,” or “right” about the topic, and then something that “could be improved”. Focus on one point at a time.
5. Repeat the practice, working to incorporate the new information.
6. Dialogue and practice until you feel it is time to choose a new focus element, or to change partners.
7. REMEMBER to use “I” statements; I feel, I need, I would like, I think, etc. Generally, these are received better and they take away the feeling of blame. Avoid the use of negative words if possible. It’s always nice to thank your partner!
8. When in doubt or in need of assistance you can always direct the questions to assistants or to the teacher.

Karen: Practicing is not just for beginners, but for EVERY LEVEL of DANCER and I think, even MORE important for more experienced dancers who may have habits, that they would like to break out of in order to create new habits or to find new ways to make their dance more enjoyable and interesting. The focus really is on EXPANDING, it is not just a linear progression, it is QUANTUM.
I feel that even after 20 years of dancing, my continued study and intense practices during my annual month long trips to Buenos Aires, as well as exploratory practices and preparations for teaching workshops, are an important part of my growth as a dancer and teacher.

Find Karen at home in Asheville, in her garden, or on her monthly stays in Buenos Aires at Tangogypsies.com

To conclude, I think each community needs to be attentive to the group they are serving. Maybe some of the suggestions need to be altered. But communicating the goals of the space to your community definitely helps.

How does your successful practica or practilonga work?

Thanks for visiting Access Tango THE BLOG !

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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!

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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.

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Alignment, Posture, and Tango

Alignment and Posture and your Tango

What is the difference between these 2 words? When I hear alignment I think of my car: when it is aligned it functions properly. Posture makes me think of someone “posturing” a presentation to the world that may or may not be alignment.

We talk about our tango posture – how we configure our body to be able to dance tango.

But what about alignment – can we be aligned and dance tango?

Thanks for the picture https://www.funnyjunk.com/Posture/funny-pictures/5597251/5

I bring these ideas up, yes, because of my Restorative Exercise Certification and current obsession but also because I have dancers who come to me in a lot of pain thinking that is the end of their tango careers or that they need new shoes (which maybe they do) or that they will only dance with certain followers/ leaders (which might be good, too) but with some suggestions regarding alignment versus posture they’ve been able to change their dancing for the better.

So how can we define alignment?

The online dictionary offers us this: arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative positions.
That’s the direction we are headed but still not how I want to contextualize Tango and Alignment.
In the Whole Body Alignment course I took for the certification we spoke about alignment in these terms:

Alignment is NOT for the purpose of aesthetics, conveying an emotion, or to identify culture. It is the required skeletal position to achieve the desired outcome of accessing your full potential energy. Alignment is for cellular regeneration. We want to use our skeletal position for cellular regeneration. In order to get cellular regeneration we use our alignment to maximize the potential energy into kinetic energy. The best geometry = the least amount of joint friction or compression (which would cause pain or injury.)
(Daniela’s notes from lecture Whole Body Alignment )

amanda standing barefoot

Thanks Amanda

Alignment from the Restorative Exercise standpoint is a necessity to obtain optimal health. If your cells are regenerating they are healthy, they are receiving oxygen and expelling toxins and are essentially happy. (That’s the very short form!) And in reality this is not a new idea. Think about what chiropractors do, Alexander technique, or other similar modalities. They try to line you back up! So the concept is not new… but the approach might be.

In Restorative Exercise we use alignment markers, which are essentially boney landmarks on the body, that we want to align in relation to each other and, in whatever position we might be in, we are looking to have the best possible alignment of these markers. For example: If I am sitting on a chair, on the floor, or standing, my pelvic markers can be aligned, my feet, my knees, my head, ribs, etc, can all join in.

Ashlee dumping

Thanks Ashlee and Erick

I believe that we need POSTURE to dance tango.

Posture as defined by Merriam-Webster:
the position or bearing of the body whether characteristic or assumed for a special purpose

But how much POSTURE is too much? Is there such a thing as too much posture for tango? And can you use alignment markers to help your posture? I SAY YES! If you are in a lot of pain at any point in your dancing, then I say, clearly something is wrong.

I think we all need a tango coach and we all most definitely need an alignment coach. Alignment is needed for our overall health and well being as much as tango is needed for our health in other ways. For me they work synergistically.

Get in touch and peruse online videos for Restorative Exercise Nutritious Movement(TM).

 

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My Milonga Tips for Those Who Don’t Get It

My Milonga tips, the dance and music, not the place, for those who have a hard time getting it.

The dance, milonga, seems to elude people. You either love it, somehow plod through it, or avoid it all together. Which is a SHAME! Recently one of my fun dancers, a lead, asked me to teach him milonga. What? Why? “Because I just don’t get it”, he said. No wonder we never danced it before, we always seemed to dance the romantic tandas.

I mention this because I perceive tango and dancers in 2 categories: rhythmic or melodic. Not that we can’t be both but in general my experience (and remember my experience has been mostly with beginners at the university) is that people tend to lean towards one or the other. They might actually favor one over the other too, and it is reflected in their learning as well. Maybe not a great example but I love romantic tandas; I grew up listening to classical music and playing classical piano to become a concert pianist. Rommel (my former partner) grew up on salsas and cumbias, these are close to his heart and he manages to find rhythmic parts to even the most melodic of tangos!

My belief is that we can all hear music but some sounds resonate more than others. I often notice this in my classes as well. I have been known to change orchestras based on how I perceive a student moving. I had a student who couldn’t figure out a Di Sarli but managed well with Canaro!

So let’s get back to my friend who can’t find his milonga!

Because we had to establish a baseline for understanding I told him I’d start him off like I do my beginners so we would have a foundation and a shared language.

Firstly, I create some soft rules, for as we know rules are meant to be broken (sometimes)! They are: no using “la cruzada”, only use parallel system, remember that milonga is happy, and follows be ready to move. I find this allows the student to focus on finding the music and their “milonga-body”.

After establishing this the mind can relax a bit and I we continue:

1) Listening and putting music in the body. I play some Canaro milongas and I encourage students to find, what I call the stepping or marching rhythm or beats and we walk to these.

2) Finding the “milonga-body”. How the body is – a certain tone in the body to start with (since most beginners lack body awareness I find that hips and ribs and shoulders and knees can be moving all over the place) in order to arrive on the beat in this “milonga-body”, which has to feel different than their tango body. The body can’t be too lax at this stage because your body will be delayed in arriving on the beat of the music. In order to find this “milonga-body” I asked my friend to soften his knees (which means bend them) and imagine stepping with his whole foot.

3) The accent is down into the floor, if you straighten your knees you will tend to move out of the floor and look like you are bouncing.

The above outline comes first. Repeated to several different milongas and worked on alone.

The next phase is that I use “la milonga basico” or a variation of “la baldosa” step as a an anchor. I normally have introduced parts of this step in my tango classes so the form looks familiar and I now have them repeat the step to the music with a partner. I use parts of this pattern to launch into other combinations of steps and later into traspie.

Remember, I am just getting students jump started into their milonga and to not fear it. Also, when I taught semesterly at the University I spent about 6 hours on milonga and then would play milongas in subsequent classes as refreshers and practices.

So tell me, what has worked for you as a student or a teacher? Any of my former students feel free to comment as well.

(dedicated to NC – enjoy your milonga training until we dance again!)

Here are 2 videos of milongas: by Dany El Flaco Garcia y Luna Palacios en Buenos Aires and the other Maximiliano Cristiani y Jesica Arfenoni

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