Teaching Tango

Tango Success Stories!

What is success in tango? Is it just learning a new dance to add to your list? Is it about meeting people and making new friends? I hear quite a bit about how Argentine Tango has changed people’s lives. So in the spirit of the Top 10, here are my Top 3 for this year.

Most of you know that I spend a significant amount of time teaching college students. This year Wes found Argentine Tango. He told me prior to starting that he knew he lacked social skills and didn’t spend a lot of time interacting with members of the opposite sex. Wes dedicated the year to tango, 2 full semesters. He mentioned to me prior to the end of school that he enjoyed tango so much for the friends he had made in class. He felt that his confidence had significantly improved.

Lisa met her current beau traveling to dance Argentine Tango in another city. She fell head over high heels for Argentine Tango and soon found time on her business trips to sneak tango in after her meetings. She has tango friends in nearly every major city in the US and now she has a beau too! Sounds like the best of both worlds!

san diego tango fest milongaIt isn’t enough to say that this passionate dance will build confidence, make you feel smart and sexy, and allow you to have tango friends all over the world but hear how Mabel found some stress relief.

It is amazing how Mabel found tango at all. She worked full time and was pursuing a new career by going to school at night. But she knew that she needed a distractor, as she called it! So she, being very organized and committed, told me ahead of time what she wanted and how much she could dedicate to learning this dance. So she took a private lesson once a week and a group class when she could. She found that the time she focused on her tango classes allowed her to feel more relaxed and energized for her studies and allowed her to de-stress from her job.

The Phoenix area has opportunities to enjoy this fun dance at least 3 times per week and sometimes more. Workshops, visiting artists, practice time, even tours to Buenos Aires, and quality instruction are available for those who want to learn the most impressive and elegant dance there is!

Have a Wonderful New Year and may the Argentine Tango continue to inspire you!

*names have been changed.



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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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Leading Ladies this Weekend!

La paz JumpingJust back from La Paz Tango Festival and jumping for joy that I am hosting another Leading Ladies workshop on Saturday from 12 – 2pm at the Solana Tango Room. RSVP to me if you will be joining us. Leading Ladies is a time for ladies to play with leading and following in a comfortable relaxed atmosphere. Come join us!

La Paz Tango Festival was a relaxed affair. We met so many wonderfully nice, open, and receptive people who have promised to come visit us in Phoenix! It was such a joy sharing tango with them. Rommel and I even got to  snorkel with the sea lions on our day off.  Now that was spectacular and fun!

The long weekend offered me the opportunity to remember that everyone has a story, something that may have changed the course of their life forever. And in Tango – to be open and receptive allows for the intimate dialogue of tango to emerge. I also know that I just have to be myself, to dance my dance, the best way that I can.

A little philosophy for the day!
I look forward to classes over the next few weeks.
Remember: Tuesday practicas for the next 3 weeks until the 17th (with Rommel hosting and teaching). Saturday the 6th – Leading Ladies, Saturday the 14th – Intermediate workshop on Volcadas.  And lastly 2 more Sunday night classes and practicas, with a new schedule rolling out in the new year! Always check accesstango.com for information and updates.


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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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Are you an effective learner?

Some of you know that I am a part of the Tango Learning team, tango teacher, Tomas Howlin’s creation of the Tango Learning program. It is a progressive program designed to help students learn and also to help those who are teaching to better instruct. Each level is a 3 day intensive that begins each day with a body knowledge session that I have guided during the Tango Learning in Portland and will be doing again in Albuquerque at the end of the month.

Recently Tomas posted on Facebook  a link to an article entitled:  4 Key Characteristics to Effective Learners. And of course I see the tie in with Tango and Tomas’ course. Here are the 4 key characteristics to being an Effective Learner: 1) they are curious 2) they are process-oriented 3) they apply what they have learned 4) and they retain.

Are you a good learner??? (is that proper English?)

I know from watching my students over the years that applying what they have learned has certainly helped them in understanding and retaining the subtleties of Argentine Tango. Practicing helps and even spending a little time each day walking or thinking about a new concept of a just learned concept will help it to translate into your body. Although the 4 Characteristics doesn’t translate directly to Learning Styles but we will address that in another blog!Take Notes note

I found early on in my modern dance days I would spend time after rehearsals writing down the sequence of movements in order to better remember them. I was never good a drawing but I had stick figures and practically my own language and abbreviations for directions and body movements. I carried this practice into my early tango days when I was taking classes with as many teachers as possible and learning to lead. I would look at those notes before going to dance and would pick something to practice from the notes. I found this practice most helpful in retaining the information in my mind and in my body.

When studying extensively with Graciela I took mountains of notes. I then retyped them onto my computer which added another dimension of retention. I don’t feel obligated to do this, I like it and it helps me revisit the material.

I look forward to your successful learning and remember that practicas are designed for that: for learning.
AND HEY – It’s Tuesday! Practica @ SNAP at 8:30pm.




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