Posts Tagged: argentine 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

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.


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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3 Quick Updates

Firstly, thanks to all for a great workshop this weekend. It was great to explore Pugliese with you. Fantastic dancing! Remember it’s not necessarily about ALL the notes!!

Secondly, a reminder that Practica Tuesday the 21st will be about Milonga timing – should be fun to do drills in milonga timing!!! Come join me at 7:00pm for class and 8:30pm starts the practica (new playlist, I promise!).

Thirdly, How many lady’s want to learn to lead? I am asking because I would like to host a Leading Ladies workshop and would like to know what the level of interest is. Please send me a message.

Lastly, SAVE THE DATES! Next workshops: June 22 & 29th. Intermediate topics (still being determined) from 12 – 1:30pm and Beginners Immersion 1:30pm – 3:30pm.

See you dancing!

Teaching at ASU Night Gallery

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Part 2 – Finals

I have reflected on the experience as a whole and have received a lot of mail and commentary over the week. It has been fantastic to have the opportunity to share and voice my experience with friends and tango family worldwide. Thank you for that! And the following reflection is many layered as is tango!

I have come to the conclusion that the finals of the US Tango competition reflect the status of Argentine tango dancers in the US: confused.

We see this in our milongas: confused dancers. And why are they? Because of all the mixed ideas that are heard from teachers, these might be classified as styles. Teachers who tell you to share your axis, or to be on your own axis, to pivot, to not pivot, to lead with the chest, no with the legs! It’s amazing that we can even dance together in cities all over the world. So when dancers dance at milongas with all the varied understandings they have, how can it be expected that this idea of dancing in a salon or a Tango Salon competition be clear. I don’t think anyone in the US has ever really defined it for us.

There are many beautiful dancers in the US. Dancers who are musical, understand connection, have a clear walk, and good technique. There are dancers in the US who go yearly to Buenos Aires to train with other Tango Salon champions and more importantly with their teachers. Yet the US representation at the Mundial (the World Cup of Tango Salon in August in Buenos Aires) is small relative to the size and population of dancers in our country and the participation in the US is just as small. Why don’t the really good dancers compete?

The idea of a competition and the misunderstanding of the label tango salon has been a hindrance for the US. And I admit, I was skeptical, as those who have read my blog over the years know. But the truth is that the idea of Tango Salon as something separate from dancing socially is just not true and definitely misconstrued. Salon dancers do train by dancing socially at milongas. The idea is to dance to the music, in a comfortable embrace, socially. It is not about dancing off axis as a leader or a follower. It is about dancing in close proximity on your axis, showing an elegant walk, expressing the music through turns and dynamic changes of directions. It is about dancing! And when you begin to really focus on your dancing you just get better.

Through the competition, there is a fantastic opportunity sanctioned by the Ministry of Culture of Buenos Aires, to be acknowledged within the tango community at large as knowing and understanding Argentine Tango. It is amazing to me to learn that Argentines still don’t think that Americans can dance tango, that we can’t possibly understand it, because we are not Argentine! This reminds me of my Argentine, former soccer player father talking about how the Argentines / Latins feel the game of soccer and the team harmony and that the Americans focus on individual skills. In Buenos Aires you will find droves of dancers from Italy, Turkey, Colombia, Russia, Japan, China and Korea spending time, energy, and money training and dancing in Buenos Aires, participating every year in their own country competition as well as the Mundial in Buenos Aires demonstrating their understanding of the dance. Argentine Tango is being recognized not just as a dance for Argentines but a dance for many. Only 31 couples came to compete in SF this year. As I said, competition in the US is not widely accepted and it appears that there are few teachers making a case for it even if what they are teaching is just that, tango for salon.

The most unfortunate part of the US Argentine Tango Salon competition this year is that it resets a false understanding of what dancing in a salon is. If you have never judged a tango salon competition before or never participated in one, how can you judge objectively? The judges are a key factor for any progress, for the US to be seen as understanding the dance. The judges are responsible for giving a true representation of what kind of dancers are in the US. The goal should also be to have the chosen couple actually prepared for their participation in the Mundial (this is the prize for the first place Salon competitors from this competition, they are sent to Buenos Aires to compete in August). The level of dancing at the competition is so high not only from Argentines but from all those aforementioned countries. As an aside, the judging at the Mundial has been under fire for many years, so much so that many older milongueros told us that they choose not to be judges.

So what are those judges looking for? This is still a bit of a mystery to me but we are given the following rules: (the words in bold are not my own they were sent to us this way.)

  • Once formed, the couple must not separate while the music is playing. This means that they will not break the embrace, which is considered the basic dance position in tango.
  • For the position to be considered correct, the body of one of the members of the couple must be contained all the time by the arm of the other. It is understood that in certain figures, this may be flexible, but not throughout the duration of the dance. All movements must be made within the space allowed by the couple’s embrace.
  • As is typical in a dancehall, couples must constantly move counterclockwise and may not stay in the same part of the choreographic space, as this would obstruct the circulation on the dance floor.
  • Neither member of the couple may lift his or her legs above the knees.
  • The jury will take into account the couple’s musicality and walking style as fundamental to the score.
  • Within these parameters, the couple may perform any commonly used figures, including barridas (sweeps), sacadas al piso (drawn to the floor), enrosques (twists), etc.
  • All other figures typical of Stage Tango such as ganchos (hooks), saltos (jumps) and trepadas (climbs) are completely forbidden.

Seems like there is lots of leeway and room for interpretation. It doesn’t say you must perform commonly used figures, just that you may. But it seems that there is an understanding among those who seriously train for the Salon Competitions that there are certain figures danced as an expression of the music. And not to mention that how you execute them will be different for an early Di Sarli versus a late Pugliese Orquesta, for example.

So it seems that we are left with a disconnect, a fissure, of sorts. The confusion lies within the dancers’ bodies and their understanding of US Argentine Tango Salon Championships Finalistshow tango should be danced in the competition, the confusion lies with a lack of communication from the judges to the dancers as to what they are expecting to see, and finally, a lack of clarity from the organizers of the US Tango Salon competition, as to what their objective is in hosting this event? Is it to promote tango only? To improve the level of dancing in the US? Is it to Americanize tango salon?

On a final note, I saw beautiful dancing in the competition this weekend. It was a pleasure to share rondas with these dancers. Congratulations to the winners and we keep dancing!





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Working with ABIL and Multiple Abilities

It was about 1 year ago that Belinda from the community approached Rommel to start doing Tango with ABIL – Arizona Bridge to Independent Living at SPOFIT (the Virginia G. Piper Sports and Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities). What a wonderful journey it has been and it continues to be.

Adaptive Tango

Rommel and I have taken some of the basic concepts from Tango and presented them to our students. We have had any number of students with a range of abilities. We adapt the tango material for each situation creating a space for creativity, exploration and fun. It might not look completely like what we know as Argentine tango but we are going for the feel and looking for each person to connect with another. We discover more as we go along. We discover that we truly accept each person wherever they are in their body. We all really have mixed abilities and it is what we do with them that matters.

Thank you to Tim, Terry and Wyatt as well as Belinda and Rommel for a wonderful journey and showing me once again how powerful Argentine Tango can be…


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