Posts Tagged: ASU tango club

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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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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So Inspired

It was chilly this last weekend in Flagstaff but refreshingly so. ASU Tango Club hosted their fall retreat with teachers Korey and Adeline Ireland. The crowd consisted mostly of tango students who had been dancing at least one semester +. There were a small group of tango newbies diving into the tango pond and they managed magnificently without too much splashing about and only sore feet! I was so happy with the presence in the classes on Saturday – I think I counted over 70 people in the room. WOW! There were community members from Flagstaff and Sedona. Some people from Phoenix came and Prescott.

Korey and Adeline jointly guided us through techniques for walking and connection and then later on pivoting and boleos. Korey graciously played his bandoneon for us to dance to or listen to on Korey playing bandoSaturday night. (The bandoneon is the signature instrument of the sound of Argentine Tango.) The atmosphere was fun and light. I was so happy to see so many young people enjoying tango and each others company, making new friends and visiting with tango club members from previous years.

I am reminded that tango is about connection – connecting to another person, to yourself, to your community or a new community, and to music. Korey and Adeline spoke about really listening to each person to hear with our bodies what is needed in the connection. The result of all that listening is where all the fancy moves come from.

I wish you a week of happy connections! Where are you connecting in your life this week?

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Tango Hangover

Announcement:
8 week Argentine Tango 1.5 course at Plaza de Anaya call (480) 894-8777

Tango Experience teachers and board

After an action packed tango week comes the tango hangover.

The ASU Tango Experience was a step up from last year’s festival. Although I was thoroughly immersed in assisting classes and being on time it was so wonderful to watch as students took their dancing challenges head on.

I realize for this entry that I have so much to write about: the festival experience, my time with Graciela Gonzalez, the classes, the milongas, etc.  And even though I am Faculty Adviser to the tango club and only really supposed to be advising, I was asked to jump in and help in several aspects of the planning and execution of the event.

I also think it’s important for people to understand that bringing instructors to teach is an expensive endeavor. The teachers all have fees for their time investment as well as their travel and lodging expenses. ASU Tango Club applies for support to fund venues and a few other miscellaneous items but it’s the support from attendees that actually make it possible. And because it’s a student run organization they are learning valuable life skills: communication, delegation, organization, handling budgets, etc.

Having Graciela Gonzalez stay with me for a week and working as her translator in classes gave me a renewed appreciation for our dance. The intricacies, the nuances, the explanations for styles, the embrace, the walk, where vocabulary comes from, why do we dance the way we do? It is pretty amusing to speculate that at some point in time milongueros just did what they did, they danced!

Until my next encounter with her, I am left with exercises and reminders – not just dance reminders but life reminders. The notiTango Festival Classon of using the whole foot in the dance is one that I am so happy to have heard her say as I have been leaning in this direction with my teaching and so to hear her say it was a relief! Although she has let go of her famous “fountain” image for followers I really appreciated the idea of a fixed point for both the follower and leader – an intention that helps to suspend us 50% up and 50% grounded. She had mentioned that an ideal room would be one that would allow us to hang suspended from the ceiling, with our legs dangling towards the floor. A lot of what I heard from her this weekend addresses an issue that I think is a current trend, posture and alignment. I think this will continue to be a hot topic since many of us spend so much of our time sitting down in chairs that don’t serve us posturally.

She mentioned that she had an obsession with hands this weekend. She kept reminding me to touch her when we were demonstrating, that somehow my touch was too light, that I wasn’t really touching, holding her. You can hold your own body up and hold your own arms up and still touch and connect through the hands with your partner. She reminded us that our hands help us to to balance as well.

Graciela, Jaimes & Christa

Graciela, Jaimes & Christa

Graciela also reminded me that I have to be on my own, working on my dance, in my body. We can’t blame someone else for our bad dancing or our disconnection from the dance or our partner. A good one right? And all I could think about was, where did I go? Have I gotten lost in the mentality of “I have to do more to get better” when all I really need to do is be me and enjoy dancing? This is a tricky one for me, as I was a trained dancer and an only child – I have always felt comfortable on my own. I took class and trained my body – and I was responsible for it and I knew that! So how did Tango become different in my mind? I guess it’s just a simple reminder that I am me and you are who you are and if we dance honestly without wanting to change the other it will be great!

One of the last questions I asked Graciela was “is it supposed to just feel easy?” and she opened her eyes widely and cracked a smile, nodding her head, and said, “yes”.

Now you know why there’s a tango hangover. Graciela changed my dancing when I first met her and she continues to do so. I am grateful for her insights into the dance, its people, and feel that her images are clear and easy to assimilate. Anyone who takes class with her is always impressed.

Thanks to all who shared the festival with us. Keep dancing…

 

 

 

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ASU Tango Experience 2012 – Are you ready for a different kind of festival?

I am pleased to announce that Arizona State University Argentine Tango Club is hosting a new kind of festival experience in March 2012.

For all of those who crave learning and remembering that which you learn, this event is for you!

March 2, 3, 4, 2012

On the campus of ASU in Tempe, AZ

3 world class teachers:

Graciela Gonzalez

Tomas Howlin

Jaimes Friedgen and Christa Rodriguez

Each class is followed by a guided practica with 1 of the guest teachers and local teachers.

Registration Opens SOON! and there will be a Special Sale.

 

 

 

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