Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Change roles, please!

I danced recently with a young woman from Buenos Aires who started tango just last summer, and spoke excellent English. An interesting perspective on learning, from someone who came to it recently, but in that dream place where the milongas never cease. Reminded me that someone challenged me a while back to come up with a better format for classes. My only qualification is that I have have survived a wide range of them...

The obvious candidate is traditional: guys learn by dancing with each other. I'm not sure there's any reason why that should be a perfect model for us: social circumstances change. This has been tried in London: I've been to workshops where it was men-only for the first hour, and then the women came in for the second hour. It didn't really feel as if worked that well.

People often complain about 'steps', but we can't avoid them. Even walking involves steps! Tete taught 'steps', so did Ricardo Vidort. It's how they are taught that matters. What happens in most mass classes is that cause and effect get separated. Typically, the male teacher takes the men to learn the men's role, while the female teacher teaches the women their role. In other words, the cause, the lead, is separated from the effect, since the effect is learned separately. This works well in big classes since the results are obvious during the class. Unfortunately, this doesn't translate into good dancing with other partners in milongas. Leaders struggle to repeat choreographies they've learned in classes and fail to take account of other dancers around them.

Of course, tango can be taught in small fragments, steps, which can be strung together in classes, much as they would be strung together in a milonga. But one way of reconnecting cause and effect might be for the teachers, around half way through the class, to say 'Change roles, please!' instead of 'Change partners please!' Five or 10 minutes of aimiable chaos might ensue, but that doesn't necessarily harm a class, and it's just possible that a new mutual understanding of how tango can work might arise. Women are often curious about the lead, without wanting to be leaders, and it's always been said that you dance better if you understand the other half.


Chris, UK said...

"But one way of reconnecting cause and effect might be for the teachers, around half way through the class, to say 'Change roles, please!'"

Changing roles in a beginners' class doesn't solve the problem that still it has people trying to learn by partnering with others that can't dance. You can't connect with an effect that's absent. The trad method works not because the guy starts in the other role, but because the guy starts by dancing with someone who can already do it. That isn't going to happen in a typical class where the only two who can do it would rather dance only with each other and have the students merely watch.

Elizabeth said...

The thing is, that for me, the task of learning to be in follower mode was difficult enough. When I was a beginner it required my full attention (still does) to be able to listen to the lead. So I think it might have been a bad idea for me to switch roles then. Recently I have played around with it, purely for technical reasons and to better understand the dance, but not to lead..not at all.
Maybe having more experienced dancers come to beginners classes, as helpers (silent I hope) might work better?

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks for the comments. No, it was intermediate classes that I had in mind.

When I suggested 'change roles' in (intermediate) classes I had in mind what Elizabeth says; in order to get some experience of the other side 'purely for technical reasons and to better understand the dance'. I was wondering what a contemporary version of the 'trad method' might look like. If Chris, UK can recreate the 'trad method' it might be very helpful. Social circumstances in Europe now aren't the same as they were in Buenos Aires 60 years ago, and I very much doubt that it can be re-recreated, but I'm not against someone trying to get it going!

The idea of 'changing roles' is just to refocus classes on the need for leading, rather than just following 'steps'. It might give a chance to establish exactly what the lead is.

& good teachers dance with, and not so much in front of, their students. I watched 'Beto' Ortiz teaching very recently. A guy complained that his partner couldn't follow, so Beto simply held her and led her: she was perfect! Which I think/hope was a lesson that will long be remembered.

TangoAirO said...

In my opinion role reversal can be fun and interesting.
Changing roles shows you the other person's perspective, what is being communicated and how things are achieved. If you've been to lots of Tango classes you'll undoubtedly have noticed that its rarely an even number and not necessarily more ladies either. I've found myself dancing with other males on quite a few occasions and although there were times I did not enjoy this one bit, I must say that it was a bit of an eye opener. I find following quite difficult myself, but naturally it is more so with some people than others. I put this down to the connection between the dancers more so than their individual ability. One thing for sure, I now have a better understanding of the followers role and admiration for followers who listen to their partners and follow what is being transmitted.
As far as dancing with people from other levels, especially beginners, is concerned ... well, cast your mind back to when you started. I was amazed at how few ladies wanted to dance with me and found some people’s behaviour and reactions off putting and even rude at times, so much so that I almost quit Tango for good at various point. I often hear people wondering about why there seem to be less male Tango dancers in general and looking back at my own experiences it appears to be obvious. Still I would encourage all Tango novices to persevere as the rewards are worth it and not necessarily that far away, keep at it and I promise you won't regret it! I sometimes still go to beginner lessons, to recap and work on the foundations which are so easily overlooked by many. When I practice with beginners it always reminds me of my first few lessons and that provides me necessary patience and will to enjoy the class. Most people think it as a complete waste of time, I look at it as another important role in Tango that everyone should participate in for it will make you a better dancer for sure.