Tango Argentino > Group Lessons vs. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Learning

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by TomTango, Apr 14, 2017.

  1. TomTango

    TomTango Active Member

    I've been having conversations recently about the most common form of tango learning (group lessons) being a poor way of teaching for reasons such as the one-size-fits-all structure, pressure for all students to keep up at the pace of the group, and demotivation for advanced dancers to attend.

    The alternative suggested is practica-based learning where learning is broken up into micro-goals (example: "learn to shift weight," "learn to step on the beat," "learn a parallel cross"). Students who already have mastery over a certain skill pair up with someone who needs to learn it, and they work together peer-to-peer. Here's a video of the process:

    Here's a site explaining everything in more detail:

    I was wondering what people thought of the merits of such a method? Has anyone seen it in use?
    • Do you see it taking more or less effort for the instructor vs. group classes?
    • Do you think the problems ascribed to group classes are valid?
    • My big question: how do you get the advanced dancers into the class to help out? What is their motivation?
    Larinda McRaven likes this.
  2. ArbeeNYC

    ArbeeNYC Member

    You need both, at least in the beginning. But it sounds like a structured practica, which I haven't seen. And it also requires a willing partner to help you along, which is another problem. I'd say the most difficult aspect of practice/learning is finding a compatible partner who is willing to practice with you. The other problem with the video is that you need a number of willing partners who are more experienced. I don't see that working on a regular basis given that most of us need or want to work on our own problems. Another potential point of failure here is the technical skill of the more experienced participant, who is not the teacher and maybe not all that experienced, only more knowledgeable than the beginners.
    Mladenac and Reuven Thetanguero like this.
  3. Tango Distance

    Tango Distance Active Member

    One thing I have seen work is to have a beginner's class for the 1st hour, a practica for the 2nd hour, and an advanced class for the 3rd hour. The practica then becomes a mixer for the newer and more experienced dancers, and often the more experienced dancers help the newer ones.

    Something else I have seen is to allow advanced students to take the beginner's class for free. Experienced men were much more likely to retake the beginner's class than experienced women, so it also had the advantage of helping the gender balance.

    Yet something else I have seen is a crash course right before a Milonga mixes expert and beginning dancers.

    I have heard about this but not experienced it myself: A class that is 1/3 beginning stuff, 1/3 intermediate stuff, and 1/3 advanced stuff. The idea is that even experts need to tune their basics, and beginners either muddle through the advanced stuff or quietly practice their part of the class during the advanced part.

    So maybe doing the P2P class right before an advanced class, right before a milonga, or offering it for free to students who have paid for an advanced class would be the trick.
  4. Mladenac

    Mladenac Well-Known Member

    Teachers all not deities and sometimes advanced dancer can spot a problem better than the teacher.
    IMHO it is good that (advanced) dancer do their own analysis because that what is happening during the dance with strangers.
  5. ArbeeNYC

    ArbeeNYC Member

    I've seen this done and even participated in the beginners' class on several occasions since it was right before the intermediate class. This can be useful for both parties. However, you don't get an even match between groups because you may only have one "advanced" person in the beginners' class or you may have the teacher's assistant, who will help people from time to time. It's an imperfect system at best.

    Lots of milongas have pre-milonga classes. They can be helpful but they are not systematic. What learners would most benefit from is the thing we generally cannot get--a mentor.
  6. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Up to a certain point, some portion of advanced dancers would participate for a variety of reasons, two of which I can articulate: simple altruism, and being acknowledged by an instructor, and by extension the community, as an "advanced dancer."

    At the end of my lesson taking period I found myself paying for lessons while knowing most the answers after having studied with the same instructor for 1 1/2 years (and many others), watching my partners being corrected whenever there was a problem, yet STILL being told I was doing things incorrectly by newbies. The final straw was receiving an email asking me to not "teach in class" after a bunch of newbies showed up for the last lesson in an 8 week series.

    I certainly haven't been everywhere, but I think most communities have a real problem with NOT acknowledging community members as a resource unless they "are a teacher" or instructor.
    Has anyone EVER seen someone write that you SHOULD try to tactfully give a pointer to someone who is obviously doing something wrong, or could be doing it better?

    Specifically addressing the question above, I think offering free admission to events, and / or lessons would work as an incentive for some. (Thinking of a punch card sort of thing not a do one get one free deal, at least initially until the right "price point" can be determined.
    FancyFeet and sixela like this.
  7. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    My experiences with structured and unstructured practicas has been mixed - but so has been my experience with group classes, and privates, and small group classes and so on.

    -i think it requires _both_ less and more effort. There is less planning required, and you can go with the flow of what people are doing, but at the same time you are essentially teaching a whole lot of mini-privates. And if a couple does something completely different the whole flow of rough feedback from introspection and your current partner being refined by the next partner (and the teacher) gets messed up. Basically where i have seen this work best was paradoxically with groups of people who were very hierarchical and dogmatic about what "correct tango" is. (a lot of my experiences were with tango nuevo groups, and it is sometimes funny how strongly people who are all about freedom and choice react when one chooses something different than what they think is the obvious choice.

    -A lot of them are, but a lot of them seem to be inherent in learning:
    • One-size-fits all. P2P does not really solve this - and the more constrained format (you have to work actively with your partner) sometimes amplifies this. I once had a somewhat interesting practice with a partner whose approach was to do things fast, powerfully and badly, and refine them by smoothing off the edges, while i tend to deconstruct things, explore the geometry and biomechanics of the parts, put a slow and overly controlled thing together, and refine from there. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages (my approach is really bad when something relies on inertia/momentum), but they don't work at the same time. P2P in practivce tends to develop strong norms, and then we again have the problem that the norm does not fit people well. The ways that these norms are enforced are different, sure.
    • Not feasible to train teachers. Who trains tango teachers at the moment?
    • Heavy expense and administrative burden. Is it easier to get a hereogeneous group of people together?
    • Time-constrained. Space is still the same problem.
    • Can't teach body skills. I don't have the experience that basic kinesthetic skills are better addressed in a P2P setting - it is mostly awarenss of the need for self discovery, and a question of class culture.
    • Dilutes motivation. This happens equally in these settings, especially when the partners want to work on different aspects. And in P2P settings this tends to lead to somewhat elaborate social power games, while in class settings it leads to appeals to authority. And in both case the person who does not get their needs/interests addressed will not have too much fun.
    • Hierarchy feeds passivity. In P2P settings the lack of official hierarchy leads to byzantine hidden hierachies, and feeds social power games.
    • Fosters separation. Culture of official lack of authority, but unoffically having participants that are closer to the teachers/experts ideal, or part of the core group for other reason leads to hidden hierarchies that can be very separating. Everybody in these setting knows who the "it" group is, and deference is strongly enforced.
    • Doesn't motivate experts. The problem in P2P is how "experts" are identified.
    -their motivation is social status. Basically you know the guy at every milonga who dances with beginners, tells them what to do, and basks in (real or imagined) adulation? P2P attempts to channel this impulse into something productive.

    In my experience (both in dancing and in martial arts) informal practice groups are as likely to be a good place to learn (or a bad place to learn) as group classes (or privates for that matter). All methods work if the people involved are roughly on the same page, and aware what they are working on, and what their partners are working on. It is only when there are problems (students not matching teachers, P2P partners not matching each other) that the methodology matters, and i don't have the impression that a "good" p2p groups handles these things better than a "good" teacher, or a "bad" teacher any worse than a "bad" p2p group.

    P.S. I also think that informal structures tend to look better than formal structures because they die really quickly if they don't work out.
  8. Tango Distance

    Tango Distance Active Member

    YMMV, but for my area the ladies went from having no partner every 2nd or 3rd time to having an advanced partner every 2nd or 3rd time. It was a huge success for the ladies. It did not change things much for the men.

    Something else that might help is the instructor keeps advocating being able to lead things with partners with a variety of experience levels. You aren't really a good dancer if you can only do well with an expert partner.
    This is more indirect, but is a common way to help. This has been advocated many times here, and by my instructor, and by more advanced ladies to me. It is simply to follow as exactly as possible what is led -- it is great and immediate feedback.

    FWIW I try leading something with no explanation -- if it works that is awesome and a hint it was led correctly. If I have to talk it through first, it might be choreography and not really leading.
  9. ArbeeNYC

    ArbeeNYC Member

    YMMV, but for my area the ladies went from having no partner every 2nd or 3rd time to having an advanced partner every 2nd or 3rd time. It was a huge success for the ladies. It did not change things much for the men.

    Again, YMMV. Depends on the size of the class and the number of students and whether any more experienced partners are available. In all the group classes I have attended, there were only the class participants, who were all mostly at the same level. More experienced dancers simply attended more advanced classes as a group. There's more mixing at a practica, of course, but not always. People often cluster in groups of similarly skilled dancers.
  10. Tango Distance

    Tango Distance Active Member

    Were the dancers from the advanced class offered free admission to the lower level class? My area was just like yours until that happened. I can see it, $15 per class to repeat a beginner's class? Forget it! Free? Now you are talking!
    Mladenac likes this.
  11. itwillhappen

    itwillhappen Active Member

    I like to be in an environment where the music gets stopped if someone goes to explain something and where I get at least one full song to try it out. How could that get achieved in a P2P-laboratry?

    BTW: In school there are more methods than to teach frontal in these days.
    But if a teacher wants to improve his method, he could start with sending a message in advance what s/he want's to teach the next lesson, with some links to videos on the topic and useful exercises that could be done.
    Followed by taking a video of one (voluntary) last dance in the class and make it available to the attendees.
    And of course he could impplement a formal feedback and suggestion system to know what his students really need (or want!).

    P.S.: We had a system where one payed half if booking an additional class with a partner. And nothing if the teacher was needing a partner for a random student. Now we have a flat rate for 20% on top, including all milongas. Both works well to get more leaders into the classes.
  12. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    My (late) ballroom teacher used to do that. He would typically have three classes on one evening, beginner then intermediate then advanced. The intermediates were allowed for free in the beginner class (except when it would have created a gender imbalance), and the advanced ones were allowed in the intermediate class for free and with the same proviso.
    I used to attend because the dance studio was very close from my office and both were very far from my home. It was more convenient to spend one hour and an half in the intermediate class than in the subway.

    But it was not P2P. The teacher often stated loudly that "There is only one teacher here!". The advanced pupils were not allowed to give advice. We were crash-test dummies, sort of.
  13. itwillhappen

    itwillhappen Active Member

    I see a project(!) for a beginner(!) workshop(!) in the video.
    The planning effort will not be in scope for a developer of learing methods.
    And may be that it is possible to break tango down to some "missions" for total beginners.

    It's outside of their normal tango school environment, so I think it was possible to motivate advanced dancers for this singular event.
    In the promotion video of her oxygen tango school I see no P2P in front:

    But, but, but ... there are a lot of materials on her website that may be of interest (or not) for other teachers:
  14. ArbeeNYC

    ArbeeNYC Member

    In this case, yes, but not all group classes are similarly structured.
  15. TomTango

    TomTango Active Member

    I've run classes like this, but more like 1/4 beginner, 1/2 intermediate, and 1/4 advanced (to reflect the skill level distribution of those in class). The advanced portion was presented during the last 15 minutes of class as a "dessert" that was optional. It was suggested to beginners to leave it alone and work on the main goal of the class. Problem is, beginners almost always either want to try, or feel like if they don't they're holding their partner back or will look bad.

    To clarify one thing: I believe skill level descriptors are relative to the community, to an extent. So when I say "advanced" I mean "targeted toward the top 20% of the class."
  16. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Speaking in general, we´ve got three types of tango students.
    a) depends 100% on a dance studio or teacher, concerning all technical or social issues.
    b) depends 0% on a studio or teacher (learns on his own, in milongas, or got privates)
    c) does not depend on a studio or teacher in learning steps or technique, but does for social issues.

    With other words, c (I once used to be one) shows up at the beginner class, or participates for free, only to choose and prepare the next but one dance partner (of course the most beautiful girl ;) ). Scratch mine, and I will scratch your back.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2017
    Mladenac likes this.
  17. ArbeeNYC

    ArbeeNYC Member

    You left out other modalities, such as classes supplemented by practicas, for example. Private lessons are basically classes except you're the only student. Presents the same relationship between instructor and student as a group class except you get the instructor's full attention. I don't understand c) at all since it assumes you already know how to dance tango. b) doesn't sound feasible to me at all given that, traditionally, you weren't even allowed on the pista of a milonga until you had enough experience to know how to dance. I think you're leaving out other types of interaction.
  18. FancyFeet

    FancyFeet Well-Known Member

    I love helping out my fellow dancers. I don't see any reason why they should have to search as hard as I did for some of things that I have learned along the way.

    However, despite never approaching random people and offering advice - simply by answering questions when asked, or having it come up in conversations about dance (with my dance friends) - there was an issue a while back where "you are not a teacher. Do not offer advice to other students. Do not answer their questions - refer them to their instructor." was stated. So, by following that direction, I'm now seen as the elitist B*... and despite my genuine joy that comes from helping out, I no longer consider myself part of that community and just avoid being around unless I have to be.

    I would love to be part of a group that encourages peer-to-peer learning.
    oldtangoguy and opendoor like this.
  19. ArbeeNYC

    ArbeeNYC Member

    So would I.

    Some of it you get through practice partners (if you're lucky enough to find a regular one) but it's much harder to find someone who'll give you sound advice or even a few helpful pointers. And, of course, you need some indicator that their advice is reliable. There are lots of guys who are more than willing to give advice to anyone and everyone, but that's not what I'm referring to. Also, if a teacher is available (say in a practica or a group class), most people will simply ask the teacher for advice.
  20. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    FWIW, just because someone says not to offer advice, doesn't obligate you to follow their directives. I can certainly say, that statement wouldn't have been well received by me. It also doesn't seem to be working out that well for you.

    Just my two cents.

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