Tango Argentino > Teaching Frustration

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by Zoopsia59, Dec 3, 2008.

  1. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    I'll respond more to the recent posts later, but I feel I need to clarify an important point.

    Almost NO ONE who takes from me is a beginner. The couple of absolute beginners I have taught are followers who are not at all afraid of close embrace. They're perfectly willing. In fact they are FAR more open minded than most of the non-beginners I have.

    Everyone else coming to me has been doing tango for awhile, some for several years. Most of them don't mind being in the close embrace either. They are perfectly comfortable being IN the embrace... what they object to is DANCING in close embrace. They claim they aren't interested in it as a "style".

    Of course, I'm not teaching a style... I'm teaching proper lead and follow and its not that different regardless of the embrace. But the errors people are making usually become abundantly apparent in the 1st 5 minutes of trying to dance in close. Which is why they don't want to keep doing it. Its frustrating.

    Their issue has little to do with the closeness or the intimacy. Its about not being able to use their usual methods of forceful shoving leads (leaders) and a legitimate fear of being stepped on (follows). When I talk to them about it in depth I discover that in fact it has almost NOTHING to do with discomfort being close to the other person (and they're perfectly willing to STAND in the embrace while I talk about it), and everything to do with feeling inadequate as a dancer when doing it. Of course, the truth is that they are inadequate for the same reasons in open, but they don't have to recognize it or fix it.

    I don't require that the entire class be close. I dont' require that ANY of it be close, although I think close is a good TOOL for showing why certain things are problems.

    What I require is that people lead from the body (and follow actively despite having gotten accustomed to being forced to move). Sometimes the only way to get them to realize that nothing is happening in the body and that they aren't leading well (or following properly) is to eliminate their arms.

    I have several ways of getting the arms out of the equation that don't place people so close, and the leaders who object to close embrace usually object to all the other ways too. They resist tooth and nail any attempt I make to take them out of what they feel is 'supposed' to be the hold (ie: right hand in leaders left, leaders right around follower, follower left hand somewhere on leader and enough space between them to fit another couple) They resist because they can't lead without their arms.

    I use different holds as an exercise for class, not a "this is the way to dance at a milonga" concept. But even in class I get resistance to doing anything they feel is "beginner stuff" that they are "beyond" and modified holds seem to fall in that category for almost all the leaders. I have ONE (count 'em, ONE) student who is extremely uncomfortable in close embrace for physical boundery issues and I accept that problem. What I would have trouble accepting is someone coming to a technique class and then refusing any attempts or specific exercises to work on technique.

    If they are hoping to get more instruction in fancy steps that you need to do open because that's the "style" they want to dance, they're in the wrong class. I don't teach that (and that's made quite clear in the description) and I don't feel I should adapt what I want to teach to satify a prima donna who thinks he is too advanced to work on his technique. Bad technique is not a style, no matter how much they object to certain exercises because its "not their style".

    The bottom line is that we have a community of leaders who give overly forceful, and sometimes painful, shoving leads. They push and pull the followers all over the place (while not moving their body much at all). We have a growing number of followers who simply drop out of tango because dancing with the majority of the local leaders is unpleasant and sometimes injurious. My friends who travel more for tango tell me that it is a local phenomena and they don't experience this level of rough leading anywhere else in such overwhelming majority.

    Of course, the followers sometimes don't realize that they contribute to the problem by not actually following and doing their part. Sometimes the experience of getting stepped on is because the follows haven't learned how to keep their weight forward and reach back rather than fall backwards/ lean backwards. And they have gotten used to forceful leads and don't respond to a proper lead, which in turn encourages the guys to use forceful leads.

    And the leaders and followers have all gotten used to looking at the feet for the ENTIRE dance, which is another thing you can't do in close embrace. Whole tandas of fancy moves with their heads at a 90 angle to their body! When I take away their ability to WATCH where their partner's feet are, they truly have no idea where the other person is!

    I feel several posts came down on me sorta hard for trying to use close embrace as a teaching tool, when in fact, the lessons learned from close embrace are exactly what many of our local dancers need. I encourage them to try it, I use it as an exercise in class and I sometimes just play with it to demonstrate something and let them go back to what they were doing and see if the lesson "sticks". Its fine if they don't want to be "close embrace dancers" out at the milongas. They can dance whatever style they like.

    However, I've found that it is VERY difficult to get someone to break a bad habit without CHANGING something about what they are doing. I can tell them til I'm blue in the face to look up, or to use less arm or to turn the body or to go with the man's chest or to reach back instead of fall back. But as long as they simply do a step pattern they learned in another class with the same hold (which is often VERY offset to the side), they aren't going to do it differently than the habit they've developed over several years. I have to CHANGE something they are doing to shake it up or they'll just keep doing what they've always done. They have to be REQUIRED to adjust by something new in order to stop doing what they've always done.

    If anyone else has good ideas about how to help people break these bad habits developed over years of getting away with them, hey, I'm all ears. I've found that this works for anyone willing to give it a try. As I said, I've gotten good feedback from most everyone who has taken from me. I just can't keep people coming consistently. So since I have a small roster, if they don't ALL come everytime, its more of a semiprivate lesson than a "class".

    But as I said, I'm beginning to see that as a blessing.
  2. kieronneedscake

    kieronneedscake New Member

    Wow, Zoopsia, you've chosen a hard path! I salute you for trying to cure what ails a culture of rubbish leaders.

    This is a thing I've witnessed often enough - it's really difficult to get people to change what they're doing when what they do works. You can't know how crude your lead is until you've felt someone else doing it to you, and you can't appreciate what you're missing until you experience it by improving. From that point of view you might like to try a bit of role reversal? It might help open some eyes, although I fear it will only effect the least guilty.

    You might find that even your limited input on people who have come and gone has made a net cultural effect. It's the propagation of "a better way" throughout the community that will improve matters over time.

    "Who taught you to dance so well?" - A: Zoopsia
    Zoopsia gets more enthusiastic students.

    --- From here on I'm guessing based on your last post, rather than on your actual teaching ---
    I have felt the constant war between the way I *should* be leading, and the way I have to lead to make a functional dance with some people. I fully support your motives for trying to teach the way you do, but I also recognise that it is very challenging for your students. Many people just don't do hard challenges once they've donned their adult hats.

    Perhaps you should examine your class structure to see if you can add some feel-good once you've worked their fingers to the bone? That way everyone can feel the benefit of the technique you have imparted without causing their brains to melt, and they might be more inclined to come back because they'll remember that you work them hard but it was worth it.
  3. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Zoops, if it matters at all, I am totally in agreement with you.

    I could probably dredge up lots of stories that support both my opinion, and your course of action. As Angel and others point out, though, you will pay a price. I think that's true anytime in life that you take a principled stand.

    Having to dance in a close embrace forces you to use your body in a way being connected though the arms doesn't. That sense, that "feeling", of where your partner is, where you are going, and where you could go, WITHOUT ARMS, is extremely valuable. As my favorite instructor said, "Tango isn't a guessing game". Or shouldn't be, but often is.

    Is there another to learn this. Well, yeah, but this close embrece gets it "in you" from the very beginning.

    But, we live in a fast food culture. Why go through all the aggravation to learn to do it right when you can just do it?
    Well, the answer is, that you eventually end up miles ahead in many ways when you build those basics into your body and the way you dance.

    Since I don't teach formally, I haven't commented yet. But I would like to say that if you "love what you are doing" you shoud continue. If you can live with yourself by compromising your principles further, then you can consider going there, too.

    Just keep in mind that by teaching people to lead well, and to follow well, you are furthering the interests of the entire community. (Just don't be surprised to not hear it very much.)

    Better stop now, because I keep adding stuff. Continuity is going down.
  4. bastet

    bastet Active Member

    I think Kieron has made an important point here.

    It is really hard to change people when they have already learned something one way.

    This is one idea we grappled with when we started teacing. We knew we wouldn't be accepted by the majority as valid teachers becasue there was already a teacher here in town...and it is not a large community and despite the fact that the couple of teachers that were teaching here weren't or aren't teaching very good technique, mostly a mumble jumble mish mash of stuff that had very little usefullness or direction to it, we decided very early that there was really no point in trying to change these people.

    We already knew that their attitude was going to be one of "oh-I already know how to dance so there's no need to look at the basic stuff y'all are teaching..." and so our desision was to just not worry about these people and concentrate on growing the comminuty with newer, more open minded people.

    We always recommend everyone learn eveything they can from different sources so that they are well rounded in their learning since that is always my main mantra- to dance smart- and you can't do that if you don't have the tools, knowledge and technical skills to adapt not only to the music and your partner, but also be able to adapt to the crowd and surroundings and have the vocabulary to dance accordingly.
  5. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member


    Your post is noteworthy, and, you are not alone. Many of us have been there. Here's the deal. You and the others are correct; you can not teach persons who do not want to be taught. There is much truth to the adage, "When the student is ready, the master will appear".

    They are acting/dancing like beginners, and it is your job to let them know it. It is difficult to get past the 'more/fancy steps make me a good dancer' syndrome, however, I have had no problem telling people that this does not make them a good/better dancer...it only makes them a bad dancer who thinks he/she knows a lot of steps. Do not be afraid to tell them that what they are doing, esp. the guys, feels great to them, but feels like hell to the ladies, and that the ladies don't say anything b/c they want to dance. And, if what they are doing feels like hell to the ladies, then they are not good dancers.

    If this is true, then there must be a line between what you wish to teach and what they think they want that will ultimately arrive at your desired result.

    You also posted something about if the students insist on fancy steps w/o proper movement, then they should go somewhere else. Zoops, you have to be able to back that up. You have to be willing to tell them that, and not let them, but make them go. They will see the difference between their dancing and that of your students. If they are not willing to stay/return knowing that your classes are correct, then you don't want them anyway.

    Yes, all of this is difficult when one is considering dance as a livelihood, but no one said that life is east or fair. However, someone did say that whatever your heart "truly" desires, so shall it be made manifest.
  6. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    Okay I feel there is something I can contribute;
    your observation of incorrect technique is very detailed which leads me to conclude that you have a deep understanding of how tango works.
    I agree with what you say in that the technique aplies equally whatever type of embrace is being used.

    I teach technique most of the time but I dont always tell people that;
    what I do do is to work closely with everyone and get them to feel the lead or follow so they understand in their bodies what is happening. Quite often what is going on in their heads gets in the way; so I really try to work hard with their bodies, getting them to be grounded; to have strong axis and good balance, to move fluidly and responsively with their partner.

    One thing I am trying is getting people to fall; I push them from standing on one leg and they will instinctively put their foot down to catch their wieght; I get them to do this with a partner in different directions; so they get the ide of arriving under their weight and not getting their feet to initiate the step; Then I will play around with the leaders standing in a strong double-weighted stance to move the followers axis around and for the follower to stay on one leg and the free leg to move under them. This certainly gets them to feel and understand the concept of axis control.

    I use Contact Improvisation techniques and a little bit of tai chi as well to free up people's way of moving. Most people after a days work will be in their heads- including me- and something like "blind leading"; ie followoing another's hand with your eyes closed calms mental activity and improves haptic awareness.
  7. Captain Jep

    Captain Jep New Member

    But even in class I get resistance to doing anything they feel is "beginner stuff" ...
    ..., the truth is that they are inadequate for the same reasons in open, but they don't have to recognize it or fix it.
    When I take away their ability to WATCH where their partner's feet are, they truly have no idea where the other person is!

    Can your students really be that bad?!

    Have they been learning "by the numbers" (basic eight and all that) in their other classes?
  8. bastet

    bastet Active Member

    oh...let's put it this way....I'm in a different area of the country than Zoops is but I was at a workshop with Homer Ladas this weekend, in another town in the state, and we were about to work on interesting places for leg wraps (I call them Homer wraps) and he was telling the leads he has very strict rules on ochos....and commenced with the "I'm a little teacup" stance for the leads (arms behind back) and the person I was dancing with was pushing me around with his arms. Homer came over and took them away and after Homer left the guy looked at me and said (I'm not kidding)..."How do I lead now?". I just smiled and said "I think we'll get there".
  9. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    So, how did it go after that? Did he get there?
  10. bastet

    bastet Active Member

    not too bad...he got the idea of moving from the torso pretty quickly, but 5 minutes isn't generally enough to set that kind of thing in stone. There was a fair amount of forgetting to rotate the torso again after pivoting and stepping and so I would just remain pivoted in one direction and step back and forth til he asked me about it then we worked on remembering to pivot the lady each time before stepping.

    Then he asked the more confusing question of close embrace...which Homer had already pointed out walks and doesn't use much in the way of pivot, a point which is lost on almost every single guy I know of every time I see it taught as they gamely try to force me to a full dissociated pivot in a tight close embrace despite what an instructor has just told them. (Yes- even though I teach basic stuff, I take the opportunity when I can to attend classes so I can see how other approach a subject.)

    I really do feel sorry for the guys sometimes when it comes to ochos...til I get jerked around with the arms...they are another thing I pefer to hold off on talking about them til some other basics are under control. That way you have a better chance of getting the guys to understnad them more as a set of possible motions (a continuum (sp?) of ampltitude and torso rotation and walking versus not walking) in same foot system, rather than just the step side, change weight, rotate the lady back and forth across you variety. This would also help the ladys learn to not auto pivot and only pivot when there's torso rotation.
  11. Captain Jep

    Captain Jep New Member

    I feel for you....

    Yes its interesting. You pointed out that he was still forgetting to lead from the chest. In my experience even when leaders have got that message (and do it) they will still get confused. He will now be asking :

    - how do I make sure the follower doesnt overturn in the pivot?
    - how do I do a front ocho and then have the follower come back to centre rather than look as if she wants to go off and do another one?
    - how do I keep the distance constant between lead and follow (especially if the follower doesnt keep a consistent distance in the giro) ?

    Some of this comes down to good follower technique. But also the leader must watch the followers chest and react to that. Not easy to get in 5 minutes ...
  12. bafonso

    bafonso New Member

    I don't think there's anything more basic than the connection to the floor. In that sense, there's no other more important thing than leading without the arms. I personally don't see how you lead ochos with the chest instead of using the floor. But this would be another thread :)
  13. Captain Jep

    Captain Jep New Member

    Not sure I follow your thinking. But you're right - we're sort of going off topic on this one...
  14. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    I'm not sure if this needs separate thread or not, but what does leading with the floor mean? Maybe I'm missing out on something.
  15. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Unless I am way off in left field...not understanding the point...I believe it means that all leads precipitate from the floor. I say it as "using/feeling the floor". The correct usage of the feet, that is to say not only how but with which part, to transfer the weight is felt on the floor before either impetus, even chest/torso/core.
  16. Captain Jep

    Captain Jep New Member

    I still dont understand myself. If you are stationary it's the torso that "leads" the ocho. "Using the floor" might be part of the process but its not the impetus.

    But maybe Im either misunderstanding, or splitting hairs.
  17. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    I would agree with this.

    after all if the floor wasn't there............
  18. Captain Jep

    Captain Jep New Member

    We'd have to invent it? :smile:
  19. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Perhaps, it is splitting hairs; having a old CS moment...sorry, couldn't resist...but, I did say "old"; he's much different now (and, you, being new, might not even know about any of that. I digress...
    The splitting hairs part is in where the impetus begins. Even being stationary, if one were to lead weightlessly forward from the chest/torso, this, too, would be incorrect. There is a release/relaxing (called a prelead in a thread somewhere) that allows the weight of the lead to become grounded/balanced before leading the ocho. This grounding would be using the floor.
  20. Peaches

    Peaches Well-Known Member

    See, and this just gets way too fuzzy for me. I get the release/relax/prelead bit, but so far as the floor is concerned I've never been able to wrap my head around the idea of using it, or it's energy. So far as I'm concerned, the floor is for standing on and is conveniently slippery enough to be able to pivot. Any more than that and my head asplode.

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