Tango Argentino > What to do in a class where you're in over your head

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by Sunny Daye, Aug 12, 2007.

  1. Sunny Daye

    Sunny Daye New Member

    Hello everyone. Have been lurking for a while and have really enjoyed the discussions. I'm now ready to jump in with one of my recent issues, to get everyone's opinion, views, experience, advice. Here's the issue:

    First off, I'm a middle-aged guy who's been dancing tango for about 18 months, so I'm still in the beginner's stage. I've taken many, many classes and many privates, but I am not a natural dancer, so what takes others a few times to learn takes me many, many, many times. Did I mention that it takes me many times to learn something new?

    I recently attended classes with a couple from Argentina. Very nice (and young) couple, who spend two classes teaching, for me, very complicated steps. I was borderline in over my head, but stuck with it for the two classes. I was not told that the classes were for "advanced" dancers, and there were some naturally talented beginners in attendance.

    But most of the others, especially the women, were ahead of me, so my poor partners just had to stand there over and over and see me struggle to learn the steps. Several times both of us just stood looking at the others, trying to figure out what the hell I was suppose to be doing. It felt pathetic and I left feeling not energized and excited, but sick to my stomach.

    So my question: should I have just given up the ghost and sat down and observed? I know it must be miserable for a female to stand there while a klutzy guy tries to learn three steps or more.

    That's my story-- any feedback welcomed. And thanks in advance.
  2. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    "We have presented you a lot of material, but you don't have to be able to do everything, pick the part that you can do and it will be fine."
    That was from Alejandra Hobert http://www.adrianyalejandra.com/home.htm after a group class.

    Also, you mentioned that you took many classes with many teachers. But instead of taking, say, two different classes with two different teachers each week, why not taking twice the same class? Many teachers have two beginner classes per week.
  3. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Excellent advice from Newbie. In a workshop taught by the great Cecilia Del Carmen Gonzalez, a fellow asked, "How do I remember all of these patterns when I go home?" Without missing a breathe, she replied, "Why would you want to do that for?" After the stunned responses from the class that ranged from silence to gasps to laughter, she continued to explain that her workshops were for working through muscle and body training; partnering exercizes; discovering possibilities...please don't waste your time trying to remember a particular step or pattern, they will develop as your understanding of AT grows."

    The point is that if you are in a class that is over your head, yes, it might be difficult for you and your partners, but everyone can learn something if they choose to. Perhaps, you will not learn the 'pattern', but you will learn an element; and, your partners might learn how to follow someone who isn't an advanced dancer or teacher. A good partner will not mind that you are struggling.

    Take as many beginning classes as possible regardless of how advanced you become. Foundations, whether under bridges or in dancing, need to be visited often. Repeating a class, as Newbie mentioned, is relative to practicing only with the teacher there to help.

    See you around the DF.
  4. Heather2007

    Heather2007 New Member

    No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Never give up the ghost. That you put yourself in a situation that you discovered was way ahead of your game is a positive, not a negative. Diving in head first is the best way to raise one's game (in all walks and not just dancing) and my philosophy is, is that the negativity is only in the person who has quickly forgotten how they once drove with an "L" plate and NOT the person that is still wearing it. And of course, dare I be so bold as to mention 3 words: The Hare. The Tortoise. The Race. :applause:
  5. Me

    Me New Member

    Welcome to the DF. :)

    I want to tell you some tango secrets about 'advanced' dancers. (Or, rather, the not-so-advanced dancers who put on a good show.) Some of what I am about to say is rather negative, but sometimes the truth hurts.

    If the woman is truly an advanced dancer and truly knows what she is supposed to be doing in a pattern, it is possible to 'reverse engineer' the lead. So if the two of you stood and looked around to learn the pattern from other people, I must say that the woman didn't know what she was doing either. (Not as advanced as she wants you to believe, now is she?)

    It is very possible that while looking around at other dancers to learn the pattern, you became increasingly confused because people simply were not dancing the given pattern. The advanced dancers sometimes cover their inability to master the given patterns by dancing a different pattern, for they do not want to be seen 'struggling.' (For you see, they have already learned what is in the class - it bores them, so they must occupy their great minds with greater things... or so they wish for you to believe.)

    You will learn as you continue your studies that many 'advanced' dancers have 'progressed' beyond the point of learning. This is to say, they have placed limitations upon themselves, as now they no longer allow themselves to learn - they 'already know' everything. A master workshop is not a place to learn - Rather, it is a place to 'show out' and be 'discovered.' The last thing you will see from these dancers is a struggle to learn, for this is an admission of not already knowing something which is, for them, an admission of weakness. Trust me. I know.

    It has been said before by other dancers here but I will say it again - Don't give up!

    P.S. We may actually know each other, as I sometimes travel to Louisiana for milongas. Grab me for a dance. Or three. Or twelve. I'm serious. I actually prefer to dance with 'newer' dancers - they don't throw me around and step on me like some of the 'advanced' dancers do.
  6. Heather2007

    Heather2007 New Member

    Brilliant response.
  7. bastet

    bastet Active Member

    You definitely shouldn't give up. People learn at different rates..even those people you may think of as "advanced" when you look at them have the same problems and take multiple times to learn things sometimes. I think it is MUCH more rare fora person to be a "natural" dancer as you say, and pick things up quickly. It's much more common for people to need to work on things multiple times.

    Workshops, in particular, are usually filled with information overload. The pace is generally a lot faster than when you do group classes. The teachers have a fair amount of matierial to cover. The first weekend workshop I ever did left me feeling that way. I got used to it after a while (and got used to taking lots of notes).

    The way I've come to think of workshops is...you probably aren't going to remember all of it, becasue they tend to be intense. But also, becasue they are intense and you immerse youself, let yourself learn and absorb, your dancing begins to change. You may not recognize it (but other might) and you may be frustrated for awhile, but the changes will happen anyway- so keep it up. :)
  8. Ampster

    Ampster Active Member

    I too was once where you were at. Here's my advice:

    1) Don't give up: proficiency only comes with practice, born of perseverance. If you give up, you won't practice, and you're not going to get any better

    2) Be patient: Tango is unlike any other social dance. It is the most complicated to learn and do. But, it is the most beautiful and most rewarding one. To attain a level of proficiency, one must take the time and effort to learn (see #1)

    3) Avoid a VERY common beginner's mistake: All too often, some people who take up Argentine Tango try to learn as fast as possible. They take all the classes they can attend, sometimes jumping levels even before they're ready. By my observations, AT is not something you "Fast track." The people I've seen who adopt this approach end up giving up in frustration. Be patient (See # 1 & 2) and be proficient at BASICS first and foremost, THEN move on

    Adult learning theory postulates that you retain 50% of the lesson right after the lesson, if you understood it. If you did not, it diminishes proportionately. As time passes, the memory lapses unless you practice it to commit it to memory (mental & muscle).

    Going by this, if you didn't get it in the first place, it would be reasonable to think that you'll probably forget it after one day. If you do not have a grasp of the basics (which all of the other stuff is built on), then you will certainly be challenged

    4) Spread your learning: When you learn something YOU LIKE in class you'll remember it better. Go to the practicas/milongas and dance what you've learned (of course you should have mastered the basics first). Get comfortable, keep it simple, DON'T TEACH OTHER BEGINNERS. Go back to class, repeat cycle

    5) Attend practicas & milongas: Going to class will only get you so far. You need to take it to the floor. Dance a level beneath what you think you are. Get comfortable. When it becomes second nature (after several practicas & milongas), then raise your standard a bit. Repeat cycle (See # 1, 2, 3, 4)
  9. tanya_the_dancer

    tanya_the_dancer Well-Known Member

    Although I don't do AT, this post sort of grabbed m attention. This was how my encounter with AT felt. I wonder if there is something about AT which makes it harder in the beginning. I mean, in ballroom, especially american style, we have things like underarm turn, which provides a bit of an instant gratification (man raises his arm, the girl turns - yay, we learned something :) ).
  10. Dave Bailey

    Dave Bailey New Member

    I've said it before, but I think different dances have differently-angled learning curves, and that AT is a particularly steep learning curve.

    This doesn't mean it's necessarily a more "difficult dance" - I'm also of the opinion that all dancers are (in the long run) equally difficult to get to a high level at - but it does mean it's more difficult at the start of the learning process.

    A lot of AT teachers focus much more on technique, much earlier on. Although some teachers can take the easy route and teach patterns, their classes tend to churn out dancers who only know patterns.
  11. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    I wrote this about a week ago. I think it's still true.

    One thing that makes AT difficult for leaders is that we are told to not move our arm and hands independent of our bodies. So, right away we are asked to not only learn where we step, but we have to also use the motion of our upper body to lead.
    There is the added complication that we aren't always stepping on the opposite foot as our partner is stepping. This ups the ante about knowing where our partner's weight is, and which foot will move when we step.
    There is also the problem of NOT stepping while our partner steps, which is a rather unusual concept.
    These are some of the reasons that AT beginners can feel overwhelmed. I'd been doing other partner dances for nearly 10 years before I started, and many people asked me why I didn't just quit since I was so frustrated. I asked myself that, too, many times.
  12. tanya_the_dancer

    tanya_the_dancer Well-Known Member

    I was taking group classes for about 2 years at the point when I tried AT. I felt extremely overwhelmed. I wonder how it would feel now that I know a lot more about dancing.
  13. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    I have said it before, and I'll stick to it.....

    AT is one of the most natural dances on the planet. At the beginning, perhaps the stage where you are, it should not be complicated. It is based completely upon natural walking and natural movement. Steve's point is noted, that as you learn the intricacies of proper movement, lead, follow, implication, and application, yes, difficulties arise.

    Feeling "...in over [your] head..." is natural at your stage. But, remember, so is the tango. In the beginning, the bottom line is to just walk. Keep dancing, and look me up during some of my time in LA.
  14. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    As a beginning leader you'll feel you're in a dead end during the classes, with followers skipping you (pretending they don't see you when 'trade partners!' comes) because you're not as good as the other leaders because you can exercize less on the taught pattern because the followers are skipping you. Same dead end feeling in milongas, you'll find that the followers prefer to dance with a leader more proficient than themselves and if by chance you once find a complete beginner, the next time you'll see her in a milonga she'll already be better than you because A.T is easier for followers. 'Go to milongas' they all say, but what for when the followers prefer to sit and wait for a good leader rather than dance with you.

    The help won't come from the followers but from the other beginning leaders who, as time goes by, will appear. I still can remember the faces of two or three guys who made my life much easier; suddenly I wasn't the worst leader any more.
  15. Sunny Daye

    Sunny Daye New Member

    Thanks to all!

    Holy smokes -- I didn't anticipate the quickness and thoughtfulness of the replies. Thanks to all of you for helping out a not so new beginner. This is a great forum.
  16. Sunny Daye

    Sunny Daye New Member

    Hi Me :)

    That is precisely what was happening. Thanks for confirming that.

    And yes indeed we have met -- and I've seen your extraordinary dancing several times!
  17. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    I'm a slow learner, which can be frustrating when i watch other people doing what's been taught in the class, but like Aesop's tortoise I know a few months down the line I will be able to do the move.

    So my approach to a class is to understand what is required and absorb it mentally then practice it when I can. The more advanced moves become easier with experience and confidence and an understanding that there is an exchange of energy; so the dance can become very dynamic - in a Newtonian sense.

    So just enjoy what you CAN do and let the progress come with time and 'Tango miles'

    There are people's differing conceptions of what is 'advanced' and there are some people with very inflated egos out there!!
  18. calandra

    calandra New Member

    I agree with the others – don’t give up. We all keep waiting for the day when we make that “breakthrough”. I am told it will come but in the meantime we soldier on.

    It’s like the old joke about the taxi driver asked the way to Carnegie Hall – Practice.
    I keep a notebook and write down the basics of the steps we do in class afterwards. Then I practice them at home, or on the train platform, or in the bathroom at work, or pushing the supermarket cart. Anywhere you can walk you can think about the basics – changing weight, dissociation of the chest, balance. Listen to the music as often as you can and just try to feel the rhythm. From your initial post, it sounds like you are seriously lacking in confidence. A lot of us feel the same way, but there is no need to put yourself down. We need more leaders like you – who understand that it’s complicated to learn to lead and are willing to go through the time and effort to go to class and try to improve. It does no one any good in a class or a milongas when a leader blames the woman for either (i) anticipating because she knows the step and you don’t; or (ii) standing there doing nothing because even though she knows the step she doesn’t feel the lead.

    You may never be Baryshnikov, but the fact that you are dedicated to it and want to learn is great. I once had a wonderful time dancing swing with a guy in a wheelchair – he had a great sense of the music, and was enjoying himself immensely. I for one would rather dance with a beginner with a good sense of the rhythm and the music than someone throwing in a lot of steps that bear no relation to the timing of the music.
  19. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    One tango teacher used to say; "its quite easy once you've done it a thousand times"
  20. Heather2007

    Heather2007 New Member

    I see some leads stop in the middle of the dancefloor to look down, checking to where the follower's feet are. When I lead and this happens, I merely improvise my way around it by dancing now in the cross-walk system - either walking on the outside or straight ahead but with toe sacadas - (follower steps back with a wide arc to the side before bringing the foot behind her). If my follower steps before being led again, I improvise my way out and continuing dance (if I get the chance, I'll gently whisper to her to wait for my lead before moving on). Last weekend, my follower anticipated my lead and went executed a backward ocho on my right. I stepped forward, used my back foot to knudge her feet together, brought her around and back facing me, whispered to her to wait for my lead and carried on. I have often danced with many a good milonga lead who, despite what the teachers say (and sometimes it is this one particular teacher who often does it) moves his arm independently of the body - i.e. pushing/pulling the follower's arm back and forth in time with with the feet and shoulders pumping in time with the beat. Done well, it looks/feels good. AT is straightforward but it is the bible of Do's and Don'ts that teachers quote over and over to their students is what proves overwhelming. And then - ha, ha, ha - you see that same teacher in the milonga dancong and their own words having just now flown out of the window.

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