ABOUT THE PROBLEM OF HAVING “A METHOD”
Establishing a method to teach tango is problematic to me.
How can I establish a specific teaching method, when all the people who come to learn tango are completely different, and they are looking for completely different things?
The word “Method” means “orderly and systematic way of proceeding to reach a specific result or end”. Is it possible to proceed “systematically” in the teaching of tango when each individual needs different forms of communication? Can we speak of reaching “a determined end” when we speak of a universal popular dance of enormous variety and in permanent change?
I do not think it is realistic – or effective – to speak of “a method.” I have found that each student needs a method designed for themselves. A different, specific form of communication. An evolved message, adapted to his personal interests and explorations. Personalized exercises that adapt to his conditions and abilities. Different time scales for each stage of learning, adapted to them.
That is why it is basically absurd to speak of a “method”.
I prefer to speak of areas of knowledge, or “layers” of knowledge in tango teaching, which are universal and will involve different ways of organization and depth, depending on the characteristics of each person. I will now develop further my approach to these areas of knowledge, these layers of knowledge in the teaching of tango dance.
The techniques refer to the mechanics of dance, both individually and in couple. The management of dance techniques is inescapable and structural: how to organize and use each part of my body in a correct way, conscious, deliberate, controlled, balanced, stylized, and with economy of effort for each movement.
The technique also involves the mechanics of dance in couples (in tango sometimes called “connection”), which occur through the embrace. Obtaining a good embrace in the couple implies a joint technical work: the search for stability, functionality, comfort, observation and physical awareness of one’s own and of the other, the ways of using tone, forces of action and reaction, of pull and push. The embrace, beyond being an indisputable vehicle of emotional expression in the human being, in tango learning process implies a great technical work as a couple.
As in any good building, it is essential to work on a good foundation. Mastering tango techniques, which is achieved with sustained and deep work, is a necessary condition (although not enough in itself) to later be able to be a free creator, to be able to break the rules, and ultimately, to build a dance of excellence.
Dance – tango dance, at least – is an art that necessarily feeds on another art: music. Without music there is no dance, at least in tango.
Many times we confuse the act of dancing in music as an act of “stepping on time”: somebody gives us a series of musical pulses in which I have to match and fit some steps and figures that I learned, so that they are “on time”, and that’s it. Musicality is not that. Working with music is not so linear, so absolute, so scientific. It is something much more complex, subtle and subjective.
A serious work with music, on the one hand implies a work of observation and recognition: of the musical structures, of the different instruments, of their interactions of the different layers of music within each piece. And on the other hand, in parallel, it implies a work of honesty, of authentic expression of sounds and silences, of encounter with emotions, of creativity and communication as a couple, of the global perception of the essence of the musical moment that we live in and how we express it.
Ultimately, musicality is personal and we can’t teach an honest person how to express the music. But it is important to study its structures, its complexities, and understand its rules, and then deliberately break them, and thus obtain an authentic and original expression.
All steps in tango are infinite combinations of a few basic movements, mostly individual steps, changes of weight, and pivots. It is important to learn to master and understand each of these elements separately, in order to later combine them and create infinite sequences and achieve a unique improvised movement.
Tango is communication between two people. It is not a systematic repetition of steps, figures and choreographic sequences. Learning tango is like learning a language: we need to learn a communication code, some grammatical rules, a vocabulary, we need to learn to listen and respond, in order to have a conversation. Teaching tango based on pre-designed figures is like learning a language based on set phrases: we will never be able to communicate.
Additionally, tango in its social environment implies a work of coexistence with other couples on the dance floor. That is why it is of great importance to work these choreographic structures from day one both in static space, (large and small spaces), as well as in dynamic and circulatory movements; in order to use the space consciously and creatively.
The definition of specific styles in tango dance is a completely outdated discussion.
The reality is different: there are as many styles as there are authentic dancers. The systematic repetition of a style, or learning within a style, implies a work of stereotyping the dance. The word “style” refers precisely to differentiation, to how I do it in a unique way: how I combine my techniques with my musicalities, with my choreographic structures in an authentic, creative, personal way.
The only thing the teacher can do is guide the student, orient him in his search, stimulate him, but always away from the systematized copy of a model.
On the other hand, tango has an essence that makes it tango. Yes… maybe. But this is personal and must be formulated as a question: what is the essence of tango? And it is a question that cannot be answered directly. It can simply be posed, discussed, invited to reflect around it, to let the question itself take on movement and a life of its own and guide us in our search.
The teacher’s work should pose this question about the essence of tango and should give it a place of importance from day one, but in no way it should answer it, define it, because this would condition and limit the student’s search.
One final thought.
Techniques, connection, musicality, embrace, choreography, circulation, body awareness, personal style, communication, improvisation, creativity, are all essential pieces of a complex system that requires different approaches for each person.
I believe, to conclude, that a good tango teacher must have three things: on the one hand, a solid knowledge of all these areas of knowledge and their complex interconnections. On the other hand, the ability to know how to interpret the student and to be able to communicate with him in a different and specific way. Finally: the intelligence to understand that tango is a living, universal and popular dance, which is constantly changing, and that is why it is necessary to continue learning constantly, and observing the new generations who are, inevitably, those who today are leading the dance.