Dance Teachers…What do you want to teach..?

Fellow teachers,

Dance teachers, get to travel a lot and sometimes when you are stuck in the subway, you can be taught a lot…and have fun too!

Downtown, middle of the day, and the subway stops..!
TTC– “We apologize for the inconvenience..!”
And as I am about to turn into a very angry bird…

Teachers--what do you like to teach?
A very interesting conversation is starting right next to me..!

Three teenagers are talking about a book they had to read for school, in order to earn a good mark. One of them says he will only read the summary and that is when it all began as the other two accused him of cheating!!!

Nothing interesting so far I know…wait for it though..!

A lady, sitting right next to them, jumps to the opportunity, saying she can’t but interfere because she is doing a masters in education so the debate is just too interesting. And if they could please lay it out for her…

She started by saying that indeed it is not cheating, since there is going to be a test with questions. If one can answer the questions, just by reading the summary, then that simply means that the questions are too easy..! (Valid point indeed!)

Then that led into how they are the young blood of society and they need to demand more from the school system. Which led into, the difference between being clever and being intelligent…which led into how clever people use the system to use others like when her father–who is sexist–tried to stop her from going to university…Which led into how Donald Trump is clever and able to use the system, and he may lead US to idiocy…and so on and so forth…

Bottom line: The teenagers should try to become intelligent, should demand more from their schools and they should start by writing an article about all this, which they should send to the “Globe” not to “Toronto Star”, we are keeping things classy! haha
(I am not making this up..!)

What did the teanagers do..? Nothing!

They said, not one word and they probably even stopped listening after the first few minutes of this 15min monologue!

But it got me thinking..!
What is the teacher’s goal, when she is asking her students to read a book?
To get her students to answer the questions right or to get to them to love reading, to love learning?

I want to believe, based on my experience from good teachers during my school years, that teachers hope to teach their students how to love knowledge!

I believe that their wish is to have students, who will grow up enjoying a good book, enjoy learning new things, enjoy getting into new adventures, broadening their horizons, changing their views about life, becoming whole individuals..!

Now obviously the students believe that the purpose of this exercise is to just answer the questions correctly…expected misunderstanding…hah

Haven’t you ever been in a class, teaching a new routine, where your primary focus is getting everyone to experience movement, teach them how to create something beautiful with their partner, teach them to love to dance…BUT…everybody in the class is trying to get their right foot perfectly at a 42⁰ angle to their partner’s foot?!?!?!

As teachers–and as students actually–we have all been there and I know it took me a few years to find the right balance between transferring the essence of the dance and actually teaching the serious technical part of the dance. So I tried to put down a few pointers that helped me get where I am and I am hoping to hear back from you with more ideas!

So here we go:

  • Give them time to dance!
    Though this might sound obvious, before you start introducing a full sequence, allow them to dance. Allow them to have an experience of their own on the element of improvisation and then start building the sequence slowly along with making corrections on their technique
  • Notice how you structure the class. Often times in our attempt to be clear and as specific as possible, we keep the technique exercises separate from the dance/ sequencing part of the class. I am not saying that is always a bad idea, but maybe sometimes you might want to change things up and instead connect your technique exercises to your sequence-building.
  • This can give you an opportunity to make some of the more difficult elements of the dance, easier to explain.
    For example, say you want to work on the posture. Instead of describing the posture and very clearly take the students through different exercises focusing on the posture. Consider putting a sequennce and then asking them to go through it, shifting their focus to different parts of the body. For example, they can initiate the movement from their atlas. Or instead, focus to  the middle of the body–where the kidneys are. Depending on how they are responding to this all, you can ask them to focus internally. Make them move from their heart, their lungs, move from within.
    This way, as they are dancing, they get to revisit their posture multiple times, following slightly different paths each time. The posture then becomes part of the dance experience, instead of just another thing they have to do.
  • Consider changing the music playlist in class more often. Organizing the music pieces based on the sequences you are teaching. This will give you the opportunity to talk about musicality more often instead of waiting for a musicality workshop. Plus your students will view improvisation as a subject, not as challenging, after understanding the logic behind it.
  • Lastly don’t forget to remind them, why they are in your class..! As teachers often times we need to remind our students that they are here to learn how to dance. They are here to have fun, as they are working past the frustration in order to become better!
    In order to do that, as the time passes, we need to focus on getting better and better. This way we will be inspiring and inspired! We can motivate and we are staying motivated! To stay on top of our game, we need to  keep practicing and find time to spend with ourselves.
    So give yourself, the time you need to practice. But also go out, and spent some time within your Tango community! Relax, dance and have some fun!

Take care me fellow teachers and keep on inspiring more and more people to dance!

Looking forward to hearing your ideas..!
Chrisa Assis

Picture:
Photo credit:https://jp3g Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Leaders! Tango is a man’s world too!

Dear Leaders,

What are your biggest challenges are in Tango? What do you try to focus on the most when you are dancing?

Here are the most popular answers I got from friends and students:

Connecting with the follower
was at the very top of the focus-list for every single one of the leaders I talked to.

“Establish a good 1on1 dialogue”
or
“Not competing with my partner, but working together to create a dream(…)”
or
“A connection beyond the limits of words and vocabulary”

On the dancefloor:

Leaders(thinking): “This is AWESOME!!!”
Opening of the embrace….taaaam, taam, tam
Her: “Thanks…”
(Does any of this sound familiar..?)

Just, when you thought, you’ve got it..!
You thought, you created an amazing dance for HER, you expected her to feel swept off her feet and yet you open your embrace to half smilling follower with a look of pity on her face.

You are frustrated with yourself, with the followers, with milongas, with the dj, with the Tango Messias-who were supposed to change your Tango world…!

I know that you are now thinking ANOTHER female Tango teacher trying to tell me that she UNDERSTANDS…

You’re right!
I haven’t gone through awkward phases, like this:
2943599396_363fca8a85_z
Where you, leaders, feel awkward and basically feel like dorks, thinking that she probably hates your guts and wondering when this awful night is going to be finally over!

And I surely haven’t been in situations, with dudes saying:
“Alpha male don’t dance… they don’t need to!”
Nor did disgusting posts like this:
“I took a few ballet lessons when I was a kid before people calling me homo put me off it…” ever stopped me for dancing…

But I, like you, started leading from class #1, and I had no idea how to connect with the other person…
Just like you, I didn’t have the slightest idea, when to start, on this completely unknown music.
Plus I, too, hated traditional music, it didn’t speak to me. I felt like, my grandfather would be able to do a much better job than me!

I got the weird tips on “machismo” that all leaders get:

 “ If you want to lead, you have to lead like a MAN!”,
or
“The follower is like a Queen, you create the path for your Queen to pass..!” 

“WHAT DOES THAT EVEN SUPPOSED TO MEAN, MAN?!?!?!?”

And I got my share of:

“This is too tight…” “This is too loose…”
“No no no this too close” but now “This is too open…”
or
Her: “Oh! I just danced with X and he is just amazing at this! You should do this and this and this and blah blah blah”
Me: nodding (thinking: “ If you followed, things would have been so much better!!!”)
Her: “blah, blah, blah…I am only trying to help…”
Me: nodding (thinking: “NEVER dancing with you again…!”)

here it comes….the EYE-ROLL:
931444664_6b74eb0d11_zHOW DO WE GET OUT OF THIS TANGO HELL!?!

A few amazing tips for you leaders, that will get wonderful followers lining up to dance with you– before you even change into a Tango God!

4 things before we start:

  • Confidence Vs Arrogance: Women, absolutely, positively HATE the latter! I know you are not arrogant and you are only trying to boost your confidence, BUT don’t over do it..! Also no bio presentation between dances.
  • Women, also, hate passive-aggressive, secretly bitter old maids, as much as you do! No bitching between dances, unless it’s for jokes…hah
  • Get to know your music. Then you can be the one all followers are talking about, when saying: “He is a beautiful leader! He doesn’t do intricate sequences, but he is very musical.”
  • Women like surprises, ONLY if they are good ones! Watch it with those new moves you picked up.

So here go:

MUSICALITY– Its NOT all about the beat!

  • Choose 4-5 rhythmical songs, the more you have the better. Give yourself enjoyable options, keeping in mind that the faster the song the more difficult this is going to be.
    A few examples:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqFLtzlmZio
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yrD3AOWwPo
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnxnXSMZpXc
  • Start by actively listening. Do NOT dance. Do NOT think of any moves. ONLY listen to the songs, trying to identify the parts with a solid, strong beat( chang, chang, chang) and the melodic parts.
  • Choose one song that you like more, and each time the rhythmical part comes up, you just march–a pure, gym- like march. When the melody comes up you STOP completely, waiting for the beat to start again. Absolutely, NO TANGO yet!
  • After you repeat the previous step so many times, you could actually sing the song to us, change the march to Tango-y shift of weight on the rhythmical parts and pause on the melodic parts.
  • When you feel ready, do forward steps on the rhythmical parts and side steps on the melodic parts.
    *NOTE#1*: how different the forward steps feel compared to the side steps?
    *NOTE#2*: What do you need to do to change pace and direction?
  • When you start feeling super- duper comfortable with this, change things around. Do side steps on the rhythm and forward on the melody. And then start playing, more and more with it, splitting the rhythmical part between forward steps and shifts of weight and similarly work on the melody.

The idea here is to start from the music and not from the steps..!
Get into it with a child’s mind!
Children won’t stop to think: “Oh! Where is the “1” so I can start dancing”
NOOOO! They just start dancing, moving around, having fun with it.

SEQUENCE IMPROVISATION

Here, leaders, things will get a bit more difficult but also FUN…

  • Choose a sequence, you feel super comfortable with. A sequence you have done so many times, you can’t even bare to hear the name of it, any more.
    Back ochos and sandwich, Box step… whatever, it doesn’t matter. It has to be something you can do even with your eyes closed.
  • Change the way you get into it.
    For example: Back ochos and sandwich.
    Usually you get into back ochos from a side step, try to replace that with maybe a forward or back step.
    Or: You can actually replace the back ochos with something else like, forward ochos.
    Get creative. Have fun, try different ideas, different options. There is no follower with you at this phase, so you shouldn’t limit yourself in any way.
  • Every sequence, you come up with, is a “new” sequence. After exploring the different entrances, do each one of them following the dance- line. See what works on the dance- floor.
    Dance as if you have a partner. Every move you create, should be created with the maximum precision and accuracy.
  • After you repeat this exercise a gazillion times– you are almost hating yourself by now– go back to the initial sequence and change the way of exit.
    For example: Back ochos and sandwich.
    Usually the follower passes over and we close with forward ochos.
    You can instead, exit with back ochos, or with forward steps for her–back steps for you–or with an ocho- cortado…
  • Put it on it the dance floor
  • Match the different entrances with the different exits. How many options do you have?
    A lot, REALLY a lot! 
    The more you work on it the more options you will be coming up with. And all great surprises for the followers!
SEQUENCE IMPROVISATION ON THE MUSIC

Leaders, it is time to put the two together..!

  • Pick the simplest of your sequences, and adjust it to the rhythmical and the melodic part of the music. It will take a few reps and you would have to follow different paths to see what fits best.
    There is not really right and wrong here! So…
    Make each part of the sequence fit the melody and the rhythm, NOTHING MORE.
  • Put it again on the dancefloor. After you practice, with the music and going around, with your ghost- lady– no complaints from this one…haha– make your space smaller. Every time, you feel ready, you make the space even smaller. See how it affects your sequence.
    *NOTE*: Get really creative with this… Maybe get chairs in your space pretending there are other couples in your way, making the space smaller and more crowded!
  • Do the same for all the sequences you came up with!
    First, you try to figure out how they fit to the rhythmical and the melodic parts of the music.
    And afterwards, you work on the different dancefloors.

After, you’ve gone through this, with a couple of sequences, you will start noticing, that some things work better on the beat and others work better on the melody. You will find yourself, remembering how the song goes. You will KNOW, that right after this melodic part, we have another melodic part followed by the rhythmic part. What does that mean?
You will be able to hit that first strong beat of that rhythmic part right to the bone! No hesitation, no second thoughts, you will just go for it!

There many other ways you can explore the music and combine it with improvisation. Try this one and leave me a message with your thoughts.

Stay tuned, as much much more material is coming. Don’t skip any steps of this process.
Aaaaand don’t forget to have fun!

Enjoy,
-Chrisa

Pictures:
1)Photo credit: vee ! via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
2)Photo credit: massdistraction via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Followers in Tango! Heaven or Hell?

Dear Followers,
Have you ever been out in a milonga and felt like this:
Followers in trouble
Or maybe…even like this:
Followers in trouble
Are you thinking:
“I don’t know, I feel bored” or
“You know, it is the energy in the milonga” or
“After dancing with some of these people I feel that my level is dropping” or
“Where did all the good dancers go?”

Have you ever thought you might be Tango depressed? (The more I think about it, the more I believe this might actually be a medical term…haha)
You are not the only one and plus it is not just you being sad or unmotivated or uninspired, there are some valid reasons why you are feeling like that..!

So, followers, let’s assume for the sake of this article that all of the above and twice as more are true..!
That would mean that you have spent all this time doing something that bores you, in places that are not to your liking, with people you don’t necessarily like and although you are dancing, despite all odds, you are getting worse!

Then why are you still dancing Tango?
And this the moment of crisis! Tango Crisis!
Why am I still doing this dance? Should I more take classes? Is it worth practicing? Why even sacrifice my night for a milonga?

And yet here you are!
Which, means you don’t need me to tell you why you need to take classes, or to prove to you that it is worth going to milongas, or to talk about the importance of practice..?
You know all that already, what you don’t know is how to get out of this Tango- crisis cycle!

So let’s take a step back from all this and see the bigger picture here. It must feel disappointing, frustrating, tiring, maybe even embarrassing sometimes to put yourself out there and not get what you need or even what you deserve, so would it really help now if I told you that the more you practice, the better you will become and therefore your experience in the milonga will be better..?

NO! It wouldn’t help!
WHY?
Because firstly, you know that already!
Secondly, you see no point in practicing, because you feel you have already invested too much time and this is not enjoyable, so what’s the point?

So before we get to what to do,  let’s identify some mental icebergs we–followers–have entering the milonga.

1)”If I get better I will get more dances”.
NOT true! Haha
For various reasons… the basic ones, firstly everyone perceives “better” in a different way. Secondly, the better you get, the more you expect and thirdly the milonga is not a competition is a social gathering so whether people will decide to spend 12mins with you, right in their face has to do with many other things aside from your level.
Bottom line, get better for yourself not in order to get more dances!

2) “I am in a milonga, I HAVE to dance”
The milonga is a party, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do anything. Dance when you want to and if that is not happening, chat with people, enjoy your drink, listen to the music. Go in with an open heart and an open mind, engage in conversation, smile, get to know people, if that leads to a dance that is great if not it is ok, make the best out if it, a milonga is a club with Tango music basicly!

3) “Nobody is asking me to dance, therefore I suck!” or “Good dancers never dance with me, so I suck!”
As followers we often times wait a whole night to get a dance. It is terrible to feel left out, to watch people enjoying their dances, while you are sitting there waiting. It doesn’t mean though that you suck! Instead of letting these thoughts take over your mind, take the lead, go where the fish are, for example the bar..! Talk to people. Most of the times people won’t ask you to dance because they don’t know you. Leaders do not always choose followers based on level!

4) “Nobody is asking me to dance, they are so unwelcoming!”
It is terrifying going to a milonga. And especially, followers going to a milonga alone. It is normal and understandable to feel a bit taken aback. Believe me though,  most people in the milongas are very nice people, you only need to give them the time to get to know you and you to know them. Make yourself feel at ease and then people will respond to that!

So what we really have is a combination of dance and social skills and both need time and practice of course to blossom.

We are looking at followers who are getting better because they love Tango, who dance only because they love to, who feel confident enough to improvise while dancing and who bring in a beautiful personality! Who doesn’t want to dance with THEM? Who doesn’t want to be with THEM?

So what do we do to become THEM?

  1. DO NOT even think about practicing to start! You don’t have the motivation yet. You need to feel good to start practicing.
  2. Choose pieces of music that you like. You might feel that Tango music doesn’t speak to you,  but you need time to get to know it, as it is very diverse. Plus it is, what is playing in the  milongas…To start though, just find songs with a steady beat, trying to include 1 or 3 traditional Tango songs.
  3. Set aside some free time for Tango in your day. Be realistic here, NOT more than 30mins!
  4. Before that time comes bring out your best of shoes!
    If your Tango- time is after work, for example, bring the shoes out before you leave in the morning or the night before, so when you get home you can’t escape it!
  5. DANCE! Wear those beautiful shoes and just DANCE. By the wall, the kitchen table, a counter, a windowsill.  Play with it. Don’t practice, just experience your body moving to the music. No embellishments, no choreography, no intricate steps,  only pure movement. DANCE
  6. Get into this with a child’s mind. Children don’t look at a video before they get on the swings, they just goo for it. You have come this far, I am sure, you have enough to dance, so do NOT watch videos. You are not trying to see how it should look on the outside but how it should feel on the inside! Believe me, it is instant satisfaction, once you get passsed this fearful stage of the first dance.
  7. Reward yourselves at the end..! Find something that you like to do and tell yourself you are going to get that at the end of your dance session.
    A nice bubble bath? A glass of wine? An improvisation video like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaQ3tCo7X1Q
  8. Try to be consistent, make it your thing, without making it a routine. Find yourself in Tango! And if you saw the video above say to yourself: IF SHE CAN DO IT SO CAN I!
  9. After a few times–how long, depends on you–you can start adding a few minutes of practice. Maybe 10-15mins of working on some basic elements of Tango, such as your balance, your projections, your walks, your ochos etc…
  10. Most importantly do what most people forget about, while trying to get better…HAVE FUN!
How do I know this works..?

Well I do it every day! And yes, some days I feel great from the very first moment and other days I am on the verge of going for coffee but then I dance and it just all goes away, the satisfaction is instant and you just want to dance more and more!
After that,  you really  want to practice. You practice for those three minutes of instant satisfaction, those three minutes of freedom, those Queenie moments of Tango bliss. You practice for YOU!

Plus, if you are wondering if leaders will notice any of this, this is a quote I read in a blog: “Followers must learn to improvise or else it is like dancing with dead weight..!” Strong, not my style, but to the point and most importantly it means that good leaders will be able to notice the difference.

Enjoy,
-Chrisa

Pictures:
1)
Photo credit: Ed Yourdon via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
2)Photo credit: LHG Creative Photography via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Constructing Dance

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