I will be teaching 4, 30-minute beginners lessons at the Portland Tango and Salsa Festival on Saturday. I just found out that the planners decided that beginners didn't need a dance floor for lessons, so I will be teaching tango on grass...
So, what do you teach someone who knows no tango, on grass, in thirty minutes? You reduce the dance to the fundamentals, to what really matters about tango.
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to take part in DanceAbility International's dance festival in Eugene. We had to take workshops on teaching in order to participate, and I learned TONS from the people I taught and from the instructors. I had to completely change how I taught, and I kept a lot of what I learned in my classes for able-bodied folks after the festival.
When confronted with a group of people who are in wheelchairs (some motored, some people-powered), you realize that dancing East Coast swing (one of the dances I taught at the festival) might not be about stepping back on the right or left foot. Instead, it's really about building momentum, stretching away from each other to then use that elastic pull to change places in various ways, turning one person as you do so. You find ways to face each other, back up to get some oppositional force, and then turn until you are facing again, to music, with a partner. It felt magical by the end of each class.
When applied to tango, what this means to me is: Tango is a dance where, for the most part, the two partners move together around a space. They can move in straight lines, curves or circles/turns. They can move to the music on every beat, every other beat, two steps per beat, use long pauses, or even move slow-motion. They are connected by energy, breath, and by touching. Both people are on balance, on their own axis, responsible for their own body. Both are paying attention to how the other person is moving. They are tuned in to each other. Perhaps they are even breathing in unison.
Tango is not really about moves, even though we enjoy watching wild show tango or try flashy moves on the dance floor.
Survival tango means that, after a half hour, folks can steer more or less so they are not dangerous to themselves and other humans. They can deal with a partner who also has not much idea of what to do in a way that is fun and is dancing. They know their options for moving to the music, even if not all of them are accessible yet. They are tuned in, listening to their partners, creating a joint experience to the lovely live music that will be playing at the dance tent (with floor, thank goodness).
So, my tango dancers, when you see those new people standing around shyly, hoping to dance, please ask them to dance. Sweep them off their feet (figuratively only, please) and take them for a spin.