Naughty Toddler, Shark and Fishes, Traffic, Touch My Foot: My tango students are invited to play a lot of different games, especially in my beginner and my FUNdamentals classes. Why make up all these games?
Humans learn best by play and experimentation, not rote memorization. Look at kids: they are constantly learning, and incorporating huge amounts of data. They play games themselves, and teachers have kids play games to learn. Adults learn better playing games as well. The only problem: adults are afraid to look stupid, and it gets in the way of their learning!
Here's my question: Are you willing to risk looking silly and maybe making mistakes, in order to learn faster and better? Here are descriptions of two of the games I play in class and WHY we play them.
Game 1: Shark and Fishes
Shark and Fishes is my newest game. It helps everyone on the dance floor pay attention to the flow of the room AND avoid crazy drivers on the dance floor.
When I interviewed dancers in Buenos Aires for my M.A. thesis on tango, I was told that dancers "back in the day" rarely ran into each other. The whole room of dancers would get into a groove, aware of all of the other dancers, and would move as one. If one person messed up, the others would adjust to avoid crashes and return to a group groove. I wanted to help dancers relearn this skill.
I thought about how I have seen schools of fish whirl almost as one unit, and reassemble. Could I apply this to tango? And what about the occasional "bad driver" who plunges across the dance floor, oblivious to other humans?
Rules of the game
1. Everyone moves on their own, but trying to mimic a school of fish. Fish swirl, curve, flow and clump together for safety. That means the people have to move as close to each other as possible, without hitting, swirling as a close-knit group around the dance floor. No one fish stays fixed in the grouping. Each person needs to be aware of their personal space and work together as a group at the same time.
2. Grabbing a partner, we try to keep flowing in this "school" of fish around the room. Don't worry about traditional rules of staying in front of and behind the same person; focus on rolling with the group. If a crash looks imminent, the leader should ALWAYS protect the follower by putting the follower on the far side of the crash. Do not use your follower as a sacrificial victim to be given up to the shark!
3. Here comes the shark! Someone (usually me) announces, "Here comes the shark!" and just walks straight through the school of fish. All the dancers swirl away from the shark and recombine into one school of fish as soon as possible. As the game continues, the shark stops giving verbal warnings and just walks through the school.
What does Shark and Fishes teach?
- How to navigate in bad traffic on the dance floor
- How to protect the follower, no matter what happens
- You have more room to dance if you tune into the other couples in the room
- Dancing in community with the other dancers feels better than dancing alone
- You are all in this together as a community: it's not a competition for space!
Game 2: Touch my foot
Beginning tango dancers (and sometimes more advanced dancers) are afraid to step on their partner's toes. This results in strange sideways leaning as couples try to keep the embrace intact while wandering with their legs.
What if dancers felt comfortable and knew EXACTLY where their partner's feet were? How could I get folks to dance closer and in a more relaxed way? What if I got everyone comfortable with touching feet and legs so that they would stop worrying about it?
What if we knew exactly where the partner's feet were, based on the embrace and what we could feel of the upper body?
Rules of the game
1. Practice walking in a straight line, right in front of your own belly button. The partners are slightly offset, as the follower's middle goes down the middle of the leader's right side; this creates a a slight V, based on the shape of the two people (or a big V if you are have cultivated the beer pansa/belly). For those of you who like to argue that this is walking "outside" you can call this whatever you like as long as you do it!
2. Whoever is currently walking forward (let's say the leader first), will try to touch the side of the follower's foot or ankle that is closest to the leader. The follower is just walking backwards in a straight line. If you are in parallel, that would mean the leader's left foot touches the inside of the follower's left foot; and then the leader's right foot touches the OUTSIDE of the follower's right foot. It will feel like a zigzag to the person going forward. If you are not using correct contrabody, this is much harder to do.
3. When you get to the end of the room, don't turn around; just reverse. Now the FOLLOWER is doing the touch my foot, and the leader is just walking backwards normally.
4. Now, practice finding the OTHER side of the partner's foot: walk three steps in front of yourself (L R L), and use your next right step to step in between the other person's feet, again touching their foot or ankle. Some of my students who have been taught tracks/skis say, "My track, my track, my track, YOUR track" under their breath while doing this.
5. Now walk in front of yourself, not trying to touch feet and notice HOW MUCH ROOM you really have when walking well in close embrace!
What does Touch My Feet teach?
- How to identify EXACTLY where the inside and outside edges of the partner's foot are
- How to identify the only place you can't step: on their foot
- You have better balance for dancing if you dance with your feet right under you
- Feeling like you have no space in close embrace is just a perception, not reality
- Followers need to learn to walk forward too!