So many moves, so little memory
One of my students asked me, “Why can you remember to do so many more moves than my husband can when we dance?”
The question made me pause, as I had just been reading about how people retain information. I knew that my short-term memory did not have more storage space than another person, so why DID I remember more moves while dancing?
Most of the research I have read suggests we have five to seven slots for short-term memory. A good leader uses several of those for more than just moves:
Make your follower feel secure: NAVIGATION is most important.
Where is YOUR body? Make sure you are on balance, ready to move.
Where is your follower? Make sure they are on balance, ready to move!
Musicality (some people put this higher on the list, but as a follower, I would rather that both of us are on balance than off-balance but on the music).
Room for a move
Room for a move
Room for a move
Chunks, not items
I remember more information because I chunk vocabulary into categories, and each short-term memory slot holds a category, not just one move. As I learn new moves, I figure out where they fit in my move storage, and then it’s easier to find and use those moves.
Some people think better in idea clouds, where the information is chunked, but perhaps not in a completely systematic way. For a relatively new tango dancer, we might start with the categories of: traveling, turning, other things; or something like that. Here is an example from yesterday for one student:
For him, that is the sum of the moves he knows. He knows the concepts of volcadas, ganchos, etc., but doesn’t know how to lead them yet. I introduced the idea of categories so that, as he learns moves, he can figure out how HE thinks of the moves, and use his own categories to store and retrieve information.
Other students prefer a drop-down menu approach to storing information. That way, as more and more variations are learned, they are simply plugged into the existing system further down the menu. That way, the leader can think “ocho cortado” and choose “linear” and THEN choose “multiple traspies/rebound” and then pick “lateral cross” as the exit move. Each part of the process is ONE decision at a time, working down the menu, choosing each part of the move.
Here is an example of one category (traveling) from a student who is just figuring out how his categories work (rather than mine).
The advantage of the drop-down menu is that our brains use these every day on our computers, and we are already trained to look for information this way.
Make your categories/method work for you!
Everyone has a different approach to how they classify tango moves. There is not one right way: grab a piece of paper, or a thought-cloud app, or a white board and markers, and see how YOU chunk the information. I have found that some of my students categorize the way I do, and some of my students have very different thoughts about what fits together; give yourself time to develop your own system.
Remember: Try to limit yourself to 4-5 categories, as you will always need to prioritize navigation/safety and musicality over moves. Once you know where your body is, and where your partner is, you don’t have to spend so much energy and time on that, and you can expand your movement list a bit.
Does this work for everyone?
In the course of 23 years of teaching tango, I have only met two students who did not categorize information easily. For both of them, each separate move was a separate thing. An example: for most people, Phillips screwdrivers are in the same family as a regular screwdriver. For these people, there is no “screwdriver” category, and each tool goes into a separate box or drawer, unrelated to the other tools.
If this describes how you approach category-making, be comforted that these guys did manage to learn tango and did manage to dance more than five moves; but it was a struggle. Be kind to yourself! Be patient with yourself! Sigue luchando! (Keep fighting!)