What's the best way to learn Argentine Tango, Part IV

Below are a few odds and ends from Make It Stick that didn't fit anywhere else, but seemed important to share with you.

Why you need a teacher to master tango


We are all hardwired to make errors in judgment. Good judgment is a skill one must acquire, becoming an astute observer of one’s own thinking and performance . . . when we’re incompetent, we tend to overestimate our competence and see little reason to change… (Brown et al. 104)

One more piece of the learning puzzle remains: calibration. Calibration is: “the act of aligning your judgments of what you know and don’t know with objective feedback so as to avoid being carried off by the illusions of mastery. . ." (Brown et al 210).

It's hard to give yourself objective feedback when learning something. Brown et al. point out that many people have a false sense of mastery of information long before they actually know the new material well. Also, because we base our sense of mastery on our own subjective experience, we can be WAY off base about our level of mastery if no one else gives us a reality check (Brown et al. 111).

Taking private lessons, in addition to group lessons, is the only way to become a master of tango. If you don't care what level you reach, and you just want to dance a little for fun, you can get by with group lessons. Watching YouTube will not teach you the sublety of tango :-)

Deliberate practice usually isn’t enjoyable, and for most learners it requires a coach or trainer who can help identify areas of performance that need to be improved, help focus attention on specific aspects, and provide feedback to keep perception and judgment accurate. (Brown et al. 184)


It's OK to fail!

I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work. Thomas Edison

Western culture doesn't like failure. Many of us will do just about anything to avoid making mistakes, especially publically (Brown et al 90). Failure has spurred many new discoveries over the eons, and avoiding failure can make us so risk-adverse that we are too afraid to try anything new, to experiment to find new things (Brown et al 92-93). What if we were all too afraid to try learning? There would be no tango moves that had been created in the past 100+ years for us to dance. I think that most moves come from making mistakes while doing moves that already exist. What a boring dance tango would be without mistakes!

…to achieve expertise requires thousands of hours of dedicated practice in which one strives to surpass one’s current level of ability, a process in which failure becomes an essential experience on the path to mastery. . . The qualities of persistence and resiliency, where failure is seen as useful information, underlie successful innovation in every sphere and lie at the core of nearly all successful learning. (Brown et al 93)


There is no age limit

There’s virtually no limit to how much learning we can remember as long as we relate it to what we already know.” In fact, because new learning depends on prior learning, the more we learn, the more possible connections we create for further learning. (Brown et al 76)

Humans continue to generate neurons in the hippocampus throughout life. This is the area of the brain where we consolidate learning and memory, so we should be able to learn as long as we make an effort (Brown et al. 172).


Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right

Many people believe that their intellectual ability is hardwired from birth, and that failure to meet a learning challenge is an indictment of their native ability. But every time you learn something new, you change the brain. . . . “We become capable through the learning and development of mental models that enable us to reason, solve, and create . . .  the elements that shape your intellectual abilities lie to a surprising extent within your own control. (Brown et al. 23)

According to Brown et al., “Mastery requires both the possession of ready knowledge and the conceptual understanding of how to use it (35-6)." In studies of mastery, it has been seen that “ten thousand hours or ten years of practice was the average time the people . . .studied had invested to become expert in their fields" (Brown et al. 185).


Suggestions for Gaining Mastery


  1. Be the one in charge: “Mastery, especially of complex ideas, skills and processes, is a quest.” Don’t leave it up to the teacher!
  2. Embrace the notion of successful intelligence: Build on your strengths, but push your envelope. Figure out what you want to learn, what you need to do to get there, make a plan, and keep pushing yourself, testing yourself, and working on the areas that are weak.
  3. Adopt active learning strategies: “develop workarounds or compensating skills for impediments or holes in your aptitudes.” Make sure you aren’t just doing what feels easy and safe.
  4. Build the structure: look for the deep fundamental structures of what you want to learn, and build on those. That organizes all the learning, creates connections, and makes for successful learning (Brown et al. 159-160).

Where are you on your ten thousand hours? Get out there and dance!




What's the best way to learn Argentine Tango, Part III

Make It Stick: Why spaced, interleaved practice works

In the spirit of Make It Stick, I am adding details and presenting some review of the material from before, but in a different way here, to "make it stick" in your brain :-)

In this post, I am detailing how to think of the process of learning, and how you can use your practice best to retain information.

Effortful Retrieval

In effect, retrieval---interrupts forgetting. (Brown et al. 37).

Finding or remembering old information is hard because our brain has forgotten the cues or connections to the information stored, not because we have lost information permanently (Brown et al. 77). So how do we help ourselves keep information at our fingertips? Struggling to find old information forces the brain to make new connections, linking old information to new information and/or modifying the information we are retrieving with new details.

For tango, the way we self-test/retrieve information, is to try moves or techniques of moving, at practicas or milongas. If it works, you know it! If it doesn't, that is also clear. In one study that Brown et al. cited, students who didn't get tested at all on information forgot 52% of what they had learned after ONE week, while students who had been tested repeatedly, only forgot 10% (Brown et al. 55). What is the takeaway here? GO DANCING!


Repeated retrieval

To be most effective, retrieval must be repeated again and again, in spaced out sessions so that the recall, rather than becoming a mindless recitation, requires some cognitive effort. (Brown et al. 45)

Once you have it right, don't stop practicing/reviewing! It is easy to misremember material. Often, if you dance with someone doing it wrong, you will change your memory of the move to what they are doing. Or, someone may remember it differently, and you start to form a memory based on the other person's version (Brown et al. 116-7).

Often in tango, we say that you have to learn something at least three times to remember it well. I have heard numerous teachers repeat this information. Why does repeating the learning experience help you remember? Relearning/recalling learning makes material clearer, connects it better into cues/memory and “weakens competing routes” of cues/memory (Brown et al. 83).



Elaboration is the process of giving new material meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know. (Brown et al. 22)

When you learn something new in tango, figure out how it fits into the information you already know. This creates connections in your brain that help you access the new information more readily. Find how the new move or technique fits into the big picture of your tango dancing, and you will remember the information better.

One way I help my students do this, is to present information that is closely related, but different. Each new step is connected into the material we have already learned.

For example, my advanced class is working on back paradas, leader front sacadas through the follower's back step, and single-axis turns from the follower's back step. For these three moves, there is only a slight change in the lead to produce different results (send the follower, but don't go; intersect the middle of the follower's back step; and intersect the follower's back step as close to the new landing spot as possible). When we work on them in the same class, the followers can feel the difference in the leader's moves more clearly, and the leaders can see when they have misjudged the movement (and have a backup plan in place, using one of the other options).

I often have students work together doing peer-teaching, which requires them to be able to explain what they are going in their own words.



As you cast about for a solution, retrieving related knowledge from memory, you strengthen the route to a gap in your learning even before the answer is provided to fill it and, when you do fill it, connections are made to the related material that is fresh in your mind from the effort. (Brown et al. 88)

Generation is "the act of trying to answer a question or attempting to solve a problem rather than being presented with the information or the solution is known as generation” (Brown et al. 87). If you have to generate part of the information (fill in the blank for example); you remember the information better because you had to work on retrieval more (Brown et al. 48).

Last week, I taught Tete's "famous ocho" and this week, I taught the reverse volcada that I think developed from Tete's move. I showed the class Tete's ocho, and asked, "What would happen if I moved away from the follower at this point?" Answer: the follower steps forward. "What could I do to prevent the follower from stepping?" Answer: the leader suspends the follower so that s/he can't step. "How do I need to move to get back on balance, moving line-of-dance, to exit?" Answer: [Usually] stepping behind with my left, then sidewises with my right foot, and then walking forward out of the move.

As we worked through each piece of the movement, I tried to ask a question that required thought. I can just show the move over and over, but it won't "stick" the way that requiring students to generate their own answers will. I am still working on this part, as I love to be helpful and provide answers for them :-)



Take time to think about what you’ve just learned and tie it into what you already know; figure out what you need to know to make it all fit together, or what skill you are still lacking in order to be able to do this thing (Brown et al 209). What is the big picture? What is the overarching larger context for this new information?

People who learn to extract the key ideas from new material and organize them into a mental model and connect that model to prior knowledge show an advantage in learning complex mastery. (Brown et al. 22)

After a class, you should think about/note/write down the key ideas or moves that you have learned. This helps with reflection (retrieval of recently learned info), elaboration (connecting it to what you already know) and generation (putting it in your own words as you mentally rehearse it) (Brown et al. 88).

I write detailed notes during and after a class when I study with a new teacher, or if I want to remember a pattern to teach it later. For example, if I hadn't kept a notebook during my studies with Tete in 2000 and 2001, I would never be able to teach a class of his movements from memory in 2015!


What's the best way to learn Argentine Tango, Part II

Make It Stick: Why can't I remember moves when I go home after class??

Most people think that repeating information over and over is the best way to learn. In "massed practice," we repeat the same information/moves over and over again, until it feels familiar. Unfortunately, instead of creating long-term memory, when we do this, we are working with our short-term memory. As we loop through our short-term memory, the material begins to feel familiar. We gain confidence and feel good, as if we learned the movement really well. However, when we get home, we can't remember what we did in class (Brown et al. 83).

Just stuffing information into your brain does not help you learn. Think of cramming for an exam: you pass the exam, but is that information really available for later recall? For example, a tango festival, with twenty hours of lessons in a weekend, would be like cramming for an exam. How much of that information is still there a week later?


How to learn movement efficiently

Embrace the fact that significant learning is often, or even usually, somewhat difficult. You will experience setbacks. These are signs of effort, not of failure. Setbacks come with striving, and striving builds expertise. (Brown et al. 201)


Spaced Practice

Massed practice will not help you to learn tango. Instead, you need to space out your practice time. This helps your brain build the connections between the new information and what you already know, which cannot happen immediately. Also, the fact that you have to work hard to retrieve the information each time you practice, helps you learn more thoroughly (Brown et al. 65).

When people ask me how often they need to practice, or take classes, I tell them that it varies by person. If you want to improve, you need to review the information before you forget it; and then keep reviewing it. Personally, if I wait more than 48 hours to review something, I often can't find the information in my memory. So, for me, I need to practice at least every other day when I am trying to learn something new.


Interleaved Practice

The learning from interleaved practice feels slower than learning from massed practice. Teachers and students sense the difference . . . and the compensating long-term advantage is not apparent to them. As a result, interleaving is unpopular and seldom used (Brown et al. 66-7)

Interleaving is studying at least two things, rather than just studying one. In an example from the book, a group of people who already were good at baseball were divided in two. One group was given massed practice of hitting several kinds of pitches, but one at a time. They felt good about how they were learning, and continued practicing for six weeks. The other group interleaved all the different kinds of pitches, never knowing what was coming up. They felt frustrated that they weren’t doing very well. At the end of six weeks of practice, they performed much better than the other group (Brown et al. 80-1).

Although I have used some of these techniques for years, some are new to me, or were things that I did not often do. I had felt pressure to make my lessons feel easier from my students, and had drifted towards too much repetition of one thing at a time. However, the changes I have made to class in the past three months have made a believer out of me: I am seeing results that I have not seen in 30 years of teaching! My students agree that class is more challenging and feels more frustrating, but they are learning faster.


Varied Practice

If you interleave different skills or moves, you learn better than working on one thing, but you can improve on that with varied practice: mix it up! Do things in different orders! Do different exercises and drills!

The evidence favoring variable training has been supported by recent neuroimaging studies that suggest that different kinds of practice engage different parts of the brain. The learning of motor skills from varied practice, which is more cognitively challenging than massed practice, appears to be consolidated in an area of the brain associated with the more difficult process of learning higher-order motor skills. (Brown et al. 67)

My guess is that tango counts as a higher-order motor skill :-) When I teach private lessons, I often write three- to four- moves on the white board, and then have the student dance them in different orders. With the "cheat" of seeing the names of the moves, or pictures of them, the student works through different orders of movement. After that, I ask that they do so without looking at the board.





What's the best way to learn Argentine Tango?

Part One: How the brain learns

Make It Stick

I have been reading Make It Stick, by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel. This book covers several decades of learning research, aimed at the educated layperson. One of my students brought it to my attention (thanks, Marcia!) because she knows I am interested in ways to learn and to teach.

Expert performance does not usually rise out of some genetic predisposition or IQ advantage. It rises from thousands of hours of . . .sustained deliberate practice . . . slow acquisition of a larger number of increasingly complex patterns,  patterns that are used to store knowledge about which actions to take in a vast vocabulary of different situations. (Brown et al. 183)

Does this sound like tango to you? It does to me.

What have I found out? The way that most people think is the best way to learn is actually the worst way to learn. However, because it feels easier, learners ignore studies that show them how to boost learning and keep employing methods that don't work well.

I have seen a huge jump in retention of both technique and specific steps since I tweaked my teaching style to implement suggestions from Brown et al. in my teaching.


How does the brain learn?


Neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons, actually happens in the brain BEFORE learning begins (Brown et al. 172). So that means that the intention to learn is a trigger for creating an atmosphere in the body that allows for new memories and motor patterns to stick! As a teacher, I find this exciting, because it means that, just by showing up for class, by intending to learn something new, a person is predisposed to learn.



When you learn new information, dance or otherwise, the brain first encodes it:

...the brain converts your perceptions into chemical and electrical changes that form a mental representation of the patterns you’ve observed. . . we call the new representations within the brain memory traces. Think of notes jotted or sketched on a scratchpad, our short-term memory. (Brown et al. 72)



Each time you repeat the new movement or piece of information, the traces in the brain are strengthened. The brain "reorganizes and stabilizes the memory traces," allowing for more connections to be made to other memory traces, so that it can be recalled at a later time (Brown et al. 73). The process of creating long-term memory storage is called consolidation.



In the next step of learning, the brain continues to work on the new material, reconsolidating it, pulling it out of storage, modifying it if necessary, and connecting it to more information to strengthen the memory, each time it is used: “Scientists believe that the brain replays or rehearses the learning, giving it meaning, filling in blank spots and making connections to past experiences…” (Brown et al. 73).



As you continue practicing, or using, the stored information, those neuronal pathways become coated with myelin. It acts like insulation, allowing the signals to move faster along those pathways. Brown et al. note that:

our learning it thought to be recoded in . . . the same area that controls subconscious actions . . . As a part of this process of recoding, the brain is thought to chunk motor and cognitive action sequences together so that they can be performed as a single unit [and they speed up]. (Brown et al 171)

In tango, this is why you can only do a new movement slowly at first. Gradually, you will be able to dance it correctly at higher and higher speeds: the improvement in performance is due to how fast the electrical signals can travel in your body.

Good news for older learners: our "neural circuitry" continues to grow into our sixties (Brown et al. 170)! Watching my older students, I suspect this actually continues longer, because some of the biggest gains I have seen have come from my students in their seventies.


So what does this mean for tango?

The next post will cover how to use this information to learn in a way that "makes it stick" so you can really dance!





Tango: practical vs. ideal (or, Why I teach Naughty Toddler)

One of my students felt frustrated when her dance partner returned after several months off. She practiced diligently during that time, and brought her dancing up to a good, solid level. However, she told me that, after dancing with me for a few months, she felt upset that her technique didn't feel as good with her partner, who is an intermediate leader. Why couldn't she dance as well as with me? Several other students have also commented that, "It's no use working on good technique when, on the dance floor, I never need it!"

So why do we work on having perfect technique? What about focusing on how to deal with dancing with real people, who do not dance perfectly?

Why work on ideal technique?

Yes, it's true that a "perfect" tanda only happens once every few years for me. Most of the time, I dance with beginner and intermediate students, who don't yet have the level of dance that would allow me to dance without effort. HOWEVER, when that unforgettable tanda happens, I want to have the chops to give back what I'm receiving from my partner. I work almost every day at my technique, after 20 years of tango, for those in-body experiences.

As your own technique gets better, you can maintain it under less-than-ideal circumstances. This gives you a better dance with someone than you would have with poor technique. I assume that, when I am dancing with a dancer at a lower level, one of my jobs is to my partner have a better dance experience. How? By dancing my absolute best technique. At Portland Tango Marathon, a long-time friend told me that I made him "look good" on the dance floor. Yes! That should be a given.

Why work on problem-solving, save-your-butt moves?

For me, I think a dancer needs to study both good technique and survival plans in order to dance well and to enjoy social dancing. I try to balance my classes so that we alternate working on ideal technique, flow/energy games, and what I call "Naughty Toddler," a game I made up while teaching at the University of Oregon about ten years ago.

Naughty Toddler is game where the dancers take turns NOT following and NOT leading. The partner needs to adjust in different ways to have a successful dance. This game is about getting out of your head, and into your natural body, letting your dance happen in spite of yourself; finding the flow of the dance.

I originally made up this game so that followers would give more energy to the leaders: how many of us have started tango dancing like robots, scared to do anything "wrong" that the leader didn't ask us to do? I have found that the game also helps leaders: it gives them real-life practice in dealing with unexpected situations. If you can survive Naughty Toddler, you can survive the dance floor!

The rules for naughty follower:

  • Don't follow!
  • Try to get your leader to run into other people/the wall/get flustered
  • Pretend you aren't dancing with someone else! Do your worst imitation of what you see on YouTube if you are out of ideas
  • Play!

What does the leader need to do?

  • Just like when working with a toddler, it's easier to cut off access to the forbidden space instead of saying no; don't wrestle, find a way to reduce the follower's momentum to zero, and re-take the lead.
  • Gentle hands: use your body position to block/redirect the follower. The hands for are preventing accidents if nothing else works.
  • Keep breathing and don't freak out: this is how it feels when you are a beginning lead all the time!!

The rules for naughty leader:

  • Don't lead!
  • Just dance around doing your own thing
  • It is still your job to navigate: make sure you don't run into anyone
  • Don't worry about whether the follower gets what you are doing

What does the follower need to do?

  • Hold onto the leader's shoulders
  • Stay in front of them
  • Don't worry about what foot to use, just stay upright

Naughty Leader helps followers get practice in how to stay on balance and dance as well as possible, even when there is no clear lead. It also helps leaders understand that they can allow themselves to NOT make a plan, and still have a dance.

Not everyone likes Naughty Toddler

If you are teacher, be aware that not everyone likes Naughty Toddler. Some of my elderly students sit down for the game, unless they have a trusted partner. It scares them because they are afraid of falling down. Another student refuses to play the game (although I hope she will eventually try it) because "it just doesn't do it for me" as a perfectionist: it pushes ALL of her buttons. She was shocked when I correctly guessed her motives for avoiding it. As a perfectionist myself, I know how useful this game has been for me as a dancer. Those who are very structured find the exercise emotionally uncomfortable. As a teacher, I am all about coaxing people out of their comfort zone into a stronger dance.

Bringing the ideal and practical together

The aim of working perfect technique and Naughty Toddler/energy games in tandem, is to create a vibrant, energized, joyous dance with good technique. Without energy, the dance is academic and cold. Without technique, it is lacking elegance and power. Put the two together, and ....you've got what I think tango ought to me.

Now go out there and dance!



A few more thoughts from "The Art of Learning"

I found a few more tidbits of information in The Art of Learning that are very useful for tango dancers, even though Josh Waitzkin is discussing chess and tai chi.


Subtle is good!

...players tend to get attached to fancy techniques and fail to recognize that subtle internalization and refinement is much more important than the quantity of what is learned. (The Art of Learning, 123)

If I could be paid for each time someone complains to me, "But this is subtle," I would be rich! Tango IS subtle, with a deep body awareness needed to achieve mastery. Dancing on Monday night, I found a zone where I was aware of how all of my muscles and my frame fit together, and I could feel the interplay of muscles, of my balance, of my partner's musicality, on a deeper level than usual. I have come to enjoy little, tiny elements of the dance; the subtlety of tango.


Waiting: finding the white space in the poetry that is tango

Not only do we have to be good at waiting, we have to love it. Because waiting is not waiting, it is life. (The Art of Learning, 186-7)

This is what tango is about: finding the pauses, enjoying the waiting, being in the zone in quiet moments. If you try to live for the exciting moments only, for the big, flashy moves, you have missed the heart of tango. In the waiting, you find yourself and your partner.


Create a routine to make dancing less stressful

To have success in crunch time, you need to integrate certain healthy patterns into your day-to-day life so that they are completely natural to you when the pressure is on. (The Art of Learning, 187)

Although there is no one quote about this that works for tango, I really like Waitzkin's creation of a routine that helps focus, calm and prepare a person for something stressful. A LOT of people tell me that they find going out dancing so stressful and anxiety-provoking that they prefer to just come to lessons and dance with me! Now, while that is flattering on one hand, it means that they are working really hard and not getting to play with tango.

If going dancing brings out all of your negative self-talk ("I can't dance; maybe I should just quit!") or your fear of not having a good time ("No good dancers are going to notice me, and I will probably just have a bad evening!") or trigger pet peeves ("I hate it when people keep dancing with bad floorcraft! Why are they getting in my way and ruining my evening?"), then you are setting yourself up to have a negative experience. Dancing should be fun! Socializing should be fun! Dancing should feed your life, not suck it dry.

What calms you down? Build a routine of a few short activities that you enjoy, and help set yourself up to succeed and enjoy the evening. Here's what I like to do:

  1. Shower.
  2. Pick out a nice outfit.
  3. Do 15 minutes of stretching.
  4. Spin or knit for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Go dancing.

Make a routine out of things you already like to do, and the positive feelings you have about those activities, will transfer to the dancing.

Build a short-cut relaxation routine

After you have developed a good routine that helps you prepare for dancing, you can make a shorter version to work for times when you don't have an hour or more to prepare to dance. What if a friend calls and says, "Hey! I'm going to the milonga in twenty minutes! Let's go!" Do you want to refuse because you need an hour to kick into gear?

Think about gradually shortening your routine so that is still relaxes and prepares you, but only takes a few minutes. This is also helpful for those nights when you start to lose your cool part of the way through the milonga: a difficult partner, a bad collision, or just seeing someone you don't want to see across the floor. Maybe going out of the room, doing a stretch, rinsing your face, and getting a drink of water will clear your mind; but only if you have developed a short-hand version that you know works. Part of the reason it is effective, is that you have practiced it, and wired your body to relax when you go through your ritual.

Once a simple inhalation can trigger a state of tremendous alertness, our moment-to-moment awareness becomes blissful, like that of someone half-blind who puts on glasses for the first time. We see more as we walk down the street. The everyday becomes exquisitely beautiful. The motion of boredom becomes alien and absurd as we naturally soak in the lovely subtleties of the 'banal'. (The Art of Learning, 197)


An aside from me

This is not from the book, but from a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety. If you are stressed out about dancing tango, go dancing. If you are nervous or anxious, avoiding going will simply cause more anxiety. Just go. If you show up, sit down, change your shoes and chat with people at your table, you have succeeded in getting to the milonga! Dance one or two tandas before fleeing. Next week, stay one more tanda. Add a tanda a week. As you meet more people, you will have more folks to dance with you, and you will feel more at home. Pick a table and sit at the same place each week. Become part of the community, and feel how that helps you feel less nervous about the dancing! And listen to the tiny moments that create joy.

Investment in loss

I am still reading The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, in between other books and projects. Today, I was struck by the following paragraph, and then taught a class immediately after reading. My student felt frustrated that she was "losing the tango she had" before, although my impression is that she is improving at a steady pace.  Here's what Waitzkin wrote about learning Tai Chi Pushing Hands:

In order to grow, [the learner] needs to give up his current mind-set. He needs to lose to win. . . . William Chen calls this investment in loss. Investment in loss is giving yourself to the learning process. In Push Hands it is letting yourself be pushed without reverting back to old habits--training yourself to be soft and receptive when your body doesn't have any idea how to do it and wants to tighten up. (p. 107)

This resonates with me as a process that I continually experience each time I go up a level in tango. I have to let go of the familiar motor pathways that make me feel competent, and set off down new motor pathways that feel weird, disorienting and unfamiliar. Gradually, as those new habits fall into place, they begin to feel normal and good; and I reach a new level of dance.

I see dancers all the time who remain at the same intermediate level permanently because it is just too frightening to step off the curb into a new modality. I started from scratch in tango after teaching for twelve years. It was a scary year, as I learned new things and started to teach them. I had to acknowledge that I was also trying to get them into my body. I felt very vulnerable. I have a card in front of my computer that reads: "A ship in port is safe; but that is not what ships are built for (John Augustus Shedd)." I read that every day, and try not to let my vulnerability keep me hiding from growth.

What about you?


Las Naifas Matinee Milonga

Luisa Zini and I would like to invite you to our monthly event: Las Naifas Matinee Milonga. We have talked about having a milonga together for a long time. We both love the atmosphere of milongas in Buenos Aires, where you can get a glass of wine, a snack, chat with your friends, AND dance. We wanted to recreate that atmosphere here in Portland.

Las Naifas started last month. About 70 people filled the space. It felt more like a party than anything else: people circulated, chatted, laughed, ate snacks--and danced. Jerry Wallach kept the music coming, and the dance floor never cleared. In fact, we ran almost a half hour late because no one wanted to go home!

I teach the beginner's lesson, and I call it "survival tango" class. In 45 minutes, we work on how to move with good energy, avoid collisions with other dancers in the space, get connected with a partner, and let your body move. I make sure everyone knows the basic rules for a milonga: how to enter the dance space safely, how to ask for dances, how long you dance with one person, etc. It was great to see completely new dancers come for the 5:30 PM lesson and stay and DANCE! Even at 9 PM, they were still there, on the dance floor.

I invite YOU to join us Friday, March 27th at 5:30 PM for the lesson at the Treasury Ballroom, 326 SW Broadway, Portland, OR 97205 (downstairs in the U.S. Bank building). The snacks and drinks are catered by F & B Catering, and were FABULOUS last month. Join us on Facebook for the last minute details or to find out more about this wonderful community of people. Bring your friends and meet new friends!



Festivals: cabeceo or no?

Portland Tangofest starts in a few days, and the the topic of whether or not one should cabeceo  (inviting with a glance/head gesture, from some distance away) has reared its ugly head again.

Traditionally, cabeceo gave women a chance to have some power in the decision-making process of who danced with whom. If she didn't want to dance with someone, she could either avoid eye contact, or look at them, but not agree to dance. Because women traditionally didn't invite men to dance, looking available or not-available provided a measure of control over dancing with certain people.

For those of us who did most of our tango learning in Buenos Aires, cabeceo is what feels comfortable. I prefer cabeceo because, if I am having a conversation with another person, it signals to potential partners that I am busy at the moment. If I want to dance, I am looking around. Putting my cultural anthropologist hat on, I think you should follow the cultural rules that go along with traditional dances; or at least know what those rules are.

Cabeceo doesn't work as well in situations in North America because only some people have been trained how to do it; and others don't like the fact that the person being asked might indicate "no" and so use direct invitation to coerce those of us who tend to be too nice to say "no" when standing a foot away from someone. Also, if two women or two men are doing the inviting, the traditional roles don't necessarily fit. As a woman who leads, I have found it almost impossible to cabeceo women, unless they have spent some time in Buenos Aires. Also, many North American men are not comfortable maintaining eye contact long enough to actually ask someone to dance via cabeceo.

This makes for a very confused muddle at a festival. People from different towns have different conventions (traditional Argentine and very non-Argentine), which is even harder to figure out than usual.

Here is what I do at festivals. I stick to cabeceo with folks who know my preference. For people who walk up and invite me, I usually say yes, but then ask them to cabeceo me in the future. However, if I see a man or woman looking at me hopefully, but then looking away/down/etc. I may approach them and ask if they would like to dance. I will especially do this if they don't look familiar. Folks who are new often have not been taught how to cabeceo.

I'll be hosting the Friday afternoon milonga at Tangofest. In that situation, not only will I ask folks to dance; I will also drag people over and introduce them to new people. I see my role as hostess as a connector, helping cabeceo-impaired dancers to find happiness on the dance floor :-) I will see you there!

And tell me how you navigate Argentine custom and North American practices on the dance floor!


Tango mindfulness III: games for exploration, contd.

More games and exercises to tune into tango

Last post, I detailed the games that I use to teach how to tune into your own body and to your partner. In tango, we also need to tune into the whole group of people dancing for maximum enjoyment, as well as to the space and the music.

Tuning into the whole group

One of the things I remember from when I was doing my fieldwork in Buenos Aires for my thesis, was the description one older man gave me of dancing "in the old times" (pre-1990s). He said that there used to be very few crashes on the dance floor. If you watched the dancers, everyone seemed to be in the same flow, dancing together. He added that he didn't see that happening anymore, as new dancers were too focused on themselves.

I was struck by what he said, and constructed some exercises aimed at improving the awareness of the group and of the space around the dancers.

1. Blindfold tango: Just as you can feel that you are near someone or something when you have your eyes closed, you can tune into the group dancing without using your eyes. BOTH dancers in each couple close their eyes or are blindfolded. Using the breathing exercises we worked on before, the couple tunes into each other, and then starts to dance around the room in SLOW MOTION with very soft bodies so that if they collide with another couple, no one will get injured. The point of this exercise is to get both leaders and followers tuned into all the people in the room and the space in the room.

2. Solo-couple: I use this drill more than any other drill, as it helps develop navigation skills as well as tuning-in skills. When I call "Solo!" everyone walks around the room, to the music. I encourage people to walk the "wrong" direction, through the middle of the group, etc., to mix up the dancers. When I call "Couple!" everyone grabs the nearest person, and starts dancing WITHOUT pausing (grab & go). When the movement gets caught or clogged behind someone, I yell "Solo!" again and we repeat.


Tuning into the space

When I dance in a new space, I really pay attention to the shape of the space and how it affects the dancers. For example, El Beso in Buenos Aires is famous for that awful pillar that creates a traffic jam each time you go around the floor. Folks who are used to dancing there usually manage the space, but visitors take awhile to adjust their dance. Here in Portland, there are several spaces used for practicas and milongas with pillars that make dance flow problematic. In other spaces, the tables are set up in such a way as to intrude on the dance space; while other spaces feel easy to navigate.

Although space management is not just a beginner problem, I use this exercise mostly with beginners and intermediates. I recently used it in my advanced class for the first time, and saw a marked improvement in the quality of dance in a small space, so I will probably use it more in the future.

1. Full space: First, I let everyone dance using the whole room. When we are learning new moves, this is how I usually use the space, so everyone knows how big the room is.

2. 1/2 room: Then, I divide the room with furniture or a human wall, and make everyone do "solo-couple" in this new space.

3. 1/4 room: Gradually, I move the "wall" to create smaller and smaller spaces, each time doing "solo-couple" at least once so that all the dancers adjust to the amount of space they have. I stop squeezing the dance space when people start freaking out (not breathing, tightening their bodies, etc.) unless we are near a festival time, when I use this to accustom the dancers to how it will feeling dancing at the festival.


Tuning into the music

For dancers who grew up with rock 'n roll (or more modern versions of North American music), playing with tango music can seem confusing. Several of my students tell me that dancing milonga and vals are easier because they encourage simply dancing to the beat.

However, in order to fully explore tango music, the dancer needs to listen to more than just the beat of the music. Here are some exercises that I have designed to play with the music and get more out of a tanda.

1. Speed drill: sloooooow, pauses, half-time, regular (tiempo), fast (contratiempo)

Most dancers like one or two speeds of movement, but tango can have many different flavors within the dance. By practicing all of the possibilities, dancers can add a flavor or two to their movement, making their dance musically richer (BTW, I do NOT suggest doing this academically while dancing to be "interesting" but rather a way to access deeper listening skills to the partner and the music).

In class, we practice each way of moving to the music, one at a time, before combing them:

  • Almost all dancers can find the tiempo, or regular beat. Those who cannot, can often cheat off of the nearby dancers visually, and more or less move to the rhythm of the dance.
  • Dancing contratiempo, using syncopation, takes a bit more work. While most dancers can understand the concept of dividing the regular beat into two (or in vals, three) parts, many dancers struggle to remain elegant while dancing faster.
  • Many tangos of the rhythmic era function well when danced using just these two ideas. Indeed, this is how most of my students prefer to dance, avoiding the pitfalls of the pausa (pause) :-)
  • Alternating moving and pausing (half-time), or incorporating pauses into the dance, provides a challenge for many dancers. Foremost, if you are not dancing on-balance, pausing is very difficult. Also there is the question of "how long do I pause here?" for folks who don't hear phrasing in the music easily.
  • Adding pauses into the dance, and emphasizing them in the romantic tango music, really brings out a richness that is lost without those pauses.
  • Slow-motion dancing does not fit all tango music, but I like using it when the music is dramatic, or the melody line is slow and drawn-out. I encourage slow-motion dancing as a way to experience the widest range of possibilities for expression in the dance.

2. What's your favorite flavor?

Identify your favorite speed to use for dancing tango, and gradually add more layers of timing. Most dancers understand that more choices means richer dancing, but need some help identifying what they are using, and what could be added.

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat: same music three times:

We danced best when we love the tango (or the vals or the milonga) that we are dancing. Finding the soul of a particular tune can be easy or difficult, depending on our level of natural musicality and/or our level of musical training.

First, we listen to the song while NOT dancing. Then, we listen to the song while dancing solo (What adorno would I do? When? Where are the pauses? Where are the "fast" parts--if there are fast parts? Does this song make me dance slo-mo? etc.). Last, we dance the same song, but with a partner.

Three times through won't make that song yours, but it's a good start!

4. Find the adornos and pauses

What I do to work on my own adornos, is to put a song on and dance around my living room, practicing my adornos, and seeing what occurs to my body for each song. I try not to make any plan, but simply practice using adornos to a particular piece of music.

In a class, I have the entire class, men and women, dance around solo, interacting with the other dancers by playing with adornos (and not talking!). Then we dance again, trying to play more, cut loose, and improvise.

Tango mindfulness II: games for exploration

Teaching mindfulness in tango

First, let's get our definitions straight: mind·ful·ness (mīndfəlnəs/) noun, 1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.

Over the years, I have developed a lot of games and exercises aimed at becoming aware of your own body, your partner's body, your surroundings, and the music. Some I have stolen from teachers; others I have created from a mixture of ideas from various people; and some have popped, fully formed into my head. I use one to three of the drills in a lesson, eventually covering all of them. Each group of students has slightly different needs, so I choose the activities that are most needed by that particular group of students. Here are short descriptions of each one.

Tuning into your body

1. Breath: With eyes closed, standing still on both feet, breathe slowly in and out 3-4 times, focusing on how the lungs and ribs expand and contract. Variation: while breathing, stretch arms out and up on intake; arms out and down on exhale, to encourage movement in the ribcage.

2. Energy: With eyes closed, stand on both feet. When you breathe in, imagine drawing the breath up out of the ground, through all four corners of the feet, up your legs, up your torso, and into your lungs. Exhale reversing the path, and imagine using your exhale to push a magnet away from under your feet/the floor.

3. Axis: Visualize how your body is stacked up, from the feet up. Depending on what we are working on, I will either work through the entire exercise, or just focus on one or two of these points, drawing a figure on the whiteboard for the visual learners to focus on:

  • arch of the foot is the base; 50-50 weight on ball of foot and heel
  • knees are soft, micro-bent (unlocked but not low); a bit forward of feet
  • hips are back compared to feet, using the hip joint to tip to a good angle for balance
  • pelvic floor lifts torso on top of legs, to stack pelvis over arches
  • back is in natural curves, long and stretchy
  • deep abdominal muscles have tone, allowing for fuller breaths
  • ribcage is balanced over hips, a bit further forward to counterbalance
  • head is floating, balanced over arches of feet


Tuning into your partner

1. Force fields: I always work on breath and axis solo before doing this exercise, as it takes the solo body and tunes it into the partnership:

  • Facing your partner, stand so that you are in each other's personal space, but not touching.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Breathe, pulling the breath up from the soles of your feet into your lungs, and exhaling back down through your feet (or up through the top of your head)
  • Imagine your favorite color, and as you exhale, send laser beams of that color straight out your feet, THROUGH your partner and to the opposite wall.
  • [Give time for 3-4 breaths before going to next body part]
  • Each time a new body part is added, make a longer rectangle of energy that goes through your partner, to the other wall:
  1. knees
  2. hips
  3. belly button (makes people laugh and breathe)
  4. pelvis
  5. solar plexus
  6. ribcage
  7. collar bones
  8. shoulder blades
  9. full body
  • Now, move in slowly until you are touching the front of your partner, and get into the embrace.
  • Breathe together.
  • On each exhale, step side.
  • On each inhale, find your balance.

2. Breathing together/Darth Vader breathing: I designed this exercise when I taught at the University of Oregon. The students had a lot of fun playing it ("Luke, use the boleo, hooooooo") but older adults will also play it. The point of the drill is to have the partners breathe audibly and at the same time, matching their breath. I prefer to do this in practice hold, as it is a bit too weird even for me to have someone do this right in my ear.

3. Slow motion: Slow motion dancing is difficult because it requires good balance and breathing, but dancing with your partner in slow motion is an exercise in helping each other breathe and balance, and helps the couple tune into each other. At first, I need to remind everyone to slow down every 20-30 seconds, but eventually, the whole group starts to dance slowly, experimenting with whatever moves they know at their level.


And there's more!

Next week, I'll go over how to tune into the group, the space and the music for even more tuned-in, mindful tango!



Eighteen years and still together!

This week, I made a joke about having a long-term marriage with tango, complete with ups, downs, dry spells, and long arguments. Then I started thinking about it: my relationship with tango has been very much like a marriage.

Tango and I started as an infatuation. In one short weekend, in December 1995, I fell in love at first sight. I started practicing three days a week with the one, and then two people in town who knew tango and were interested in getting better. I posted the "You know you are addicted to Argentine tango if..." checklist on my office door at the university, and set about solidying my habit.

As the infatuation turned into a new love affair, tango took precedence over many other parts of my life. I switched from a PhD program studying the Balkans, to a MA program in cultural anthropology, and wrote my thesis on Argentine tango. I started studying Spanish. I saved all my money and went to Argentina three years in a row (as a graduate student!), with the excuse that I needed to do research. If I hadn't switch my thesis focus to tango, I am pretty sure that I would have failed out of graduate school.

I started teaching tango because I was desperate to have tango partners to share my obsession. I initially taught tango as part of my advanced ballroom class at the University of Oregon in 1996.  I came in and announced to my class, "I have started learning Argentine Tango. I don't know very much about it, but I will teach you all I know." I started hosting a weekly practica, as well as organizing workshops with traveling teachers. I convinced the dance department to start offering tango classes for credit. After all, this was my big love, and I wanted everyone to share it! The daily routine of married life, of schedules, going out on special dates, cultivating mutual friends, creating a shared history--this was what I was doing.

As with most newlyweds, I thought that my love for tango would stay at a fever pitch forever. I remember chatting with Jose Garafolo, one of my earliest teachers, and asking him why he didn't go out to the milongas in Buenos Aires. When he told me he had already been teaching for ten years, and after work, didn't feel like going out dancing, I thought he was crazy. I could not imagine feeling that way about tango. After all, I was in LOVE. How could one not want to dance as many hours a day as possible? How could teaching get in the way of dancing?

Like a long-term marriage, what is fabulous and exciting at the beginning, becomes more comfortable, more predictable over time. Now, after dancing tango for eighteen years, and teaching for seventeen years (I don't recommend this quick path to anyone, but back then, we were desperate for teachers), I understand Jose's point of view.  When I have taught six or seven hours of tango in a day, I have to force myself to go to the milonga to dance. I still love dancing and I love seeing my friends of many years, but my love affair has become my job. I am married to tango.

And yet, there are those moments from time to time that are even more exciting than at the beginning, because now I understand the movement, the music, the lyrics, the cultural details--there are richer, more moving tandas, that I would not have appreciated when in my lovestruck mode. This is why I keep going back to Buenos Aires, going to the milongas in Portland, practicing drills and combinations at home, and teaching. I wouldn't give this up for the world. So even though I "cheat" on tango by dancing West Coast Swing or going to the salsa club, I am married for life to tango.  'Til death do us part, baby, 'til death do us part.


Learning to lead is easier if you know how to follow tango

Many women I work with notice that they are learning to lead much faster than beginning male dancers. Why is this?

First, you already know the moves in tango. For example, if you have followed walking to the cross (the cruzada) five thousand times, it is not a new step. Even if you have trouble turning steps around in your head, the fact that you have been on the receiving end of the cruzada means that you already have data to plug into that move as a leader.

Second, you know what you DON'T like in a leader. If it annoys you that leaders push with their left hand, or don't use a solid marca to help you do the step they have in their mind, you are less likely to attempt to lead a step that way. Furthermore, you know what moves don't feel comfortable for the follower, and you can avoid those steps as a leader, even if they are fun for the leader; that triple boleo leg wrap thing is out! You have a checklist in your head of what a good leader does that you can follow as you learn to lead.

Third, you have prior experience dancing to the music. You already have favorite orchestras, or favorite songs. You are not building an understanding of the music from scratch, as a new leader would who does not have tango following experience. This seems to be true for milonga and vals especially, since many women admit to me that they are learning to lead so that they don't have to sit out milonga and vals tandas :-)

Fourth, you already know the other ladies at the milongas. Unlike a beginning male leader, you have friends who are willing to dance with you because they are your friends, right from the start. You have already done your "wait until they can recognize you" time in the community. Because many women start leading when they are advanced intermediate or advanced dancers, they already know the more advanced followers; this also speeds up learning time, as dancing with beginners is just harder.

Three out of four of these conditions were ALSO met for men, back when my teachers such as Tete (we miss him!) learned to dance.  In an interview, he told me about learning to dance with the other boys, and following for about a year and a half (the time changed the different times he told me this story) until he got tired of it and insisted on being allowed to lead.

The Argentine men who learned to dance this way, already knew what the move felt like as a follower. They had an understanding of what felt good (or didn't feel good) as a follower.  They knew the music from growing up around it. They didn't have instant access to lots of good followers, however: their friends had to beg dances as favors from the more advanced women, or they had to do the long wait for acceptance by the women in the community--until they were acknowledged to be a good dancer.

That means that a woman learning to lead today (unless she is starting both roles as a beginner, as I did), has many advantages. And, guys, perhaps you might consider working more on your following skills, right from the beginning: it may speed up your learning process! We can't be Argentine, but we can be good tango leaders!

Top 10 class: Lateral ocho cortado

Although many people in the USA teach "the" ocho cortado, there are tons of variations of this step in reality. I use these a lot in my dance, and teach two variations in my Top 10 Tango Moves class, and four or five other ones in my Next 10 Tango Moves when I teach milonga.

The easiest version is lateral ocho cortado. This version does not require the follower to pivot, making it both elegant and easy to do, even as a beginner.

Lateral ocho cortado


Explanation in words:

  1. Leader does a rebound (rock step, traspie, whatever you like to call it) forward line-of-dance, beginning with the left foot, and comes back to place. Follower does a back-front, stepping back on the right and forward on the left, back to place. Remember that you each have your own "lane" instead of stepping in front of your partner.
  2. Leader steps back one step with the left. Make sure that you use contrabody (facing the follower) to allow both people to stay in their own "lane" and thus not step on each other. Follower steps forward with the right.
  3. Leader does a side rebound and returns to place (right, left). Follower does a side rebound simultaneously, starting with the left and returning to place on the right foot.
  4. Leader does contrabody to right (normal contrabody) and steps line-of-dance with the right. Follower steps back with the left.


  1. All slow counts. This takes six slow counts.  I prefer this way as it is more elegant for milonga and tango, unless the music is too slow. I also prefer this way for fast vals.
  2. Quick quick slow, quick quick slow, with the rebounds being quick, quick, and the steps being slow. This works well for slow vals (remember that in this case, the counts are not even), and for slow milonga, as well as for tango in a rhythmic tune.

Note on stepping back

Many of my students have looked alarmed and said, "Step BACK??" Yes, however, I often do this step on a slight diagonal, so that I can see over my shoulder. That way, if I am thinking of backing up, I know whether I have room to take a step back or not. This move works well with two walking steps to start, in which case, you are only backing up one of those initial steps. In a crowded space, remember that steps can be SMALL!


OK, go practice!

Om Studio tango class schedule

I teach all my group classes at the Om Studio, 14 NE 10th Ave. (between Burnside and Couch). Here's what's going on:

Body Dynamics (7 PM Mondays, mostly intermediates and advanced dancers)

Body Dynamics is a class that trains the body for Argentine Tango. We spend about twenty minutes doing tango-specific stretches for the body to warm up and gain flexibility. Then, we spend about twenty minutes on drills and exercises that strengthen the body and prepare for dancing with a partner. Usually, we work on walk, turn and pivot technique, and then move into drills for the movements I am teaching that week in my 8 PM Monday and 8 PM Thursday classes. After that, we work in pairs (sometimes leader-follower, sometimes not) to use the skills we've been learning.

Dress to stretch and lie on the floor! Please bring socks AND your dance shoes. Although most of the dancers in the class are intermediate and advanced students, there are always beginners taking the class who want to start tango with the best technique possible.


Take it to the next level (8 PM Mondays, advanced only)

My advanced class learns a challenging combination each week. We focus on connecting steps, making smooth transitions, dancing musically, and polishing each piece of the combination so that it looks better and feels better for the couple. This class encourages using the class material to improvise and find new vocabulary or combinations for social dancing. Most of the material I teach is from my teachers Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas, with my other teachers' work surfacing from time to time.

No partner necessary. I expect that participants already have a knowledge of the vocabulary of tango, in order to gain the most benefit from the class. I suggest three years of experience in general, but many of my students are ready for this class in 1.5-2 years of dancing.


Top 10 Tango Moves (7 PM Thursdays, beginners and intermediates)

Most of us have had a teacher who tells us that most dancers in Buenos Aires have only a few moves, but they do them VERY well. This class is designed to do just that: examine in deep detail ten moves that I think all tango dancers should know how to do well. Although the content shifts as I work on meeting the needs of my current group of students, this class usually covers:

  • walking Buenos Aires style (caminata, circulo, etc.)
  • right and left turns
  • walking to the cross in parallel and crossed systems
  • lateral ocho cortado
  • circular ocho cortado
  • traveling turns
  • 180-degree turns (walking turns)
  • forward ochos
  • traveling back ochos
  • pausas and adornos
  • the embrace, energy and connection
  • introduction to milonga, tango and tango vals music
  • cultural information and tango vocabulary to make dancing tango easier

I teach this class as a mix of beginners and intermediates because it helps the beginners learn faster, and challenges the intermediates to REALLY get the material down in order to dance well with anyone. Most people take this at least twice before moving on to the Next 10 class.


Next 10 Tango Moves (8 PM Thursdays, intermediates and advanced intermediates)

The Next 10 Tango Moves class takes students who are moving on from the Next 10 class, and introduces them to new material each week. I cycle through the year, so that very little material is repeated more than once; many people take this class for a year or more before tackling the Monday night advanced class.

At least once a year, I offer a milonga class for one ten-week session. At least once a year, I offer a tango vals class. For the rest of the sessions, we tackle tango vocabulary:

  • sacadas
  • paradas & pasadas
  • ganchos
  • boleos
  • drags
  • leg wraps
  • turn variations
  • enrosques, quebradas and other fancy leader moves
  • adornos and other follower technique to make the dance look/feel good
  • using crossed system
  • playing with the "outside partner" moves of tango
  • traspie variations
  • musicality, energy and connection
  • etc.

There is a level for everyone at the Om! Also, I teach private lessons for those who would like to work in more detail, learn material faster(or slower!), or who would like to work intensively with one specific partner. Many of my students take both private and group lessons.

Sessions are six weeks long and cost $60 (or $90 for both classes). Drop in rates are $12/class for all classes. Come try it out!

Beginner's Mind Practica (6 PM Thursdays)

Practicing is not only for beginners: it is important to continue practicing at all levels, in order to constantly improve. The Beginner's Mind practica was started to create a friendly, helpful space for beginners to get out and dance socially, before heading out to milongas. However, many regulars are intermediate and advanced intermediate dancers. The rule is: no feedback unless the person wants it. That's the only rule. When someone new comes, I make it a point to introduce them to the regulars, who dance with the new folks. Every few songs, I steal the new person and introduce them to someone new. This is a friendly group who will dance with any level of dancer: we are community builders! We WANT you to start/keep dancing tango! After a few weeks, most dancers feel comfortable enough for me to stop helping them get partners. I am available to answer questions and help throughout the practica. Cost: by donation.

Next classes start next week (and yes, there is class this week!)

Thursday classes start again on January 5th:

6 PM Beginner's Mind Practica:
Our practica is friendly, with no feedback unless you want it. If you are a beginner, I can introduce to other folks, answer questions, dance with you, etc. If you are not a beginner, I invite you to either come practice for yourself, or come and dance with beginners to give back to the community. Remember how nice some people were when you started? Be one of those nice I-dance-with-beginner types ;-) The practica is by donation.

7 PM Top Ten Moves:
Ten fundamental moves in ten weeks. In Argentina, many people only know this many (or fewer!) moves, but they do them REALLY well. This class is for beginners to learn the basics AND for more advanced dancers to polish those moves and build musicality and navigational skills (for the followers, this is the time to practice making each step exquisite). This is also a perfect opportunity if you already know one role, and want to learn the other. $80 for 10 weeks, or $12 drop in.

8 PM Musicality and the Next Ten Moves:
This session, we will focus moves that are sweet in both tango and vals (since we just did milonga last session). This class is for intermediates and advanced intermediate dancers. For each new move, we will put it into the dance, connect it to what you already know, and make it work on the dance floor. For followers, we will practice adornos (ornaments) and ways to make feet beautiful. Musically, we will work on putting moves together to make you partner drop at your feet with the beauty of your dance :-) $80 for 10 weeks, or $12 drop in.

There will also be Monday classes, which will be a six-week session; more to follow!

Beginner's mind practica

I forgot to take pictures! I will try to remember this week.

The first two weeks of Beginner's Mind Practica went well, to judge from the thank you emails I've received. We had about a dozen people the first week, and about twenty the second week, which I think is a good turnout for a new venue. What I saw/heard happening was just what I had hoped would happen: info sharing, but controlled by the learners.

The main reason I started this practica was to provide a friendly, safe space to practice, without unsolicited advice. I saw beginners asking questions of the more advanced dancers, and receiving respectful responses. I had one beginner ask me for feedback, and another ask me not to say anything. I LIKE it when people figure out how they want to learn and then follow that plan!

My deep thanks to the advanced dancers who came and gave an hour to their tango community: the emails I received showed that the new folks don't remember your names, but can describe each of you minutely and are thankful for your presence and dancing expertise.

New classes starting!

The next session of classes starts 3/31 and 4/4 @ the Om Studio, 14 NE 10th Ave. in Portland:

  • Beginners: 6 PM Thursdays (3/31)
  • Intermediate: 7 PM Thursdays (3/31)
  • Advanced intermediate: 8 PM Thursdays (3/31)
  • Advanced: 8 PM Mondays (4/4)

The cost is $60/6 weeks, or $12 drop in per person.


Tango Fundamentals

The 6 PM class is a class for beginners, or anyone who would like their dance to look more like Buenos Aires style tango. We work on technique for walking, turning, changing directions, pausing (adornos, too), as well as a few other basic steps, depending on the speed the class works at. My classes are a bit different than run-of-the-mill tango classes: we play games with music, energy, balance, etc., that allow you to gain an understanding of tango very quickly. I encourage correct body alignment and use of the body structurally to find your tango. I also think that improvisation, energy and fun should be a part of every person's tango, right from the first class.  If you need survival skills for the dance floor, this is the right level for you!


Creating the Magic

The 7 PM class is a class for continuing to develop an elegant, strong dance. I introduce new figures gradually, focusing on traditional, close embrace movement that can immediately be transferred from class to the dance floor. Again, balance, breath, embrace and musicality are ways to approach new movement, not just "fancy parts" to add in after the step is memorized :-)  When you walk out of class, you will be able to use what you learn right away on the dance floor. 


Taking it to the next level

The 8 PM class is focuses on musicality, improvisation, elegance--making the dance your own.  Often, we work on similar moves to the 7 PM class, but add details that challenge a more advanced dancer.  Musically, I alternate six weeks of moves that work well in vals/tango with moves that work well in milonga/tango (yes, many are good for all three :-)). If you already know moves, but want to look/feel better on the dance floor, this would be a great class for you.


Tango Alchemy

The Monday night advanced class is for dancers who have either already taken my other three levels, or who have reached an advanced level already and would like to polish their technique, learn new figures to enhance the dance, and build musicality. If you are not sure that you have a high-enough level for this class, please bring a partner along so that you can work at a slower pace, if needed. :-) This is a "one-room-schoolhouse" kind of class, with a wide range of dancers.  You should have three years or more experience for this class.


Classes are NOT just for people learning to lead!

Dance classes are not just "for the guys" or for folks who want to lead. In every class, I devote part of the class to technique for following. As my teacher Georgina Vargas says, "You have no excuse for looking bad on the dance floor, no matter how poorly you are being led." Please come to the appropriate level of class for your skill level; if you have danced for a while, but have not worked on styling with me, I request that you attend a lower level for at least a few weeks and learn the basics of the technique, or take a few private lessons before jumping in to do advanced moves.

See you in class!