Why is Tango So Hard?

19 Feb 2018 - by Graham

Something we see and hear a lot in tango classes is frustration with the rate of progress that people feel they are making. People come along for a few weeks and enjoy the lessons, but the more they learn the more they realise how much they don't know and they start to wonder what's going wrong. Simple things like walking become a challenge, and we start to hear things like "I don't think tango is my dance", and "I'm never going to get this" by the end of the evening. A lot of this comes from their experiences with learning LeRoc and the rapid progress most people seem to make when they begin to learn it, but is the comparison justified? Or is it only natural that we find learning tango harder than learning LeRoc?

LeRoc is a dance made up of large confident moves, and the size and frequency of the steps tends to remain fairly consistent when dancing to any given piece of music. The "step back, step in" of the basic step sequence is like a switch - it's either one way or the other - and assuming you can tap your foot to the beat of the music it's relatively easy to pick up at least the basics. The lead in LeRoc again is big and confident; you can teach leading beginners to "use big bold arm movements", and following beginners to "follow their arms" early on, and it will soon feel like dancing. The detail in LeRoc, like weight changes, hesitation, and frame, can be added later on once people have already learned how to dance, so progression feels rapid, at least in the early stages.

But tango is different. Tango is a dance of detail. If your weight is too far back or your frame is too loose or open then tango simply doesn't work, so you need to get at least the basics of these things right very early on, and that can be frustrating. You keep treading on your partner's toes so you start concentrating too much on the feet and don't realise the problem is in your frame or your body position. You can't lead an ocho or turn without almost bending double, but try to fix it by moving your arms instead of by twisting your torso more and keeping upright. Everything seems counter-intuitive and the frustration begins to kick in as you try to apply the things you learned in LeRoc to the world of tango, with all the wrong results.

So how do you avoid the frustration? How do you enjoy learning something when your teacher keeps reminding you that "In Buenos Aires you spend a year just learning how to walk", and just when you think that you've worked out where your feet are supposed to go he then adds "Stop thinking about your feet; there are no 'steps' in tango, only movement!"?

Start by concentrating on the basics. Try the bigger stuff from time to time in the classes because it's always worth having a go and stretching yourself a bit, but spend the majority of your time looking at the fundamentals. When you see tango danced on the stage or on Strictly at Christmas it's a big, bold, dramatic dance with all the flicks and tricks throughout, but that's not the tango you will generally see danced in local social dances. There you will see a lot of walking, maybe a few ochos, some rock steps, and then more walking. So get those things right and everything else will begin to fall into place.

But mostly... enjoy yourself. It's dance, and dance is there to enjoy and have fun with, so don't let that get away from you. Find a class or venue that plays music you like, whether that's traditional Argentinian music from the Golden Age of Tango or something much more modern and Nuevo. Find a teacher you like, as everyone will have their own teaching style and ways of explaining things. Go with friends, or make new ones when you get there. And laugh about it when you get it wrong.



Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: Tango  Argentine Tango  Difficult  

LeRoc and Tango... a Perfect Match

12 Feb 2018 - by Graham

When we first started teaching Argentine Tango alongside LeRoc, even we had to wonder if we were doing the right thing. They are such dissimilar dances that there couldn't possibly be any crossover, and we were concerned that we were splitting the class for no reason. LeRoc is an open dance whereas tango is very close; LeRoc is all about hitting the beat, whereas Tango has much more flexibility and space in the dance; LeRoc is constructed of moves and set pieces, whereas in Tango the elements are tiny and subtle; and most importantly you can learn to dance LeRoc at a basic level in a few weeks, but Tango can take much much longer. So how could they possibly work together?

As it turns out, they really do. We had been looking at the differences, but there are at least as many similarities and points of contact between the two dances, and we soon began to see the line between them start to blur.

Balance

Both dances have a high dependence on balance, but it can be quite a difficult thing to teach in LeRoc. Finding your balance point in Tango can be done slowly as there isn't the same dependence on hitting the beat every time, and this gives you time to find out what it feels like. The same goes for keeping your weight on one foot or the other, as that's an essential technique in both dances but is easier to practise at slow speed in Tango.

Timing

Although Tango isn't an on-every-beat sort of dance, being able to dance in time with the music is still a big part of it. Learning to find the beat in tango can be a challenge as you spend most of the time concentrating on your balance and trying to remove bounce, but in LeRoc it's right there front and centre. You step on the beat, on every beat, and if there's any bounce in the dance it's in time with the music.

Frame

In LeRoc, Frame is often taught as a secondary thing, something you move onto when you've mastered the basics. But this causes problems as the whole "follow your hands" approach in LeRoc doesn't work if the frame isn't there. In Tango, however, the first thing you learn is frame as the dance doesn't work without it, and although the frame in Tango is body-to-body whilst the LeRoc version is arm-to-arm, the principle is the same.

Musicality

A fundamental part of any dance is musical interpretation, but in leRoc this is often only taught in specialist workshops or advanced classes. In Tango the concept of musicality is built in from the start, and the techniques you learn there can be applied just as easily to LeRoc as they can Tango.

And these are just a few of the ways that LeRoc and Argentine Tango work together and complement each other, so despite our concerns at the start it soon became obvious that LeRoc and Argentine Tango worked together a lot better than we expected. But more than that, we've seen how you love the format of the classes, and that alone would be enough to convince us that we've got it right.

Jivebeat LeRoc and Argentine Tango... an unusual combination that's here to stay.


Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: LeRoc  Tango  

Why Go to Classes When You Know How To Dance?

30 Jan 2018 - by Graham

Something you hear often at freestyles and dance events is people saying that they "only go to freestyles these days" because they "already know how to dance". They never go to classes any more having learned how to dance Modern Jive back in 2006, and they don't really see the point of learning it all over again. At first glance it may seem that they have made the right decision... why, after all, would you pay to go to classes to learn something you already know how to do? But is that really how it works for dance? Can we just learn it once and dance it forever, or do we need to keep ourselves up to date?

I have been to any number of freestyles and social dances over the years, and I have met a few people like this at every event. One of us will ask the other to dance, we'll head out onto the dance floor with high expectations, and half a minute later I've been kicked in the shins, had my thumb bent back on itself, and found that no amount of leading will persuade my follower to do anything other than a First Move, a Basket, and somewhat inexplicably a Double Pretzel. My experience is largely with followers, but my regular dance partner tells me the same is true of leaders as well. She comes back with tales of death-grips, flick-spins that nearly dislocated joints, and a lead that felt more like a bulldozer than dancing. And don't even get me started on dips and leans. You see followers that throw themselves into dips the leader wasn't expecting, and leaders forcing people off balance with no support and no consideration of whether that's something they wanted to do. It is, to put it simply, dangerous.

And without fail, when you talk to these people they all say "Oh, I don't go to classes any more as I learned back in [insert year here] and it's all the same anyway."

Aarrgghh!!!

Dance is a Sport

If you watch anyone practising their chosen sport you will see that they start almost every session with the basics. Snooker players pot a single ball over and over while their coach checks their cue action for problems; footballers kick balls around cones; boxers skip and punch bags before they go anywhere near an opponent; racing drivers spend hours in the simulator. Whatever their sport, anyone who is even slightly serious about participating will spend more time working on the fundamentals than anything else, because without the fundamentals the rest will never work properly.

Whether you dance competitively or just for the social pleasure of it all, dance is still a sport. It requires a good understanding of how your body moves, a good awareness of those around you, and finely tuned reactions to the large number of inputs you are subjected to on the dance floor. The way you react to those inputs will change over time as your body changes because of exercise or simply because you are getting a bit older, so you need constant revision to make sure you stay on the right track.

Bad Habits

We all pick up bad habits in whatever we do, and dance is no exception. We get lazy with our lead, we anticipate with our follow, and we give or take the wrong signals because it has "always worked like that" when dancing with the same few partners for year on year. But just because it worked "back then" or "with her" doesn't mean it's right or that it will work with anyone else. We all need regular input from someone who knows what they are doing and knows how the dance is supposed to work to correct the little flaws and shortcuts that creep into our routines. 

Dance Evolves

All dance styles go through periods of fashion where some moves are popular one year and then barely seen for the next decade. The way we lead and respond to the lead can adapt and change over time, as new teaching styles become popular and new techniques are brought into the dance. This can be in response to the change in popularity of certain types of music, because new teachers have appeared on the scene that have inspired others to change their approach, or even as a result of a policy change from organisers to try to make things "different". But whatever the cause, this means that the dance you learned ten years ago when you first started is unlikely to be the same dance that people are learning now, and this can lead to some very unsatisfying (and potentially hazardous) dances.

We Forget Things

No matter how good we think our memories are, we all forget things. I can't even remember what I had for lunch last week, let alone what a dance teacher told me a decade ago about weight transfer and frame. Without regular reminders of the fundamentals we start making things up to fill in the gaps, and before you know it you'll only be able to dance with the same three people you dance with every week. No-one else will make any sense to you!

So whatever you do, wherever and however seriously you want to dance, keep up with the fundamentals. Even if it's only for one lesson every few weeks just for a refresher session, find a class you like and join in with the beginners. It will transform your dancing and make it much more enjoyable for you, for your partner, and maybe even for everyone else on the dance floor!



Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: Fundamentals  Classes  

It's Not Just About The Cardio

07 Dec 2017 - by Graham

When you think of the fitness benefits of dance you immediately think of the cardio work-out that you get on the dance floor, and the way that we keep getting told that we need to do something that "raises our heart rate several times a week". Gym instructors, personal trainers, and doctors are always telling us to do something we enjoy that gets our blood pumping and that's the key to fitness, but is that all there is to it? Not that there would be anything wrong with that of course, but does dancing have any benefits over and above a run or a session on the work-out bikes?

Perhaps surprisingly, research shows that it does.

Over the past few years, a number of scientific studies (you can read one here) have been performed that link regular and frequent dancing to improved brain function and a delay in the onset or progression of neurological conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Where people with these conditions have continued to dance or have taken up regular dancing for the first time the early symptoms have been noticeably reduced, and progression through the stages has been significantly delayed. This is of tremendous benefit to people with these conditions, as quality of life can suffer very early and anything that helps delay their onset is worth trying. But why does it work? And does it have the same effect on people without these conditions?

Improvised dances such as Argentine Tango force us to "think on our feet", and this requirement to constantly adapt to the situation around us helps form new neural pathways in our brain. This neuroplasticity as it's called is critical as it allows our brains to form connections that bypass the areas affected by conditions such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. It's like getting faster broadband at home... you can do more at once even if things are getting a bit clogged up because there are more connections, more routes for the signals to travel. But the additional pathways form even if we don't have these neurological conditions, so alertness, concentration, and problem-solving may also benefit from regular improvised dancing.

Most of these studies have concentrated on the relative neurological benefits of dancing Argentine Tango when compared against ballroom dancing, ballet, or similar choreographed dance styles. Very little has been said about LeRoc, but this seems to be primarily because comparatively little LeRoc / Modern Jive is danced in the USA and as that is where the majority of the research has been carried out it did not feature in the study. It is however clear from the description of the processes involved that Jivebeat LeRoc would likely be just as beneficial in the prevention and inhibition of certain neurological conditions as Argentine Tango.

In the next couple of posts I will be looking at the detail of how Tango and LeRoc give their benefits, and what you can do to take advantage of them.

For more information about Parkinson's, please see the Parkinson's UK website.


Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: Fitness  Cardio  Neurological  Health  

The First Steps

22 Nov 2017 - by Graham

Getting onto the dance floor that first time can be daunting. Whether your friend says "Hey, let's go to a dance class this Thursday. You coming?" and drags you along for the ride, or even if you make the decision all on your own, that first time of walking through the door to give it a go can be a scary experience. You just know that everyone else will be better at it than you, that you have two left feet and no sense of rhythm, that you're too tall / short / fat / thin to look right on a dance floor, and that you're not sure you really see the point of it all anyway. You might glance at the advert for the local dance club every week thinking that it looks fun, but move on because it's "not for you". Or maybe you signed up for a class once because it seemed like a good idea at the time but, when it actually comes to heading out in the evening and trying the class you can't quite make that step. Some people even pay for the classes in advance and turn up, but when they look through the door they see a lot of "experienced dancers" (who are probably only on week one or two themselves), decide they can't possibly do that, and they go away again without coming in.

The thing is though, we've all been there. Every single person in a dance club had a "first night". My own first time dancing was a while ago now, but I still clearly remember walking through that door and feeling like everyone in the room stopped what they were doing to watch me walk across the floor to a spare seat. Obviously no-one actually did that and I doubt anyone other than the lady on the door knew I was even there, but I felt like I was under a microscope. But I had decided that I'd give it a go, so I sat down, did the class, and went home again as soon as possible after the teaching had finished! But something had clicked, and I was back again the following week to give it another go. And eventually... well here I am.

For men in particular there's also peer-pressure to contend with, and the reaction you're likely to get if you tell people you dance or that you're thinking of learning to dance. Dancing isn't seen as "manly" these days (whatever that's supposed to mean), and mockery from friends and colleagues can be difficult to deal with. If you told them that you went out on a Friday night to drink 17 pints and passed out in a taxi they'd slap you on the back and say "Well done!", but tell them you go dancing and they'll laugh and ask "Why?". This says a lot more about society than it does about dancing, but whatever the cause the pressure is real, and so even if you overcome the fear of walking through the door that first time, unless you keep your dancing life completely secret you still have to deal with what happens when you walk back out again.

But if it's that scary, why does anyone ever do it? If everyone feels like that when they turn up at their first class then why do they ever come back? And what even gets them through the door in the first place?

There are a lot of health benefits to regular dancing and I'll be talking about those on here in the next couple of weeks, but if it was only about fitness and health then we could all just go to the gym. There must be more to it than that. So what is it about dance that makes it special? Why do some people - quite a lot of people if you look at it nationally - choose to push through that initial fear and carry on dancing? I could get all scientific and start talking about endorphins and the psychology of dance (I'll touch on some of that in the next few posts), but most people don't worry about all of that; they just know it makes them feel good.

And that's the most important part of it all. If you talk to anyone who dances regularly and ask them why they do it they'll start off by telling you "because it's fun". They might then go on to tell you about the challenge or the exercise or any number of other technical aspects, but look into their eyes whilst they are talking and you will know that what really drives them is "fun". We need fun. We need to be able to let off steam for a while or we go crazy. We need to be able to relax and do something a bit different.

So what conclusion can we take from all this? That your first time dancing is going to be scary? Yes, it will, but it was just as scary for everyone else in the room when they first started as they had exactly the same insecurities and fears as you. But the other conclusion is that you will never know if you really love it until you try, and in order to find that out you have to take the First Steps into the room and give it a go.


Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: First Time  Dance  

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