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Learning the Dance Called Tango


By Jean-Pierre Sighé



From the time we learn how to crawl, to the time we take our first step and begin to walk, there is a certain period where a precise coordination must occur in us, allowing the mind to fluently communicate to our body and order movement. It is important to emphasize that such communication occurs from a place of a continuous flow. The moment there is a disconnection between the mind and the body, there is an immediate result of loosing balance or loosing control of the movement, or simply loosing touch with our “Center”.
Proper coordination, even from the outright kinesthetic approach alone, would ensure control of the movement. However, proper flow of information or order, from the mind to the body is even more important to ensure the freedom of any movement we choose to execute. In Tango, such freedom of movement, as I just described, that is, strongly rooted in the context of flowing from the mind to the body, constitutes the secret of the improvisation. In other words, Improvising from the coordination stand point alone would prove to be a limited experience of freedom of movement.

It is understandable that a large vocabulary would be necessary to experience this freedom of movement in its fullness. Quite often the beginner is consumed by the struggle to execute a specific move or a set of steps executed somewhere by a more experienced dancer. In other words they work really hard from the coordination side of the learning process. Usually, the understanding of


the movement itself, in other words, the logic of the move is simply sacrificed to the altar of the repetitiveness of the steps. The excuse of acquiring the vocabulary in such context, is far too damaging to the overall foundation of good dancing. The mechanic of the move, confiscates the genius of the conception that saw in the first place, the possibility of positioning the body in a specific configuration to allow the result of the expression of beauty in the said move. That same genius might have seen the necessity to execute a pivot in a certain direction in order to allow another pretty looking, or flashy move. We should always be mindful of the fact that it is NOT the body that is dancing, but in fact the mind. The body is the instrument at the service of the mind. The obvious implication here is that the mind itself is at the service of the soul-personality dwelling in the body. As the ancient African teaching had codified it: “Kâ (the mind) messenger of Bâ” (the soul)”.
It is necessary that the body be guided for the coordination of its different parts, but it’s absolutely crucial that it be also inspired to dare to start new movements in uncharted waters. This is the freedom that dancing should bring to everyone. That’s where the soul itself expands ad infinitum and enters the palace of pure joy. A key word here: Expansion.

Learning steps should be simply viewed as an illustration of a possibility. Once that possibility is understood, the shell of the move or step should be let go, so that the sweetness of the conception inspires even more moves. Those who learn Tango from patterns, very quickly reach a point where they experience “hitting a wall”. They might even loose interest in Tango at that point if they are not seriously encouraged to go deeper than the platform of the steps they thought they knew. They simply realize they don’t understand the move. They experience Contraction. It is a frustrating and painful experience to be at that place. I have encountered some Tango learners in that predicament. They had to go back and re-learn the fundamentals or worse, un-learn bad habits dragged on during the time of fixation on trying to kinesthetically execute a move seen somewhere. For men, at that unfortunate place, the risk of feeling “inadequate” and uninspiring has the unpleasant effect of turning female dancers away. The equivalent difficulty for women is to notice how good male dancers seem to constantly politely turn away from the “cabaceo” protocol, avoiding their eye contact.

Tango learners should be encouraged to UNDERSTAND the construction of the moves and steps. They should stir away from any instructor who cannot explain the logic of a move and who only counts on repetition to “teach”. I would say that everything is encapsulated in the fundamentals of walking. Those who have studied with me and my partner Bianca, understand exactly what we mean by these words. There is indeed a technique that allows proper coordination of the body movements, but also, opens up the way for the mind to keep inspiring “new” other movements and inspiring new possible steps.  I have been extremely fortunate to receive such technique early on at the beginning of my Tango journey. Yes… I would always mention Alberto Paz & Valorie Hart, Carlos Gavito with profound gratitude. The other teachers I studied with, confirmed through the specific subjects of their classes, the importance of understanding the foundation.

In conclusion, to the question “should steps or patterns be taught?” I will respond with no hesitation: They should be taught ONLY as an illustration of a principle or concept. As soon as the concept is understood the student should be encouraged to forget the specific pattern used. They should be shown the way to experience more freedom that derives from the flow from the mind to the body. The crawling brings the coordination of the four members but it also allows the expansion that will soon bring the ability to run, jump, pivot and make the body do unimaginable things. Expansion, not Contraction! This should be our motto.



© June 2008


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