"A Structural Approach Rooted in a System of Turns" © for Learning the Argentine Tango Dance at a Deep Level.
Created and refined by Fardad Michael Serry since 2005, guided and inspired by the teachings of
the world's preeminent tango couple, Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne,
and of the late Alberto Paz.
For people who have the seriousness of intent to learn about Argentine Tango dance in depth ... Welcome!
Contradictions in the Tango Encyclopedia.
by Fardad Michael Serry
When I started learning to dance Argentine tango in 2003, I often got confusing and contradictory information, not least from very famous teachers. Going to each class was like opening a new page in a thousand-page encyclopedia; randomly, haphazardly. The entries on different pages were inconsistent, confusing, and very often contradictory. Most of my classmates did not care. Today the situation is still the same most places most of the time.
Consider these two quintessential clichés:
"Tango is a walking dance; if you can walk, you can tango."
"Tango is a walking dance; learning to walk is the hardest part of tango."
You may not have heard them, but stay with tango, and you will hear many teachers saying those things, and many students mindlessly repeating them. Most of the contradictions are phrased in similarly poetic language, which distracts from the essence of such talk about tango: contradictory, confusing, and in the final analysis destructive. That example of the contradictory talk about tango explains one reason why the tango dance has higher attrition rate of beginners than any other partner dance: There is a lot of "talk" about tango, and there are precious few teachers who know how to teach it beyond mundane and cheap caricatures of tango steps and poses now littering the social media in photos and videos.
Otherwise clear-minded, rational people frequently buy into the confusion surrounding the Argentine tango dance as perfectly legitimate. For example, we have capable men and women who start training countless hours to push the partner like a shopping cart in order to "learn the tango walk"! They are busy spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours studiously, intently recreating caricatures of the so-called "the tango walk", until it is too late and/or too difficult to remove the shackles off the feet and to take dogma out of the mind, because the learning of the dogma is nearly always very effective and irreversible. This is an example of the inexplicable power of tango!
In one class a dancer learns one thing; in another class, perhaps from another teacher, (s)he learns another thing, ... Do these "things", even when they seem disparate, have a common thread running through them, a kind of glue that pulls and holds them together?
Can these "things" be unambiguously and clearly articulated in unmistakably comprehensible language with definitive pedagogic utility for learning other "things" in the tango dance too?
Is it possible to see different aspects of the dance as emanating from a few core, clearly identifiable elements and ideas? Does a blueprint exist to facilitate advancing a clear, consistent understanding of the dance, from which then creativity, originality, and pleasant surprises in a truly improvised tango dance may derive? Frequently?
The answer to all these questions is yes:
The Argentine Tango dance has a beautiful and equally utilitarian structure that we articulate in easily comprehensible language. We use clearly-defined concepts, and correspondingly-clearly teachable fundamental corporal and musical elements to introduce and work with this structure.
Every tango dancer can learn and understand this structure. From that understanding (s)he can gain amazing insight into the possibilities of the dance (and the music) for self expression and for connecting to other human beings; and find his or her (or a couple's) dance transforming in ways that reflect a unique identity. This is unapologetically knowledge-driven learning.
Many precious intangibles in tango dancing are highly subjective and personal. Romance, passion, and elegance cannot be taught in a tango class, not least because different people have different ideas of them. What one dancer may consider a stale, inflexible, and frozen-in-time form, may be considered elegant and smooth by another dancer. More importantly, whatever the subjective qualities may mean to a dancer, they cannot be enjoyed without first learning to dance well, which brings us to this:
Some parts of learning this dance are NOT subject to interpretations and opinions, because they are subject and subordinate to FACTS. Learning to dance tango well need not be a subject of mystery, secrets, and vague and loosely outlined "ideas".
A tango dancer gradually develops his or her unique voice in the dance as (s)he first learns, then comes to own, those parts of the dance that are definitely NOT subjective.
The structure of the tango dance is anything but subjective. Learning it requires no decoding of confusing or contradictory information.
The structure of the Argentine tango dance is rooted in a system of turns, and has nothing at all to do with any one so-called "style" or another so-called "style". It is universal; it is "style"-independent.
The building blocks of the tango dance are NOT forward step, side step, and back step.
The four steps of the turn (or the giro or if you know it as molinete') are NOT equal, and are NOT at 90 degree angles, and they are NOT danced at equal times; all for very good reasons.
The way to start is NOT for the leader to face the so-called "line of dance".
The arguments about leading the cross or not leading the cross germinate from a lack of understanding of the structure of the tango dance.
Why is learning the structure important?
Technique, musicality, navigation, partner connection, sequences of steps, and even styling and embellishments ..., they all become integrated through understanding the structure, and understanding the imperatives and the alternatives that the structure encodes into every aspect of the dance. This starts with a clear, unambiguous articulation and clear, unambiguous understanding of the clear and unambiguous role of each partner far superior to vague and subjective ideas about "leading" and "following" and "partner connection".
Benefit of the structural approach rooted in the system of turns to learning tango:
First: Clarity replaces confusion, sensibility true to the human instinct and experience starts reasserting itself, ... and bit by bit, you start feeling really good because you can understand tango, not just duplicate it. From this follows everything else, including:
Learning and progress become easier, independent of personal stylistic preferences.
As a man or woman, a leader or follower, your dancing becomes more refined, and more enjoyable, with more partners who also know the structure; these are the best-educated tango dancers and they dance all over the world; and most of them do not give a hoot about entering a salon tango competition, including in Buenos Aires.
You will learn anything from anyone, easier, faster, and more efficiently.
You will be able to explain your own or other dancers' ideas unambiguously in ways that facilitate learning and the dissemination of tango knowledge, rather than tango enigma.
Partners will progress and advance together, faster, and easier.
You will see the logic, not the mystery or the magic, that underlies technique and fundamental musicality. But make no mistake: There remains infinite possibilities for personal, individual corporal, musical, emotional, and intellectual expressions that can neither be taught, not learned, ... just danced!
You will see that musicality in the dance is not entirely subjective (any half-serious musician will tell us that about music, too); and you will learn how technique and fundamental musicality are intimately connected through the structure, rooted in the system of turns.
You will be on your way to improvise more creatively, and understand that neither improvisation, nor navigation, nor styling and embellishments are exclusively the domains of one partner or the other.
As your understanding of the structure becomes more complete, you will also gradually free yourself from problems like "... I can't remember that step I learned last week!" or, like "Why does this combination work just fine with one partner but not with another partner?"
Don't settle for handouts from the tango encyclopedia; in the long run, it will cost you in time, money, good will, frustration, far more than it will bring you enjoyment. Let us show you how to dance, and more importantly, how to learn how to dance. West of Boulder, CO, where Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne live and work, nobody can do it more effectively and efficiently, and with deeper dedication to bringing out the best tango dancer in you!