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Multiple intelligences applied to teaching / learning tango

posted Feb 12, 2015, 2:35 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Jun 2, 2017, 7:57 PM ]
Sharing this post from Steve Morall about incorporating multiple intelligences in dance classes. Steve and his wife Debbie run the tango school Tango UK.


Initial notes for incorporating multiple intelligences in dance classes

An interpretation of Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (MI) in the context of teaching Argentine tango

More about Howard Gardner and his theory of MI on Wikipedia

Linguistic intelligence.

Consider Tango as a non-verbal language of communication that requires an articulate, eloquent process of invitation and response to negotiate movement. This process combines linguistic and kinaesthetic intelligences.

Encourage dancers to transfer spoken and written linguistic skills to the non-verbal language of dance. Long phrases of movement can be given more expression and meaning by using "punctuation" using degrees of stillness. Discover ways of giving stillness in the dance the quality of the written comma, question mark, semi-colon, exclamation mark and even the unfinished dot, dot, dot….

In verbal communication we measure a person's understanding and response by observing their body language and facial expression as we speak. In the non-verbal communication used in dance, how can we measure our partner's understanding and response. Set class projects and 'brainstorming' sessions to answer these questions.

Using language to describe complex rhythms i.e. nursery rhymes slip off the tongue decades after we learnt them but are actually highly complex rhythmic structures carried by the linguistic pattern of words and syllables. Piazzolla’s 3/3/2 rhythm in Libertango can be explained by repeating the words, Pa-nam-ma, Pa-nam-ma, Cu-ba. (Source: Joaquin Amenabar).2

♫ Listen to Piazzolla's Oblivion here (requires Spotify): https://embed.spotify.com/?uri=spotify:track:74nSUPJIEtovQSrjbw9zJ9

Logical intelligence

In the above example of Piazzolla's music structure, using logical intelligence we can understand that 3+3+2=8 and 8 is the number of half beats in a 4 beat tango rhythm. We can understand this, but it does not necessarily mean that we can feel or identify this structure while we are dancing. Logical, linguisitic and kinaesthetic intelligences can be linked to provide logical understanding of structure and then experiential kinaesthetic awareness.

As a musician, I encountered the problem of multi-tasking in music as an 8 year old learning to play the piano. My teacher (who must have been cringing at my lack of rhythmic structure as I played) asked me to count the rhythm as I played. I did not have the language or the temerity to reply "but Miss, I cannot both play the piano and count at the same time." I remember counting and not being able to play, or playing and not being able to vocalise the count and my teacher getting very frustrated. There weeks to be a schism between some of the intelligences. Logical intelligence can easily overwhelm the less prominent musical intelligence. As an 8 year old I was being asked to simultaneously utilise my kinaesthetic /logical / musical intelligences and I could not. With practice, I learnt how to do this, but I observe and get feedback from dancers who encounter the same problem. 

"Steve, when you get us to count the tango rhythm as we dance, I cannot feel the music" (and vice versa). I am still developing games and exercises that encourage the simultaneous use of kinaesthetic/logical/musical intelligences.

Kinaesthetic intelligence.

Create a brand new awareness of the body that we have inhabited for so long that we take it for granted. Dancing barefoot, visualising moments when we focus consciously on movement i.e. crossing a river on small slippery stepping stones. Deconstructing the action of walking into a detailed process of movement. Tango UK uses a descriptive process called "shape, transfer and collect".

Interpersonal intelligence

It takes two to tango. But how often do we dance 'alone' in an embrace. Our extended awareness, or proprioception, needs to extend through the body of our partner in dance to make our collaborative movement possible.

Intrapersonal intelligence

Your axis is your power, your elegance and your beauty. We can make an axis using kinaesthetic intelligence, but our our sense of self-worth, our perceived relationship with our dance partner, our own ego, anxiety and self-doubt can overwhelm our ability to apply this simple maxim at the end of every step. “Who am I, what am I doing and how am I doing it”, needs to be understood before we can combine this with our intrapersonal intelligence to collaborate in a state of “how are we, what are we doing, and how are we doing it”.

Musical intelligence

In Daniel Levitin’s fascinating book “This is your Brain on Music”1 he reveals his research into how the human brain has evolved a capacity for understanding and enjoying music and organising melody, rhythm and harmony into manufactured sound. Music probably preceded language as a means of communication and the ensuing millennia has separated music and language into two perceived ‘intelligences’. Our interpersonal intelligence has also been conditioned through peer pressure to think that we are ‘tone deaf’ or cannot hold a beat’ and dumbed down our musical intelligence. I sincerely believe that musical intelligence like dance ability is simply a matter of repeating authentic and monitored exercises to develop skill.

Visual/Spatial intelligence

Dance is movement through time and space with expressive connection to music. We need to be aware of our surroundings from the minutiae of connection with our partner to the expansive connection to the room and the other dancers we share the room with. Our spatial awareness can be so finely tuned that we can anticipate the arc of a parter's arrival in axis, and the perceived centre around which any turn in the dance is made.

Naturalistic intelligence

This is probably the most abstract of the intelligences for a dancer to apply. As a dancer teacher and coach, I help dancers kinaesthetic intelligence which often is trapped in unconscious habitual movement that is incorrect. Visualising crossing a river on stepping stones (axis), testing the thickness of ice on a lake before putting all your weight on it (changing the process of walking), pausing during an uphill walk to admire the view (not chasing the goal of choreography but enjoying being in the moment) are some suggestions for activating our naturalistic intelligence.


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