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Teaching the 8 count basic?

Camille Cusumano · Follow · Writing Hands, Dancing Feet
I have a seemingly contradictory opinion on the basico. Would a ballet teacher skip the five positions in ballet for beginners? Of course not. I have taught the 8-count basic as the "Mother of Tango Steps" because it is really 8 foot/body positions, out of which numerous, if not all, patterns are born. On the one hand beginners love when you can finally give them numbers, something to count as they put feet in specific places. Otherwise, beginning tango does not rely yet on beats and specific measures---it's a lot of connection and amorphous, or improvisational, movement. That is tough for the left brain. On the other hand, invariably, beginners get so excited when they memorize that 8-count pattern, they are so confused when I tell them, not to do #1 because you shouldn't back up in the milonga. And too, it is all but impossible to get them to find a resolution other than the 6, 7, 8 (or TAN-GO-CLOSE). I have lately tried this little game: Let them memorize the 8-counts, then tell them to subtract the 1, then tell them to subtract the 6, 7, 8. Now they are doing 2, 3, 4, 5, which is all they really need for the time being anyway. I have also tried simply having them walk in the line of dance and then go to the 3, 4, 5, which I allow them to count as 1, 2, 3. I do not tell them in beginning classes that they are going to the cross in normal walking system. That would be yet another layer of confusion. In sum, I feel that at some point beginners must be familiar with the 8-count foot positions, but not necessarily in the early stages of their fragile learning experience.

Melina Sedó · Saarland University
Tango is walking in an embrace to the music. Fixed patterns kill improvisation and diversity. We don't need the 8-count-basic!

Teaching beginners patterns seems to be better than teaching them technique because learning techniqe means trying to change the habits of a lifetime and is discouraging. The first goal should be to make the dance accessible, and save the techniqe for later.
Reply · Like · Follow Post · December 2 at 10:43pm

Mary Menz · California State University, Sacramento
I see the 8 ct basic as a series of positions that can then be easily referenced when learning almost any pattern

Kevin Joncas · Dalhousie University
The 8 count basic is similar to the many useless drills that are taught in all sports. They are used because that is what those teaching( notice I did not say teachers---many could not teach dogs in heat to fornicate) were taught. Whenever many those drills are evaluated for effectiveness they are found to be useless or even detrimental. Would be a great experiment to see how two groups of equivalent beginners learned more quickly and better under each method.
Another reason the 8 count is used is that other dances generally have proscribed footwork patterns , and the new students expect to come away from first lessons with something to show friends other than a new way to walk. You have to learn to walk first even before you can properly execute an 8 count basic.The really bad part is that both lead and follow ( who is not really following , but doing it because she knows what is coming) are reinforcing bad habits which will be hard to fix. Example is how many follows will cross without being led.

Paul Varro · President at Image Inspection Service Ltd.
When I learned to write, I wrote out the alphabet over and over to learn the letters. When I write now I don't write the alphabet, but use the same letter to compose words and sentences. The 8 count basic is like writing letters. Good for practice and the concepts of movement, buts its not writing when you do the same "alphabet" over and over. Not that I can dance in words, I dont re-write the alphabet over and over. That being said, we all have to start somewhere. If it was easy (Tango that is) - every body would be doing it. Dancing is like having good grammar and composition. You still have to know your alphabet. When I teach now, I show, but dont encourage the backstep as this always gets beginners into trouble at a Milonga.
Reply · Like · Follow Post · December 2 at 8:03am

Benjamin M. Root IV

Frederic M. Rizzo As a martial artist, and sometimes tango dancer, I'm interested in challenging the value of knowing "why" (with logic and reason) of learning. This is something that is especially prevalent in Western thought. Americans especially always want to know why, when that may not be the point of the dance, the defensive move, or spiritual enlightenment. Sometimes the goal is to teach the body to move naturally, automatically, without having to think about it. that's when dance becomes transcendent. The 8CB is a structure to teach the "feel" of the crusada, a key element of tango that shouldn't be thought about.

VZ Tango
We agree with Phillip on the elements that beginners must learn, but we do use several different basic patterns - 6- and 8-counts - to develop the mechanics of F, B, S and check steps; the importance of contrabody; and the idea of flowing from one step to another. We also use 8-ct basics as structures to help with hearing a phrase, experimenting with timing, expressing musicality, etc. We don't introduce them right off the bat, and we emphasize that the actual patterns of the basics are mostly about teaching & learning, not milonga dancing!,

Michael Delavar
It can be useful to have a basic framework. Of course it shouldn't be used at the milonga exclusively. Although it can be the basis of reducing anxieties.

Rick Roman · University of Oregon
I think it can be a very useful teaching tool, but not for beginners, for all the reasons above.

December 1, 2014 at 3:39 pm

I love the 8 count basic. I do it over and over and over again at every milonga. I love backing up into the follower behind me on count one, then cutting off the couple in the left lane on count two, etc. etc.

But actually, I think that it has a great purpose in teaching beginners (after lots of walking practice, of course). We all know the 8CB is not a pattern to be executed on the floor, or at least not more than once per song. So what is it for? I think it’s about teaching the crusada! (a key, and tango-defining, move) in a structured form, that can happen in one place on the instructional floor (so as not to crash beginners into each-other too much…as if that were possible). Beginners need to start with a structure that they can succeed at, and repeat until the individual parts are automatic.

Then, once you get the crusada, (and the side step, and the other side, the close, weight change, etc.) then it’s time to disassemble the 8. Can you do it to different rhythms?…adding a “quick-quick “in one part and a “slow” in another to stay on the music? Can you get into the crusada, and out of it, from different steps? All of this is the deconstruction of vocabulary into the free-form that is true language/dance.

I think it’s a great “tool” as long as you tell your students that this is not the “dance” any more than saying the alphabet over and over is talking.

PS, I had an experience with some great teachers from BsAs a while back. They were dumbfounded by the “marking-time” weight shifting we Americans do. They said that was NEVER taught in Argentina. Yet we lean it like it’s a dance step. They said, maybe one weight shift, (to make sure you’re on the same foot)…then go. This shifting back and forth for multiple (many) beats struck them as absurd and juvenile. And of course everyone at the seminar was embarrassed as hell. Maybe a topic for the next survey.

December 1, 2014 at 2:01 pm

 the most basic of basics is to walk correctly. i learned tango in bsas, where the 8 count is taught after learning to walk. i hated it until it dawned on me that it was teaching me the fundamentals of marking the move. it taught me how to mark when stepping back, how to mark when weight shifting, how to mark when moving sideways, how to mark when going forward, how to mark the cross, and how to mark the close. but it did not teach me how to dance the crowded floor. once i had learned the 8 count i was able to move on to adapting it to the dance floor. it’s a great learning tool.
as to dancing it i sometimes use it, when the floor allows it, as a change of pace .
i think it should be taught with emphasis on it is a learning tool only.

Larry Sawyer
December 1, 2014 at 11:11 am

I teach every element of the “classic” 8 step, but not as an amalgamation, for reasons mentioned already. At some time in the class, I’ll put the 8 step together and say, “If teachers in your future mention the basic 8 step, this is what they’re referring to, but it’s rarely danced as a complete unit and large number step patterns linked together isn’t the essence or joy of tango…”

Jeff Palpant
December 1, 2014 at 11:03 am

Like all dances, tango has a basic step to teach a foundation. To paraphrase Jorge Torres, learning tango is like learning to speak. At first you learn simple words, and then you progress to a dialogue. Learning figures gives a leader a vocabulary, and with time and practice creativity comes.

The basic in tango teaches both partners their roles. If they learn how to do the basics well, they can progress.

Gery Rudolph
December 1, 2014 at 10:33 am

I couldn’t vote because I think the 8-count basic is neither awful nor excellent for beginners. We do teach it, but not as a figure per se, as an exercise to demonstrate a lot of fundamental techniques after we have gone over those elements individually. We emphasize that there is really only one step in tango — the next one — if you decide to take it (you might also need or want to hang out in the same place for awhile).

The 8-count as an exercise lets students practice several things that are key to maneuvering — side, forward, and back steps, walking through and closing (on the beat instead of rushing), collecting (huge, especially with direction changes), changing weight or not, walking inline and outside, chest leading (including the subtle lead to the cross, which as a follow I much prefer). Since we impress upon our students from the getgo that there are no set patterns and that one of the charms of the dance is the ability to improvise at every step — to relate to the music, to navigate, and for both partners to better enjoy their shared moment, whatever that may entail — using the 8-count as an exercise and as a series of starting points for variations (rock and check steps, ochos and switching from parallel to crossed feet, turns and changes of directions, etc), is quite useful.

...But the ones who get hooked on tango do so in part because they twig to the essential improvisation of the dance, and for these folks (the “keepers”), using the 8-count as one of several teaching tools for key techniques has proven quite useful in my experience. (But this may be in part because I think it’s better to dwell on good technique right away, so they don’t pick up bad habits that become very difficult and discouraging to undo.)

That being said, to just teach the 8-count as a dance figure with no focus on techniques would not be doing the students any favors, especially on the dance floor. And likely anyone who was teaching with that strategy would probably not be focused on technique and navigation, so it would be especially counterproductive for the students and damned annoying other dancers.

Anita Flora
December 1, 2014 at 9:28 am

I consider the 8-count basic as simply an exercise to practice the steps it contains, like other similar exercises. It seems cumbersome to use in real dancing.