Do you get bored with 'just walking?' - Part 2

Post date: Apr 27, 2014 1:19:58 AM

image source:  mum social dance club

"If pupils walk at the beginning of a class, they get bored and want to learn more steps to show off at the dance hall. They don't realise they are lucky when they meet a teacher who says: No. Look. You must walk. First walk."  - Miguel Zotto

Zotto's words made me reflect on my own tango teaching practice.   I'm a fanatic about walking the the caminada (tango walk) and practice it regularly. A good caminada requries good balance, posture, weight transfer, and connection with one's partner, the music and the floor. These skills are all transferrable and necessary to executing simple and complex tango moves and figures. And let's not forget that tango is known as 'the walking dance'. 

 However, I also realise that if we tango teachers are going to help build a tango community and keep people interested in investing their leisure time in attending tango classes, the classes need to be interesting and enjoyable. There is a growing awareness in the area of pedagogy that adults learn best by play, and I would certainly not like to deprive my students of learning some basic tango figures and combinations if I felt they weren't yet walking properly!

walking tango practice

Mastering the tango walk takes time, energy and a Zen-like approach!  For students to be sufficiently motivated to apply themselves to practicing their walk I believe it greatly helps if they have already been stimulated and inspired by trying out some beautiful figures and combinations. 

My own experience as a teacher has shown that  once students learn moves like, for example, the sandwich, medialuna, barrida, and ochos they realise that, to lead or follow these moves well, they need to improve their walk.  They are then much more motivated to practice their walk.  They have gained a sufficient basic repertoire to get them out dancing, and this helps get the need for learning more moves "out of their system'" so to speak. They are then ready to look at the more fundamental and vital aspects of tango technique.

tango feet

image source:

That's why I always like to start my classes (private or group) with a warm-up of walking practice, which explores and focuses on different aspects of the walk, whether walking solo or with a partner. I may  also introduce exercises relating to music, connection and other aspects of technique. Then it's time to move on to a particular move or figure to be covered for that lesson.

Recalling the early days of my teaching, going back say 8 or 9 years (I have been teaching for 13 years) my then co-teacher and I used to follow the Zotto approach about "Walking first" rather fascistly! Our students would sometimes complain after 10 or so classes with us that all they did was walk! Our intentions were good. Our desire was to give our students a very solid foundation on which to build their tango, but sometimes good intentions are not quite enough when it comes to adult pedagogy! 

Some of our students could cope with this purist approach and progressed to become very competent dancers. But it would seem that we lost more students than we gained from this strategy, given that with the more balanced approach, as outlined above, student retention is much higher.