Monday, 18 February 2013

Introduction to Aerial Technique in Tango - workshop notes

Content overview:
  • increasing and mirroring contact to set up good conditions for flight
  • lengthening, reaching and supporting – not jumping or throwing
  • using the hips and core for stability and balance
  • smooth, safe landings
  • putting it into practice with 3 aerial movements:
    • a suspended leap along the line of dance
    • leg wrap into knee lift, with and without turn
    • walking on invisible stairs

Workshop plan:

Aim and intro: to give a clear and accessible introduction to the techniques for flying and lifting in tango, with an emphasis on safety, smoothness and making it easy.

length: 4 hours, including break time.

Warm up:

include ankle, calf and thighs as well as back exercises.

Exercise: Lift off on parallel bars movement – lengthen legs and spine towards ceiling, while pushing shoulders and arms down (as if pushing up and suspending body on parallel bars).

Exercise: Squat exercise – as above, keeping shoulders down, but thinking about lifting from the hip. Knees stay slightly bent.

Go into above two movements from walking and from a change of direction.

Exercise: Stand side by side arms around waist of parnter. Slowly take their weight until you are entirely supporting them. Do slowly and keep the lift very low. Try both sides. The more surface area in contact, the easier it tends to be. Lifter lowers hips, draws and counterbalances.

Note: When you dance tango the aim is generally to stay together. This is especially crucial when one of you is in the air :) Doing this in a safe and comfortable way is a shared responsibility for both leader and follower. The approach we'll explore today is an application of the mirroring concept which one key to the Tango Lingua approach. This is where the quality and direction of intent from the leader is mirrored (i.e. reflected) by the follower through the points of contact. Now let's get a feel for that on the ground first.

Exercise: mirroring game, standing, fixed embrace, then with shifting embrace. Practice releasing and re-establishing contact points.

Exercise: use above concept to increase contact through a more wrapping embrace through a forward ocho on the closed side from side step. Take into a forward walk for follower and leader.

At this stage we're almost ready to approach our first flight. But first some important safety and technique points.

When flying do not jump I cannot emphasize that too much. If you jump then someone has to catch you. If they're not 100% ready to do that on your way down, and in the perfect position, their body will be subject to a large shock and possible injury. It will also look, let's call it un-smooth.

What's the alternative to jumping? Lengthening and stretching up, thus raising your centre of gravity, making you much easier to lift.

When lifting do not throw Similarly for leaders, do not throw your follower into the air, lift in a smooth, controlled fashion. Sudden acceleration into the air will lead to unpredictable results.

(Maybe for some really big lifts a jump can help, but we're doing small ones today and will focus on lengthening the body rather than jumping)

Question: what do the shoulders and arms do, and what would happen if they came up during attempted take off?

(should stay locked down, arms hold frame while airborne, else shoulders get lifted instead of you)
Repeat lift off on parallel bars and squat style movements.

Demonstrate first lift: suspended leap in line of dance.

Before you try it, you'll want to know about how to land :)

Just as the follower reaches and lengthens towards the ceiling when taking off, the follow reaches and lengthens towards the floor, the very instant they feel the leader is beginning to take them down. Do not delay.

For leaders, make sure the follower is well supported, all the way down. Do not drop at the last moment before they reach the ground. Hence the need to be really in tune with each other.

Question: Why might it be difficult for the leader if the follower doesn't reach for the ground, once the leader is indicating a decent?

(they have to carry the follower for longer, bend legs more and potentially have a greater strain on their back or risk of dropping the follower)

Leader tip: As with the warm up exercise, it's generally easier to lift with the hips slightly under your partner. When lifting make sure your spine is straight and not stooped over, align the shoulders back and down and engage the gluts and lower abs, to give extra stability to the spine.

Leader tip: step close to the follow on the step preceding the lift.

Leader tip: to make it easy for the follower to land on the other leg, making one big arching movement (the slow-motion leap), avoid pushing you hip through, which will tend to send their hips forward, making it more likely they'll land on the back leg again (the slow-motion hop...). To some degree you can also use the open side of the embrace to give a slight tilt toward the front leg.

Question: How can you get your hips slightly lower than the followers using the mirroring principle for contact?

(release, move, reconnect – in a smooth way)

Follower tip: Just as the leader is tensing their body when lifting you, if you do the same (mirroring the quality of contact) you'll feel lighter and easier to move in the air.

Follower tip: to land on the front leg, making one continuous slow-motion leap, picture you legs following the long arcing motion of the leader's frame as they lift you. Use your back muscles to balance the tension in your abs to avoid your hips tilting forward, and allow the back leg to bend slightly after take off – as you would naturally do if really making a leap.  

Follower tip: For added smoothness and style, let the arc of your hip and legs follow behind the arc of your chest. i.e. use contra-posture to give a beautiful cascading effect to the movement.

Movement 1: Practice 'suspended leap'.

Break time 20 mins for food and drink

Quick warm up

Introduce walking on invisible stairs movement. Cycling, stretching for floor on each cycle, staying in time with music. Secret to smooth take-off and landing is timing, and leader and follower posture. Each cycle could be a landing, reaching for floor.

Movement 2: Demo how to make more seamless take off (disguise adjustment of embrace during turn).

Practice movement.

Movement 3: Demo leg wrap into knee lift.

Counter balance, then lift.

Discuss role of compression is frame to 'freeze' followers free leg before lift.

Explore criticality of leading and following accurate step direction and length before the lift.

Show variations with turn and 'dip'.

General demo and Q & A.

practice time.

Feedback and questions welcome. Feel free to use these notes for your own purposes. If you'd like to go over any of the points or techniques with me in person, or have me come and teach this or similar to a group, just get in touch :)

[This was actually my first time presenting an aerial technique workshop, and it turned out everyone there was a woman. With a mixed group I would have been impressed with what everyone accomplished, but given it was all ladies this time (where were you men?), I'm doubly happy :) Just goes to show, with the proper technique lifting is no problem - even when they tried lifting me a few times (90kg+)!]

Introduction to tango teaching course - session 1 notes

For an overview of the Introduction to tango teaching course see:

Session 1:

Outlook and attitude:
What is your aim in teaching?

Aims of teaching
focus is on me and how others see me
focus is on the student and their learning process
sex appeal
entertaining yourself

thus less attention for the quality of the learning experience for the student.

Some indications of the above aims, identified in the session:
* attention seeking, showing off
* putting students down, or being overly critical
* lecturing
* habitually seeking assurance or expressing self-doubt (e.g. “I'm probably not explaining this clearly, sorry” or “There's probably a much better way of doing this” (takes focus away from student's learning, invites their doubt in you, or leads to them blaming themselves for not understanding)
* unwillingness to admit that they don't have the answer to something, or that they might be mistaken.
* frustration with students for not getting it
* apathy about students learning
Serving others
sharing the joy of knowledge
helping other find skill and confidence
helping others access and explore their creativity
helping student to not care about making mistakes (because they're great aids of learning)
helping others have fun

thus more attention on what works well or less well for getting good learning results – helping you become a better teacher and learn more.

Some indications of the above aims, identified in the session:
* observing student comprehension of guidance.
* not showing frustration
* using language accessible to students
* providing balance of encouragement and points for improvement.
* respecting student's ability when dancing with them
* exercising tact and sensitivity when students get frustrated with themselves or each other.
* willingness to say 'I don't know' (and where appropriate 'let's do an experiment to find out').
* genuine care and attention for student's learning, but without taking the student's dancing abilities as a personal reflection on them.

By focusing on the student and the quality of their learning experience with you, much more than your status as a teacher, you put yourself in the best position to do a great job.
In practice, perhaps no-one is going to be 100% focused in the right columns all the time, but if that is our aim, we'll tend to do the best job of teaching that we can.

Students teaching other students

Teach what you have confidence in → according to how you have been taught → until you've refined and tested other ideas that work better.

Conflict resolution and constructive critique.

This will be the subject of a later session, but since it came up in discussions a brief consideration is given here.
Two students are working together and one says to the other:

“You're doing it wrong”

The Tango Lingua approach is to celebrate mistakes, because without them learning would not be possible. Instead of thinking in terms of 'fault', treat the learning process as an experiment, note the outcome and try something different. Enjoy the process of refining what you're doing.
A possible response to the students above, addressed to them, or the group as a whole, could be along the lines of:

“With tango you will both learn the most and have the most fun if you focus on working as a team and just treating things not going to plan as an opportunity for you both to learn, rather than focusing on who was right or wrong. Also your partner is much more able to do a good job of leading or following you, if they feel relaxed and happy in an embrace with you – for which a mutual attitude of respect and teamwork tends to help.”

For offering individual constructive input to students, that encourages their focus on learning, rather than on having made a mistake, the following are some example approaches:

“See what it feels like to do it this way ...”
“To make it even better try ...”
“Do you prefer how it feels when you do …?”
“What difference does it make when you do …?”
“Try it more like ...”
“Compare these two ways of doing it ...”

* What if you're asked about technique you're not sure about?
Be honest, say 'I don't know.' or 'I'm not sure, but perhaps it works like …' if you have some idea. Make a note of questions you don't have the answer for, and try to find out so you can answer them next time.

* Some students may take the attitude 'you're just a student like me, why should I listen to you?' or 'I will eat my shoes before I let you tell me how to dance'.

Remember you're there to offer your understanding, according to what you've been taught. If students seem to have an issue with it, if you approach the situation in a humble and honest way, explaining 'this is what I've been shown by my teacher, who has asked me to share that understanding with you, but it's up to you if you want to listen or not', then other students are more likely to pay attention, compared to if you just tried to take up a position of authority.

In practice, a class that is organized with teaching assistants, will be clearly presented as such, so all the students know what to expect at the beginning of the class. E.g. “I will be asking some of my more experienced students to assist in teaching you during the class, where they will share the same techniques that I have taught them. This is to make sure everyone gets the most input from experienced dancers possible, with consistent technique, and thus the best learning experience.”

The same knowledge presented in different ways

While the core technique you'll be practicing and sharing will hopefully be the same, people often have different ways of understanding the same thing, and thus different explanations, analogies, ways of demonstrating or use of tactile input will work for different students. So you will use your intelligence to select different approaches as called for.

Discussion point: Relating to the above, students have different rates of learning. What attitudes might help you avoid getting frustrated, or becoming impatient with them? What would the affects of getting impatient with them be?

Some comments from the session about the likely affects on students were:
They'll feel frustrated, upset, or angry with themselves.
They wouldn't enjoy the lesson.
They wouldn't come back.

In conversation attitudes to avoid frustration were located on the green column (focus on student and their learning process), while it was agreed a self-focus of the teacher more easily leads to frustration, because a student 'not getting it' becomes a personal reflection of the teacher, in the teacher's mind.

The question was raised 'Are there some people who are just never going to get it?'

If the focus is solely on technique, there will be some people who really struggle with it despite different approaches at helping them learn. In these cases it's worth remembering there are various reasons why a person would do tango, including all the social elements. There are also different levels of technical understanding and ability, and for some a very basic level allows them to get the satisfaction from tango that they want – which is OK. If though the student remains frustrated with themselves, talking with them about their expectations, what they're prepared to put in to get there, along with the joy to be had from simply walking in an embrace, may help.


Teacher teaches for a few minutes, emphasizing certain attitudes or outlooks from the red (self-focus) column, participants offer critique identifying the attitude.

Participants do the same, teach something for a couple of minutes, emphasizing a certain attitude from the 'me focus column'. Other participants act as students and play certain roles, e.g. 'I don't understand', 'My other teacher didn't do it like that', 'I'm bored with this'.

Then repeat the same exercise, trying to imbibe the 'student learning focus column'. Other participants offer their feedback.

Water game

What's the idea behind it?
When you move through water you feel the connection/contact of the water with your body at all times, in all positions. The connection is constant and consistent. When you dance with that quality of connection the possibilities for playful musical expression are truly infinite, and exploring them becomes natural and exciting. Without that consistent quality of connection, developing your tango technique and expanding your vocabulary becomes comparatively like stumbling around in the dark. Thus the water game is a key tool in the Tango Lingua approach to tango.
The basic level of the water game uses steady, smooth movement without much focus on momentum.
Activity: Go through the basic level water game.

Other participants go through aspects of the water game. E.g. side steps together, forward steps for follower, teaching the rest of the group and identifying common misunderstandings from beginner students which the others act out.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Two unique learning opportunities and a new performance video

The snow came and went, but tango continues. I hope you've been enjoying your dancing (and life beyond dancing). Here's the latest 'skinny'.

I have two unique learning opportunities to announce, coming up very soon:
The first is a 6 week course for those who are interested in developing their tango skills through gaining some practical teaching experience.

The second is a workshop on flying and lifting movements in tango.

I also have a little video of my latest performance in London, which I thought you might enjoy watching. Read on for the link.

For those wanting to take their first steps in tango, or deepen their understanding of the basics which underpin the rest of the dance, the next 6 week Argentine Tango Fundamentals course starts on Monday 18th Feb. Details here:

For those nearing the end of their first 6 weeks and wondering what comes next, your learning will continue on the Monday sessions, as you reinforce the fundamental technique, adding confidence and playful possibilities with practice - repetition is the key to really 'getting it'.

Additionally you are also invited to the Wed sessions where we focus on more of the modern elements of tango, including leg wraps, shared axis movements and other wonderful things :)


On Sunday 17th Feb, there will be a workshop on flying and lifting movements in tango. Here you have the rare opportunity to discover how these beautiful movements work - while performing them with safety, smoothness and elegance.

The workshop will be held in Southampton at StudioSo, 1-5pm. You do not need a partner to book. Places limited to 12 people only. For full details and booking please see:

Aerial technique tango workshop. Flying and lifting.

For anyone who will be in London or fancies traveling I'm running another workshop with Liz Bayley on Sunday 10th February, 2-5pm (followed by a 1 hour practica) in Highbury & Islington. This one is titled 'Playful Barridas for him and her'. For full details and booking see:
Tango Magic workshop, learn Argentine Tango in London with Liz Bayley and Joe Hudson

Special courses

As detailed in the previous newsletter, I'll be running a very unique 6 week tango course starting on 12th Feb. It's based on the idea that - with the right kind of approach - helping someone else to learn something helps you to learn what you're teaching even better, as well as leading to more knowledge being shared and ultimately everyone becoming more of the dancer they want to be. Places are limited.

The course is an introduction to tango teaching, with role-play and fundamental technique review. It's aimed at anyone who has been tangoing regularly for at least 8 months and thinks they might enjoy getting some practical teaching experience. If you're curious about it, please check out:

Performance video

On Saturday January 26th, I was in London taking part in the Wellcome Collection's final 'Rhythm is a Dancer' series event with Liz Bayley. (Details here: This involved being a part of a panel discussion of professional dancers and performers, and giving a tango demonstration to the audience. It was great fun, and I managed to get hold of a little clip of our improvised tango performance, which you can see here:

Do you like it?

Shoes:  A few students have asked about what shoes to wear for tango. Essentially if it doesn't mark the floor, is comfortable and allows you to pivot easily then it's fine. Generally any sole that isn't rubber will allow you to pivot, e.g. leather, suede or plastic. If you want something specifically for dancing, then you can go online for the cheapest prices (google 'dance shoes'). If you want to buy from a local shop, there's a dancewear shop in Woolston ( where I got my very first pair. I wear ballroom practice shoes, jazz trainers and ballet pumps and they all work pretty well. You can also get a shoe that has a great fit and feel and then buy a suede sole to stick on from a cobbler. For followers I'd recommend having both a pair of flats and heals, ideally. I hope that helps :)

Can't afford lessons? Finally, I know that times are hard for many people with the present economic conditions. If you'd really love to come to more lessons but can't afford it, send me an email to see if we can come to an arrangement, e.g. a skill swap.