Do you remember when you were first introduced to the concept of sacadas?
For me it was a figure starting from la cruzada, flowing in a molinete CW around your space; you tap behind before you give a X-system sacada, then a ||-sys sacada, ending in a parada, pasada. Whew!
Really!? Can’t you just imagine (or recall!) all the opportunities for creating bad habits and misunderstandings? This was in a class ranging from quite novice beginners who figure they’re smart enough and experienced enough in other dance so they can handle it (that was often me, alas, but in the absence of guidance otherwise …), to quite experienced dancers.
How could such a situation be handled so that everyone has a good chance to get started on the right foot? I have three big recommendations:
- Curricula with tested levels,
- The Montessori classroom method, and
- Doing hard parts first, in isolation.
1. Curricula with tested levels
Mitra Martin and her team at Oxygen Tango in Los Angeles have developed curricula and testing methods, and implement this methodology in a structured series of classes they call The Tango Challenge http://oxygentango.com/tangochallenge/. Can most, or even many other tango communities afford to implement level-restricted classes? Maybe not. But that doesn’t change the value of giving clear expectations for a student’s current level and HOW they can usefully, with good results, participate in more advanced classes. Which leads right into recommendation Two.
2. The Montessori classroom method
A key concept of the Montessori classroom is a mixture of different levels working in the same room but on different levels of activities, with the more advanced students helping the less advanced. Much like the one room school house in days of old.
I see huge resistance to this concept among tango teachers of all levels and in communities and workshops across this country and elsewhere. It often comes in the form of an explicit announcement that, “There is only ONE teacher in this class; if you have a question or problem you come to me!” This often has the chilling effect of squelching even feedback to your partner out of fear that it will be seen as ‘teaching’. So a couple muddles along or stands idly waiting for the teacher, even when the more advanced partner or some couple nearby could readily resolve a misunderstanding or missed point.
It feels to me as if teachers fear loss of authority and being held responsible for less than optimum or even outright wrong ‘instruction’. We can empathize with this viewpoint even if we don’t fully appreciate it. It seems, in a way, to hold both themselves and their students in less than high regard. Teachers can only control the direction and outcome of the class with rigid authority? Students can’t tell the difference between what some other student tells them and what comes from the master teacher?
3. Doing hard parts first, in isolation
I’m reading Guitar Playing and how it works by Peter Inglis of http://TheWholeGuitarist.com/ and that led me to Fundamentals of Piano Practice by Chuan C. Chang at http://PianoPractice.org/, where he points out that we want to start by practicing the difficult sections first. They are the hardest to learn, so they should get the most attention. (Instead of the typical procedure, where we start at the beginning of a sequence, flying or muddling through it until we hit a snag in the hard part, then repeat. The easy stuff gets the most practice, while the hard stuff gets memorized with its errors.)
We can simplify the hard parts by reducing them to just two steps: the really tricky bit – e.g., the step into the space between legs for the sacada – and the immediately preceding one. Then as we develop mastery and comfort we can build by adding steps to the beginning and end of the hard part.
This post with its strange mashup of concepts was inspired by two things. Last weekend I attended the Tango Teacher Coop (TTC) Minnesota Tango Camp http://TangoTeacherCoop.org/ where I learned interesting things about learning and teaching and thinking. Then just the other day I received an email from TangoForge http://TangoForge.com/ with their Procedural Postcard: How do to a Sacada, a simple graphic with four parts:
- Flex base leg’s hip and knee joints.
- Mark the Revel’s [Follower’s] projection perpendicular to Mark’s [Leader’s] intended step.
- Transfer simultaneously by extending joints of base legs.
- Relax embrace to arrive at new base before next pivot.
So, what kind of step do you need to start a sacada? Basically anything will do – forward, backward, side, front cross, back cross – so long as it is projected across – i.e., somewhat perpendicular to – the partner’s path. Furthermore, that projection can be created with either partner: either lead them across your path, or pivot so that your projection lies across their path.
The important considerations in my mind for a sacada involve:
- Projecting your partner’s or your path perpendicular to each other.
- Flexion of each partner’s support leg to create space to enter and driving force.
- Signaling to partner, both with the projection and with “holding down or in place” so as to give time and space to enter.
- Stepping inside the partner’s base leg, under the shoulder of that leg – an aiming point you can see without needing to look at feet.
- Stepping with full weight onto that new base leg, displacing partner, and in effect changing places with them. I.e., your new base leg is now (approximately) where their old base leg was.
- Flexibility in the embrace so that the partner’s slide in each other’s arms as they assume the new torso-to-torso orientation.
It seems to me that that is plenty to learn in isolation, without all the complication of entrance and exit sequences. Yes, if your class has mixed levels of experience, after covering the pure principles of the sacada, one can give easy entrances (an over-pivoted forward ocho, for example), and harder ones, such as the one that opened this article. And since you don’t have a whole class that has to learn a lengthy sequence in lock-step with each other, you can encourage and help the quicker students to explore, discovering their own ways of putting the sacada into what they already know or can invent.
That’s one of the ways I think learning should work.