Tag Archives: learning

Learning from web videos

So I downloaded my lesson from tangomeet.com (an online tango school
by Sebastian Arce y Mariana Montes), a 12 minute web video that presents and explains how to do an elegant, close embrace change of direction sequence. (In your browser extension store you can find ways to download varieties of formats from YouTube and elsewhere. Make a comment to this blog post if you’d like help with something. Fair use only! Observe copyrights.) The Chrome browser extension Vimeo Download Videos let me grab the material, and then in Windows Live Movie Maker I can quickly scan the whole thing, snip out the few brief bits I want to focus on, and then save it in a more compact format. What was 240 MB shrank to 8 MB!

The interesting thing I noticed in this process was that the key learning concept may boil down to a single element. For example, this was an elegant looking change of direction that can easily be done entirely in close embrace and which takes little space to do. I’ll describe the entire sequence and highlight the key concept.

From an ocho cortado, he steps around her to his right, causing her to make a tiny step forward and pivot on her front-crossed (L) foot. He steps backwards and around with left leg, leading her to uncross and step into him on his right, the closed side. This is #3 of the eight-count basic, but going backwards. Key concept: That step back uses inertia to step-pivot counter-clockwise the entire couple as a unit. Instead of dissociating, he moves as a unit, intending to immediately pivot his right side (and her) around to the left on stepping. He is leading her to pivot backwards as a unit. (Both keeping their thighs tight!) He finishes the pivot by bringing right leg back to close, while she does a molinete to end just left of him in perpendicular position. He gives her parada with left leg. She steps over, then pivots back to end square in front of him.

Not to minimize the importance of a good beginning and ending to a sequence that, like the punctuation of a sentence, give it a resolution. But they do tend to obscure key concepts that introduce a new movement and understanding of axes.

Por ejemplo, could this pivot also be done in the clockwise direction toward her? Well why not try it! Now suppose we continue our exercises by trying all possible combinations:

  • Direction of step: he stepping forward or he stepping backward
  • Direction of pivot: clockwise or counter-clockwise
  • Side of embrace: he on open side or he on closed side

Notice, too, that this is a cross-step pattern so far. That is, he back-crossed with her forward-crossed or vice-versa. Would these sorts of pivots be possible in an open-step? What does that do to the couple’s alignment if they step together and pivot? Does it help or hinder for him to step longer or shorter than her? What if he steps across her path after (or before!) she steps? Ah, that looks like a sacada.

This is the sort of exploratory play that I am wanting to do at practicas and in my home gym/dance space. In the past I haven’t much gone to practicas because they always seemed to work just like a milonga, with everybody “practicing” what they already know and do. I want to discover the things I don’t know, as well as structured couples practice to enhance the quality of things I do (or should) know.

If you find yourself with an opportunity to be in southwest Austin and want to explore Argentine tango, please get in touch. If we’re not friends yet, email to david at this website address can start the process.


Javier Rochwarger: A leading follower

I wrote about Daniela, a solo maestra who is an outstanding leader as well a follower, and who teaches both roles in detail for the utmost in style, elegance, and technique. And this past weekend Austin was treated to the opposite configuration of a solo maestro who is an outstanding follower as well as a leader: Javier Rochwarger.

Javier Rochwarger

Javier Rochwarger

In our first private lesson as a beginner a year ago, and reinforced every time I lead him, Javier did more for my understanding of what it really means to signal our intent to the follower, detect their readiness, and then move with confident clarity. Although Javier makes for a wonderfully comfortable, capable follower, who can and will do anything I can reasonably ask, he has an uncanny ability to remain immobile until he feels the lead intention.

What makes this technique so memorable and striking is how it in no way feels heavy, stiff, or difficult. David Turner’s book, A Passion For Tango, on page 33 has a good exercise for developing sensitivity both by follower to leader’s moment of intention, and by leader to follower’s moment of readiness to respond. Summarizing . . .

A couple stands holding hands, side-by-side. One of the two, as leader, will indicate (invite) a forward movement. The other teases by holding on as long as they want before committing to the step. The leader tries to sense the moment of commitment and the couple go together. The exercise can be done without music to increase the randomness of the response. This exercise hones the body-listening skills of both leader and follower.

With any exercise I like to play, How many different ways can we do this? Switch leader and follower, of course! Does it make a difference whether leader is on left or right side? How about backward steps; what, if anything, must the leader change in their indication? Now do the exercise facing each other, adding the possibility of side steps. Do it in practice hold. Do it with no hold. Try the exercise where you intentionally try to fake out your partner – naughty leader/follower. Now try the exercise where you seek above all else to be utterly in sync with one another. How does your movement change between the two? Certainly a partner can move too soon, but what about moving too slowly, is there a sweet spot?

Javier taught a variety of classes: basic, intermediate, and advanced, and I enjoyed and benefited from it all. Here I will report on just one night’s lesson, Villa Urquiza perl sequences. (Mari Johnson also has a report on Javier’s visit at her My Tango Diaries blog.)

Long, elegant lines characterize the Villa Urquiza style. For the follower, after they have unweighted a leg preparatory to stepping back, they step back with a straight leg, not merely moving the upper leg back and carrying the lower leg with it, but having a long leg that moves back as a whole. Same for the lead, the legs are straight as they move. Not by any means to say a stiff leg. The knees and ankles will be ever so slightly softened to absorb the forces of takeoffs and landings, yet there will be an ever so slight undulation in height of the traveling couple due to the straighter legs, versus absorbing every bit of height variation that you can with bent knees. (By the way, though takeoff and landing are my (an inactive pilot) terms and seem like useful images to me, think not of airplanes going up and down, but rather of track and field long jumpers moving horizontally across the ground.)

The style uses a close embrace throughout, though elastic enough to accommodate limitations in a couple’s dissociation. The room for the feet and legs to maneuver below is provided through apilado posture, where the couple “tents” against each other at the upper body. The embrace, from both sides, is firm and clear, to hold the couple together and to aid in producing the greater dissociation required of both partners in the close embrace.

Each of these three sequences is based on the eight-count basic. All using the styling above.


At #5, where follower crosses and leader collects, leader steps back on left, right once or twice to produce a clear apilado. From there leader “loads” the undercarriage, getting somewhat under follower, to step out decisively in a long, dramatic step. Normal ending from there.

Linked forward sacadas to back ochos

Following #5, the cross, instead of continuing ahead as usual, leader steps decisively (so as to be clear to follower that this is not a forward step) to the left, and as follower comes to axis on right foot, lead them to pivot right so couple is now in perpendicular position with follower facing to leader’s left.

Lead follower to step across and left-pivot to now face back to leader’s right, then lead continues across left/backwards for follower, and as they step back-left on left leg, leader gives sacada to their right to produce a voleo. Notice that the close embrace requires extreme dissociation in this position, with his legs tightly twisted against each other.

They unwind the follower’s voleo in a back ocho until follower is now backing to leader’s right, then the sequence repeats on that side. The entire sequence zig-zags left-right in front of leader, down the line of dance.

Left, right sacada to barrida

As in the previous sequence, following #5, lead follower to step sideways, then as you lead follower for a forward ocho, you step side and back cross with right leg, giving follower room to step around. As follower steps around leader’s right. Leader gives sacada with left leg to follower’s trailing back-crossed left leg. Then on follower’s side open give sacada with right leg to follower right leg. Overturn follower’s back ocho as you, too, overturn to give barrida left-to-left.

One final thing, please. Down at the bottom of this blog entry, where it says Written by David PhillipsNo comments — . . . , you should interpret that to say, click on “No comments” to give us all the benefit of your thinking on the matter! (What a poor user interface choice in the template: minimalism versus clarity. Now I’m going to have to fix that some day.)


Learn By Doing: The experiential learning model

At one time I held some kind of certification as an examiner for ISO 9000 (the quality standard). I thought it would be useful both for what I could learn about improving our company’s work and for use in ISO 9000 implementation at other companies using Lotus Notes for work process automation.

The basic cycle of ISO 9000 processing — Plan, Do, Check, Act, and repeat — can be found in other arenas, such as ISO 14000, the environmental quality standard, and in learning models, such as this one:

Depiction of the five step Experiential Learning Model

From “Curriculum Development for Issues Programming: A Notional Handbook for Extension Youth Development Professionals (1992).

“Learn By Doing”: The experiential learning model
(A cycle of five stations of activities under three categories.)
1) Experience the activity; “do it”.
2) Share what happened.
3) Process what’s important.
4) Generalize — the “so what”
5) Apply — the “now what”
Return to step 1 …

Although I’m well aware of the value and benefits of applying such a process to learning and improving, I don’t use it with the rigor and consistency that I’d like. That is a confession, by way of which I am expressing an intention that I want to make as clear and definite — and actual, as I want for the intention in my Argentine tango leading.

In a private lesson with Javier Rochwarger at Esquina Tango this morning, I told him that I have had trouble dancing to Biagi, feeling constrained by the stong rhythmic nature of the music, and that perhaps we could work on “musicality”. After expressing shock and dismay that I wouldn’t love Biagi, a one time and off and on most favorite of Javier’s, we went to work.

On reflecting after the lesson I realized that we went through several cycles of the experiential learning model during the lesson. Javier would feel my dancing — he is just as skilled and comfortable a follower as leader — and tell me what I really needed (share what happened). I would try to express, both verbally and in action, what that meant to me and how I could reproduce it (process), he or I would reflect on how that affected the broader context of my dance performance (generalize), finally, I would apply this new understanding to do a new dance, either refining my understanding and performance of that skill or finding the next thing to focus on. And repeat …

You can’t begin to express musicality because you are not arriving on the beat.” Not to say that my timing was off, but that the quality of my movement was muddy, unclear. We worked on arriving “nose over big toe” on the beat, with maximum energy released at that point. I reflected on how a failure to do this affects not only musicality, the dynamics of the dance, but also the clarity of the lead and the success of many movements, such as sacadas and turns.

Why are we not stopping? You are all the time going, going, going.” Contributing to a flatness and sameness in my dancing, despite a variety of movements on, around, and about the floor, was my constant motion. Javier made a clear distinction between merely pausing, with no energy, versus building a dynamic tension that is finally released. He likened it to street racers revving their engines side-by-side at a stoplight. Even though they are stopped you can see the energy building.

There were any number of other things to fix or tweak. Javier packs a lot into a lesson, and there were many big and small cycles of the experiential learning model, but the two biggies were fully arriving on my standing foot, and use of dynamic pauses. When I incorporated these into our dancing, happily, Javier observed, “You have no problem with musicality. You understand the music well. The long, the short, the rhythmical, the lyrical.” And I was becoming better able to express my understanding of the music.

Instead of another dance, I chose to conclude the lesson by reflecting on what I’d learned and how I could use it. I bemoaned not having a regular practice partner, and Javier said that unless you can dance this way by yourself, how can you hope to do it with the added complication of a partner. He said that [everyone] should use the first 30 minutes of a practica for just walking by themselves, improving the quality and dynamics of el caminar. So now that’s on my now what list of how to improve my practice to improve.

Redirecting follower steps

Uploaded on Apr 24, 2013

April 23rd, Kara Wenham and Javier Antar completed the last week of a month of classes as guests of UT Tango In Orange. This workshop was on redirecting her steps. Any time she takes a step, if he has good position with his feet forming a triangle on the floor with her stepping foot, then he can turn that step into a pivot, including an overturned pivot, or into a rock back in the opposite direction.

First example, he leads her into back ocho to his right, and as she steps back he steps forward on his right to follow her leg from the front. He and she pivot clockwise so that he now backs line of dance. Then he rocks her to a forward cross, stepping beside him with her right leg. As she steps he collects and pivots clockwise, returning to line of dance, and finally changing weight to his right foot to prepare to walk out.

Second example, again he leads her into a back ocho to his right, but this time he steps BEHIND her, blocking her from closing and rocking her to go back forward. This was also demonstrated to the left, open side – harder, and in cadena (chained) fashion with alternating left and right figures.

Last example, starting her molinete to his left, she steps back cross, side open, forward cross. On that last, forward cross step, he steps side open and slightly forward, blocking her, then leads her back the way she came, with back cross, side open, forward to his right, while he hooks his right foot behind left to help with opening his right side to get out of her way and lead her in that direction.

The lesson also included alternate timings. Straight S, S, S timing. For example one, the reversed ocho, 1-3-1, S to enter, Q Q to exit. The molinete, Q Q S, Q Q S.

Goals of physical education

(Previously appeared as http://facebook.com/david.phillips.austin/posts/595850393776781)

This Monday I took my first ever class with the UT Argentine Tango Club, where @Avi Taicher and @Nicole Shutter conducted a class in molinetes to left and right with parada. I love visiting the University where I spent many happy years learning and working. It’s such an energizing environment.

This class had to be moved from their usual room to Anna Hiss Gym. I enjoyed the huge, high space filled with natural light and fresh air, and with a gorgeous maple floor (albeit covered with various colored sports court lines). Looking around, I was taken with the various posters around the wall. It seemed as if they could all be taken to speak (at least metaphorically in some cases) to tango dancers. Here’s what they said . . .

Goals of Physical education:

  • to learn to move skillfully and with confidence.
  • to learn to encourage and help each other.
  • to understand the importance of regular physical activity for a healthy lifestyle.
  • to learn to value your body and the feelings that come from physical activity.
  • to develop strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance.
  • to enjoy movement and choose a physically active life.

Help Each Other

Levels of Skill Proficiency

  • Precontrol – Successful only by chance, each trial different
  • Control – Can perform the skill with complete concentration
  • Utilization – Can perform the skill while attending to other stimuli
  • Proficiency – Skill is second nature, can perform while attending to a variety of other stimuli

–George Graham

Personal/Social Skills

  • Encouragement/Motivation
  • Responsibility
  • Confidence
  • Effort/Perseverance
  • Initiative
  • Compromise
  • Honesty
  • Caring
  • Sportsmanship
  • Cooperation/Teamwork
  • Communication

[These next two, Skill Themes and Spatial Awareness evoked ideas for creative dancing.]

Skill Themes

  • Traveling
  • Chasing, Dodging, Fleeing
  • Throwing & Catching
  • Kicking, Punting, Trapping
  • Volleying
  • Dribbling
  • Striking w/ Paddles
  • Striking w/ long handled implements
  • Balancing

Space Awareness

  • Location
  • Self of personal space
  • General space
  • Directions
  • Up/down
  • Forward/backward
  • Right/left
  • Clockwise/counterclockwise
  • Levels
  • Low
  • Middle
  • High
  • Pathways (floor/air)
  • Straight
  • Curved
  • Zigzap
  • Extensions
  • Large/small
  • Far/near

Teaching Concerns

  • Hellison’s Levels of Participation
  • Levels of Skill Proficiency -Graham
  • Activity Selection
  • Leading & Safety Considerations
  • Structure of Games
  • Grouping Strategies
  • Scoring
  • Add on Games

Felices caminando!

Leader-follower pairings

Fixes for imbalance in companieros pairings

Argentine tango workshops, in my not yet two years of experience, generally have more leaders than followers, and this seems common sense, since most workshop material focuses on the leader’s role. (I’ve observed but not noted — will do so in the future — where a strong follower of a teacher-pair can make sure that the follower role gets good attention. Even then, unless it’s a follower-specific workshop, the leader role gets most of the attention.)

In Austin there is often a significant imbalance in numbers. Leaders have taken a course of sensible self-interest by recruiting their own follower for a workshop. But then they don’t share!

From the follower’s perspective, they may prefer to stay with a partner because they know and are satisfied with that person’s abilities. A tanguera told me, “I’ve paid my dues. I don’t want to be jerked around that floor by guys who don’t know what they are doing.” But then a teacher told me, “Followers want to dance with leaders, but how will they have leaders if they don’t help grow them up?”

But what about the competent dancers who haven’t found a regular partner or who prefer to switch so they can develop their lead/follow with a variety of partners? Or the person who gets stuck with a dud? (I’ve been that dud when I took a too advanced class that I should have left but stayed to complete the pairings. No fun for anyone.)

I wonder how many people would leave a workshop dissatisfied if told that everyone must change partners, versus how many who would leave dissatisfied – or simply not attend in the first place – if they knew they would either have to twiddle their thumbs or attempt to lead guys who don’t know how to follow. For those people who don’t want to switch I might ask, “Do you dance with other people at milongas? Well then you’re going to dance with others here.”

But I appreciate all points of view. What to do? My thesis is that all dancers should learn both roles, to at least some minimal level. My thinking is that you would do your secondary role primarily with your same sex, for two reasons. First, you wouldn’t get a “true” experience of being in the secondary role unless dancing with someone for whom that opposite role is primary. Second, there’s the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” thing about communication style. For example, there’s only one woman I can think of in today’s Austin community from whom I could have the experience of dancing with a strong, highly competent leader, and even then I wouldn’t have the same style of communication that I would have from a man.

Benefits of learning both lead and follow:

  • Both leaders and followers do the same adornments, even if with different styling.
  • Leaders who understand how to follow can have teachers or knowledgeable fellow tangueros lead them, to learn what the follower is supposed to feel from the lead.
  • The person leading a skilled leader, or following a skilled follower, can get invaluable mentoring feedback from a person who can reflect not only what they are feeling, but also what they do to succeed with particular maneuvers.
  • Leaders who follow can learn both from poor leads – what not to do, and good leads – what to strive to do.
  • Followers who understand something of the lead can give more useful feedback on what they need to feel and how to produce it.
  • Both leaders and followers can gain some empathy for the opposite role, while learning about what feels good and what doesn’t feel good.
  • Whether there is an excess of leads or follows, everyone can, with some measure of success, pair up.

Attracting followers:

  • Be certain that workshops, and each session of workshops, contains significant material for followers.
  • Let women attend leader focused classes for some reduced price.
  • For women that don’t want to be jerked around by novices, what about sharing yourselves among leaders you know and trust. For example, I’ve seen it work well where excess pairs of men shared one women. This was actually additionally helpful in that you had an interested observer who could offer useful feedback.
  • Have an excess of men and women door monitors. Take a census of people entering the workshop sessions as you check their credentials, then when sessions start, shuffle the volunteers as necessary to make up pairings.

Regardless of whether there is a perfect pairing of leads and follows, if there is to be *any* changing of partners, then the class leaders has a duty to ensure that it proceeds consistently and smoothly, so that everybody gets treated fairly. I would make sure in each class that there is a well known, routinely followed pattern of changing partners. (With, perhaps, some reasonableness exceptions to skip over, for example, a couple that really does only dance with each other, or the couple that is just about to “get it” and isn’t ready to switch yet.)

Just before starting the FIRST practice song I would announce:

  1. We will all be changing partners in this class, and near the end of the class we will announce and play a couple of songs for you to dance with your preferred partner.
  2. Everbody pairs up. If there is an odd person out, that is a hole that moves around the room (against line of dance) as each change happens.
  3. If there is a same sex couple where both want the same role, one of them starts as leader. At the next change the leader moves on and the follower in that same sex couple becomes the new leader for that couple slot.
  4. Followers, please see where you are standing in the room. See who is the follower to your right and the one to your left. Return to this spot with your current partner at the end of each song.
  5. Leaders, at the beginning of each song, whether I say to or not, always please thank your partner and move in the line of dance to the next follower. (The class leader should remember to say “change partners” before starting each song.)

Felices caminar!

P.S. In a discussion on the Facebook page for Terpsichoral Tangoaddict about the problem of people in classes too high for their abilities, it reminded me of a situation where it really is desirable to have couple-pairings: in (truly) advanced classes. Two people as a couple probably have a better shot than a single person at assessing their skill level, and if they are under-qualified, then they are only inflicting themselves on each other.

My olla podrida

After carrying a cup of tea a través de la casa to my wife I said, “This is good practice for my tango walk.”

Gym with Sam's Club mat topping

The gym originally had a soft foam matting so that if I dropped a kettlebell it would have a soft landing.

Recently tango practice has been on my mind – and To Do list – as I seek to convert thought to action to results. And this website, Tangolio.com, will become my olla podrida of Argentine tango, en la mayor parte made up of my notes, thoughts, and ideas on learning and practicing the dance, y tal vez spiced occasionally with other observations.

I had my first serious engagement with Argentine tango in August 2011 at Esquina Tango in Austin, Texas. I’d taken a workshop at Fandango de Tango many years earlier, but it didn’t “take”. That introduction had left me with no understanding or appreciation for what the dance was about. When I mostly retired from a life of computer technology businesses and programming I had some notion that I wanted to explore the tango to see what I might have missed.

Spending the next year at my new “job”, it was dancing at least a couple of hours most every night or day of the week: Argentine tango several times, West Coast Swing, Blues, Salsa, various ballroom styles, and what have you. Balboa anyone? Then I mostly narrowed that down to tango, swing, and salsa; then tango and swing; then mostly tango. (But I’ll have more to say about what we can learn about tango from swing and other dances, in future articles.)

So what’s that got to do with starting a blog? Well when I get involved in a subject I like to learn everything I can in every way I can, so that I can excel. The thing I loved about working with computers is how they always offer opportunities to learn something new. I think I’ve found the same thing in Argentine tango, in an activity, a discipline, one might even say an art form, that involves all the senses, both halves of the brain, and a lot of the heart.

Yet it has been exceedingly frustrating at times, with wild highs and deep lows — the most difficult of the many dances I’ve pursued over parts of the past thirty years. I’ve reached a point where I “know” so much from all the groups classes, private lessons, workshops, books, and DVDs that I’ve studied, yet I don’t feel that my dancing really shows the benefit of all that investment of time and money.

Horse stall mats on the gym floor

Horse stall mats further protected the floor from kettlebells.

So I have determined to take my dancing to a new level through rigorous practice. For months I’ve been asking around for a practice partner but struck out. My wife will dance with me when the opportunity is appealing enough and I appeal hard enough, but mostly she has other priorities. We live a ways out of town, and I haven’t found anyone with the regular interest, the time match, or the location.

When my friend, Peter, suggested a “if you build it they will come” approach, I decided to take up that challenge, AND, I’ve come to realize that there are many, many things that I can be working on solo, on my own.

New dance plus gym room

Sala de baile con gimnasio.
New dance floor with cork over Whisperwool blanket. The domino dots in the floor mark practice spots for molinetes. Now I’ll simply have to not drop the kettlebells!

So that’s what this is about. I’ve converted our spare room, a 12′ x 16′ space, from a gym into a sala de baile-cum-gym. I have 30 or so DVDs, lots of books, innumerable “didactic demos”, and notebooks full of notes. I am going to work on practicing, making some organized sense of all the material I have, organizing my practice and reporting on it, and providing a practice space for anyone who wants to join me in a true practice, learning, rehearsing, improving mode.

molinete side left

Water bowl exercise. Beginning molinete side left.

molinete forward cross

molinete forward cross

molinete side open

molinete side open

molinete back cross

molinete back cross

I don’t expect future articles to be so long, and I don’t want to leave this one without something to practice. Luciano Brigante and Alejandro Orozco suggested this one to me. Hold a bowl of water in both hands, arms circled in front of you. The bowl represents your partner. Now walk, pivot, and molinete while keeping the water as still as possible.

This illustrates several principles of mindful practice. The shorts I’m wearing let me see more clearly if I am neatly collecting my bowed legs. Mirrors let me check that and other factors, and a video recording gives me a “third person” view of myself to more objectively evaluate.

Felices caminar!