Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The "Wax on, Wax off" of Tango

Two weeks ago, I started off my monthly "Transformational Introductory Tango Experience and Argentine Wine Tasting" by introducing myself as being different from other tango teachers.  I asked my tango novice guests if they had seen the original "Karate Kid" film. I then suggested that they think of me as the "Mr. Miyagi" (Mee-yag-ee) of Tango! 

Please click the link just below to watch this Youtube clip from the film.     It's the famous "wax-on, wax-off" scene, in which young Daniel is led to finally realize why his trainer, Mr. Miyagi, has been making Daniel do manual labor on the elder's house and vintage cars all weekend, rather than providing the karate lessons for which Daniel's mother has paid.
Here's the clip . . .  HHHHAAAAAIIIII !!!:

Does anyone else find that scene very moving?

At the start of his training, Daniel performs repetitive tasks all weekend that seem to have nothing to do with karate, but which Mr. Miyagi knows will instill precise habits of movement into his student's muscle memory. We see in this clip that Daniel has unknowingly and very quickly acquired the correct movements with which to spontaneously defend himself under attack!  This part of the film reminds me of the rigorous drills through which I regularly guide my students throughout Module #1 of my 9-Module "Permission Seduction™ Tango Learning System".  I call Module #1 "Master your balance, to move securely and solidly whether walking or pivoting", and it includes the 5 basic skills I consider fundamental to tango: 
1) understanding your own axis and returning to it with every movement
2) walking beautifully forward
3) walking beautifully backward
4) walking beautifully to the side
5) pivoting forward and backward - in balance

With a mastery of these basic skills, usually acquired slowly at the beginning of my programs, my students find next that Module 2 (Master the powerful and penetrating(m.)/ powerful and alluring (f.) tango walk) becomes a pleasure, and they work enthusiastically and voluntarily on refining and beautifying their walks. Even more notably, they are able to quickly conquer the more complex structures of Module 6 (Understand the language of tango / Excel at an essential vocabulary of 7 walks and 25 figures and their variations), while maintaining excellent form!

Then the real fun begins. Because they have already mastered their balance and can cleanly execute the basic movements from which almost all figures are comprised, about halfway through Module 6 my students experience a breakthrough, as they begin to creatively connect figures and to improvise more freely. They are usually ready at this point to confidently learn additional figures from almost any tango workshop they might attend, or to "steal" a figure from a video, in both cases requiring just a little help to polish the forms, for men - to clarify the lead and navigate more strategically, for women - to follow with more precision and sensitivity, and for both - to begin to embellish elegantly and musically!  

My students may seem start out like the tortoise in the "Tortoise and Hare" fable, with their peers in other cities zooming through lessons about figures, week after week and year after year.  But in the end they have stronger skills after just 6 months to 1 year than do many 5-10 year tango dancers elsewhere, and they suffer almost none of the frustrations on the dance floor (such as dance anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, being unsuccessful at getting to dance with more advanced dancers) that I hear about so often from tangueros and tangueras in North America and Europe.  

Because of the success of my "Patiently and methodically master the most simple basics first" approach, I never dive into teaching figures at the beginning of a tango program, although that's the most common method of teaching tango around the world, and that's what many students and novices think they want. (But only when you've mastered the basics, can you begin to really focus on the quality of your dialog with the intriguing person in your embrace!)  And this is why I admire the teaching method of the film's Mr. Miyagi character, and why I identify with him!

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