5 Levels of Learning Tango

Learning Tango thrives only if one continues to cycle, recycle and complete all aspects of the learning process:
5 Steps of Learning1) Unconscious Incompetence
2) Conscious Incompetence
3) Conscious Competence
4)Unconscious Competence – but then to complete the cycle automaton must be avoided by following #4 with
5) Reflective Consciousness

This cycle is a continuous process with no end. Without making it a conscious process one stifles and their growth stops. Then all that is left is to dance on autopilot. On autopilot, everything written about how good tango is for your brain is countermanded since one is no longer utilizing their potential. On autopilot my artist dies and my art becomes rote and tasteless.

No art form can survive on autopilot. Especially one as beautiful and complex as tango. The formula above applies to both partners and keeps them learning tango. Though one good partner can shake up the automatic behavior of the other, the dance is so much more genuine and real if both partners are fully reflecting their choices by utilizing complete awareness of every passing moment in the dance – and of course this must be accompanied by good technique balance within a fully awake but relaxed system of moving.

It takes an advanced dancer that is still learning tango to accomplish this because of the need to fully see so many split second choices. The higher the level of mastery they have the more ease and beauty they bring to the dance.

inside a factoryI will use a metaphor to describe a mind set that helps me learn and see myself clearer in my dancing. I am in the crows nest of a very large factory. From my perch I can see from the receiving docks where all the supplies come in all the way around through the tool and die area, past to assembly and packing into quality control a full 360 degree panorama back to the docks where shipping is done.

The well running factory has a specific hum and sounds just so when all systems are full ahead running smoothly. During these times I, the manager am sitting with legs perched on the desk enjoying all the fruits of planning, training and organizing the factory for so many years. When the tune of the factory changes, I know instantly but like any good manager, I do not run down stairs and get in the way, I assess the field from where I am. If I see that tool and die has a mechanical break down, I simply call and ask if they would like some help fixing something. If they say yes, I send someone from shipping or assembly over to lend a hand, since I know in a day or two they will be slow anyway due to reduced production. There is no need to try to pretend the problem doesn’t exist or to go down and micromanage the work.  I can fix my dance and make adjustments only if I do not get in the way.  I have to soften and allow the moment to be what it actually is.

I do not want to micromanage the behavior of my body, my brain is not in charge down there, my body is a body and not a mind… the same is true of my partner and I do not manage her either. My legs take steps, my arms embrace and my torso twists and turns as do hers. All pretty simple jobs really, but timing is crucial, so when something goes awry it is either that some portion of the partnership of a single body that is out of synch or out of time. Once a dancer trains their legs to walk, their arms to flex and embrace and their torso to twist, the remaining part of what needs to happen is simply well timed harmony of movement.

By not micromanaging and getting in the way or taking the machine away from the mechanic, screwing up a few parts (which I would do since it is not my job to be a tool and die worker) and messing up the energy and flow, I am able to make a few small adjustments to my timing and find my partner again even after a stumble or complete misread – especially if she does the same. Joanne and I misread or misinterpret one another but it is no big deal since we do not over react. We have trained ourselves to observe the dance from the crows nests, where we know in a split second that something is misaligned or out of time (the hum in the factory changes) then we simply relax into a mistake, allow our torsos to twist or spin into a new direction and pick it all up again by moving as though it were the original intention.

Obelisk, Buenos Aires

A foggy mid-night in front of the Obelisk in Buenos Aires!

It is too easy to move into a state of denial when mistakes happen in the dance, so that when the tanda finishes, one forgets all about the hundreds of unacknowledged mistakes that may have caused a bit of stress, even though they happened only a few moments ago. Our endocrine system is busily emitting hormones that make us feel good as we dance tango, so it is easy to dismiss moments in the dance that might have been excruciating for the person in our arms, if we habitually do this it is hard to grow in our dance.

When people watch tango, most watch the feet in tango, I watch the faces, and I notice a lot on the face of either partner. I frequently see on partner with a look of bliss – maybe the woman has her eyes closed looking so serene, while the man looks miserable and confused. Or I see the man going about his next sequence oblivious to the confused and frightened woman trying to find her way around him while maintaining some sense of grace and rhythm.

It is no sin to make mistakes in dancing tango. If we avoid denial, and we awaken our inner observer or manager, we can learn a lot from the errors and mishaps that inevitably happen while dancing. We can even learn to turn these potential “clumsy moments” into a graceful decision of improvisation that makes learning tango one of the greatest challenges two humans can rise to together and accomplish.

All too often one thinks they dance well or are advanced in tango because they have danced for a large number of years, but too often, those they dance with know better, but since we are all supportive and loving, no one says anything to the person laboring under such a misperception of themselves. Hence the need for a really good coach.

ICAN Tango Shot on StageJo and I will never quit learning from the mistakes we make. And so long as we can move or think, we will keep studying and exploring different and inspiring styles in tango. After well over 10,000 hours of study, there is still an entire universe of tango to explore and discover.

Personally my goal is to disallow a know-it-all attitude and stay in a beginner’s mind because that is where I learn, and I learn everyday. I love this dance and I will always study and explore the many opportunities and styles that inspire me. I fully understand that learning tango did not stop with my mastery, I continue to learn tango and will for the rest of my life.

We are always here to help and coach. What ever you do. I wish you many wonderful tandas, tandas that are truly appreciated by both you and your partner.