Scandinavian Consensus around Models for Teaching Tango

Malmö may be a small city (300,000 inhabitants), but still boasts a great tango scene. Is there something in the mindsets of Scandinavians that make them particularly attracted to tango? Or is there rather something about Scandinavian teaching methods that in the long term will cultivate a good tango environment?

I was recently looking at different teachers’ ideas about essential elements of tango, mostly to compare it with my own ABCD model. One of the models I have encountered is Tangoblomman, by Gunilla Rydén & Henrik Uldall:

"Tangoblomman", as Per remembers it from Gunilla & Henrik's teacher training at Tango Primavera in 2007.
“Tangoblomman”, as Per remembers it from Gunilla & Henrik’s teacher training at Tango Primavera in 2007.

This flower has five petals, each representing a different dimension of tango, where the selected dimensions translates to “musicality”, “repertoire”, “indvidual technique”, “partner interplay” and “social tango”. It’s a neat tool for teachers to remember what should be included in the teaching, and for dancers to know what to develop in their tango.

The similarities between this and the other models I found are striking! Apparently, when these Scandinavian teachers sum up into a model what they aim to teach their tango students, they reach very similar conclusions. See the table below for a summary of the 4 Swedish/Danish models I have encountered. With some minor variations, all of them include repertoire, technique, communication, social aspects and musicality. Two of them add aesthetics as an additional factor.

Striking similarities between four tango models of Scandinavian teachers
Striking similarities between four tango models of Scandinavian teachers (translated into English for this blog post)

I find it astonishing that all these models agree to a large extent not only on how many aspects to include (5-6) but also on the content of each of these aspects! It is not hard to imagine other factors that could have been included, such as “the walk”, “the embrace”, “improvisation” or “stretching and toning the body”. But this is not the case; there is more or less full consensus.

A lot of questions can be asked about the results of this little survey. Here’s two:

  1. Is there a common source or teaching tradition that has inpired all of these models, or are they developed independently and just inpired by a similar view of what tango is all about?
  2. Also, is this just a Scandinvian consensus, or would teachers in Turkey, South Korea or Argentina use the same dimensions in thier teaching models?

Sources

  • Teacher training & discussions with Daniel Carlsson (Tangokompaniet) and Mette Munk Andresen (M2 Tango)
  • Tango teacher training with Gunilla Rydén & Henrik Uldall (Per attended the course at Tango Primavera festival in 2007)
  • Tango teacher program with Ehsan Shariati & Josefine Hjälmeskog (info from website)

10 Replies to “Scandinavian Consensus around Models for Teaching Tango”

    1. Hej Henrik! Alt er vel, og jeg håper det samme for dig!

      Tak for denne rettelse – det var ju et stykke tid siden jeg tog jeres fremragende kursus. 🙂

      “Social awareness” skal det således være.

      Venlig hilsen,
      Per

    1. That’s a relevant distinction, Chris, but my guess is that these models are menat to be a little bit of both: what do you need to learn in tango, and thus what should a tango teacher teach. If you have a view on what differences you would expect from learning models vs. teaching models, I would be very interested in hearing more about it!

      1. Per wrote: “what do you need to learn in tango, and thus what should a tango teacher teach.

        What’s your basis for equating the two, I wonder. Traditionally the social dance is socially learned. If learning was instead limited to what can be taught by teachers, the teacher-free Golden Age of tango dancing would not have occurred and we’d have no social tango dance tradition today.

        1. I agree with you Chris that it doesnt make any sense to only limit ones experience of tango to only tango lessons. You also need to dance socially.

          The job of the teacher is to make your learning process more efficiently, as Per says. It is like trying to learn a new language: Offcourse you need to be out there talking. But you can be much more successful in your learning process if you also take some lessons and have a teacher who can help you to learn some grammer, improve your pronounciation etc.

          The social tango of today is growing mainly because there are tango teachers who are spreading the tango around the world… just like they did both inside and outside of Buenos Aires during the golden age. There has always been innovators and teachers in tango… just like in any other type of music/dance/culture.

          Incouraging the students to dance socially is one of the key elements for all teachers so fortunately everyone are on the same side in this topic 🙂

          1. Ehsan wrote: tango teachers who are spreading the tango around the world… just like they did both inside and outside of Buenos Aires during the golden age. There has always been innovators and teachers in tango…

            What I learned from dancers such as Carlos Gavito, Tete Rusconi and Ricardo Vidort was that there were no teachers of social tango dancing in Buenos Aires at that time. People learned the traditional way – by dancing with friends and family who could already dance.

            I’s the same story in the many interviews with milongueros published by Practimilonguero. For example, Roberto Fortunato: “In those days there were no teachers”.

            Likewise researchers such as Christine Denniston: “There was no such thing as a Tango teacher and no such thing as a beginners’ Tango class before the Tango revival began in the mid 1980s.” (further details in her book The Meaning of Tango: The Story of the Argentinian Dance..

            So, if there is a sound basis for your suggestion that tango (dance) teachers spread tango inside and outside Buenos Aires during the Golden Age, and that there have always been teachers in tango, it would be good to hear it.

          2. Chris, we should honor history, and at the same time acknowledge that the world is evolving. I’ll let you and other people well versed in history debate what actually happened during the Golden Age, and I love to hear the stories and theories since I am grateful for the dance that has sprung from that history.

            Today, the most efficient way for most people to learn tango is to go to a teacher for lessons. The same goes for yoga or playing the trumpet, although it did not use to be the way of learning any of these arts. I’m not sure what you think is missing in “what can be taught by teachers”, but I would say that at least whatever is closely related to the music, the body or the attitudes can be taught.

  1. Thank you for a very interesting article. It is nice of you to also include us.

    We started structuring our teaching methods in 2005 when we grew to become a big dance school with many instructors teaching in different dances. We wanted to ensure that all the teachers would follow a certain structure so that the students would learn quickly and without getting too confused when meeting different teachers.

    So we started asking ourselves “What is there to teach?”, “What makes a good dancer?”, “What makes a good dance class?” We soon realized that the answers could be grouped in different columns and that it was important to learn (and teach) a little bit of everything in order to become a good dancer. Interestingly the major difference between our different dances, we found out, was the repertoire. The rest is pretty similar in all dances.

    We organized a few “education weekends” for our instructors trying to learn from each other to become better teachers and in Spring 2006 I asked Gunilla Ryden to be a guest teacher at one of these weekends and she presented her idea with the dance flower which was in line with our way of thinking.

    I think that the different models can be used differently. The “ABCD method” of Per is perhaps more focused on How to teach successfully. I like especially the “A” part which I think is very important and seldom talked about.

    The “Dance flower”, I suppose, is a clever illustration of why it is important to have the whole picture in mind when teaching dance.

    Our “Dance profile” is meant to be a map or a database of what there is to learn in tango (or other dances), categorized in columns and levels of difficulty. Like any database it can be used in different ways. Actually we don’t really use it as a “method”, but more a tool when planning and comparing courses and when we want to create an overview of our students progress.

    It helps us to make “tango skills” a little bit more objective. Instead of saying “you are an ok dancer but if you dance a lot you could become better!”, with the help of our Dance Profile, we can say that “you know these steps but not those (repertoire). You do the spiral movements from top down correctly but you could engage your stomach muscles a bit more (technique). You can follow the big phrases in the music but you don’t mark the small ones (musicality). You can follow the lead well, but you could be more careful regarding the changes of height (communication). You use your embrace to create a certain expression but you don’t use the direction of your head to lead the interest of the audience (expression). On the social floor, you take good care of the couples around you, but you place your partner a bit exposed (socio-cultural)” etc. In this way the students will get a concrete idea of what the next small step can be in their tango journey and how they can achieve it.

    Off course any good teacher have already this database in his/her head and use it in this way but having it on a paper/website gives us new possibilities to help the students to take more control over their tango journey. Instead of just following different guides in to the tango jungle, the students will get a map of where they are heading, how far they have reached and which directions they could choose to move towards.

    In Argentina more and more teachers are creating structures and systems. But what many Argentinian teachers have lacked in pedagogy before they have often made up for by being very good dancers, hence knowing intuitively what is important to teach and what is not. I think that the reason why Scandinavians often put value in structuring the teaching is because we live in very well organized societies. We have a strong tradition of pedagogy in Scandinavia and also many tango teachers have an academic background and are used to an organized way of learning/teaching.

    There is a big hunger among tango dancers to make sense of the dance. With more structure and better pedagogy, learning tango can become a less confusing process. The general trend everywhere seem to be that the tangueros are becoming increasingly better dancers and better teachers so the future looks promising!

    Thank you Per for bringing up this subject and for sharing your ideas.

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