Alja & Sašo's teaching

We teach what we dance

Or at least we try to.

Therefore, to tell you what and how we teach, we must first explain our views on tango. Lay out our philosophy of tango. Here it goes.

For us, dancing tango means forming four relationships, all equally important:

  • to our own body
  • to our partner
  • to the music
  • to other dancers

Our body is what we dance with. It is the instrument through which we experience the dance. We want to feel comfortable in our body. Our body shoudn't hinder us, we want it to move as we desire.

Our partner is who we dance with. We share the dance with our partner, both its movement and its emotion. We want to move together in harmony. We want to give and receive, to embrace and be embraced.

The music is what we dance to. It is the force that makes us move. We want to hear it. We want to feel it through our steps. We want it to be the bridge to our partner. We want it to be the sea the whole dance floor swims in.

The couple doesn't dance alone. We share the dance floor with other dancers. We are driven by the same music. We want to move in harmony with them, to be unique but still a part of something bigger. Sitting next to the dance floor, resting, we want to see the smiles on their faces.

Dance with your heart, learn with your mind

Thinking about the last encuentro we've visited, or about that particular tanda, we get as ecstatic, wistful or dreamy-eyed as anyone. Learning, and consequently teaching how to dance, however, is a horse of a different color. We strongly believe that conscious effort is required in order to attain the skills needed to achieve the above-mentioned states of bliss.

It follows then that the teacher should, besides being a reasonably accomplished dancer him- or herself, also possess the knowledge and skills needed to explain the subject matter, prepare classes, provide feedback etc. Simply put, a teacher should be a teacher. And while there is certainly a relation between a person's quality of dancing and teaching, it should be obvious that a great dancer is not necessarily a great teacher, and vice versa. Consequently, given that most of the information about tango teachers is in the form of videos of their dances, a student or a community choosing a teacher is faced with a curious problem: what criteria to use?

Of course, the videos are not an entirely worthless source of information. After all, the style of dancing is certainly an important criterion for choosing a teacher, and for this purpose seeing the video or even a live performance is second only to dancing with the person yourself. However, to get an idea on how a dancer teaches, there is usually no other option than trying it out, or getting a second-hand report from someone who took the class.

We wrote this page to give you another source of information on what and how we teach. Hopefully, you will like what you read, and decide to study with us or invite us to your community. (To see us dancing, we ask you to browse our gallery and Youtube channel.)

First of all, we'd like to emphasize that, besides having a fair amount of tango-teaching experience, we are teachers in our non-tango lives as well. Both primarily linguists, we have extensive experience gained by teaching linguistics, languages and mathematics for almost 20 years. We have taught all age groups: pre-school children, at primary and high schools, at the university, adults. We have taught groups and held individual classes. We've done it all.

Furthermore, we both have academic background, meaning that not only teaching, but also studying and research are part of our daily routine. For the studying part, we believe that being eternal students (tango and non-tango) is important for a teacher since it constantly reminds one how it feels "on the other side". It is our propensity for research, however, that we believe sets us apart from most of the other tango teachers most. From our very first steps, we have been striving to understand how tango works, in all its aspects. We constantly try to devise new exercises and experiments that will help us teach or (dis)prove some theory we entertain. And while we certainly adopt theoretical concepts and teaching techniques from other tango teachers, we never do this without critical evaluation and integration into our own (ever-changing, but hopefully always consistent) system.

We teach the foundations

We believe great tango can only grow from solid foundations. That's why our classes are focused on understanding and mastering the basic building blocks of tango, which we roughly categorize into body-work, communication, musicality and social aspects of tango. (We will not bore you by listing them here. For details, see the list of our classes proposals.)

Focusing on the foundations has several implications. First, you won't find the figures with high-flying names (soltada, piernazo, sentada, pasada ... or Aljada and Sašada ;-)) among our class topics. You will find posture, counter-body movement, song structure and such. Our view is that complex movements can arise spontaneously from the basic elements, if only the music is right and we desire that they do. For example, we will not make a class on boleos, but we might mention (if the group is right) how a boleo can arise from a pivot; we will, however, always emphasize that a (high) boleo can be quite dangerous on a crowded dance floor.

Second, we will not teach combinations (i.e. small choreographies, sometimes called steps). We will rather encourage improvisation. We believe that having solid body movement and communication technique makes it possible to dance any movement, no matter how complex. Most importantly, by growing complexity out of the fundamentals, we can adapt any movement to the music and to the situation on the dance floor, something that should be always done, in our opinion. We try to foster improvisation not only by working on the movement and communication techniques but also by introducing variants of any example combination we present and especially by working on musicality.

Another issue we focus on a lot is the equality of the roles. We encourage the followers to take an active role in the dance: we teach the proper step and pivoting technique, talk about the feedback an active follower gives to the leader, encourage the followers to explore their musicality, and, last but not least, urge them to take an active role in selecting their dancing partners. The latter actually constitutes most of our class dealing specifically with the social aspects of tango.

We make you understand

Imagine the stages one goes through when learning a body-work related concept, like counter-body movement (CBM). First, one needs to understand the concept; then, to get it ``into the body''; finally, to be able to use it creatively in various (musical and social) circumstances. The path of learning a music concept is similar: understand it, get it ``in your ear'', learn to express it in your dance. Thus, in general: understand, internalize, (learn to) externalize.

We believe our most important job as (tango) teachers is to help the student to understand the subject matter. We present the concepts in a clear and structured way, adapting the amount of detail and white lies to the level of the group, never shying away from questions (even if we have to answer We don't know!). To make you understand, we will explain verbally, demonstrate, let you try it yourself, dance with you to show you how it feels, wrap you up in scarves, make a fool of ourselves as well, and in general use any method we might think will work for someone.

We can't internalize a concept for you, but we can help you do it. Once you understand the subject matter, you can practice it. Of course we incorporate some practice into the class, but this obviously cannot suffice: you'll have to practice at home, at a practica, (secretly!) at a milonga, in a supermarket, etc. We'll give you ideas: exercises, games and maybe even steps to use. We'll give you a checklist of stuff you need to pay attention to while practicing. And once you got it, we'll invite you to the same class again and show you that you can do it even better! —We do this to ourselves all the time. :-)

Nobody can do much to help you get able to externalize what you've learned: in the end, it is you who dances at the milonga. However, our emphasis on all four cornerstones of tango (body-work, communication, musicality and the social aspects) will surely help you dance well, as the four cornerstones complement each other: for example, body-work makes it possible to express your musicality, and work on musicality makes sure you haven't done your body-work in vain. :-)

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Nothing would be like it is, neither in our dancing nor our teaching, if it weren't for the following dancers, teachers, friends.

If there was no Enrique Grahl and Judita Zapatero, we'd be stuck forever with a semi-open embrace and Orquesta Color Tango. They were the ones who gave us our first real push into tango that is danced for your partner, with the music. And, of course, they are the ones guilty for our love of using funny games and requisites in our teaching — though, trust us, Enrique's ideas are unsurpassable!

If there was no Maria Plazaola, Alja's step would still be as ugly as Sašo's.---Actually, worse, since Sašo learned all about his step from Alja and thus ultimately from Maria as well. :-)

If there was no Ney Melo, the world would be a cold and uninviting place. He gave us the embrace.

If there were no Detlef Engel and Melina Sedó, there would be nothing.

We owe so much to them that it is actually worth mentioning that we're not trying to be their copies (and neither, we believe, would they want that): it is simply that we have felt a path to some place and then, meeting Detlef and Melina, discovered that they have actually already built a highway to that place, and beyond. What do you do ... sit in the car, obviously. Since there's too much to recount, let's just mention the two endpoints. The start: we got hooked by their teaching when we attended their class on ``the vertical dimension'' of chest movement, as this was something we had — we're proud to tell — already discovered by ourselves. The end (for now): taking their very first Tango Teacher Training. They promise we'll get a diploma. Yeeey! :-)

Update (March 2014): we got it!!!