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July 4, 2006

Building a community

Since commencing a series of Beginners classes and guided practicas a few months ago, it’s gratifying for me personally to see the steady improvements in some of the “regulars” (including not only my own students but also people who have been dancing for some time) who attend our weekly practicas. What can we learn from this particular observation?

For the past few years, the Singapore Tango community, despite a lack of high-calibre Tango teachers in residence, really has no shortage of the authentic “Tango experience”. In other words, there has not been any shortage of visiting Tango teachers, Argentine or otherwise. Now, the benefit of having teachers with different styles/emphasis to a young dance community is debatable, which I will not go into here. Nevertheless, this does not fully address the issue of why our Tango community has not grown or at least matured – as far as dancing is concerned. I believe the critical issue here is that there was no effective follow-up after the workshops conducted by visiting teachers.

Classes are where new ideas are introduced. Generally speaking, there is only limited time (and impractical) set aside during workshops for practice. However, effective learning requires significant reinforcement, especially where new physical skills are involved. The time and place for this practice is naturally during the practicas. Apart from trying out new steps/techniques and instilling the right “work ethics”, practicas are also excellent for leaders to build up their confidence in preparation for a proper milonga. I feel – again, from personal experience – this is most relevant for the starting leaders in Tango who often suffers from performance anxiety, which can possibly explain the relatively higher drop-out rate compared to the followers.

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