Argentine Tango Teacher-Training Breaks New Ground

For the first time in its flamboyant history, Argentine tango has a structured syllabus. The program includes a six-week teacher-training course (per level: bronze, silver, and gold), a 100-page manual, and DVDs, all approved by Dance Vision International Dance Association (DVIDA), the professional dance teacher organization.

Well-known tango instructor, Christy Coté, of San Francisco developed the program. Greg Olsen also of San Francisco provided technical-writing assistance and George Garcia an instructor, performer, and choreographer for more than 25 years in Hawaii, dances the lead for the videos. The syllabus features 45 explicit patterns built upon the dance's elemental steps. Coté and Garcia demonstrate each pattern on the DVDs, carefully breaking it down for leader and follower.

The ground-breaking program has received kudos all around, starting with DVIDA executive director Wayne Eng who is happy to have "an organized way to train Argentine tango teachers and to give certification exams to teachers." Diane Jarmolow, director of the Ballroom Dance Teachers College, says, "Christy has done an amazing job and finally Argentine Tango joins the ranks of the other ballroom dances in terms of its clarity and structure."

"The instruction is clear and comprehensive," Writes Stephen Brown at the Web site Tango Argentino de Tejas. The site Dancer Dresser also gives the program high marks and notes how its video segments have been "professionally produced in an organized one-on-one format like a private lesson, making this Dance Vision Video/DVD clear and easy to comprehend."

Coté has certified nearly two dozen students in the San Francisco and Sacramento areas at the bronze and silver levels. Four instructors have gone on for certification in gold. Many more are asking for the training and Coté is offering it to any group of at least six participants or to anyone in private.

"Having been a ballroom teacher for many years I knew how well students learn from a structured syllabus," says Coté who became so passionate about tango 10 years ago that she began to focus solely on this dance. She began studying tango with such revered master teachers Carlos Gavito, Marcela Duran (both of Forever Tango fame), Daniel Lapadula, and Fabian Salas (of CosmoTango International Tango Congress).

In her early introduction to tango, she noticed that she received mixed messages from different instructors and says, "I know my learning curve would have developed much faster if someone had given me a structure to get started in this dance." So, Coté tapped into her own expertise as a dancer, painstakingly writing the instructions and correct technique into the definitive manual. It took her a year to do so and it took Olsen countless hours to transform the program into the Dance Vision format. Next came the filming with Garcia for the DVDs.

Coté, who also performs with an all-women tango group, ConFusion and directs her own troupe, Libertango, along with her partner Darren Lee, teaches at the Metronome Dance Center in San Francisco. She was in a unique position to create the syllabus. She understood how the beginning student can be overwhelmed and confused by this sensual, but technically challenging, dance, and she knew how to break it down and plot it into a coherent language, just as the foxtrot or waltz may be. As she and Olsen write in the manual, "Despite the creative nature of Argentine tango . . . there is an underlying code and logic that all tangueros understand."

Capturing in print (and on film), tango's feet positions, amount of turn, contra-body movement, and timing was a bold move, akin to writing down for the first time a language that was heretofore only spoken. Despite some criticism from tango aficionados, who disdain any association of Argentine tango with ballroom style (which American tango is), Coté says, "I think I was able to create the syllabus without losing the true essence of this beautiful dance and without disregard for it improvisational nature."

Indeed, few partner dances are steeped in a greater mystique than tango, which traveled up from the 19th-century brothels and cafes of La Boca, Buenos Aires' immigrant quarter, to the cabarets and dance halls of the well-bred milieu of Argentina and Europe. Amazingly, almost every move in the dance today can be broken down to a basic vocabulary of six elements or "phrases." They are forward ochos (figure eights), backward ochos, caminada (walking), the cruzada (cross), molinete, (windmill or grapevine), and boleo (a ?throw? of the lower leg?from the verb volear, to throw).

Coté, with Olsen and Garcia, has done something so simple and obvious, but not even the venerable tangueros or tangueras had thought to do it. "We've created 45 sample "sentences" in the language called Argentine tango," says Coté. "Just as you might learn the grammar and vocabulary of Spanish, say, by memorizing sentences such as vamos a la playa, one can eventually access the whole spirit of tango through these forty-five patterns."

Furthermore, she says, ?The DVIDA Argentine Tango manual is certainly not the only patterning possible for dancing the elements presented.? But the beauty of the syllabus is that it gets students to create their own patterns, to improvise in the spirit that is tango.

The certification has been a boon for longtime instructors such as Amy Little and Eldon Bryce who both feel they have even more confidence in their teaching now. "I'm a stronger dancer and have many beautiful new patterns to offer myself and my students," says Little, "and I'm prepared to pursue an in-depth study of Argentine tango.? Even if one doesn?t teach, says Bryce, ?this wonderfully thorough course offers a wealth of knowledge."

Non-teaching students who have taken the teacher-training course say one of the greatest benefits is that it provides a key to understanding the challenges for both the lead and the follow. The lead and follow are unique in tango because tango is danced in two systems, normal or parallel (the leader steps left while the follower steps right or vice versa) and cross system (leader and follower step on their left or right feet at the same time). Tango also has two types of embrace; "salon style" or more open embrace and the close embrace, also called tango milonguero, the preferred style of dance halls in Buenos Aires. The manual and course focus more on salon style.

The teacher-training program, says Coté, "is best suited for those with some lead and follow experience in other dances or for those with an intermediate level of Argentine tango as a leader or follower."

For more information on Christy Coté's training programs contact her directly at christy@christycote.com or (415) 824-7006. To purchase her DIVIDA manual or instructional DVDs or VHS tapes go to www.dancevision.com or call toll-free (800) 851-2813.