Although the 8-count basic has some great stuff, here’s 8 reasons I believe tango instructors should not use it to teach absolute beginners:
- It’s difficult for beginner’s to execute correctly,
- It misleads couples into thinking they know how to dance tango,
- It doesn’t encourage good lead and follow,
- It stifles improvisation,
- I causes beginners to drift to the center of the floor,
- I’s useless in a crowded milonga,
- It stifles musicality, and
- It’s essentially never used by good social dancers in the milongas!
Then why is it taught? I think the answer is tradition and the lack on the instructor's part in analyzing what students actually need to start learning tango. (One of my favorite stories is about an excellent follower from Portland who was taking a tango class in England. The teacher asked her to do the 8-count basic pattern alone without a partner. She answered that she didn’t know how. The teacher then said, “what are they teaching you in Portland?!” Her answer was simple and perfect… “to follow!”)
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Wow so many comments on the 8cb. If you dance tango you use the 1st step in the 8cb it’s that simple so why wouldn’t you teach the back step?
If you watch videos of you’re favorite professional tango teachers or performers ( and pay close attention ) you will be amazed at how many of them incorporate the 8cb into the performance.
Many of them will start with the backstop others will use variations but all will use the basics.
I’m not a teacher however I feel the 8 count basic is important as a
teaching tool for those wishing to learn tango.
The 8CB done right is not as easy as one might think. I would say the
majority of teachers will spend perhaps 20 minutes on the 8CB and then move on
An excellent teacher will teach every aspect of tango using the 8CB
starting with posture, balance, embrace, axis and floor craft. After learning all
this you’re ready for that first step
Good is learning the 8CB in twenty minutes
Excellent is learning the 8CB in a year or two
Good is the greatest enemy of excellence
I really appreciate EVERYONE’s comments…like so many things in this wonderful dance of tango it is not black and white and there is no one way to do it…everyone’s perspective is valid but I suggest you don’t dismiss the Basic too soon. After 18 years of teaching ballroom dance I fell in love with Argentine Tango and immediately became frustrated by it’s lack of structure and the fact that no one could actually explain it to me clearly and so I began my own investigation vowing that one day when I figured it out I would share my knowledge with the world. 9 years later (yes it took that long to figure it out) I wrote the first Argentine Tango Syllabus for DanceVision.com and with another 10 years of investigation I revised it (just released in Sept 2014). So how do I teach beginners? I always start with walking, embrace, weight changes and a simple Cadencia/Left Turn. I usually joke with them saying “well, that’s all you need…keeping working on the connection and musicality” and you will be the most popular dancer in the milongas! It’s pretty much true, wouldn’t you agree? Having said that I do introduce them to the Basic (all 8 steps) soon after so that they will begin to see the structure of the dance and become proficient at these 8 positions (like ballet positions). Have you even noticed how interesting and different each of these position are? I like to think of the 8 position as the “key to map” of Tango. So if a figure begins with 2-5 of the Basic…why reteach this…if the students have learned it then the teacher only needs to stay “2-5 of the Basic” and there you go.
I like Joe Cope’s comment about typing “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog”…what a wonderful learning tool just like the Basic of Tango. You may ask why teach patterns at all but again I refer to the typing example…learning figures are a wonderful way of practicing technique for various elements and understanding te structure of the dance with the ultimate goal being to create a truly improvisational dance. In my new program for DanceVision.com I teach 1-5 figures then ask the students to improvise the elements learned in these figures creating a “recipe” for each grouping. I like to think of each dance as a “recipe” of elements improvised in a “pie” or “soup” much like an artists selects colors and techniques to use for each blank canvas. Thanks for reading! What a wonderful world of Argentine Tango it is 🙂
I use the 8CB when teaching and I think it is a great tool. I start with the walk then teach the possibilities of steps. Ending up with the 8CB. At the end of the class the students feel that they have something and are proud of their accomplishment. I also inform them that this is simply a group of steps used to should what could be danced. When you first start typing they have you type “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” because it uses every letter in the alphabet. I probably did it a thousand times. I never write it now but it helped me learn to type.
Now I only use this step on the first class. After that at each class we explore other possibilities. How many dancers can tell you what is was they learned on their first lesson? And how many dancers tell you that they fell in love with the dance the first time they tried it.
I think that starting without the 8CB but rather its’ components and other techniques -especially walking to the music- gets students dancing sooner and better. I feel strongly that we as dancers are better served with the tools to create our own tango.
I love the 8 count basic. I do it over and over and over again at every milonga. I love backing up into the follower behind me on count one, then cutting off the couple in the left lane on count two, etc. etc.
But actually, I think that it has a great purpose in teaching beginners (after lots of walking practice, of course). We all know the 8CB is not a pattern to be executed on the floor, or at least not more than once per song. So what is it for? I think it’s about teaching the crusada! (a key, and tango-defining, move) in a structured form, that can happen in one place on the instructional floor (so as not to crash beginners into each-other too much…as if that were possible). Beginners need to start with a structure that they can succeed at, and repeat until the individual parts are automatic.
Then, once you get the crusada, (and the side step, and the other side, the close, weight change, etc.) then it’s time to disassemble the 8. Can you do it to different rhythms?…adding a “quick-quick “in one part and a “slow” in another to stay on the music? Can you get into the crusada, and out of it, from different steps? All of this is the deconstruction of vocabulary into the free-form that is true language/dance.
I think it’s a great “tool” as long as you tell your students that this is not the “dance” any more than saying the alphabet over and over is talking.
PS, I had an experience with some great teachers from BsAs a while back. They were dumbfounded by the “marking-time” weight shifting we Americans do. They said that was NEVER taught in Argentina. Yet we lean it like it’s a dance step. They said, maybe one weight shift, (to make sure you’re on the same foot)…then go. This shifting back and forth for multiple (many) beats struck them as absurd and juvenile. And of course everyone at the seminar was embarrassed as hell. Maybe a topic for the next survey.
wow what a great topic!!!!!!!!!!!! first I agree with leonard. the most basic of basics is to walk correctly. i learned tango in bsas, where the 8 count is taught after learning to walk. i hated it until it dawned on me that it was teaching me the fundamentals of marking the move. it taught me how to mark when stepping back, how to mark when weight shifting, how to mark when moving sideways, how to mark when going forward, how to mark the cross, and how to mark the close. but it did not teach me how to dance the crowded floor. once i had learned the 8 count i was able to move on to adapting it to the dance floor. it’s a great learning tool.
as to dancing it i sometimes use it, when the floor allows it, as a change of pace .
i think it should be taught with emphasis on it is a learning tool only.
it works for argentine instructors, maybe it would for American instructors. lord knows something is needed as leonard has indicated. how about a musings on why the level is so bad!!
I recently had a workshop with visiting instructors who taught a class on syncopation by having us put rock step or quick step in every point (one at a time) of the 8-count step. In a series of fundamentals of tango classes I started this Fall, the instructors introduce every specific element (say, ochos or quick step or paradas) into both intuitive and counter-intuitive places in the 8-count step. I am 2 years into my tango learning, not a raw beginner, but I find both these pedagogical strategies to be very helpful. That said, it’s hard to expect good results if instruction starts with 8-count before introducing, say, the cross.
I teach every element of the “classic” 8 step, but not as an amalgamation, for reasons mentioned already. At some time in the class, I’ll put the 8 step together and say, “If teachers in your future mention the basic 8 step, this is what they’re referring to, but it’s rarely danced as a complete unit and large number step patterns linked together isn’t the essence or joy of tango…”
Like all dances, tango has a basic step to teach a foundation. To paraphrase Jorge Torres, learning tango is like learning to speak. At first you learn simple words, and then you progress to a dialogue. Learning figures gives a leader a vocabulary, and with time and practice creativity comes.
The basic in tango teaches both partners their roles. If they learn how to do the basics well, they can progress.
But teaching beginners to start with a back step is like teaching a toddler to mouth obscenities. They do not understand it, it is socially unacceptable, and is likely to have negative consequences when they come out with it at inappropriate times. There are tons of ways to combine steps in a way that is actually socially useable.
I couldn’t vote because I think the 8-count basic is neither awful nor excellent for beginners. We do teach it, but not as a figure per se, as an exercise to demonstrate a lot of fundamental techniques after we have gone over those elements individually. We emphasize that there is really only one step in tango — the next one — if you decide to take it (you might also need or want to hang out in the same place for awhile).
The 8-count as an exercise lets students practice several things that are key to maneuvering — side, forward, and back steps, walking through and closing (on the beat instead of rushing), collecting (huge, especially with direction changes), changing weight or not, walking inline and outside, chest leading (including the subtle lead to the cross, which as a follow I much prefer). Since we impress upon our students from the getgo that there are no set patterns and that one of the charms of the dance is the ability to improvise at every step — to relate to the music, to navigate, and for both partners to better enjoy their shared moment, whatever that may entail — using the 8-count as an exercise and as a series of starting points for variations (rock and check steps, ochos and switching from parallel to crossed feet, turns and changes of directions, etc), is quite useful.
And yes, there are some students who don’t get it and frankly don’t want to get it — they want to learn a dance in 4 hours and after 4 hours, they think they have, no matter what the reality, or they are really coming just to scope out the prospects of leaving with a new friend shall we say, or to humor a sweetheart and don’t even want to be there in the first place, or just don’t want to learn something tricky and would be infinitely happier with a fun easy dance like contra (which I also love, btw). But the ones who get hooked on tango do so in part because they twig to the essential improvisation of the dance, and for these folks (the “keepers”), using the 8-count as one of several teaching tools for key techniques has proven quite useful in my experience. (But this may be in part because I think it’s better to dwell on good technique right away, so they don’t pick up bad habits that become very difficult and discouraging to undo.)
That being said, to just teach the 8-count as a dance figure with no focus on techniques would not be doing the students any favors, especially on the dance floor. And likely anyone who was teaching with that strategy would probably not be focused on technique and navigation, so it would be especially counterproductive for the students and damned annoying other dancers.
I consider the 8-count basic as simply an exercise to practice the steps it contains, like other similar exercises. It seems cumbersome to use in real dancing.