Microskills

A common strategy to learning tango, or any dance, is to attend lots of classes that focus on a small number of skills, typically choreography and technique. When people find themselves in a real milonga situation, however, they find that there is a lot of skills that were not covered in the dancing lessons, and they usually proceed to acquire these through some sort of trial-and-error. This typically leads to more error than success and ultimately burnout as the dancer discovers that it’s all too hard and impenetrable.

A more effective system or approach to learning ocial dancing is to spend less energy on dancing lessons and more on developing a stack of microskills. If you focus on developing a stack of really basic skills then the larger goals will take care of themselves. This is the reverse of the usual way of learning dancing. When we take a dancing class we usually learn choreography (steps and patterns) and we focus on the goal of mastering these.

Most choreography requires that you have mastered a series of more basic skills. Without these more basic skills learning and executing choreography will always be a struggle. A more effective strategy is to focus on the basic microskills that in the long run will make mastering complex choreography easy, natural and effortless. In fact, I claim that choreography naturally and effortlessly emerges out of walking with the correct technique, and you don’t really need to learn it.

The key is to focus on developing a wide range (a stack) of microskills and to learn the ones that have the biggest payoff in the long run. People view these skills as technique and only revisit them between sets of choreography lessons to correct their poor technique with the goal of executing the choreography. In this they tend to focus on a narrow range of these and do not practice them enough. Yet their power lies precisely in the regular practice of the whole range of these, because it is when they are used together that they become very powerful and make all choreography easy and natural.

In particular, these are the microskills that allow us to exploit learning opportunities, whether these are things that spontaneously come up while dancing, or a step or pattern that we are introduced to. Without these microskills the step or pattern will be an endless struggle, while those who have the right microskills will master the pattern effortlessly and without much practice at all.

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