The unlimited imagination of toddlers
In a recent extract of a Tedx video I saw, a scientist was explaining that you can estimate a person’s intelligence by letting them tell you potential uses of something quite common like a paper clip. He says that research has found that when they asked the question to toddlers they would get hundreds of possible answers but as they grew up the same persons would gradually respond with a much more limited set. An average adult can tell you about 3 or 4 uses.
I thought about it and actually, it makes sense. When you are a child you don’t have prior knowledge of many things. You are left to either discover them on your own or someone comes and educates you, showing you how certain things work. From the time that someone tells us that this is so, all other potential options you may have discovered or invented are thrown away. You just have this one option.
Think about how we are taught Tango, especially in the beginning. Through specific structures and sequences. We are shown a few possibilities from the infinite ones we have and we develop ourselves based on them. Great teachers manage to show those sequences only as an example of a specific principle such as for example walking in cross system and then they tell you… “Now go on and find out how you can use it”. If you were a toddler your mind could start generating possibilities much easier, but as adults, we need to get back to that age and mindset and let ourselves become babies again to explore the possibilities of the tools given to us.
On another TEDx talk I have seen ages ago Sugata Mitra is describing his experiments with children in India learning through the use of computer. His talk was awarded the best TED talk and he actually won 1 million dollars to further develop his project… so if you haven’t seen it already… DO IT! It will change your mind about education and learning. Anyway, what he did is that they went to underdeveloped villages of India where there was no previous contact with technologies like computers and installed a computer in a place where children could have access. A couple of months later they visited the place and they saw the children playing with the computer. They had discovered and learned how to use it on their own by trying, searching, exploring, and collaborating. Some months later they even had requests on how to upgrade the computer.
His TED talks are really fascinating and are demonstrating that learning can happen without necessarily the presence of a teacher, a person we associate with knowledge and authority. You just need the right tools and children who by nature are curious. What he also shows with his experiments is that learning can be pushed even further with the appropriate encouragement. He calls it the granny method. All you need is a person who whenever the children find out something would say something like “Wow… that’s amazing… how did you do that?… What’s next? etc.”. So… all you need is someone who just constantly pushes your curiosity. In the end the granny or whoever is sitting on the side… Is learning instead of teaching.
Apart from encouragement and tools, another important aspect of this research is time and collaboration. It was always a team effort to learn to use the computer or to answer any other challenges. Everyone would try different ideas and once something worked the rest could adopt it and try something more. So the learning process is a collective effort of the team. Not a one-man show. Plus they were given time. No deadlines… No pressure… Just the freedom to explore and discover at their own pace. This is really crucial.
Now think about the usual learning process in Tango. Teachers would come every week and teach you a new pattern… a new technique… a new variation or possibility which you then tried to memorize and use in your dance. See the problem? No exploration… time restraints… and no collaboration. Exactly the opposite of the examples in India. I am not saying that all teachers are like this. Good teachers will provide the time and the opportunity for collaboration and exploration. They would also act as grannies. For example, they would show you how to do a cross step but then when you manage to do it… they will tell you… “Wow… very nice… what else can you do with it… what if this happened or the other?… etc.” and then sit on the side and observe letting the group to figure it out. Does this sound familiar?… Yes… I am describing a practica!
In this process, Tango toddlers will maybe also come out with their own different uses of the tool given. Like the paperclip example earlier. It just takes time, effort but most of all love for the learning process. This is how the teacher becomes a student too learning from their students. If you think about it… this is how Tango started from the first milongueros. They practiced together time and time again and they learned from each other. No ready-made food… No ready-made patterns… Just some examples of a few tools and their minds to figure out their usages. Of course, there were also limitations that played a significant role. You could learn from other milongueros but you could not copy their moves! So you were forced to invent your own variations and possibilities. Moreover, if you watch interviews of Chicho about the period they reinvented Tango with Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas you can see a similar process. Collaboration, curiosity, limitless time and imagination, explanation, and discovery.
More grannies, fewer teachers
There is a problem though. Teachers, especially new ones, often enter the area of teaching either because they want some extra income or to fulfill their ego. Many of them, just like the sound of their voice and feel important and significant when they get to teach you something. They forget this way that learning is a process of discovery and exploration. They forget that they can learn from it too.
Plus, we live in a world that runs with the speed of light and we can have all kinds of information at our fingertips in a split second. This creates pressure in teachers to run too… to show you as many things as possible in as little time as possible. Nobody wants to be the guy who takes it slow because that is not profitable. Students will go to other teachers.
If you really want to help your community and you want to transfer what you know… don’t become a teacher. Don’t start yet another series of classes. Start a practica and be one of the grannies. Invite dancers of all different levels, styles, and schools, let the music play, and tell them that there are no rules and restrictions here apart from respect for each other and collaboration. I believe that given time you will be amazed by the results. History and science have proven that it works… trust it!
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango is asking us to dream and nothing more. While you can always dream in your sleep, dreaming awake means fantasizing, thinking, exploring, questioning, and discovering other possibilities. Some might become reality, some not… but the most important thing is to dream… let your imagination travel… become a toddler again.
How about you? Do you have more practicas or classes in your community? Have you ever encountered a teacher that managed to excite your imagination and curiosity? Do you think that practicas are as important (or even more so) than classes or not? Let me know with a comment below, an email, or a PM on Facebook… oh… and if you liked it… don’t forget to share it with your friends.