Videos: how to use them

It is now accepted that videos can be a great resource for learning and are increasingly used in classrooms. There is even a new educational methodology called flipping the classroom where students watch videos with lectures and demonstrations in the classroom. The teacher’s job then is merely to manage, support and clarify. In one way or another using video for the purposes of teaching both in the classroom and as a self-study resource can be very effective. But, there is a way in which the use of videos for the purposes of learning tango is counterproductive and can significantly set the learner back. This is to simply start searching around the internet for videos of tango.

Searching the internet (Google, Youtube, Facebook, etc.) for learning resources is useful only to the extent that it helps you to find a structured course provided either by an educational platform or independent educators. Such materials should be properly organised into progressive levels and include printable materials in PDF form for download, systematic practice exercises, etc. I myself have been able to make significant progress in learning classical guitar by subscribing to this kind of online educational service. On the other hand, I could search around and find lots of videos teaching various techniques for playing guitar and soon enough I will be confused and exhausted because I won’t stick to anything and the things I will be learning will not be organised in any systematic and progressive form that will allow me to progress to something tangible and keep me motivated to continue. Soon I will probably quit learning guitar due to boredom and move on to something else.

When one searches “tango” on Google, Youtube or Facebook what one gets is mostly exhibition tango, whereas the teaching materials that are there are mostly demonstrations by Salon Style Tango and Tango Nuevo teachers. These demonstrations are for set routines that they teach in a way that is non-interactive. That is, a typical studio dancing lesson involves the teacher demonstrating a set routine that has a name such as “Paso Basico” and the students copy that routine based on the visual image that they receive. The result is that students come to believe that this is social dancing when in fact it is derived from stage show dancing. Even when looking at social tango dancing the students are likely to end up confused because there are many aspects of the video that require explanation. The videos need to be curated, selected and clarified by the teacher. Students will lack understanding or context of what they are seeing. A well-designed progressive course of study needs to provide supporting information at a level that is appropriate to the level of the student.

Watching videos of dancers who look very good also leads students to focus excessively on the visual aspect of dancing (see also Mental imagery in movement learning). Because it focuses attention on how the dancers look it implicitly promotes the idea that learning to dance well is a matter of attaining that sort of a look from a third person perspective (an outside audience) rather than as feeling a certain way from the first person perspective (your “mind’s eye”). The learner will not compare how they feel when they are dancing but always how they look, the visual image of themselves compared to the instructor or model on the video.

This focus on the image will have the further negative effect of promoting what F. Matthias Alexander called end-gaining, that is, excessive focus on attaining a goal instead of on the process of moving towards that goal (see also Systems vs goals). The dancers who are either performers or teachers as opposed to average social dancers will always look great. This could be for a number of reasons that the student might not consider: they have professional training in ballet or ballroom dancing; they have rehearsed their routine and taken several takes of the shot; they have carefully chosen their partner, used special lighting, dressed up in loud suit and dress, etc.

Focusing on the image is likely to create contradictory feelings of wanting to look like that as soon as possible and then of frustration. As Scott Adams points out in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, excessively focusing on distant goals you’re likely to be in an emotional state of scarcity, that is, feeling like a failure. Looking at a video of competent dancing you have the image of your ultimate success which may be motivating, but then you’ll probably try to learn things that are beyond your current level of ability. This may well result in negative feelings and loss of motivation, not to mention bad dancing. The fact that many of these “instructional videos” are widely available online can actually be counterproductive. It does not mean that the teacher is no longer required but rather that it is in fact the job of the teacher to curate such resources so that they might be actually conducive to learning.