29th January 2010

"Any sufficiently advanced tango technique is indistinguishable from magic." ~ What Arthur C. Clarke would have said, had he been a milonguero.


Technology and Tango - is there any meeting point?

A guy recently started a thread on, regarding using some metronome-like device to help people learn to dance. Yes, OK, it's a silly idea, there's already such a device and it's technically called "the music", but this, along with the hyped announcement of the new Apple iWhatsit, made me think. What can new technologies do to help us learn Tango?

A whole load of caveats

  • Technologies are, of course, just tools for communicating content. If the content's rubbish, the technology won't help.
  • There's a tendency in the early-adoption phase for enthusiasts to proclaim that each technology is the Answer To Everything. They're wrong, of course, and suffer from the "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" syndrome.
  • Many people don't understand technologies, especially new ones (in fact, make that "most people"), so tend to misuse them, until by experimentation we arrive at effective use.
  • Overuse of technology can actually hurt communications. Look at the plethora of sites with Flash intro screens a few years ago.

That all said, here's some thoughts...


Public video

There's been an explosion of online videos available recently, as a combination of cheaper storage, faster internet connections, and easier access to cheaper and better recording equipment. The most obvious example is channels such as Youtube, of course.

I think these can be helpful in showing concepts for movements, in communicating principles with demonstrations, or in giving ideas for types of movements.

But I think these can be harmful if you simply copy a sequence you've seen done, practice that sequence, and then assume you Know Tango from that point on. Trust me, you don't.

Home video

A more effective way to use videos, to me, is on a personal level. Video yourself dancing, and have a look at it. If you've never done this before, it'll be an eye-opener... It's also very useful to publish these videos to a selected supportive group, for critique and suggertions. I've done this regularly, and I found the advice and comments very helpful.

In addition, I have a permanent record of my dancing, which I can look back on and which provides objective evidence of progression. Or so I hope.


Interactive sessions

There's been some ideas floating around over the past year about arranging webcam-based classes, broadcast from BsAs and featuring a selection of milongueros who don't tour and teach. Ideally, students across the world could log in to the session, pose questions, and receive answers, with interaction and possibly even feedback (assuming a 2-way webcam session).

These ideas haven't yet come to anything, but they may well do so. It's got potential, but I suspect that for most of us, it's simply not worth the hassle of setting up; video-conferencing has been around for years, but people so far aren't really adopting it with any great enthusiasm.

Recorded tuition

So what about a proper "e-learning" session?

Well, again, Youtube has any number of free "lessons" available. So why pay? And if you don't pay, where's the incentive?

Also, most Tango teachers typically (and ironically) don't know much about training, so would probably not be very good at creating and maintaining a decent set of elearning sessions. They might also think that they'd be competing against their own sources of income - live classes.

Social media

The sexy bits

Ah yes, The Technology Formerly Known As Web 2.0. Woo, Facebook. Woo woo, Twitter.

I can't imagine anyone learning tango via Twitter. But then I can't imagine anyone learning anything via Twitter.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Facebook and similar organisations are good for creating groups and networking, and for hosting and publicizing content which is specific to those groups and networks. For example, I publish the aforementioned videos of my dancing via a Facebook group.

So we're using these functions, and we're already getting value from them. However, I'm less than convinced that these technologies offer much more than convenience to someone learning Tango. Google is far more useful than Facebook in finding a local venue for me to learn and dance in.

The boring bits

Otherwise known as mailing lists, Forums, blogs, and so on. And the website, for that matter :)

These are widely-used, and allow for a lot of information to be transmitted. But it's arguable these aren't new technologies any more. Websites are settling down into the "old fogey established" camp, for example.

So what do we find?

Well we could wuss out and conclude, as Mao said of the impact of the French Revolution, "it's too early to tell". And there's some truth in that - the whole point about new technology is that it's new; we don't know what the impacts will be.

But we can look at parallels in other areas.

We can say that, for example, technology is highly unlikely to destroy the desire for live classes, because we know that live music performances haven't suffered from the advent of iTunes. If anything, the opposite.

We can say that technology can be transformative - it can change people's habits - but in most cases it's not likely to be destructive. The rise of the internet didn't stop people watching TV; but applications like iPlayer allow us more choice over when we watch it. The advent of the video recorder didn't stop people going to the cinema; but we can now watch a film again and again if we want.

But then... the DVD player has replaced the video recorder, and it's likely that Blu-Ray will eventually do the same to DVDs. You could argue that these are simply formatting differences; they both do exactly the same function. But then you could point to the slow decline of the newspaper industry, compared to the so-far inexorable rise of online news sites. Sometimes technology can be a destructive replacement.

But for Tango, an activity which depends on personal contact, I can't see this happening. In my view, technologies will enhance communication for Tango, in some areas.

Of course, it's too early to tell.

~ David Bailey, 29th January 2010