If you are going to learn how to tango, you might as well go to the place of its birth to do so. As mentioned in the first part of this series, we decided to spend our first evening in Buenos Aires with two private dance instructors until the wee hours of the morning. This was not an observational session. This was an immersive, team session that started with fundamentals, drills, and deliberate practice.

Now, if a traditional corporate training department was putting together a tango training class, it would probably look something like this:

  1. Send everyone an email telling them they had to learn how to tango (whether they wanted to or not)
  2. Group everyone in a room with no regards to previous dancing ability or experience
  3. Have the instructors spend the first 5-10 minutes talking about their background and company history
  4. Progress through 40-58 minutes of PowerPoint slides about the history of tango, its origins, and images of dance step patterns
  5. Allow 1-2 minutes of questions at the end
  6. Encourage people to go out and dance sometime in the near future (and send the instructors an email if they have questions)
  7. Fill out a satisfaction form

I am going to go out on a limb here and predict there will be little to no improvement in the dance skills of the attendees. I will also predict that most students will regard this as a waste of time. Furthermore, I will predict that almost none of them will ever set foot on a dance floor. Some managers may cry out, “But, we spent all this money on training! We showed them how to do it! They are just lazy/scared/apathetic and won’t do it after we gave them all the tools to be successful.”

It is not what you train people to do that is important. It is HOW you train them. Here is what our tango instructors ACTUALLY did:

  1. Picked us up and brought us to a dance studio at 9 pm
  2. Turned on the music and made us stand there and snap to the beat for 3 minutes
  3. Had us walk around on our own in a large oval around the dance studio with the proper beat and characteristic dragging of our feet
  4. Immediately had my girlfriend and I place our arms on each others shoulders to learn how to feel weight shifts and intentions of next steps
  5. Start dancing one step at a time to one side of the room, turn around, and come back
  6. Place our hands in the traditional tango partner pose and repeat #5
  7. Taught us how to turn in order to continue our progression in a counterclockwise fashion around the dance floor
  8. Made us each dance with a professional partner, and then again with each other
  9. Repeat for one hour

The technical term for the differences in HOW you teach students is called instructional design. How you design a course is an extremely complex discipline that takes years of study and practice to master. Being a subject matter expert does not mean you are a great instructor. They are completely different disciplines. Take some time to have experts in ID to look at your training programs, curriculum, and methods to see if it employs best practices in adult learning theory versus expecting people to absorb information like they were trying to memorize the script from their 4th grade school play. You also need to mandate ongoing, deliberate practice for weeks AFTER the program if you expect retention of these newly acquired skills.

There was no projector, discussion, or history lesson. There was a progression of drills and exercises to build our skills from zero to semi-competent in just an hour. It was a good thing, too. Because we were heading out into the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires to dance with the locals. RIGHT NOW.