Lies To Children

5th August 2009

Every human being relies on and is bounded by his knowledge and experience to live. This is what we call "reality". However, knowledge and experience are ambiguous, thus reality can become illusion. Is it not possible to think that, all human beings are living in their assumptions? ~ Itachi Uchiha


A recent discussion on dance-forums got me thinking...

Traditionally, most dance teaching (hell, most learning of anything) follows a set of steps of increasing complexity.

You start out with the simple, prescriptive, rule-based-stuff. You then, after X amount of time, start to explain that, from a certain point of view, this is "wrong".

The phrase "Lies to Children" has been coined to describe this model:

A lie-to-children is an expression that describes the simplification of technical or difficult to understand material for consumption by children. The word "children" should not be taken literally, but as encompassing anyone in the process of learning about a given topic, regardless of age. ...
Because life and its aspects can be extremely difficult to understand without experience, to present a full level of complexity to a student or child all at once can be overwhelming. ...
Hence elementary explanations tend to be simple, concise, or simply "wrong" - but in a way that attempts to make the lesson more understandable. ...
This "tender introduction" concept is an important aspect of education.
Such statements are not usually intended as deceptions, and may, in fact, be true to a first approximation or within certain contexts.

Lies to Tango students

Given this a model - and I think most people would agree this model works within education - then it makes sense not to introduce too much complexity, too early, to the learning process.

So teachers pretty much have to "lie" to students, or at least to over-simplify, at the start.

That's not the problem.

The problem is that students may never "unlearn the lie". So you end up with a group of dancers who quite genuinely believe that their particular set of lies is the Unchallengable Truth And One True Way. And a lot - most? - of the conflicts you get between dancers about "the right way" to do things stem from this misconception.

Different teachers teach different lies, at different stages, to different students. It's no wonder everyone gets confused; they don't know that these beliefs are all - to a point - lies.

Lie examples

Example 1: the cross

In tango, we're often taught that:

  • You should not walk diagonally
  • When walking, you should always dissociate naturally with the opposing shoulder / leg.

However, as I mentioned in my notes about the cross from the course I taught in July, the cross step breaks both of these rules:

  • The followers do step - slightly - diagonally when crossing, to get back into parallel with your partner. How else can you move with a side component?
  • When walking the preparatory steps, there's no "natural walking" dissociation - leaders need to keep facing your partmer. This allows you to use dissociation to lead the cross.

Example 2: weight on one foot

One of the Golden Rules for tango dancers - followers especially - is that you should always keep your weight on one foot, never shared between two feet.

However, I've been taught several steps which actually require shared weight on the follower's part to work.

In addition, simple moves like the rockstep require shared weight - neither leaders nor followers put their full weight forwards / back on the rockstep, in fact it's much less than 50%.

What's the answer?

I have two simple prescriptions for fixing this:

Un-teach the old

When teachers intoduce a "new lie" - a new set of conventions - they need to ensure that the "old lie" is unlearnt, before teaching the "new lie".

This will avoid students getting too set in their ways; they'll have no excuse for clinging on to their old beliefs if their own teachers tell them to forget them.

Explain the "why"

This one's more tricky - but basically, at some point, you need to explain the "core principle" behind each lie, especially when it changes.

You need to explain why this "rule" is being "broken" - and you need to ensure that your students retain the essence of principle behind the rule, whilst not getting hidebound by the letter of the law.

Related articles

- David Bailey,