Liz Lerman, choreographer, performer, writer, teacher, and speaker, developed a 4-step assessment method called the Critical Response Process (CRP). Unlike common assessment methods in which the artist, writer, or performer is scored or evaluated based on particular criteria, with CRP, a person can engage in a dialogue with their audience and the focus is redirected toward revision and process. Although CRP has been used often to review writing, art, or choreographed dances, this particular review protocol can be quite effective for tango dancers as well. In each step described below, I first explain how CRP applies to writers and then tango dancers.
Step 1: Statements of Meaning
In the first step, responders provide a statement of meaning, in other words, they comment on what was surprising, meaningful, or evocative (withholding any critique or judgment). When I work with students in my office, I often ask them to read their work out loud and I inform them that I may interrupt them at any time in order to share my response to the text. Some students may find the interruptions overwhelming, so I may add my thoughts after a paragraph or two or after they have completed the entire reading. In tango, we can ask for similar feedback, asking our teachers, partners, or peers for their first impressions about our embrace, musicality, technique, connection, and/or style. Tango teachers applying CRP may choose to first dance with their students, or students wanting to utilize this review process may ask their teacher to dance before asking any questions about their dance.
It is important to not skip this step because learners play the role of listener and become attentive to how responders react to their writing or dancing.
Step 2: Artist as Questioner
In this next step, the learners can present questions to the audience. It is important for questions to be specific. Writers will often ask generic questions, such as, “Does my writing flow or make sense?” because they don’t know yet what they should be asking about their writing. Teachers could assist students by reframing their generic question with a follow-up question, such as, “Which parts were the most challenging for you to write and why?” Once the student responds, a teacher can reframe the initial question about flow with, “Does my story about X flow with the examples from the class reading?” One can write this question down and then provide additional vocabulary for the student, so they don’t always rely on “flow” to describe everything right or wrong about their writing.
Tango students also lack focus when they take a private lesson and either ask generic questions about their embrace or connection, or they don’t come prepared with any questions at all. We can also ask ourselves what has been the most challenging part of our dance and reframe that as a question. If that teacher has an admirable skillset, then ask questions about that. If you’re working with an instructor on a long-term basis, then bring questions about particular issues that arose during classes, practicas, and milongas. Specific questions allow teachers to tailor their instruction to fit their students’ needs. At times, tango teachers ignore questions about back sacadas or ganchos because students have not learned to walk forward let alone walk backwards; however, a good teacher should explain why you are not ready for more advanced movements or sequences.
Step 3: Neutral Questions
During this stage, the audience can ask clarifying questions of the artist that do not embed judgment or opinion within the question. Lerman explains that this step is the most difficult to apply because it is tempting to ask biased questions, such as, “Why did you exclude a thesis? Or “Do your examples connect to the class reading?” Instead, readers can ask, “What is the relationship between the examples described and the class reading? In your own words, what is the thesis or main argument of your paper?”
In tango, questions from our dancer partners are almost never neutral. “Why did you step there? Why didn’t you bend your knee? Why didn’t you boleo?” Lerman writes, “When defensiveness starts, learning stops” (qtd. in McCarroll 245). When two peers are involved, it is inevitable for egos to clash or for one person to feel demoralized. In certain cases, dancers will bite their tongue and proceed with their training and attempt to self-assess to determine which changes in their technique, posture, movement, and timing may produce a different result.
One way to ask neutral questions of our partners is to focus the attention on ourselves. For instance, “In the embrace, I am feeling tension in my back. What can WE do to make it more comfortable for me?” Or, “I am trying to signal a pivot at this point of the turn, but instead, we are turning in this other direction. What can WE do to execute this pivot?” These questions direct the attention to our bodies and the sensations we are experiencing. Moreover, the problem is resolved collaboratively between the two dancers. When dancers have exhausted all possibilities for resolving a problem without much success, at this time, it’s best to invite a third party like a teacher or another experienced dancer for their input.
Step 4: Opinion Time
In the final step, responders can provide their opinion about the work with the permission of the artist, writer, or dancer. The person can decline. Afterwards, it is important to provide closure to the whole process by inviting the learner to share any final questions or comments. We can also ask learners whether there was anything they wish was covered or discussed that wasn’t addressed during the session. What is important is that learners conclude a session feeling that their ideas, questions, or contributions were validated and appreciated.
- Lerman, Liz. “Critical Response Process.” 2019, https://lizlerman.com/critical-response-process/.Accessed 9 November 2019.
- McCarroll, Meredith. “Writer as Choreographer: Critical Response Process in the Writing Center.” Writing In and About the Performing and Visual Arts: Creating, Performing, and Teaching, edited by Steven J. Corbett, Jennifer Lin LeMesurier, Teagan E. Decker, and Betsy Cooper, University Press of Colorado, 2019, pp. 241-250.