Dancers who become teachers

A friend and I were discussing this topic recently.  We agreed that they are two very different things.  A dancer doesn’t necessarily know how to teach, and not all teachers dance well.  One with dance training has limited experience from classes, but no practical experience as a teacher.  We have all known someone who returns from a few weeks in Buenos Aires and announces they will be teaching tango.  The same goes for those who win a tango championship and start teaching.  The title of champion often is misinterpreted to mean if they were good enough to win, they must be ready to teach.  Those who prepare as school teachers take university courses in education to learn methods for teaching before having the opportunity to apply them to actual classroom experience.  Teachers become better teachers by teaching.  No one has to pass an exam or present their credentials in order to teach tango.  When I began assisting my dance partner with group classes more than twenty years ago, I had no training as a dance teacher, only years of training as a dancer and musician.  I observed how my partner interacted with the students, presented each lesson, and the results he achieved.  I didn’t agree with his teaching methods, but it was his class.  Those years gave me the incentive to begin teaching social dance classes on my own.  I continued learning how to teach by listening and responding to my students.  Over the years I have talked with milongueros about sharing what they know in private lessons.  The first thing each one has said is that they don’t know how to teach nor have the patience required; yet when given the chance to teach, they surprised even themselves.  In order to teach well, one needs to have a depth of knowledge of the subject.  No one has more knowledge and experience dancing tango in the milongas than the milongueros.  Most of them have no idea of how tango is being taught today, but they know what they know.  They know the music.  No one taught them how to feel.  No one taught them their technique; they didn’t know that it existed when they were learning.  They danced what came naturally for them from the music.   I’ve heard many dancers say the milongueros don’t know how to teach.  They are expected to teach tango the way it has been taught for many years by dance professionals that keep dancers going to classes for years.  Milongueros impart all they know in a few hours. Most use a teaching method that programs dancers to memorize patterns; the milongueros teach how to dance.  I found this post that has some interesting things on the subject of teaching beginners. The young dancers who have been winning the tango championships in Buenos Aires are hardly prepared to teach tango.  They practice the steps they learned from their teachers, but they have no feeling for the music.  They have little or no knowledge of the different tango orchestras like the milongueros.  Their titles almost guarantee they will be doing exhibitions around the milongas of Buenos Aires marketing themselves as performers and teachers.  Foreigners go to the milongas to see exhibitions by young couples who are handsomely dressed and capable of performing a rehearsed choreography perfectly. At some point, I hope that more dancers will begin questioning those who teach tango before signing up for their classes.  They say that a tango teacher is born every day in Buenos Aires.  Unfortunately, those who teach aren’t from the milongas.  The future of social dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires depends on the development of social dancers.  Without them, the milongas eventually will close.

8 Responses to “Dancers who become teachers”

  1. tango padawan Says:

    You say a lot of interesting things but you overlook that there are many aspects of the dance that people teach. While you would probably learn from a milonguero his idea of the music and how to interpret it, you would probably learn from a more classically trained dancer and teacher the technique side of it.

    Music comes first but if there’s no technique, your dancing is not super enjoyable.

  2. jantango Says:

    Tango is being overanalized by professionals who try to teach what the average person with no training will never accomplish. It isn’t necessary for everyone to dance like professionals; most want to dance socially, not on stage. There are too many copycats already.

    No one can impose their feeling on another. Each dancer interprets the music in the way they feel it. The problem arises when professionals forget to use music in classes. They teach choreography for a particular orchestra, rather than teaching elements of social dancing to any orchestra.

    Yes, classically trained dancers (I am one of them) have a better sense of their bodies and movement than those with no training. Tango doesn’t have to be danced socially like a stage performance where technique is required. Tango is a street dance that has been turned into a performance dance. That limits its appeal to average people who want to enjoy social dancing.

    Tango is about two in an embrace. Everyone needs to give and receive more hugs. Thank goodness that tango is getting people closer together. There is no technique to a hug; it’s a feeling you have when you give. Tango is therapy for many and it does wonders for the soul.

  3. Homero Montalvo Says:

    I have to agree that not all teachers can teach you to dance. I have had some teachers who are excellent tango dancers but have moved on to shows and exhibitions and then try to teach this instead of the social dancing which I believe tango is. On the other hand, I have also had some teachers who do teach the social aspect of tango, the touching and guiding of your partner to the rhythm of the music. Unfortunately, a lot of the students could not feel the music, they merely went thru the steps without connecting to the music. No teacher can teach that!

  4. jantango Says:

    Tango seems to be known more today as a performance dance by trained professionals rather than a social dance for average people. The standard set for stage is higher than the milonga. Students study with performers who can’t help them in their goal to become good social dancers.

    You are correct in saying no teacher can teach how to feel the music. Dancers have to listen to tango endlessly and get to know the music first…then the music tells them what to do on the dance floor. Starting with steps will never get anyone to connect to the music. It only comes when we love the music and then respond to the feeling.

  5. Chris, UK Says:

    > Tango is being overanalized by professionals who try to
    > teach what the average person with no training will never accomplish.

    Their success unfortunately is due to natural selection in a commercial market where amazingly some people start off by paying the seller to tell them what to buy.

    The teacher who sets and sustains unaccomplishable goals in the minds of his students extracts much more money out of each of them than one who teaches a student to the point where he can dance and needs no more lessons.

    Ricardo Vidort said that the typical student starting with him needed only eight lessons. That speaks not just of the kind of lessons, but of the kind of student who chooses them.

  6. Colin Brace Says:

    > Tango is being overanalized by professionals who try to teach
    > what the average person with no training will never accomplish.

    Like Chris above, I think you hit the nail on the head here. Many of the complicated passes look horrible unless executed well, which is beyond the skill of most mere mortals, whereas the basic steps can managed in a short time by just about anyone with a feel for music.

    On a related note, I’ve seen some very good social tango dancers become worse dancers when they start teaching, apparently because they suddenly seem to need to prove something. In particular, I recall a young couple who danced a beautiful quiet salon style when they were just starting, but when they started teaching tango the nefarious influence of Gustavo Naveira. became apparent, much to the detriment of the quality of their social dancing. Gustavitos… it’s like a plague… they’re everywhere.

  7. Michael Says:

    Too many teachers concentrate on what dancers WANT instead of what they NEED. It’s aggravating to go to a classes at a festival and see people in classes way beyond their skill level. Only beginners are willing to accept they are beginners. Everybody else thinks they are advanced.

  8. Chris Says:

    > hen they started teaching tango the nefarious influence of
    > Gustavo Naveira. became apparent, much to the detriment
    > of the quality of their social dancing.

    Doing Gustavo workshops as a woman taught me some very important things. Such as how dramatically his teaching degrades guys’ dancing.

    Doing them as man was useful to. That showed me how Gustavo’s technicalisation inhibits a guy’s sensitivity to such degradation.

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