After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.
Monday, September 27, 2010
How to Choose a Teacher for Private Tango Lessons
This question goes around the net from blog to travel site to personal emails to internet mailing lists. As a teacher myself of social milonguero-style tango, here's what I think:
1) Do a little research and know what syle of tango you want to learn, and then if the teacher in question teaches that style. For example, if you want to learn tango nuevo, find a teacher who is known for that. Ot social tango as it is danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Or stage tango. Or whatever. Be sure to know before you start if the fit is right for your goals. If your aim is to be a capable social dancer, then a stage tango star is not the best teacher for you.
2) If you want to learn social Argentine tango, it's usually not a good idea to select a teacher at a ballroom studio who teaches other ballroom styles as well.
3) Watch the person dance and decide if you like what you see or not. Is he/she musical? Elegant? Do they have a good embrace and connection?
4) Prospective students often think they need a man teacher if they are a woman, or a woman if they are a man, because they are thinking they must dance together during the lesson. The ideal situation is a teaching couple, so one can dance with the student, while the other watches, and they both correct and contribute to the student's learning. (Remember though that only a man can teach a man how to dance like a man.)
5) Does the teacher play music in class that is actually danced to (not as background)? Does he teach by counting or to dance by feeling the music?
6) Pricing: how long is the private lesson? Is there one teacher or two? Are there extra charges for studio rental, a practice partner, translation?
7) Weekend workshops from traveling teachers are fine, but you need to learn technique and the basics from consistent classes. Especially at the beginning of your tango journey, it can be very confusing to take a couple of classes from many different people who dance different styles. Heel first, toe first, weight on the balls of the feet, pivot or not to pivot, disassociation? One lesson can cancel out another lesson, leaving you all the worse for wear.
After the first lesson or two:
Evaluate--does the teacher act like an arrogant tango god who knows everything? Does he also include some culture and codigos of how tango is danced in Buenos Aires? Does he expect you to dance just like he does (or she does)? Does he teach complicated patterns or the 8 count basic instead of how to improvise? Did he tell you that the basic step of tango is the walk? Does he encourage you to go to milongas?
Here's what British Peter Campbell had to say about his first lesson in Argentine tango:
The 29-year-olds Valeria Sol Alvarez and Sebastian Acosta emerge from their dressing room in full attire, complete with sequins and dark suit, I wonder quite what is in store.
Their opening number is a traditional tango from before the 1930s, but as their legs flick seemingly effortlessly through each others, I ponder how I am going to avoid crippling my partner if I attempt a similar move...Sebastian continually, and graciously, reminds me on which foot I have to start for each sequence...
In the final moves he lifts her right above his head, spinning her round before dropping to the dramatic final pose as the music crashes to a halt. They remain in the final position, bent over each other in passion, for a final few seconds.
Seeing the way that the pair interact, their bodies moving so gracefully and effortlessly across the floor, puts my humble steps greatly to shame.
This kind of experience is liable to put off a prospective student forever!
Above all, after a few lessons you decide that you are not enjoying learning Argentine tango, don't give up! Just find another teacher. There are as many different ways to dance tango as there are people; you dance who you are. So please don't give up on the dance just because you didn't learn or enjoy your first teacher. There are many more out there waiting for you. Just find one that you like and who makes the classes fun. Tango should be a pleasure, and that includes time spent learning it.