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October 23, 2007

Teaching of Tango

Almost any Tango teacher worth his salt – be they of the “resident” variety or the travelling maestros – would have (or should have) struggled with these questions at some point in his teaching career: What do I teach to the students? And in what order should I present what I know?

It goes without saying that considerations for a resident teacher who may (or may not) choose to take on the responsibility of helping a community to grow, i.e starting from raw beginners, will be different from the “hit-and-run” strategies of visiting masters, who may be in town for a weekend or two for a festival or intensive workshops.

Surprisingly, any discussions on this important topic on Tango-L always seem to lead to heated arguments. Invariably there will be two extreme camps of opinions: one that advocates minimal teaching and to learn simply by dancing, while the other extreme is to stick to a well-structured Tango syllabus. Of course there are also many shades between these two extremes.

Well, here are some examples of Tango syllabi after a bit of Googling:

  1. Tango discovery approach
  2. Syllabus at Elmundo, San Diego, which apparently is related to this DVD series. This divides the skill levels into various labels but the use of ballroom terminology seems to attract a fair bit of criticism which I feel is rather unfair.
  3. Tango Singapore’s ambitious Learner’s Tango journey, which is vision of how a rank a beginner can be brought to instructor level in a little more than 3 years.

To me, it seems less critical which syllabus to follow. As Tom mentioned here on the Tango-L: “I would judge the success of a curriculum on whether it sent students out into the community (or festivals or Buenos Aires) with the ability to dance.”, which I whole-heartedly agree. I believe also having a ideology of community building is also an important aspect for any “good” syllabus. Or is this too idealistic? Naturally, the instructors should share a similar vision and have the right technical level.

As for me, I am very much in favour of the modular approach. Start with a generalist sessions that give students basic skills of navigation on the dance floor, then drill down into specifics (be it by musical or technical categories) by focusing on particular techniques. From personal experience, learning is not a linear process. In fact, there is a danger of being deluded by a rigid syllabus, especially for the converts coming from a ballroom background.

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