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May 14, 2008


How long for newbies

Got into a conversation recently lamenting the fact there it’s very difficult to bring in new people – and guys in particular – to our Tango community. One of the main point, it seems, is that Tango, when compared with, say, salsa, is a difficult dance and so people drop out because of the lack of “instant gratification”. That is, people tend to drop out because it takes too long for them to reach a level where they can enjoy Tango!? A gross generalisation, perhaps, but there is probably some element of truth in there? Perhaps it is happening right in your community?

To a certain extent I’d have to agree with the assessment above. However, since people join Tango for various reasons, with pursuit of excellence being but one of many, I believe it is also fair to say that most people during their initial brush with Tango just want to have fun, and preferably with like-minded people. In fact, in my opinion, it is rather the exception to find people who are very serious and dedicated from the word go, except perhaps for people from competitive dance background, e.g. ballroom/dancesport.

From personal experience of having conducted a number of beginners classes, it is clear that anyone after 6-7 hours of group classes – with or without regular practicas (open practice sessions) – should have sufficient basic technique and the confidence to be able to dance at a not-so-crowded milonga. Naturally, the proportion of these qualities will vary for different individuals.

By the way, I am not denying the fact that Tango is difficult and I agree unreservedly that it will take considerably longer time to develop into a good dancer. However, there is a big difference in terms of experience and dedication between being a good dancer and someone with basic skills to be able to dance. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it’s not that difficult to bring many total beginners to the point where they can walk to the music, and perhaps do a few things so that they don’t feel they are “just taking up space on the dance floor”. 🙂

Stiff. Yes. Unnatural. Perhaps? But haven’t we all been there, done that, before?

I believe the important thing for the new-comers is to be equipped with the knowledge of how to look after your partner, either as a leader or follower, to have the desire/confidence to go out, experiment and have some fun. For a small community like right here in Singapore, the piece of the puzzle is for the seniors to providing a welcoming and encouraging atmosphere. After all, unlike many cities in Europe or USA, we really don’t have the luxury of being too “choosy”. Well, or we do so at the detriment of our own community. Ultimately, it starts with an inner confidence to venture out of classroom situation. And I believe this is largely the responsibility of teachers.

So, teachers, if you are students are not able to dance at a milonga after a month of two of classes, perhaps it’s time to review your teaching methods? 😉

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  1. May 15 2008

    Tom Stermitz, a well-respected teacher in US, had this to say about gender imbalance in Tango recently (2006, Tango-L):

    “Women have multiple ways to become excited about tango, and in N. America women are more likely to have danced as children. A beginner woman can get a pretty amazing dance from an advanced leader, so she is more likely to see the rewards of sticking it out.

    It is difficult to create the equivalent for the man.

    Performance anxiety, in terms of social success and in getting her to do the dance steps, is probably the biggest obstacle for the men…”

    Retention of the guys happens if the teacher can create the following learning experience: At the end of a one hour class, most of the guys can walk their partner through a dance at a regular milonga. They are still beginners, but they can manage (feel they are in control of) their simple vocabulary, they aren’t running into people or stopping in confusion, and they feel like they are “almost” dancing. Notice it is about whether they FEEL successful.”

    Then he went to describe some strategies than he had personally put to practice. Seems to complement very well the sentiments I expressed above.

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