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March 24, 2009

“Superlative” teacher

Over at Arlene’s London Tango pages, the following question was asked: “What makes a superlative teacher”? Basically the original questioner wated to know: what makes a superlative tango teacher as opposed to just a good teacher?

My take on this is a little different from the comments that have already been posted. In fact, I was halfway writing a comment for the post when I realised that it was going to be too long, hence this post that you see.

After having learnt from a number of teachers over the years, I am now of the opinion that there are really no absolutes in how “great” a teacher is. For example, someone whom I used to rate highly may be pegged back over time, whereas someone I did not rate so highly a few years may be near the top of my list now.

However, fundamentally and assuming the said teachers are proficient technically and musically, I think that in order to rate a teacher as “good” or “great”, we need to firstly understand a bit better about ourselves, and in particularly in how we learn. I dare say that each of us picks up new skills in slightly different ways: some are very visual, some are auditory, some are analytical (me, for example), whereas others go by “feel” and can’t stand explanations, etc. By knowing ourselves, it becomes easier to find that “great” teacher who can pass on the necessary skills by using approaches that fit in with our temperament. Otherwise, despite good intentions, I fear the learning process will not be able to proceed smoothly.

Secondly, timing. A good teacher who can take a beginner dancer to intermediate level may not be as “great” for a more experienced dancer who is looking for more, e.g. musical expression, dynamic elements. Someone looking for advanced materials may even be seeking succinct comments, instead of the detailed discourses necessary for teaching fundamentals. In other words, for me, suitability of teachers depends also on the level one is at right now. There may be the one or two exceptional teachers who can cover the entire spectrum – and I have met at least one – but I certainly won’t hold my breath on finding many teachers like that. Teachers are also human, so miracles don’t happen every day!

Finally a “great” teacher in my mind does not need to be the best – in terms of being flashy, and mind you, one does not need to do jumps or ganchos, colgadas, etc. to be flashy – dancer around. As long as he/she can consistently help me reach a higher level, that will be fantastic.

So, in summary, these are the basic criteria I’d consider if someone was to ask me to recommend a teacher for him/her.

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