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August 25, 2009

Shopping for teachers

As any Tango community slowly matures, inevitably more and more people will decide to join the teaching ranks. Consequently it can get very confusing for new-comers wanting to take up Tango. How can they choose who to learn from?

Under the circumstances, a commonly cited advice is to “watch how the teachers dance”. While this is not too bad, I feel that it is insufficient. Firstly, the correlation between dancing skills with teaching/analytical ability is not always guaranteed. Secondly, to the untrained eye, as long as someone seems to be able to move with some degree of confidence (even if he is throwing the partner around, or she is back-leading her partner), everything seems well. Or is it?? 😉

The following list, perhaps not exhaustive, is how I usually advise a new-comer when I am asked the question. For simplicity, I will assume the teachers always teach as a couple. By the way, obviously this list implicitly excludes anyone who starts teaching after having learnt for a year or so, no matter how “good” he/she seems – unless we are talking about very young communities of less than 1-2 years old.

  • Milonga/social situations:
    1. Are they able to “walk the talk”? That is, can they dance what they are teaching?
    2. Are they constantly lecturing their own students or others on the floor?
    3. Do they take care of their partners (especially the newer people) and adjust the style/approach accordingly?
    4. Do they socialise/dance with people other than their own students?
  • Track record:
    1. Who are their students and how well can they dance?
    2. Can their students from beginners classes walk “naturally” after 1 month of classes? See here for my earlier thoughts on how long it takes for a person to at least experience and enjoy dancing at a milonga.
    3. Are the teachers themselves still learning and improving? Naturally it is something of a worry if they have remained stagnant and make no progress for years.
    4. Are they well respected in the community? Opinions of leaders/followers who have been in the community for 3-4 years are always more useful than those who have just completed the beginners classes.
    5. Is there enough time spent in class to practise what has been taught?

Finally, if more than 50% of the time during a beginner class is spent being lectured to (excluding Q&A which is at least 2-way communication), then it’s definitely time to look for another teacher! As one of my favourite teachers has said in one class, “to dance, we need to move.” This is even more true for beginners!

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