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January 12, 2010

The pioneers

A recent dinner conversation gradually led to a discussion about community-wide learning curves in tango.

One of the observations made was that, during the informative years, some communities were simply more fortunate in having good instructors early on. Playing devil’s advocate, I then suggested that perhaps it was not such a bad idea for a community to have gone through the full spectrum of experiencing the “mediocre” as well as the good/excellent instructors!? My rationale was that for the people who managed to discover the appropriate ways of dancing, given their experiences, hopefully they can better relate to the problems that newbies typically face. Naturally this is especially useful if the same experienced dancers end up being local teachers.

We then heard about how an Argentinian instructor, while dancing in North America, remarked that it was difficult to find a good dancer among the “pioneers” (for the North American tango scene). And, as it turns out, It seems that this phenomena is not restricted to North America but is commonly found in Europe as well. It is not unusual to find so-called pioneers as the mediocre (or worse) dancers in the communities (> 10-15 years in age) they helped to kickstart. Oftentimes, people who have started much later, with the benefit of hindsight and better choice of overseas instructors, improve much faster and end up as much better dancers and instructors.

Strange to see this?

This is perhaps not so difficult to understand if we recall that the earliest group instructors out of Buenos Aires during the tango revival in the 1980’s were predominantly stage dancers. They typically taught material more suitable for stage than social dance floor. Some of the early pioneers, for their lack of knowledge and exposure, learnt what they could to the best of their abilities. However, things changed rapidly with a greater influx of instructors from Buenos Aires, increased opportunities to travel to Buenos Aires and of course advent of internet. The main benefactors of this progress is – you guessed it – the late-comers to the tango scene.

Nevertheless, there are obviously some exceptions to the rule. After all, there is a decent number of pioneers in some of the older communities who, apart from being well-respected organisers, are decent dancers/instructors. However, this invariably happens only if these pioneers remain humble and continue to improve and reinvent themselves. The ones who are too proud or too set in their own ways must eventually be overtaken and relegated to a minor role in the community.

Is this true of your community too?

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