Well, that's not true, but it got your attention, and maybe you are a Tango teacher. There are some good teachers of Tango, there are a lot of teachers who would be good if they thought some more about what the students are experiencing. That's what this writeup is about, a students' view of your Tango lesson.

Here is a simple methodology for teaching physical activity, such as a Tango figure, that usually works well*:

  1. Demonstration
  2. Explanation
  3. Imitation

I realize that this is going to sound rather prescriptive, coming from a mere learner, but we need a context to discuss the Tango lesson. I don't suggest that this is the only methodology, or the best methodology, it is mainly a framework for discussion, which includes three of the elements basic to any dance lesson.

Demonstration

First demonstrate the figure:

  1. with music, at the normal rhythm so we know what it should look like eventually; then
  2. without music, slowly; then
  3. with music but dancing at half the rhythm, if possible.

Do not talk during the demonstration, the chance to explain comes in the next part of the lesson, Explanation.

Demonstrate the complete figure without interruption.

At the end of the demonstration, we want to have a vision of what we are aiming to do, and how complex it is, so...

  • PLEASE DO NOT DEMONSTRATE HOW NOT TO DO IT, EVER ...!!
  • and DO NOT demonstrate any of the variations to the figure, until we are able to do the first most basic variation.

Explanation

Explain the movement, one step at a time. We want to know:

  1. Where is our body weight and where are our feet just before the figure,
  2. Leader: how do I guide my partner into the figure? Follower: how can I tell when my partner is starting the figure?
  3. Where do our feet go, where does our body weight go and how are our upper and lower bodies oriented?
  4. How do the steps fit to the cadence of the music?
  5. How to ensure we perform the figure safely.

We DO NOT want to:

  1. see how bad dancers do this: if we do it incorrectly or badly tell us individually in the next part of the lesson, Imitation;
  2. hear your 'philosophy' of Tango and how this figure fits into it, tell us later over a drink.
  3. know the History and Culture of Tango, and where this figure fits into it, make this homework for us to find ourselves.

We are paying to learn how to dance, not about the dance. Time spent not dancing is lost time (and money) for us.

Remember: if the figure involves a turn, we will lose sight of you and will be unsure of the next step.

Imitation

When you are satisfied that we understand what you have shown us, let us try it ourselves. We will try to perform the figure from our memory of what you demonstrated. The longer the time between your demonstration and our attempt, the more likely it is that we will forget something, or everything. Here are some things that will cause us to forget what you want us to do:

  1. If the last action you demonstrated is what faults to avoid, that is what we will remember best, the faults. So PLEASE DO NOT DEMONSTRATE HOW NOT TO DO IT, EVER ...!!
  2. If you need to find the right track on the CD or in your player by scrolling through your collection and playing parts of each song, we will start thinking about something else while you are doing it. Cue the right track before you teach the figure, or have an assistant start the music.
  3. If a student has a question just before you start the music for our practice, don't leave the rest of us doing nothing, and without music while you give the student a personal answer. Give the answer to the whole class. If it takes more than 30 seconds to answer, demonstrate the figure again before starting our practice.

If you cannot get around to check every couple in time, then either:

  • there are too many students in the class,
  • you are trying to teach too many movements in one lesson, or
  • you need a competent assistant to help.

Why do we dance?

The reasons are varied and complicated, but for most of us the fact that we like the music is central. Yes, we can dance in silence but we will not be dancing without music, the music will be in our head. Any part of a dance lesson without music, including the warm up, just isolates us from what we came here for. Always have the music playing, even if softly in the background while you explain something.

And yes, it's difficult to manage, so use an assistant or invest in a sound system with a remote control so that you can cue the music and change the volume without too much disruption. And you could tell us, just as the music starts, the title and who composed or is performing it.

Warm up

I have never seen dancers doing stretching, relaxing, yoga or other exercises before a ball or milonga, although there are probably some that do. We are going to dance, not train for Olympic judo or run a marathon, so why do we have to have a warm up session at the start of the lesson? Answer: to make our bodies familiar with the movements and positions required by the figure we will learn in the lesson. Any warm up exercise that does not contribute directly to the lesson is a waste of our time and money. How much warm up? Let's say about 5% of the lesson maximum, and only if necessary. In intermediate and advanced classes, it might not be necessary at all.

An assistant

Some (good) teachers of Tango invite one or two experienced dancers to join the class. There are many dancers who are happy help you, if it does not cost them anything but their time. Here are some ways an assistant can help:

  • Dance with the students who have no partner.
  • Dance with students whose partner is having difficulty, while the instructor helps the partner.
  • Cue the correct music, when it is required.
  • Be a rear side demonstrator, when the figure requires the students to turn and lose sight of the instructor.

Tips for assistants

  • Make sure you can do the figures being taught, before the lesson starts, and make sure you do them in the same way as the instructor.
  • Cheerfully dance with whomever the instructor asks you. It will often be with the students having the most difficulty, but you are an experienced dancer so just dancing correctly will help the student. If you are cheerful and encouraging, the student will be motivated to continue taking lessons.
  • Remember that you are not the instructor, if a student has a question, get the instructor to answer it. Always have one eye and ear on the instructor, stop dancing whenever the instructor addresses the whole class.
  • An important point, which may have escaped your attention up to now is: DO NOT DEMONSTRATE HOW NOT TO DO IT, EVER ...!!

Change of partner

Were you ever a beginner, in a class full of people you did not know? What did you do when the instructor said, just as the music was starting for a practice "change partners"?

  • Did you make a dive for the best-looking partner?
  • Did you look for the least able partner so you wouldn't be embarrassed by your own mistakes.
  • Did you have to scan the floor to find a partner you had not danced with?
  • Did you miss out every time because there was not a balance between leaders and followers?
  • Did you become stressed in trying to decide which of the above would be best?
  • Did you... did you... did you...

Teachers, you can lecture and harangue all you want about how we need to dance with others, I'm sorry but it is too stressful to choose a different partner when we are trying to remember what you have just demonstrated! If you want us to change partners, YOU tell us who to dance with, then it will work. Even then some couples will not want to change because they only ever want to dance with each other, is that a crime? Please don't embarrass them by insisting.

Some weird DO NOTs

These are collected from classes attended by myself and some fellow students. To most experienced teachers, they are obviously things to avoid, but they really did happen!

  • Do not eat during the class.
  • Do not have conversations with people who are not in the class.
  • Do not spend long minutes we have paid for in making administrative announcements about the next lesson, next year's program, and so on.
  • Yes, it is important to learn how to walk correctly with proper posture but do not make us spend a year doing only this. We came to Tango for pleasure, not to be bored.
  • Sometimes, we get it right. Tell us when that happens, do not speak to us only to correct faults because we will begin to think we can do nothing right, and give up.
  • As we practice, circulate and give advice to each couple, don't pop out for a cigarette or a quick phone call.
  • Do not schedule two consecutive classes without a gap of at least 5 minutes between them, either one or both classes will miss out on some class time.

I know teachers who watch with great satisfaction and even pride when they see their students from a year or more ago dancing at a ball or in a milonga. What a great gift for a teacher to give, a lifelong enjoyment of dancing Tango. Just as we under-value the teachers who taught us share toys, wash our hands after using the bathroom or do differential calculus, we also under-value our Tango teachers.

Be a good teacher, be a good teacher of Tango.


*Disclosure: The "Demonstration, Explanation, Imitation" methodology comes from another field, teaching parade drill in the army. "Oh bof!" you might be thinking, not the military. But there are similarities between drill and dance: they both involve a series of body movements, done in synchronisation with other people and with music. So there!

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