Teacher is not always right

My thanks to Arlenes tango for her comment inspiring this blog.

I have always been a natural cynic, this makes me very inquisitive, but an absolute pain for any teachers. As a child (and later as a student) I drove teachers wild, because I never took anything they said on face value.

I had a maths teacher who never “taught” us anything. What he did do was prove things mathematically; as a consequence maths became my favourite subject after science.

So when it comes now to dance teachers, I weigh up what one teacher teaches against what others teach but never do I just accept.

As I have often said Sharon is a great teacher, but it is not necessary for her to be the best tango dancer in the world. I make no slight on her dancing here as I will explain later. You see the two are not mutually exclusive, the ability to get people to dance is not confined to those who themselves are great dancers.

Back to Sharon, there are things she teaches that conflict with my views. I would never interfere with her class this would be rude, crass, and quite pointless. She runs the class and as I have often said I have no desire to run classes, but every class I have ever been to for tango, teaches something different.

So how then do we decide what is right and what is not? Well my view is that in the end we all dance our own tango. We develop a style that is uniquely our own.

Take simply the mans left arm: The hand should be halfway between the couple, at the woman’s shoulder height and turned as if offering a mirror for the woman to look into. Now go to any milonga, and I challenge you to find more than one or two who have this perfect arm. Now the right arm should be at bra strap height but how far around depends on who taught you and whether you dance milonguero, cayengue, or nuevo, it’s a minefield.

So if nobody does it right, are they all rubbish dancers? Where do you go to escape the confusion?

In England and I think Europe in general, we talk of inviting the woman. We offer a lead and she chooses to take it. In Argentina we hold the woman in a vice like grip, the man turns his body the woman has no choice but to turn hers likewise, there is no uncertainty, no room to decide she will do her own thing.

I believe this offers less of a problem for women no room for confusion, but here in the UK women shy away from this closeness. This leaves teachers with a problem; do you teach traditional tango, as it should be and frighten off these more reserved women who like their own space? Or do you modify tango and at least get the British women dancing?

Whatever classes we attend, we bring much of ourselves to the classroom. No teacher is perfect (and this is what I meant earlier in my comment about Sharon, sorry I meant to infer nothing about the quality of your dancing) they cannot know everything, so they invite you to learn, you learn from what you do in the class, what you later practice, and from what you already knew.

When we teach, that is also from what our own experience has shown us. Rarely have I taken a class, I prefer small groups, better still one to one. This allows me to use techniques that simply would not work in a class. So I may say things which seem to contradict what Sharon has said. One should never take the words of one teacher and use them against another; of course if a conflict seems to appear clarity should be sought. What one should never do is take the words of one teacher into another’s class and try to teach one of their students.

While the teacher may not always be right, it is their class, and the right time to question is when they ask “any questions?” As I have said tango itself is not perfect, you will learn your own way.

Take what you can from the class, learn, practice, go to workshops, but in the end you must be your own tango dancer.

 Please comment, I would love to know what you think.



Filed under Tango

3 responses to “Teacher is not always right

  1. I had a maths teacher who never “taught” us anything. What he did do was prove things mathematically

    There’s teaching as in facilitating learning.

    Then there’s “teaching” as in instructing people what to do…

  2. tangobob

    Thanks Janis almost a post in itself. I would comment on one thing though: here in the UK it is difficult for teachers to regularly attend BsAs milongas, but I think that they should have been at least once.
    A story I often tell is of two teachers from the North of England, they dance here with an arrogance that says “if you cannot do all these wonderful things I do then you are not good enough” On their only trip to Argentina I was lucky enough to be in Niño Buen when they arrived, they looked totally bemused and were unable to dance. You see, the locals were not intimidated and simply refused to allow them room to do all their fancy kicks an flicks. Needless to say they have never been back, though they still think they are too good for the rest of us. Hey ho.

  3. jantango


    You really put your heart into this post, so I’ll share some thoughts as a teacher myself.

    A teacher provides instruction, but it’s up to each student to learn. Each learns differently and progresses at their own pace.

    I agree that a teacher doesn’t have to be a great dancer, however, they should be going dancing in milongas which isn’t the case for most teachers in BsAs who earn their livelihood from tango. The more experience a teacher has on the floor of a milonga, the better. One can’t teach what one hasn’t experienced. The codes are being left by the wayside and step sequences receive priority.

    There are many tango teachers in all part of the world who have never been to a milonga in BsAs. Students deserve the benefit of their teacher’s experience so they can get more than just steps in classes.

    I accept that it’s the man’s job to listen to the music, guide his partner while protecting her on the floor, and provide an embrace for her to feel safe to enjoy the dance. The embrace is firm with chest-to-chest and cheek-to-cheek contact for connection. If a woman wants to do her own thing, she can always try swing where partners are separated. The pleasure in tango comes from two becoming one in the music. I don’t know another partner dance where this occurs.

Please comment, I love to hear your views.

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