When do we stop being beginners? Can we ever stop learning in tango? When do we become advanced enough to teach?
All these questions I am constantly asking, and I am afraid I have yet to come up with a definitive answer. I myself have been dancing tango for more than ten years, nearer fifteen. The fact that I cannot even put an answer on this, I think, shows what a protracted journey it has been for me.
Even after all this time I still feel like a principiante when in the crowded and well organised milongas in Buenos Aires. The porteños have tango in their blood and understand that there is more to this dance than steps, or even the dance itself. They learn the music first, how to move to it comes only with time.
Yet here in the UK, I see people who take six months of classes and then think “I can teach this”, I see ballroom teachers whose only experience of tango is from a book, teaching steps and choreography, and I see DJ’s who think that it is clever to put something on other than tango (after all it is four-four time).
I am moved to write this after comments about people learning steps, who are considered to be no longer beginners. To be more than a beginner you need to immerse yourself in the music, you need to feel the hearts and minds of the greats like D’Arienzo or DiSarli and you need to be acquainted with the milongas of Buenos Aires.
So to me those who learn routines and dance steps will always be beginners. People who learn to dance this way cannot know the joy of a pure improvised tango and until they do they will not understand.
I have seen people who have learned steps come to Buenos Aires and stand confused and unable to move in the milongas. They take a step from their routine and find that they cannot make the next; they find themselves barged and pushed to the centre where they can do less harm. Unless they are prepared to start afresh they will leave disillusioned and look elsewhere for their dancing experience.
While I am happy to teach what I know and pass on my experience, I still lack much of the knowledge needed, even after all this time and as others will tell you, I still have trouble identifying the music.
I see tango watered down all the time, as more and more people come onto the scene, all wanting to make a buck from the new sensation. The only person I know of who ever became rich through tango was Francisco Canaro, and much of that was from cheating his fellow musicians. Nobody is ever going to become rich teaching tango in the UK, the most we can hope is to cover our costs.
To teach tango here for any other reason than the love of it, is cheating yourself and your customers.
The other great “mistake” I see is teaching for its own sake; how often in this country do we get a milonga without a workshop first? We see three or four hour classes with half an hour of practice. To my mind this is all about face, when we go to Buenos Aires we will take maybe one or two classes, but dance three or four hours a night, every night. That is a ratio of about ten to one, hours dancing to hours in class.
You will never become a better dancer by listening to someone talk, the only way to improve you dancing is to dance and dance some more, then go back and just have your dancing fine tuned a little each time, then dance some more, (In the words of one of my dance teachers “Practica, Bob, practica, practica, practica”).
You could, of course, just keep going and learning steps, but then you will be learning something else, not Tango.