On Dancing with Teachers

Picture courtesy of www.morguefile.com

Cherie's recent post here: has got me thinking.

I hear about that attitude of entitlement (that a teacher/organizer etc. owes someone a dance) at the milongas so much these days. Is it my imagination, or is it getting worse?   :-/   Community building is hugely important, especially in smaller tango communities - welcoming and engaging new and visiting dancers is crucial.  However, to give the impression that one is owed dances or obligated to dance with certain people can create very uncomfortable situations. According to Javier Rochwarger, and several other teachers I've asked, it's especially harmful to carry that attitude if you to Buenos Aires. As I was told, no one owes you anything at any milonga. 

Dancing with Teachers

Cherie brings up another point that I've been having trouble with lately. I very rarely look for dances from teachers, especially my own current teachers, during milongas. In fact, I'm not sure if I should admit this, but I avoid it. Much of the time when I do end up dancing with teachers, especially visiting teachers, the entire tanda feels as though I'm being evaluated - as if taking some kind of test. 

There are little sighs, tsk tsk's, clearing of the throat, or worse - outright corrections on the pista. I'm dancing socially at the milonga, if I want correction, I'll sign up for lessons - or we can talk about things like that in the next class/lesson (if I'm a current student). There have been exceptions of course - one of my first teachers here in Austin always feels relaxed and in the moment when he dances. He has since the first time I danced with him. There's no trace of ego or judgment in his embrace. And often, when I am no longer a student, a teacher will relax when he asks me to dance purely socially, and dance with me without a hint of appraisal. (To clarify, I do dance with some teachers who seem perfectly capable of dancing socially with me - or at least doing a very good job of hiding it, if they are in evaluation-mode. It tends to be the exception however, not the rule.

I understand the usefulness of a teacher dancing with his or her students in the milonga to check their progress - but I admit I hate the feeling of being "checked on." I know when I'm being evaluated and I can't relax. If you would not really care to dance with me socially if I were not your student, it really is ok not to invite me to dance at the milonga. I want to dance with partners who want to dance with me - not those who feel somehow obligated to take me for a spin. 

When I walk into any milonga, I do it with the understanding that no one owes me anything. I work hard on my dance, and I think what I offer in my embrace has value. If I expected people to dance with me because they were "supposed to" for whatever reason, then how can I feel any sense of value in my dance?

I'm really torn on the issue. Is it appropriate to ask a teacher to turn his or her 'teacher mode' off when they dance socially - even with their students? Is it unrealistic?

Is it appropriate to expect a teacher who is at a milonga dancing socially to dance with you in order gauge how you're doing?

How do you feel about dancing socially with teachers?


Jane Prusakova said...

I feel that teachers, especially visiting teachers, should dance with the students in the milonga - because it's part of the workshop/festival experience. Part of the value a teacher brings to a community is a few [hopefully] spectacular tandas for those who rarely get to dance with excellent (meaning well-learnt) dancers, or simply someone with a different style.

However, no part of the milonga is about teaching or being evaluated. The teacher is there to encourage good dancing, provide moral support to those who may be do not get to dance as often as they'd like, and to get to know the community.

David Phillips said...

How nice if there were neither expectation nor obligation, but if teacher felt willing and student was desirous, then they could dance. Likewise, I've had the feelings of being evaluated, and the ensuing performance anxiety, but it wasn't only or even mostly with teachers! The most wonderful, delightful partners are the ones that envelope me in a sense of calm, security, and serenity, letting me feel that whatever happens, no matter the skill or flash, that it's going to be a pleasant, satisfying experience for them.

Infinite Tango said...

Jane - I mostly agree, but not completely. Ideally (and this is really a fool's errand to even suggest) there should be enough practicas where teachers can (and should) dance with students and provide feedback (or not). I can tell you after hosting teachers, all day in workshops, on your feet, working your butt off, doesn't leave much energy for dancing - certainly at the level and comfort they would like to dance.

I think a distinction needs to be made between what is appropriate for a social milonga and a practica. Again this is only my opinion, but I believe that no one should feel an obligation to dance with anyone, or at all, at a milonga. Obligation dances happen all the time and people do it all the time - but that really changes how many people enjoy the milonga. I know leaders who are afraid of being berated at the next milonga if they don't dance with certain women, or with the new beginners etc. Building a community is important and anti-social behavior certainly doesn't further the community. But it is a person's right not to dance if they don't want to - without having to explain it. Just my (rather more than) two cents.

Infinite Tango said...

David - I agree, I've gotten the sighs, and tsk tsk's and evaluating feelings from all kinds of dancers - not just teachers. And there are a few teachers that are wonderful about tuning into their students and relaxing completely during milongas - with no feeling of judgment.

Being enveloped in that sense of calm, security and serenity is the greatest gift of the embrace.

See you on the pista, tanguero!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you, Mari, about the idea of obligation. I think there is a lot of value in having visiting teachers, especially if they are excellent dancers, at local milongas in the places where they are teaching. From my perspective as someone trying to start out as a visiting teacher, for one thing, it's nice to be able to watch your students dancing socially, enjoy the music, greet and talk to people (students aren't just numbers to us, you know, they are people and sometimes friends). It's also lovely to dance with the better local dancers -- for pleasure. From the perspective of a local student, if your scene is very small, with few good dancers, the teacher, if they are dancing for pleasure with a good partner, can be an excellent and very important model, if they are a good dancer. They can demonstrate the standard of dancing people might aspire to. They can show how to interpret the music, etc. Again, from the perspective of the teacher: teaching can be tiring and it is not usually enormously well remunerated (my students are almost always far weathier than I am). If you make it obligatory for teachers to dance with their students at the local milongas, but do not pay them for doing so, then, well, they simply will not go to the local milongas. And I for one think that would be a great shame and I find really good dancing very inspirational.

Now, as for evaluating or teaching someone with whom you are dancing socially, that should *never* happen. There should be no teaching on the dance floor (whether or not you are an official teacher). The only exception is if you are in physical pain and need to ask the person to adjust something because they are hurting or at risk of injuring you. And no tsk-tsking, making sour faces, etc. either. That's not good behaviour in anyone. It is possible, however, that the teachers aren't really evaluating you on the floor socially, but that it is partly your own imagination, in some cases.

Infinite Tango said...

tangoaddiction - exactly - you said it so much better than I did.

Joy in Motion said...

I think instructors are so often treated a particular way, or feel they are under certain expectations, so they often assume that mindset even when it's not warranted. In other words, they start assuming such attitudes in all situations and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I was once cabeceo'd for the first time by a very well-known visiting instructor. We took the embrace about two-thirds of the way through the first song, and he immediately was off and running without sensing how I was embracing and moving or how I was feeling the music. It was quite startling. Although he is a very elegant dancer and very musical and comfortable, the remainder of the tanda felt pretty rigid and uncomfortable because he continued to dance as he'd started: presumptuous, without sensing, responding, or listening to me (i.e., dancing at me, not with me). It was pretty obvious to both of us that I felt uncomfortable and even a bit shaky. At the end of the tanda, he made a comment to the effect that he could tell I was nervous, with the implication that I was nervous to be dancing with him because of his status as an instructor. Obviously I didn't tell him that it was mostly, if not fully, because of the attitude he had brought to the dance.

I should emphasize that this instructor is a wonderful person and dancer, and I have enjoyed multiple tandas and conversations with him since then. But I still remember that first encounter and how presumptuous he was in both his dancing and his evaluation of others' perceptions of himself. I think there's a lot of psychology and reverse psychology involved for both teachers and students. It can be tough to keep the nuances and not just the generalizations.

tangocherie said...

I hope my blog post didn't give the wrong impression that Ruben is critiquing students he's dancing with at milongas.

I wrote that he likes to dance with current students, as do I, to check out how they are dancing in a milonga situation. It's part of their tango education, as are the codigos, floorcraft and the music that we also teach. I'm talking about current students who are presently taking classes. It's not a teaching moment on the floor, but something for Ruben and I to reflect upon at their next lesson so we can help them improve.

BTW, some people who are not current students want the free feedback!