Choosing a Teacher: Part 2 - Some Guidelines

The How-to for Choosing a Teacher

Disclaimer - I am not claiming to be an expert about anything. This article is the result of several conversations with students and teachers in my own tango community and other communities around the US, and the world. This advice is subjective, most likely biased and certainly incomplete.

Research the local teachers: I'm not just talking about asking around - because sometimes that yields good results and sometimes not. You have to do both. Do your homework. How long has this teacher been teaching Argentine tango? How about dancing tango? From which teachers or tango maestros did they learn? Do they go to workshops and festivals themselves? Do they bring in visiting teachers? There is no strict guideline of how many years a teacher has been teaching to be good - or how often (or even if) they go to Buenos Aires, or that sort of thing. What's important is that the information is readily available and/or their comfortable answering your questions - in detail.

Watch them dance at milongas: Do you like how they dance? Does it appear that their partners like it? Are they respectful? Do they even go to milongas? If they go to other milongas do they interact with the community or only visit with/dance with students from their own classes, or only go to their own milongas?

Observe their involvement in their community: This is extra-big-double-hugely important to me. Teachers build the community. Whether we like it or not, they create dancers and communities in their own image. Are they active with other teachers/dancers/festivals/charities? Do they make an effort to collaborate with other teachers and organizers when scheduling events to avoid conflicts. (This isn't always possible, but it is a sign of good will.) Do they focus on building tango in their community as well as their own business? In other words, do they give tango a good name or do they only promote their studio and classes?

Context: Are they teaching not just the dance, but the music? Do they give background of the styles, the culture, the environment of the tango? It's possible to learn tango without knowing about the history. But I do think it is a huge disservice to students to teach something as rich as tango outside of the context in which it was born. Is what's being taught appropriate to lead (or follow) in a milonga?

Class Content: This is something you'll have to find out from other students or simply observe in a class.
Do the teachers educate their students about:
- different styles of tango (salon, milonguero, nuevo etc.),
- floor craft,
- milonga codes (codigos),
- musicality in tango, vals, milonga and different orchestras through the tango decades,
Do they emphasize connection, musicality, authentic leading/following rather than memorizing patterns and steps?

Milonga traditions: If they host milongas, do they follow milongo structure with tandas, cortinas, etc.


Anonymous said...

"Do they emphasize connection, musicality, authentic leading/following rather than memorizing patterns and steps?"

With that on your list, you'll have to knock out most Argentine teachers, who tend to teach by rote pattern in my experience (confirmed yet again most recently in Portland).

Sorry for the anon post- can't get Firefox or IE to post any other way here now.


Mari said...

Bastet - unfortunately that's true from what I hear. :( On a similar topic, have you seen Working Artist's topic on teachers Morticia and Igor?

Anonymous said...

yes- saw that and thought it was funny. Would have gone down as a hoot at Tangofest. 4" heels were in abundance.

On another note, just to give you a different perspective...the part you have about community involvement...most tango communities seem to have plenty of polical undercurrent that closely resembles high school popularity contests, IMO. It's one reason I don't go out much, personally. I have seen first hand how some people who have taught or do teach are perhaps subtley, yet consistently backhanded and ostracized by local tango "elite", and if you aren't on the "A"-list, well... you can figure where that leads. So I'm just saying that what you may see or be inferring in your own local community, may not be the real story, or there may be reasons you don't understand or know why some people don't particpate (including teachers) and though you are certainly at liberty to make a judgement, you may only be making it based on limited information and there may be other dynamics invloved on the community side rather than the instructor side, or both (have seen that also)...just a thought. Not every one (including teachers or community is always as lovey-dovey about tango- it's just a fact, unfortunate though it is).


Mari said...

Bastet - since I published these on Tango Connections a week ago I've been flooded with emails from dancers, teachers and organizers all over the country who have been politically sidelined by members of their local tango community - from nebulous attempts at discouraging competition to outright sabotaging other teachers' efforts. It's definitely been enlightening - but also truly disheartening in some cases.

Regarding the community involvement issue, there are two things I should have clarified. First, I'm not talking so much about visible ways teachers and organizers plan events etc. in their communities - so much as the personal ways they reach out to students and the people around them - and, most importantly, the example they set for their students. Most of the time no one else even knows this is going on.

From what I know of your students, I know you've done wonderful things for your dancers, and those stories do get shared in the community. You both set excellent examples - and your students model that every time I see them at milongas, classes and practicas.

The second thing is my opinion isn't based in the tango community perspective specifically, but from a business perspective generally. Community involvement, in whatever way it can be achieved, either within the tango community or outside of it, is of course, valuable for business. I think I wrote the post with too narrow a focus there.

It's not that I feel that some teachers aren't doing enough to be involved - but that many are being actively discouraged, as you said, from doing so (usually by the "elite" teachers that you mentioned). I was actually referring more to those teachers that are most visible, needing to be open to collaborating with other teachers and organizations. That focus gets a bit lost in my ranting. :/

You're right, tango may be openness and connection and lovey-dovey - but business certainly may not be. I'm getting quite the education on that lately.

Anonymous said...

well said, I think. - bastet