29 August 2016

Vulture season

Yes, I know I shouldn’t teach in the milonga. But the beginners are really grateful when I do.

It’s that time of the year again. The summer holidays are over, and tango season is starting. Beginner’s courses are being held, and into the milongas comes a new crowd of tango students, all eager to learn more about tango and to be included in the community.

Cue the tango vulture.

He's a special kind of bird, the tango vulture. He's dependent on a constantly renewed supplement of fresh tango meat, oops sorry, fresh tango students, because he’s being avoided by any tanguera that has danced for a while. Unwilling to do any improvement work whatsoever on his own tango skills, he gets his daily fill of admiration from those who can’t yet distinguish between an advanced dancer and a long-term beginner.

So how does the tango vulture convince the beginners of his competence? Yes, you guessed correctly. He teaches in the milonga.

(article continues below the image)



This is the deal with teaching in the milonga: It Simply Isn’t Done. It’s impolite and patronising, especially if it’s done to make oneself look good at the expense of another person. Being taught in the milonga is like moving to another country and trying to learn the new language and then being invited to a party, but every time you try to say something, no one will be listening to what you want to tell them. Instead, people will be correcting your grammar and your pronunciation - and they’ll do it openly, so it becomes even more apparent to everybody how little you know. Maybe someone will even take you to another part of the room, away from the conversation, to practice verb conjugation with you.

“Yes, but she asked for it!”

It doesn’t matter what she asked for. She’s new on the scene, she’s eager to learn fast, and maybe her teachers didn’t think of mentioning the difference between a class, a práctica, and a milonga. Yes, she’s wobbly and bandy-legged, but she’s in the milonga to dance, like everybody else. The milonga is a place where everybody should be treated as grown-ups. Yes, I agree that the milonga also is a place with some difficult moral dilemmas. But let’s not make things even more complicated. There are lots of nice guys who dance with the beginners without any hidden agendas, proving that being a gentleman really is super easy.

Here’s how it’s done:

1) Dance with the girl. Keep your leading clean and, above all, free from the creepy ganchos.
2) If she asks about something, say “Everything is fine! Let’s dance and have fun!”, then
3) shut the hell up.

The Argentine tango is one of the most personal and intimate dances that exist. It needs to be based on two things: trust and respect. The beginner girl is putting a lot of confidence in all you leaders when she says yes to dance. What she should get in return is respect. If she does not get that, she’ll notice soon. And then she’ll be moving on.


Since I normally see this happen to followers, this post is voiced accordingly. Sadly, there are follower vultures as well. If you’re a follower vulture, all the above applies to you.

Credit goes to Iona “Terpsi” for the expression “long-term beginner”.

23 August 2016

The jealous tanguer@

“The guys only dance with the new girl. It's so annoying! I have danced for much longer than her.”

Picture this scenario: You are a tanguero or a tanguera who have been dancing for quite a few years. You’re enjoying a bit of admiration from the members of your tango community, and you get to dance with everybody in the local milongas. But one day, you realise that things are changing. New dancers are appearing on the scene - dancers who are becoming popular in your community. Secretly, you feel put in the back seat. Going to the milonga just isn’t as fun as it used to be.

(post continues after the image)



Good news! Great dancers are like vegetables: they’re good for us!

Here are two simple-but-important reasons why every community needs advanced dancers, even if we think they’re better than ourselves. Correction: especially if we think they’re better than ourselves.

- Advanced dancers attract other advanced dancers. While it may take only two to tango, it takes a lot more to make a community. The more good leaders in the local milongas, the more good followers will want to come out and play, and vice versa. And a community with many good dancers will also look way more attractive to the beginners, who we all know are the people we need to create the future of every tango community.

- Advanced dancers can be a great inspiration source. Whenever I have the chance, I’ll watch my favourite social dancers to see how they move and how they interpret the music. It’s a very concrete, constructive way of collecting visual input. Watching the professionals on YouTube is great, but it’s not the same when it’s in 2D on a small screen. Plus performances don’t really give a one-to-one reflection of social dancing. Whereas I do believe that performances also can be inspirational for social dancing, seeing high-level dancing that works in a social context is super valuable!

No challenges means that you can live a comfortable life in your local community. But no challenges also means that you haven’t got anyone around you to inspire you to improve. Of course, there’s always the discussion of whether it actually is necessary to improve. But if you are indeed feeling threatened by good dancers, it’s probably a sign that you DO want to be good. And if you want to be good, you need to work for it. So take all the inspiration you can get!

16 August 2016

First class

“I learn more in a private lesson than in a group class.”

In my previous blog post, I wrote about how we seem to be more interested in social dancing than in workshops (you can read the post here). I’d like to look a bit more at this topic, but from a slightly different angle this time: Why workshops can be just as useful as private lessons.

I guess many of us who live in smaller cities have followed the same learning pattern. In the beginning, we take group classes. After a while, we start taking private lessons instead because we feel that this format gives more value for our money. I also preferred private lessons for a while, but at some point I started taking group classes again. How much I get out a class varies a bit. Some teachers fit better with my way of learning, but generally, I’m noticing that I’m getting more out of each class now compared to earlier. It feels like the more you know, the easier it becomes to collect new information.

(post continues after the image)



So, based on my own experience, I’d like to promote group classes as a worthwhile option. Whereas I do believe that private lessons with good teachers are super useful, there are a number of reasons why taking group classes also may be valuable:

- Learning to learn in a group. You might find this a bit “meta”, but it could actually improve your ability to learn. In group classes, where you get less individual / personal attention, you may need to extract information from the class more actively and independently compared to what you do in a private lesson. This might make you more self-reliant the next time you're in a learning situation, and also when you practice.

- Learning how to work as a couple and how to give each other feedback and help. We all know how difficult this can be: not only understanding our own tasks but also understanding our partner’s, and on top on that handling the frustrations that may occur. But I think that having learnt something together, i.e. having the knowledge of your partner’s job in relation to your own, is very useful to bring with you afterwards, when you’re going to practice what you learnt in class.

- Learning about philosophies and ideas - important aspects that go beyond technique, like leading / following concepts, musicality, floorcraft, or cultural / historical aspects. Sometimes, important things might be said in plenum to one role that the other role also benefits from hearing. Examples could be hearing about the other role, or etiquette (like not teaching in the milonga), or why both roles should know the music. Sometimes, just one sentence can be worth the price of the class!

I’m extremely lucky to have a partner to take classes with and to practice with. I’d like to take the opportunity to give the leaders a friendly push here! There are so many followers who want to improve their dance, but who struggle to motivate the leaders in their community. Guys, get yourself off the sofa and start working. The ladies will thank you, and you’ll even thank yourself because it made you a better dancer.