Friday, September 23, 2016

Give That Dancer A Ticket!

Many Argentine Tango teachers start beginners off with the so-called 8 count basic - the leader steps back, side, forward to the cross, then a forward-side resolution. Most of my students know how I feel about that.

The 8 count basic starts with two extremely disruptive, often socially unacceptable moves - a back step against the line of dance, followed by a side step toward the center of the room. Neither step is intrinsically wrong. But both can be very wrong in certain contexts.

 Consider that side step. When dancing Tango, I often think in terms of a traffic lane. When you are dancing Tango in a large open uncrowded space, your lane is quite wide, and you can comfortably step to the side without leaving your lane. However, on a very crowded floor the lanes are very narrow. The only way to take a side step without leaving your lane is to take it along the line of dance.

 It is like the difference between moving into the left lane on a divided highway, and moving into the left lane on a crowded 2 lane city street. The first is both common and exceptable. The second will get you a ticket.

 Ditto back steps. Example: if you are driving down a deserted country road and you miss your turn there is no problem with stopping, backing up, and making your turn. But if you did it on a crowded city street you would get a ticket. Same with back steps in Tango. The more crowded the floor the less acceptable they are.

Side and back steps are a part of tango. Everyone uses them. If the floor is crowded we use them carefully, sparingly, with great awareness for those around us, and keep them very small. If the floor is packed like a subway car at rush hour we cannot safely use them at all.

 There are no Tango police handing out traffic tickets for dangerous navigation at a milonga, thank goodness. So we must police ourselves, dancing with courtesy, care, and consideration.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

How to Choose a Tango Teacher

Disclaimer: I am a tango teacher. I think I am a pretty good one. Over 30 years of dancing Tango, I have taken classes from many excellent teachers, and from teachers that did not impress me. Over the years I have tried to incorporate teaching techniques from the best teachers, while avoiding the worst mistakes. So here is what I look for in a Tango teacher.

 How well do their students dance? Equally important, DO their students dance? This is the first thing I look for. Go to a milonga. Watch the dancing. When you see a good dancer, ask where they learned their Tango, and what local teachers they recommend.

 Once you have some recommendations, it is time to check out a class or two. Here are some things I look for.

 Does the teacher talk for most of the class? Find another teacher. Students learn by dancing. If the students are not dancing for more that half the class time, go elsewhere.

 How clearly does the teacher explain things? This is very subjective. Can YOU understand the concepts the teacher is trying to impart?

 How is the class pacing? Does the teacher spend enough time covering a topic before moving on? Do you feel overwhelmed with material? Conversely, does the class drag to the point where you are frustrated and bored? Again, this is subjective. Students learn at different rates, and teachers have to try to accommodate multiple learning speeds. So look for a teacher whose pacing works for you.

 Can the teacher lead and follow equally well? If not, they cannot teach each part equally well.

 Do you like the teacher? In the long run this is very important. I have taken some excellent weekend workshops from teachers whose personalities rub me the wrong way. But over time personality conflicts do matter.

 Do your research. If you are lucky you either live in a community where you have multiple choices, or the local teacher is a good fit. But do not hesitate to travel reasonable distances to find a good teacher, rather than settling for someone who doesn't work for you.S

Saturday, September 10, 2016

It's OK To Be Average

At any milonga there are always a few dancers that catch everyone's attention. Their dancing is superb; their lead and follow is effortless; their musicality is outstanding.

 And then there is everyone else. They are the dancers whose style is not particularly noteworthy, whose lead and follow is adequate, and whose musicality at least shows that they are listening to the music.

 It is not necessary to be the best. It is not even necessary to be the best you can be. It is OK to be average. Most people are. I would much rather dance with an average dancer who is seriously into sharing the experience than a superb dancer who is seriously into his own dancing.

 It is OK to love Argentine Tango without being fanatic about it. Passion is intoxicating, it is true - and Argentine Tango can certainly inspire intense passion. But it is also Ok to merely enjoy Tango. It is OK to dance Tango without spending all your excess hours and dollars on Tango classes and lessons. It is OK to relax, be yourself, and enjoy interpreting the music in the arms of a congenial partner, without feeling inadequate because you are not one of the best dancers on the floor.

 A very wise Tango dancer once said "Competitive Tango makes as much sense as competitive kissing". Striving to be the best at Tango is kind of like striving to be the best at sex - or meditation. There is always more to learn, but if you allow what you do not know or cannot do to spoil the pleasure of the moment, you have missed the point.

 Once you have learned the basics of floor-craft, and how to lead and follow comfortably, you have all you need. Two average dancers can love the dance together just as well as the best dancers on the floor.

 So dance your own Tango, based upon your own desire, ability, and resources. It is your Tango. Enjoy.