There seems to be a misapprehension, that I don't like women learning technique. Of course I don't have problems with that! But classes are advertised as women's technique classes which, to judge by the contents, are actually classes in stage tango moves, and it makes me sad to dance with a partner who's taken those classes seriously. We all need technique, but how much technique do we need?
Someone asked me: do I, TC, get to dance with the best partners? If you mean just technically brilliant, no, and I really wouldn't want to. Do you mean musical? Yes, I'm glad to enjoy dancing with partners who are wonderfully musical. Technique, as someone said, is the finger pointing to the moon. Without the finger we won't find the moon, but we won't get to the moon if we think it's the finger.
Chris points out that the average milonguero has never taken a technique class in his/her life, and maintains that we should learn in the old way. But just how far can we copy the learning methods of the dancers who were teenagers in the 1940s and 50s? Or do learning methods need to be reinvented?
As MsH in her very clear post on Technique says, lifestyles have changed. We're talking about teenagers or people in their early 20s learning and dancing in a society where people often started work around the age of 14, and were out and about, and not sitting at desks in school. A world where there were no computers or TV to slouch in front of, or perhaps the leisure to slouch, where people most likely walked a lot more. It was a society where childen grew up with tango on the radio, and watched their parents dancing, and where they might start to learn around the age of 11, if not earlier. By the time they were 18, and close embrace milongas were the big thing, they were out dancing all night. That music and those songs have been the background to their whole lives. (I've been watching the interviews on Practimilonguero.)
Is that our world? It's certainly not mine (regrettably!) They didn't go to lessons, but did they need to? With the good basic posture, the strong ankles and good balance, the supple waist and lower back and the effortless co-ordination and quick eye of youth, growing up with the music and the dance, and with real passion and endless energy for the dance and lifestyle, did they really need classes? No! But I don't think that means therefore we don't need classes: I don't think the way they learned is an option for us. It would be great, but sadly it's just not possible. If we want to dance the way they danced we need to pick out what they had going for them, the essentials, and work to replicate or recreate them.
& how gifted, technically, are those now-old milongueras and milongueros? Do we think of them as marvellous technicians? Do you notice technique when you dance with them or watch them? So why does everyone enjoy dancing with them? Because they can dance! They have a sense of the music and movement that is truly remarkable. I think of technique as one of those things you don't notice if it's good: you notice bad technique, or lack of technique, or even too much technique. Technique shouldn't intrude.
A good leader can take any partner and get her to dance, but she won't necessarily be a partner he'll invite to dance week after week, not unless she does some serious hours of work. For example, when walking she's probably going to step backwards, rather than reaching back, and reaching back is a technique that has to be learned. Moreover, reaching back requires suppleness of the lower back, which may be lacking in anyone over the age of 25, or who has had lower back injury. If basic posture is poor, the head will be too far forwards and the chest back, which leads to poor balance in turns. There's nothing instinctive about leading a back ocho. And so on. We need to learn and practice these things.
So class work is needed and also, very often, work on posture and ankle strength to improve balance. & it seems to be generally accepted, and largely ignored, that guys are going to lead better if they learn by being led in the first place. Classes are necessary, but classes focused on good social dance – and they do exist in the UK, even if they are in a minority. And of course classes aren't everything, classes are just the beginning. You don't learn tango by going to a few classes: I don't see how you can dance tango without making what you've learned your own on the floor, by dancing lots and lots to all the songs by all the different orquestas, and with many different partners. 'You don't learn tango: you develop your own tango'. You develop tango, and you develop musicality.
Of course, some people watch stage tango and see themselves there, and seek out classes where it is taught. But, if we dance, most of us are going to dance in milongas, and my impression is that a lot of teaching isn't suitable for social tango, that to some extent classes have become an industry that thrives by making learners feel inadequate, and therefore in need of yet more classes. A mystique of tango is created, a complicated, difficult dance full of a kind of thickly-applied elegance and exaggerated sexiness that can be approached only through years of expensive classes and workshops, a perception enhanced by performances, which are usually at least part-choreographed, and danced by performers who grew up as gymnasts or classical dancers.
That kind of tango is worlds away from the social tango of the milongas and the wonderful, intimate conversations that can happen there in the course of a tanda.