Thursday, 8 December 2011

Women teaching tango 1

Tangocommuter is regularly told that men should be taught tango by other men, and wonders if this is really so... (Unless, that is, they intend to dance in milongas only with men.)

True, 60 years ago men and boys practised together. It may have been a good system, but for them it was the only possibility, as women other than family members weren't available for casual dance outside formal milongas. In the first place, boys seem to have learned from mothers and aunts: women are likely to have placed a lot more emphasis than men on the need for boys to grow up dancing well. & it's true that the men who grew up practising with each other grew up dancing well, but I think the key may not be who they practised with, but the fact that they practised; whatever the obstacles they were enthusiastic to practice. It mattered to those 14 year-olds to dance well. Like most kids would have been kicking a ball, perhaps a ball of rags, around and dreaming of football clubs, they were dancing and dreaming of a different kind of club. If you're keen at that age you're likely to get good, and they put in the hours. (No TV, no video games to compete for their attention!)

So I wonder if the idea that you absolutely must learn to dance with other guys might be mistaken. The men I've learned from in Buenos Aires – four of them – all grew up practicing with other boys, but have chosen to teach with teaching partners, although they are clear that it's good to know both sides of the dance. That seems the important point, rather than who you learn it from. Anyway, I've never met a man who taught alone, I'm not aware of anyone who does it.

For a guy, taking private sessions from a couple is costly but very helpful. The man teaches what the leader needs to know, his partner checks out how the learner is getting on. After all, who has the most insight into how a leader dances, the partner he's dancing with or someone who is watching? There are so many details in the embrace, the walk, the lead, that a woman is going to notice but which might not be obvious even to someone watching from nearby. Added to which, if she's accustomed to dancing with the most practised dancers she'll be measuring you against them, and indirectly you'll be learning from all the guys she's danced with. & of course the same would work for a follow, but I'm not sure that learning as a couple would be likely to be as fruitful.

Ultimately it's women who have the most direct interest in men dancing well.


msHedgehog said...

I think what people generally have in mind is the social rather than the technical aspect.

I think the beliefs that actually back this argument are along the lines of:

(a) men are more difficult to lead in that they do a lot less accommodation
(b) when a man tells another man that he's doing it unacceptably wrong, he gets taken a lot more seriously than a woman does
(c) men don't consent to work with another man unless they've already decided to take it seriously and take real action to improve.

I have no actual data that could support or refute any of those ideas so I don't think I know whether they are true or not. But I think people believe them.

It sounds like you say at the end that you don't know any men who teach alone - that can't be what you mean, can it? I can think of 2 among the people I regularly dance with socially, both of whom you also know, one of whom does so almost exclusively.

Nonni said...

Taking private lessons together can be very efficient for couples if their dance is formed to a large extent by their joint dancing experience. The teachers get to see both sides of the coin where "problems" are mirrored across the embrace, prompting compensation instead of resolution, etc.

Clearly two teachers are better than one but it is also a question of the price.

20 years ago,the likes of Pepito Avallaneda, Eduardo Arquimbau and Gustavo Naveira were touring Europe every year, teaching without partners. A matter of economy. This was also the common practice in local teaching in Germany AFAIK.

Today teaching couples are the "global" standard for group lessons.

Fortunately good Tango teaching is much more available now, not only for that reason.

Tangocommuter said...

MsH, I'm not aware of any men who teach alone. & I'm not sure why you need to be coy about the identities of men who do this.

As to your remarks that men don't take women's comments seriously, and don't commit to working seriously with women, isn't that just a bit of a generalisation? No one ever explained to me why man should learn from men but I understand that it was assumed to be the practice 65 years ago, and therefore it must be the best way to learn now. Which I question.

Nonni, thanks for the comment on teaching to couples. What I had in mind was that couples might learn to dance better together if taught together, but might not necessarily learn to dance better in general. In other words, their dance together might become more a choreography, which is going to be boring to them in the long run.

Chris said...

Nonni wrote: "The teachers get to see both sides of the coin where "problems" are mirrored across the embrace, prompting compensation instead of resolution, etc."

As opposed to accomodation instead of correction, sadly.

That inspection-correction method is an artifact of the new commercial teaching model. It's preference for visual evaluation comes from the visually oriented show dancing that is its origin. It's the cause of many of the dancing problems it purports to solve.

Good teachers of social dancing determine the student's needs by dancing with him or her, not by observing from a distance.

Anonymous said...

@ Chris
are you sure??

JohnM said...

I sure Chris is as sure as I am sure
having seen that in many dances.

You can be also be sure that teachers who don't dance with students can offer little useful guidance beyond the prescriptive - watching is not the same as experiencing and feeling.

Nor can you use the likes of Gustavo Naveira as a guide even if they taught alone. Choreography often is taught alone, it doesn't need a teaching partner, only the choreographer. The professional world the assumes that the people learning the choreography can dance already and generally their classes for ordinary mortals make no judgement about ability beyond the ability to pay.

My earlier comment about learning from a man was written in the context of some learning experience you had in BsAs from women alone. It's that I cannot recommend. Your solution of learning from a couple as a solo person is better, suits today's cultural climate but can be expensive.

But the expense depends on whether you aim to be a continuous learner or if the aim is to not need lessons sooner rather than later. Of course if you stopped lessons you might have rather less to talk about!

Tangocommuter said...

JohnM, I've had absolutely excellent and invaluable help in learning from women alone in Buenos Aires. A 100% positive experience, nothing less. Of course, if a man can't take criticism from women he should avoid such classes. & I dance tango because I enjoy it, not so I have something to write about.

msHedgehog said...

I don't say names because I think it's rather rude to those people. If they wanted to be in the conversation, they could be. I only wanted to find out if I'd misunderstood you.

I don't assert any of those things about men and women; that's why I said explicitly that I don't know whether they are true.

I'm just saying that I think other people believe them, that's why they say the things you mentioned.

Tangocommuter said...

MsH, thanks for clarifying that. My apologies if I misunderstood you.