How to learn Argentine tango I: Choosing a teacher
Are you considering to start learning Argentine tango? Or perhaps, have you already started attending a course and are a bit lost on how to continue? In this series of blogs, I will be developing different topics regarding the learning process and try to share the best tips to ease your way into the wonderful world of Argentine tango.
So, let’s start from the beginning, how to choose an Argentine Tango teacher?
When you begin, you probably have no idea of who to begin with. Lot’s of people - like me - did not even consider the importance of the teacher at the beginning. And some people - like me - are lucky enough to make a right choice from the beginning. However, the situation goes often the other way around: you start with a teacher and along the way you realise you don’t like the learning style. No worries, you don’t need to get it right in the first attempt. So as you start, stay open to the possibility of changing the teacher (if that is a possibility in your city).
Learning Argentine Tango: Different teaching and learning styles
There are different kinds of maestros out there and, as a teacher-student relation involves at least 2 persons, it is totally normal that not all the maestros will be a good fit for you.
When choosing an Argentine Tango teacher it is important that you feel a connection to their way of explaining. You need to feel that you are understanding, that things make sense. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily get the movements right immediately (tango takes time!), but at least you need to feel that things make sense to you.
There are different teaching methods: some teachers use metaphors, others make more specific anatomical references, others try a lot dancing with the students, while other simply show with their bodies what to do, so that students copy them. And others, of course, combine these different methods of teaching in order to target different learning styles. Personally, I believe that this is the best approach, because in group lessons people will for certain have different learning styles.
So, on the side of the student, there are different learning styles: some people are very good at understanding movement when watching it, others connect better with sensations as described through metaphors, others really need to feel the movement when trying it with the teacher, others really need to understand the mechanics of the movement.
So, if you don’t understand the explanations, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, but maybe simply that the teaching style doesn’t match your learning style. And in that case, you might want to try a different teaching style.
Learning Argentine Tango: Consistency vs variety
I believe that, specially at the beginning, it is important to have consistency, one teacher that shows you their version of Argentine Tango. So, once you find a teacher that you like - and this can take some trial and error - stay with them for a while and only after you feel you have a good foundation, go and try other teachers.
Once a good foundation has been build, variety becomes more important. In other words, it is good to have different perspectives but, in my opinion, it works better when you already have a basic background to compare against. When you start trying other teachers you might see that there are contradictions in the way of explaining things. This is true, there might be contradictions, but some of these might only be so at a first glance: some seeming contradictions are actually just differences of emphasis. When you find a contradiction, don’t fall into the trap of rejecting the second one because it contradicts what you have understood, or feeling you need to choose one truth or the other… instead, study both. Accept each and investigate them. You might find that one emphasis suits you best, or that both ideas are actually worth keeping, perhaps for different kinds of steps, or in different moments of the dance.
Moreover, further on your learning path, you might feel you have nothing else to learn from your initial teacher… you are probably wrong. As you go further in your learning path, you will be able to understand better certain ideas that you may have been exposed to from the beginning but just were not ready to understand. My advice is: if you find a good teacher to teach you the basics, go back to them every now and then. You might find that later on, you are able to finally understand in a different depth that which you only understood in a shallow way at the beginning.
Learning Argentine Tango: Own your process
The choice of the teacher is important because it is the person that guides you in learning this dance. However, in the end, I think it is really important that you own your learning. In my work, I have noticed that the students who succeed and become dancers it is a pleasure to dance with, are those who end up owning their process. Ask questions, initiate conversations about tango, try to inquire into the movement, investigate, take private lessons, go to the milonga, etc. The teacher is a guide, but she represents only half of the equation, the other half is on you. And it is your part which actually makes the real difference.