Ask Arlene…About Private Lessons

Happy new year to you and all who write on your pages.

I have found a lot of the opinions helpful as I am a thirty something relative beginner in tango.  I have one thing I would like to discuss openly.

Tango teachers and private lessons.  As well as the obvious costs, I am a little cautious of taking private lessons because although I enjoy learning to dance in classes and in the milonga, I am a little wary that a tango  lesson can have a life of its own.  I did wonder if you or any of your contributors could offer some tips. Do you have any advice for me in 2009?


Dear Jane,

You have every reason to be wary of taking private lessons.  Not only are there the cost implications, there is also the issue of the quality of teaching.

The amount of teachers on offer has grown considerably since I first started over four years ago, and choosing a good teacher these days can be difficult if not impossible.  You first need to decide what style of dancing you want to do.  Apparently, if you want to dance in the traditional Milongas in Buenos Aires as well as dancing here in the UK, then you are better off learning traditional Salon style.  There are many teachers that teach Tango Nuevo and not everyone dances that style.  If you like it and wanted to learn it, I would suggest that you start with traditional and then when you are comfortable with that, try something else.  Otherwise you will just get confused in your dancing.

The fact that you are thirty-something is irrelevant. You could be twenty, forty or fifty-something and you will be presented with the same choices.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel that I can really help you.  That’s the truth.  I have become disenchanted with the teaching methods that are on offer.  You alone are going to have to work out what you want to do and how you are going to go forward.

The only thing I can suggest is that you learn as much as possible about the teachers on offer and try out their classes to find out what you are comfortable with before deciding if you want to go down the private lesson route.

There are many teachers that dance well, but that doesn’t make them good teachers.  There are too many people that teach steps and patterns.  There have been huge arguments about this on the Tango UK group.  The object of teaching a beginner is to help them find their axis and to teach them how to walk and use their body.  It is a walking dance after all.  Also the dancer needs to have some musicality.  The man has so much to learn.  How someone can expect to learn to dance Tango quickly defies belief.  No-one has the patience to practice and learn properly in order to become a skilled dancer.  One must also feel and know the music.  How can you really teach someone that?!  It is a process.

The problem these days is that because the student wants an instant Tango fix or they might find just walking to the music to be boring, the teachers pander to the students and we end up with people who dance badly because it ends up being about money.  There are teachers that are afraid they will lose students if they only stick to the basics until the class or the individual is able to move forward.  The teachers allow students into an intermediate group when clearly they should still be in the beginner’s class.    I only know of one person who teaches in levels (there may be others, but I personally only know of one).  He will make you walk for a whole hour, and if you don’t get it you will have to do it again the following week.  He taught the giro for five weeks in a row before a Milonga as people weren’t getting it.  It is not an easy move to lead.

One of my good friends (who I met when we were both beginners at Tango), gave up learning Tango, even with private lessons, because he wanted to be great on the dance-floor right away.  It was too hard for him and he didn’t want to work at it.  He said he loved the dance and the music.  If he really loved it, he would have stuck it out.  He ended up doing Ceroc and is really good at that.  It was easy.

In the four plus years I have been dancing Tango, I have been to so many group lessons, and have taken workshops.  I won’t go now.  I have noticed that the quality of the women is better in the classes than the men.  I have been frustrated too many times paying for a class or workshop that had too many people in it, and where the men were not in the appropriate level.  It is extremely difficult to give attention to people where corrections are required if the class is too large or too inexperienced for what you are trying to teach.  I sometimes came away with the feeling of having wasted my time (and money) and not really having learned anything.

Please bear in mind that I am no longer a ‘beginner’.  I am not saying that all classes are a waste of time.  I am saying that for me, right now, I don’t find any value in them.

I have also taken private lessons by someone I really respect, and I learned a huge amount from those lessons.  The thing is, I didn’t have private lessons until two years after I started dancing.  More than likely I will be taking a few more private lessons.  I don’t think they are necessary to have all of the time. That way you can practice what you have been given to work on.

You could learn a lot by taking the beginner classes at the Milongas and going to Practicas.  They are not as expensive and you have an opportunity to practice afterwards.  The best teachers are going to be the people you dance with in the Milongas, the good and the bad.  It is always a good idea to try and dance with someone more experienced to help bring you up.  Use your eyes and watch people dancing in the Milongas.  Look at their feet, posture, facial expressions.  Talk to people about who they think are the good dancers and why they think so.  Trust your judgement.  If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.  Don’t let anyone put you down.

I hope I have given you enough food for thought.  Take your time as there is no hurry.  Becoming good at something is a process and shouldn’t be rushed.  Whatever you decide will be the right decision, even if it ends up being a mistake, you can always learn from it and then move forward.

Good luck and Happy Dancing!


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane
    Jan 02, 2009 @ 21:36:43

    Happy 2009

    Thank you so much for your advice Arlene.
    I have thought along the same lines as you; that I would be better to just pick it up in the milonga. I just needed some reassurance. I can be a little bit obsessive when I start to learn things and don’t want to get hooked on something I really don’t need. I think from what I have read on tango many people will be the same. Its like a drug to me.
    I wonder if I’m alone in this feeling?


  2. Tangototty
    Jan 02, 2009 @ 21:55:19

    Dear Jane

    I have some great advice for you. If you have poor posture and footwork you should definately get some private lessons to put you on the right track. How to choose a teacher ? Go to all the milongas and dance with as many teachers as you can and choose the one you can dance the best with after all you will be dancing with them a lot!


  3. Voice of Reason
    Jan 02, 2009 @ 22:10:56

    Dear Jane

    This is a plight many of you ladies find yourselves in. I can always tell when a woman has had private lessons if she has only been dancing for a short time. However if you are talented and musical like Arlene you may find yourself able to dance with men of all abilities. One piece of advice I will give you is GET SOME PRACTICE SHOES. Just look at what they did for Sally Potter in the Tango Lesson. She now dances regularly with Pablo Veron. If that is not incentive enough we can probably sort out some excellent dancers for you to practice with. Incidentally it would help to know where you would dance at the moment. I know theres an excellent beginners class at the Crypt on Saturday night and Balham every second Sunday of the month. Do this and look at the good dancers like Arlene when shes not socialising (or even when she is) and see who they dance with. Make friends, build networks and remember to wear your practice shoes and you cannot fail! I will keep my eye out for your shoes.

  4. Arlene
    Jan 03, 2009 @ 09:40:05

    Dear Jane,
    You are not alone. Dancing Tango is like a drug. Read my post on That Tango Feeling and you will have an idea of what I am talking about.
    Just remember, you will need to learn the basics, so don’t give up on taking a few classes, perhaps before the milongas. It is also a good way to network and meet people.
    Happy Dancing in 2009.
    A x

  5. Gamecat
    Jan 03, 2009 @ 11:37:38


    I sympathise and agree with a lot of what Arlene has said, particularly that learning through your own experience should be a key means of becoming better. How much one gets out of a class, in my experience, depends mainly on what one puts into it, not just the quality of teachers. This applies to milongas as well.

    I would add though that fundamental technique (e.g. axis, weight transfer, connection) is vital, should be the first thing that beginners learn (men and women), but is also the most challenging to learn by oneself at a milonga through experience or observation (at least for me). It is also I gather not something pre-milonga classes focus on often. One needs to know what good tech is before one can look for it when watching other dancers.

    I would also propose that good teachers often teach good technique and spend good time on it, whether in a class billed as a “technique class” or as part of their normal classes. You may want to use this to help you decide which teachers you feel are good for you. Again, as Arlene and others here suggest, practice the technique and think critically about whether and why/ why not it works.

    …and if you’re in London I look forward to seeing you on the floor in 2009 🙂

  6. Annabel
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 15:07:45

    How do you get to dance with a tango teacher?

    I took lessons for years and hardly one leader, even those I took lessons with ever asked me to dance… I sometimes asked but was told off for doing so (or just ignored)

    I am not that bad a follower (honestly!!)

    Recently I took some swing lessons and was astonished by how many teachers and experienced dancers asked me to dance..
    there was nothing of the tango hierarchy there – no “I only dance with people who are good enough” about it. The experienced men were happy to dance with me…

  7. lady M
    Feb 02, 2009 @ 21:33:56


    I am looking for good and affordable Tango classes in London. Is the crypt then the best option?

  8. Arlene
    Feb 02, 2009 @ 22:32:32

    Dear Lady M,

    If you have read my post About Private Lessons, then you will know that I cannot answer that directly for you. I suggest that you read the post again and use your best judgement.

    All the best to you.

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