Men Only Tango Classes?

The following is in response to an e-mail I sent someone and ties in  with a couple of my recent postings and what had been mentioned about the Boxing Day floor and lesson on the Tango UK group.  It seemed appropriate to post it here with the kind permission of the author.  I think it provides food for thought on moving forward with Tango in London and the rest of the country.  What do you think?

My two sons learned tango, my ex husband and my current partner.  I guess we need to figure out how to get men on the dance floor and keep them there.

I have started a number of other tango newbies (all male).   I am not a gifted dancer but I do try to find something nice to say about new dancers and try to be encouraging.   We don’t want the arrogant ones to have a monopoly on the dance floor so we have to find some way to make the new men feel comfortable and stay as they go through the learning process.  Many new men are literally terrified and get a ‘learning block’ which does not help at all.

They believe they must produce steps to keep the women interested and a whole Frankenstein tango thing kicks in if we are not careful!

All the men I have danced with took private lessons early on to avoid embarrassment,  They felt more comfortable being awkward in private!  Group mixed classes are a difficult environment for leaders since most of the time they can’t see the teacher.  I think the old way of men only tango has much to commend it – the male ego is so fragile – they prefer to begin on the dance floor with the confidence they know what they are doing!  Then they can dance with more experienced women who know how to follow and finally when they know what they are doing the men can dance with women beginners – who are the worst possible partners for beginner males since they anticipate and often cannot follow whoever is leading!

I took two beginner men to our local milonga Christmas party – gave then half an hour in my kitchen before we went and they did fine!  I told them forget steps and a tricky routine – cuddle up, keep your weight forward and walk.  If you step on your partner both of you must lean further in = enjoy yourself and don’t let anyone mention a gancho or an ocho to you – just enjoy the music and your partner of the moment.  They did really well and may well go back  – they did not ‘fail the basic eight’ because we had a basic two (left leg followed by right leg!)  Es un tango…..besos

Interestingly enough, I had a conversation with a young man at a Milonga I had been to recently, and he mentioned that although he knows he should keep his moves simple, he can’t help but notice what moves other men are doing and at times he feels he should be doing the same.  I wonder if this has something to do with the competitive nature of the male species.

I think the idea of men only workshops is a brilliant idea – and I don’t mean as a one-off.  It should be a regular thing.  After all, single sex schools are very common in this country.  Maybe if  men only classes were available, my friend might not have given up Tango so easily.

So who is going to be the first to offer this on a regular basis I wonder?  Watch this space.

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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?

Jane.

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!

Arlene

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