Ask Arlene…What makes a superlative Tango teacher?

There are seemingly many good tango teachers in London (and perhaps some not so good). But what makes a superlative tango teacher as opposed to just a good teacher. What qualities are needed and who in your view would fit this bill?


Dear Wildcard,

You are coming out with them fast and furious these days.

I am having slight déjà-vu as I feel I have already touched on the topic of teachers in my previous post Ask Arlene…About Private Lessons.

To be perfectly frank, I really do not want to get involved in a naming names scenario.

Some things that I think would make a superlative Tango teacher, in no particular order:

  • Teach the basics and then move people up levels when they can master that.
  • Teach some etiquette and about the line of dance.
  • Teach musicality. People need to know the difference between a Tango, a Vals and a Milonga.
  • Be articulate. Just because someone can dance well, does not mean they can teach well.

I am sure there are more that can be added to the list.

I will leave it to the readers to make other suggestions or to tell us what made an experience good for them.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. irenicon
    Mar 23, 2009 @ 19:14:57

    For me a superlative teacher is someone who can figure out where I am in terms of dance and what needs to be done to move me on.

    I have had teachers who gave me long lists of don’t do this, don’t do that. Sometimes I could hardly move at all for prohibitions. But the ones I work best with say, try doing this and then SHOW me how to do it and can help me to do what works for me, my partner and my body rather than a series of choreographed steps.

  2. Carol
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 05:23:41

    One of the biggest problems with teaching tango is that those who take it on have no teacher training and unless they are natural teachers, often don’t know what they are doing. They may be able to dance but this doesn’t mean they can teach. I heard a story the other day about a teacher in Sydney who told a student who was finding it difficult to dance in time to the music to go away and listen to the music and learn the rhythms before coming back to class!!
    I believe that a fundamental understanding of how to teach is vital – and there will come a time when there is some form of accreditation of tango teachers because at the moment any Tom, Dick or Harriet can set up as a tango teacher and they are coming out of the woodwork here.

  3. David Bailey
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 16:38:53

    A few more:

    1. Clear communication – many AT teachers are basically demonstrators; they either don’t know, or can’t communicate, what they’re doing. Simply saying “do it like this” is no substitute for an actual explanation.

    2. Class management: enforcing good, frequent rotation, to ensure no-one gets left out for too long.

    3. Explaining how dancing works In The Real World. Floorcraft, etiquette, and so on.

  4. Captain Jep
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 20:30:30

    I dont think accreditation is necessarily the solution. For instance, there are still many who disagree with the whole teaching philosophy of ballroom dancing. And this is despite most ballroom teachers having some form of accreditation.

    What makes a great tango teacher is what makes a great teacher of anything :

    – They give you a solid foundation and after that give stuff that stretches you – but not too far

    – They make a class fun and they are approachable outside the class environment

    – They manage their classes well (rotation etc – knew Bailey would get that one in 🙂

    Otherwise yes would add all the good stuff that’s been mentioned before

  5. Mr Walker
    Mar 26, 2009 @ 11:23:46

    i agree with all the suggestions put forward in the above comments….and if they are not meet then it’s just a bad school or just bad teachers…the thing that struck me about my teacher was her love….that is her love for tango,her love for the music and the dance itself….and because i grew up in her house my tango reflects this…i treat my partner with respect..i don’t overtake,tailgate,change lanes(except when people decide to stand and chat in the line of dance)…and even though our lessons consist of steps i would say that there is a constant emphasis on improvisation,And of course there is this sense of community amongst us..which i gives us freedom to explore tango,and not be afraid to make mistakes…What makes a superlative Tango teacher? LOVE

  6. David Bailey
    Mar 27, 2009 @ 20:38:25

    @CJ – Stalker! 🙂

  7. yabotil
    Mar 31, 2009 @ 14:26:57

    When I was a total beginner, I took every advice given or everything taught by my teachers as gold. But now (that I’m an improver), I found out that not everything works for me and I have to think what works and what doesn’t and sometimes adjust for different partners.

    When finding a teacher, besides all the excellent points mentioned above, its also important that you try to apply what they taught in a practica or milonga and see if it works. Most teachers have good intentions and intend to share their knowledge but in the end its up to you to learn it.

  8. Alex
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 21:19:33

    I found this page looking through google some stuff about tango in London and I couldn’t avoid answering:
    My view about a superlative teacher is:
    – with beginners: teach body language and how to master movements fluidly. Before teaching any sequence, be sure the steps are done properly, in balance, close legs and ankles, with elegance, projecting their feet and maintaining the body in the proper position, saying something. This may be tough at first when people come excited to their first classes because they have in their minds the marvelous things Zotto make in the exhibitions. They should see Miguel Angel and other educated milongueos at any milonga in BA, doing the same things we all do, with passion but not with any excess, with respect for the rest of the dancers and with a close embrace, connecting with his partner.

    – with any level: listen to music and the arrangements, telling people what they mean within the theme. Have you ever see people making few steps while Pugliese’s orchestra is in a mantenutto, creating a tension that eventually will end in something particular ??? Why are they moving ? It is time for the pause and a must is to be still. The bridge in any theme needs to be danced in a different way. The teacher should tell their students that they have to interpret the music and not only dancing accordingly with the musical figures.

    – with all levels, teach how to enjoy tango being relaxed, specially the shoulders, which will allow the man to transmit the intention and will permit the woman to receive the subtle hint for the next step. It is some sort of inspiration like when you breath instantly before singing…. “we are going this way, to there, this fast …….” should be the message of the previous instant.
    Also have a relaxed embrace. It is very common to see arrogant people dancing with an arrogant embrace. They don’t relax the arms when touching incidentally another couple in the floor… they should be more respectful colapsing the elbow joint and getting the hands closer to their bodies, narowing the amplitude. See Zotto again dancing at the milongas.

    And finally teach the sequences and structures that everybody would do at the milonga. Simple things that will let them enjoy the dance while permiting the rest to dance: short steps, looking where you are going and evaluating if that littel space would not be occupied by another couple. For those advanced students who think they will have a future in the stage, teach them the rest of extense steps and figures tango has.

    And now for sure finally, go to the milongas with the students and dance with them, enjoying their progress, which will be your success card.

    A modest contribution to all tango lovers,
    Best for you, keep well


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