Ask Arlene…Where do I go from here?

From:  Golondrina

Dear Arlene,

I have been learning tango for about 18 months (as a follower) but have recently started to feel like I am stagnating in my group classes. I have decided that I would like to start taking bi-monthly private classes but am unsure whether I should try and find a male teacher or a female teacher. I think it would be easier to dance with a male teacher but I have always found the best advice for following to come from female teachers. Have you any thoughts? Or should I try and find myself a fellow student and try and have lessons as a pair with a tango couple to benefit from both viewpoints? I’m bit reluctant to pair up as I don’t feel I know any leaders who I am comfortable with as well as being on an equal footing that would benefit us both.

Many thanks,

Dear Golondrina,

As you have been dancing for about 18 months (is that just once a week or more?), you should already know how to follow.   So, how exactly do you feel you will benefit from having private lessons?  What is it that you want to improve?

An advantage of having lessons with a male teacher is that he will show you how it feels to be led properly.  He will teach you his way of being in hold, one that is comfortable for him, and hopefully for you.  He will work on your balance, posture and figures.  That is what any good teacher should do.

An advantage of having lessons with a female teacher is that she can show you the above plus teach you a few adornos.  If that is something you want to learn, learning adornments, it might be a good idea to do a women’s technique class or two before going down the private route.  There are a few women teachers that offer this on occasion.

As you are reluctant to pair up with anyone, then we can rule out learning with a couple.

However, I happened to catch the last 15 minutes of Adrian and Amanda Costa’s class being taught at The Dome last night.  I thought their teaching was very clear and they teach specifically for dancing in the Milongas.  They also touched on giving the woman time to do adornos and how to do them on a crowed dance floor.  I recommend taking advantage of the group lessons being taught at the various Milongas while they are in London (details can be found on my post here).

Another suggestion is to forget about classes for awhile and to just try and enjoy dancing at the Milongas.

If anybody else has some good ideas, please feel free to comment.

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. cherie
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 14:53:53

    Ruben and I always teach as a couple, whether the student is a man or woman or couple themselves. There are great advantages to this: one teacher watches while the other dances with the student, so there are many ways to learn, lots of input, and the class is dense with information.

    Also, there’s a person to take a video of the teacher dancing with the student, which can really be a great tool for learning.

    There are many teaching couples out there, and it works well for everyone.

    Also, if someone is going to take privates, it’s better sooner rather later, so a foundation of good technique is built up, and then group classes can be fun and a way to meet people. Otherwise, bad habits uncorrected build up over time and can take forever to get rid of. Beginners should feel what it’s like to dance with a good dancer, not someone who knows less than they do.

    Good luck, Golondrina!

  2. TP
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 16:33:55

    I agreed with Cherie. For me, I had benefited a lot from studying with teachers as a couple. I got to dance with a great dancer and then had two great tango minds to help me. It worked wonder for me. If it is not possible, then probably at least try to alternate between male and female teacher.

    One thing I used to do was working with a partner in private practice. We filmed and picked up a lot of things from the video. That was another way for both of us to improve.

    Mostly, I think it is getting the right posture, embrace, walking and giro technique. Afterwards it is about finding one’s own tango. 🙂

  3. jantango
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 18:05:28

    I agree with Arlene’s last recommendation to go out and dance. There you will experience partners of all levels and learn to adjust differently to each one. The milonga is where you hone your skills; classes teach steps. Observe others dancing in the local milongas and get to know the music. That will improve your dancing more than private lessons.

    If you study privately with a man, you will learn his style. He can’t see what you are doing to correct you. If he never dances with you in the milonga, what is the point of classes?

    If you study privately with a woman, she will teach you adornos that are unnecessary for the milonga. She won’t dance with you at a milonga because tango is between a man and a woman.

    Concentrate on learning the unique styles of each orquesta and discover which ones speak to your soul. Then you will be dancing from your heart and not your head.

  4. Sophie
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 20:07:23

    Hi Golondrina!

    So I’m hearing two things, firstly you’re feeling your current teacher can’t really take you further with their group class, the other that you still want to progress. However, I’m a bit concerned when you say “I don’t feel I know any leaders who I am comfortable with as well as being on an equal footing that would benefit us both”. I don’t know if you mean the leaders you feel good with are more advanced or less advanced than you. However depending what you want to achieve, a leader with less experience could perfectly be the perfect partner to practise with, because you would grow in responsiveness and balance and he would grow in experience (and trust me, give a leader a chance to progress and you should be fascinated by the improvement very quickly).Try just getting 1hr in a studio with somebody you feel good with, and push yourselves both – I think you’ll be surprised at the result. On the side, I think a good follower dances beautifully with anyone, expert or beginner – this can be an interesting challenge.

    Private lessons are one way to progress. You also have the option of shopping around for a teacher who’ll take you to the next level, either in group classes or in technique classes. At your level, you probably can follow but your balance may be a little off sometimes, you can’t get a leg out of the way quick enough or you take it so quickly the man can’t do certain things. Technique will help you get to the next level, and dance beautifully with a great balance.
    Most followers shy away of technique classes because all their problems (balance, verticality, etc) are outlined – but that’s just the point: if you can’t be balanced on your own, how can you be balanced on your own in the embrace? Your leader needs his own balance, not to serve as a crutch to your wobbly legs and chewing-gum back! It can also be a case of just going to milongas for a while and just enjoy dancing and letting it all sink in.

    Finally, on the topic of privates, I think you’ll find in London that getting a couple to teach you is probably going to be very very expensive, so it’ll likely be one person only. Take somebody you feel good with, whose dancing you really, really like, whose teaching you undestand easily and be clear with them what you want to achieve, although listen to them on what’s the best way to get there.

    Best of luck on your tango journey, I hope dancing continues on fascinating you and making you happy!

  5. apostrophe
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 22:12:49

    “Concentrate on learning the unique styles of each orquesta and discover which ones speak to your soul. Then you will be dancing from your heart and not your head.”

    Beautifully said. That’s the difference between a dancer and a mover.

  6. Game Cat
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 23:09:29

    The possibilities raised by the 4 responses so far (including Arlene) all have merit – done well, they will help you in different ways. Therefore I suggest you figure out your biggest needs (if you don’t already know) by trying a bit of all to see which ones benefit you most.

    In summary:

    1) Private lessons – tailored instruction, quickest way to identify your specific issues and learn how to fix them, especially posture, embrace and technique. Pick teachers (man or woman) who teach things that are useful in a milonga. If the teacher is good, he doesn’t have to dance with you in a milonga for the lesson to be useful, nor will she teach you only adornments.

    2) Regular partner to practice with – great for ironing out known issues, experimenting in a safe environment, getting feedback from a peer. Could be used for self-diagnosis.

    3) More time in a milonga – Fun, gain more comfort in the “real” environment. But not great for self-diagnosis or sorting out issues. In fact, one could argue that you’re supposed to be there for fun, not to “practice”. For men it’s different – it’s the only practical way for most to practice floor craft.

    Hope that helps.

  7. yabotil
    Oct 09, 2009 @ 09:12:35

    Do a combination of GameCat’s 3 points.

    When traveling from A to B, you occasionally stop to check a map/GPS/compass etc to ensure that you’re going the right direction. You don’t stare at your map the whole way and if you don’t ever stop to check where you are, you may never quite reach B or you would have reached it but went around in circles several times.

    Think of taking lessons like checking your map. If you only take lessons you’ve not moved any closer to your destination although you may know how to get there. Whereas going to a milonga is making progress in your journey from A to B but you want to get to B a little faster and a little more efficient or you check a map.

    So just do a combination of lessons and going to milongas that suits you. You might find that after a private class it might take several weeks of going to milongas for you to really understand what you were taught.

    Is your ultimate goal to enjoy social dancing? or something else? Make your combination suit your goals.

    Have fun!

  8. Ms Hedgehog
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 16:30:45

    I think you might just as well stop taking classes for a while and see what problems arise. Your dance will develop in ways that can’t really happen in classes, your social partner pool will change a bit, and after a while you’ll be in a slightly different situation and you’ll probably know when and whether you need to take a technique class or a group class or a private.

  9. Keno
    Oct 12, 2009 @ 03:33:36

    This is a case of trying to figure out how to become better. When I reached the point of where I spent the money on private lessons, I new I wanted technique classes, I would take one once a month and then spend the month working on the exercises given. This way when I went dancing slowly and steady my technique improved, then I took a private lesson on musicality and how to walk to different parts of the music. I always work on on something during the practica I attend on a weekly basic. I do not have the benifent of having a steady partner coming in to practice I only can find follows at the practica who want to work on something. I believe the key is set a workout schedule for how you want to improve you dance. Then take what you feel is the first stept and just enjoy yourself. I still go out dancing two to three times a week at the milonga’s and still do one night at the practica. The more you dance the better you will become. Best of Luck

  10. ChrisJJ
    Oct 18, 2009 @ 23:18:19

    > If you study privately with a man, you will learn
    > his style. He can’t see what you are doing to
    > correct you.

    The good teacher doesn’t need to – he feels it.

    > If you study privately with a woman, she will
    > teach you adornos that are unnecessary

    Not if she’s any good.

  11. Golondrina
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 22:05:26

    Apologies for not commenting earlier but I have been away in the sun and so was deliberately avoiding all electronic beings!

    Thanks for all your advice – it has been most helpful and was a welcome read on my return!

  12. Voice of Reason
    Nov 09, 2009 @ 19:38:51

    I would surmise from what you have written that you are not a tango junkie.
    You must go out and immerse yourself in the tango world. Forget about learning more steps and learn to feel the music and improve your technique in so doing. Save your money and get private lessons later.

  13. tangocorazon
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 18:58:33

    If you are captivated by a specific style then study with someone who dances that style ie. salon, milonguero, nuevo. It won’t do you any good if you bounce around with different teachers telling you all sorts of different things. After you have studied with that person then dance at least twice-a-week at practica/milonga. Focus on fundamentals of following and see where the road leads you. Goodluck.

  14. Golondrina
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 23:46:02

    Dear all,
    Just an update: I have nnow been taking technique classes (thank you Sophie) and I believe they have now made a real difference to my dancing. I feel more confident about my own axis and feel that my steps are more precise. I’m also varying my milongas a bit more which has increased my tango partners.

    Thanks again for all your advice!

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