Ask Arlene…More Teachers or Practicas?

With the latest running debate going on between Chris, Danny, Tango Totty and VOR, it got me thinking about Technique.  Totty seems to think it is necessary in order dance a Tango justice and Chris seems to think that it will develop by dancing in the Milongas.

Here is a definition of technique of which I always thought to have meant a way of doing something.  As far as I am concerned, a way of doing something can be taught to another person, or it can develop from within.


tɛkˈnik/  Spelled[tek-neek]   –noun 1. the manner and ability with which an artist, writer, dancer, athlete, or the like employs the technical skills of a particular art or field of endeavor. 2. the body of specialized procedures and methods used in any specific field, esp. in an area of applied science. 3. method of performance; way of accomplishing. 4. technical skill; ability to apply procedures or methods so as to effect a desired result. 5. Informal . method of projecting personal charm, appeal, etc.: He has the greatest technique with customers.

1810–20;  < F: technical (adj.), technic (n.) < Gk technikós, techniká

I think that they are both right up to a point and I will say it here only once as I don’t really want to get dragged into a debate about how I feel about things.  So, I will say it how it was for me.  When I started to learn, I went to the nearest person that taught it where I lived.  I didn’t have access to people who danced it.  Interestingly, although my first teacher didn’t teach it the way I really like to dance, he did teach technique, of sorts.  He taught the walk.  He was very precise about this and also how the follower should follow.  The rest of it was too much fancy footwork, but he did teach the walk and explained how the follower should pay attention to her leader in order to move with him.  I have to give him credit for that!  The rest of it was just show moves I learned later.

My second teacher taught the walk.  He is Argentine, taught by his father, and he gave me a bit more.  He told me and showed me how to place my feet.  It was not only the walk, but also how to walk and how to embrace.  He liked the ladies to place our arms up high around the man’s neck.  That is how I first saw Tango danced.  The walk and the embrace.  That was the focus.  We would have a whole lesson just walking to the music.  We would be corrected if our feet were not right.  We would be corrected if we were not in the right hold.  If we got that right, we would be taught how to turn in a corner!  All the woman had to do was follow.  The trickiest thing we did was giros and ochos.  I can’t remember him teaching us anything else.  Perhaps that is because I never went to any other class except the beginner’s class.

I went to the milongas early in my learning development.  I wanted to put into practice what I had been taught.  I wanted to know if I could listen to the man and do what he asked of me.  I worked out after the first dance how my partner would lead.  I learned by feeling and listening.  I was familiar with all the songs as I had acquired many and listened to them all of the time.  I listened to Tango radio at work.  I was able to move to the music with my partner.  Sometimes, I was able to move to the music better than my partner!  The only time I really got into trouble on the dance floor was when someone tried tricky moves with me!

And that is how I really learned to dance, in the Milongas.  In London.  How’s my technique?  There are a few things that I have learned to do better because of a private lesson or from a comment on the dancefloor (from a teacher I respect) or from doing a basics class.  I won’t go to classes anymore unless it is a basics class, for any kind of dancing.  I don’t try to copy anyone else’s fancy foot moves.  I find I actually move my feet less, but feel more grounded.  But I haven’t been to a class for ages.  The only  regular classes I am going to right now is Belly Dancing, but that is more like an aerobic workout.  I needed a private lesson in order to understand how to do the moves properly as I started late.  It was just the basics.  Interestingly, my bellydancing class has helped me with my Salsa and my Tango and Ceroc!  Although I need some instruction, the rest is down to me to get into it and really feel the music and dance to it.  It is the same for Tango and the other dances that I do.  If I really don’t like the music, I can’t dance to it!  Last week when I went to Ceroc, one of the guys asked me why I don’t do the classes.  I asked him if he uses the moves taught in the class and he said no.  That is why I don’t do the classes, I said.  He still didn’t get it!

So, I am wondering if Totty is being a bit semantic with her wording.  Is she really talking about technique or instruction.  Is she even talking about style?  How much technique do we really need?  Do we need to be taught anything more than the basics?  Do we need to learn how to do an ocho cortado?  I don’t even know what that is to talk about, but I believe I have done it.  Do I need to know the names of moves?  Do I really need to know what a secada is?  If the man can lead it, I can follow it.  What else to I really need to know?  If the move can’t be done in a closed embrace, I really don’t want to know about it.

Maybe instead of all these teachers teaching really tricky moves, perhaps we need more practicas?  To improve, we need to practice.  If we are not going to learn in the milongas, maybe we could learn in a practica.  Instead of people teaching us all of these tricky moves, perhaps they could teach the basics and let us work out a few things for ourselves and stay on the sidelines to give advice?  If they see that our feet are not in the right place when we walk, perhaps they can show us how it should be?  Unless we are all going to turn into show dancers, do we really need to know more than the basics? I wonder what would really happen if the teachers just stuck to the basics.  Would they really lose customers?  What would happen if more practicas appeared?

Just a thought!


As there is no Tango in Eastbourne, I now have the time to finally learn Belly Dancing (see post in my other blog).  So far I have been to two classes, which have been more like a workout at the gym.  I will be organising a private lesson to get a better grip on technique.  I admit that after two classes I am totally hooked!

I wore tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt to my first lesson as the teacher said to wear something comfortable.  Everyone else wore leggings, harem pants, or a skirt with a cropped or wrap top and a jingly hip scarf.  So I ordered my hip scarf and teamed it up with a nicer pair of track suit bottoms and a brighter t-shirt for my second class.  Everyone else was dressed as before or more so.  One lady had an interesting tribal looking skirt with feathers in it.  I felt so overwhelmingly underdressed – like being the only person with clothes on at a nudist’s beach.

So, today I went to my local dancewear shop to purchase some comfortable clothes for belly dancing and to really get me into the mood.  I now have a pair of wide legged dance pants with a roll-down waist and a crop top with a frilly sleeve (both in black) and a red tank top.  My belly is set to be exposed along with the rest of them!  My hip scarf is purple, so I will have to buy another one in red to go with the red top.  🙂  There was a lovely purple chiffon skirt with sequins that would look lovely over a pair of leggings and would go with my scarf, but that will have to be another day!  Thank goodness I don’t have to buy shoes!  The upside to all of this spending is that I can use the pants for Tango as well as Salsa and Ceroc!

While trying on clothes, the saleslady and I had a conversation about the different garments we wear for each dance and the amount of money we spend on them.  A lot of my dance clothes came from various charity shops and I can happily say that I didn’t have to spend too much money to look good.

For Tango, I like to dress up.  Most of my Tango clothes are work clothes or going out clothes that can be doubled up as dance clothes.  These dual purpose skirts/dresses are elegant and yet allow my legs to move freely.  If I need a new dress or skirt, I always ask myself if I can Tango in them.  If I can’t then I don’t buy it.  I don’t have a lot of closet space, so my clothes need to be versatile.  When I wear my Tango clothes I feel very glam and elegant.

For Salsa and Ceroc, I like to dress down a bit.  By that, I mean I might wear jeans or a skirt with a funky, yet lightweight top.  Salsa is more energetic than Tango and I tend to glow.  It is easier to bring along a few spare tops when one is feeling the heat.  Because of the moisture issue, most of the tops I wear are very inexpensive so I don’t feel so bad if they get ruined and I have to dispose of them.  When I wear my Salsa/Ceroc clothes, I feel a bit wild and carefree.

When we don our dancing clothes we become transformed.  It is as if a switch is turned on in our brains and puts us in dance mode.  Like Clark Kent morphing into Superman we become the Superheroes of the dance world.  Even though we know that it really isn’t the clothes that make us good dancers (like go-faster stripes on a car doesn’t really make it go faster, really), if we look good we feel good, and that can give us that extra bit of confidence to relax and enjoy ourselves.

I know that buying new belly dancing gear will not make me a better dancer, but at least I will fit in with the rest of the group and that will really help me get into the spirit of things.  The fact that they are more comfortable than what I had worn previously will make a huge difference and might help me bring out my inner goddess!

So, what do you like to wear when dancing and how does it make you feel?

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